Former Microsoft developer Mike Porter talks gaming degrees and games

Not too long ago, you couldn't just learn how to make games at college. Video games are a relatively new form of media, only becoming popular in the 1980s. The earliest game developers came from other disciplines, whether it was computer science, art, etc. and learned how to create and contribute to games through practical experience.

Nowadays, more and more universities offer at least some game-specific classes. A few even have game-specific degree programs, allowing students to focus on games from the very beginning of their higher education.

At QuakeCon 2015, I met with Mike Porter of San Diego-based NewSchool and New Zealand-based Media Design School to learn about his schools' gaming education programs. Mike formerly worked at Microsoft on Windows 8's koi pond and games like Halo 3. Even if you don't aspire to make games, you'll want to watch our video interview for Mike's insights into gaming!

From game developer to educator

Mike Porter's game development history started with developer Terminal Reality, where he contributed to several PC titles for Microsoft including Monster Truck Madness 2 and CART Precision Racing. From there he went to Ritual Entertainment, Sierra, and eventually Microsoft from 2005-2009. There he contributed to Halo 3 and Shadowrun for Xbox 360. He also contributed to the Windows 8 koi pond, creating the rocks, some of the plants, and working on the sand look (under direction from Peter Zhan).

After leaving Microsoft, Mike joined the New Zealand-based Media Design School. There he heads the school's Bachelor's Program for game development with an art specialization. The program has produced two graduating classes to date.

NewSchool student work example

Student work sample from NewSchool Media Design School

Learning to make games

Media Design School is a close partner with NewSchool of Architecture & Design, found in San Diego, California. Aspiring developers who would rather study in California than New Zealand can select from four Bachelor's programs at NewSchool:

  • Bachelor of Science in Media Design: Become a graphic designer, illustrator, art director, web designer, web programmer, and more.
  • Bachelor of Arts in Animation: Become a 3D modeler, VFX artist, animator, technical director, and more.
  • Bachelor of Arts in Game Art: Become a game designer, game artist, level designer, texture artist, producer, and more. Definitely a great choice for anyone interested in the art and design side of games.
  • Bachelor of Science in Game Programming: Become a game programmer, game developer, AI programmer, network programmer, technical director, and more.

To learn more about Media Design School in New Zealand, visit

For more information about NewSchool Media Design School of Digital Arts, head to

Paul Acevedo and Mike Porter of Media Design School

Should you become a game developer?

Game development is a tough industry. Many developers and some publishers have shut down over time. And even successful publishers routinely lay off staff when games complete development. Most recently, mobile publisher GREE let thirty percent of its San Francisco-based staff go. Ouch!

Job security isn't the best in the gaming industry, so individual developers need to be ready to find new employers when necessary. But I can say firsthand that working in an industry that you love is an extremely rewarding experience. Even writing about games is a dream come true. Hence, there will always be new generations of gaming developers, artists, and journalists who decide to turn their favorite hobby into a career.

Mike Porter and I discussed several other topics, including a game that we both highly anticipate: the upcoming Doom from id Software and Bethesda. Be sure to watch our video interview to catch the Doom conversation, and don't miss my detailed Doom multiplayer impressions from QuakeCon.