Web series project offers real-life experience to UW-W students
WHITEWATER Students are brewing life in the multimedia lab in the basement of Andersen Library at UW-Whitewater—but instead of bringing breath to their "monster" for class credit, they're gaining business identities.
GameZombie TV, a popular and award-winning gaming industry news and interview Web series that embraces the "by gamers, for gamers" mentality, is allowing students to get first-hand experience in a number of highly-competitive industries.
"It's a powerful learning experience," said Spencer Stuart, an instructor at UW-Whitewater and executive producer and creative director of GameZombie. "It's not just a student project. They're part of a studio that puts out content … "
The series receives hundreds of thousands of views a week and has received more than 7 million video views since its start in 2007. The studio produces two videos a week and has amassed a collection of more than 275 videos that are distributed through a number of video portals, such as YouTube. GameZombie even won a Webby Award in 2008 and 2009 for best online video in the student category.
Stuart created GameZombie as part of his master's degree project at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., but even then, he had grand visions of the place GameZombie would hold in the gaming industry.
"It was always meant to be something real," said the 31-year-old, who holds degrees in history and film and new media. "That's the thing I hated about school. You make stuff, you show it to a room of 50 people, you get critiqued and you put it in your archive for the rest of time. It's not motivating.
"But this … is like building equity in a brand, in a media product … that's completely and totally out in the public."
Stuart taught a class about online video production and the gaming industry at Indiana University, in which students essentially worked on video production, Web development and marketing for GameZombie. He plans to teach a similar class at UW-Whitewater.
GameZombie has evolved in its three years. It once produced game reviews, but now produces high-quality stylized reviews, interviews and video series.
"It wasn't smart enough," Stuart said of the old model. "It was fun, but it wasn't smart from a business perspective. It's very competitive to make videos for the Web, and too many people were already doing (reviews)."
GameZombie now is known for its dynamic videos that place an emphasis on high-quality two- and three-dimensional graphics, seamless-yet-schizophrenic editing and production style and obscure humor understood only by gamers.
The studio also has a big Web presence—even above and beyond its original videos. It has a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a blog.
"There's just an endless stream of content," Stuart said.
Although GameZombie is not an official class yet (it will be in spring), and media arts and game development is not an official major yet (it will be next fall), dozens of students already are meeting regularly to learn the ropes of the studio, from lining up interviews to producing videos to marketing the business.
Maxwell Zierath, sophomore from Milton, wants to have a career in the gaming industry, and GameZombie is giving him a chance to not only create videos but also network with game developers and companies.
"This is an opportunity I can't miss," he said. "This is the best way for me to get out there after college."
Brian Walsh, a senior from Hartland, is treating his time with GameZombie as an internship, even though he's not getting college credit for it.
"I can get my feet wet in something I really want to do," he said. "I never thought this was something I actually could do. (Working in the gaming industry) is just a pipe dream for most people. But I can use this to get an 'in' in the industry."
Stuart said his students are showing a lot of motivation and enthusiasm for the work ahead of them. He is hopeful the program at UW-Whitewater will flourish as it did at Indiana University.
"It's a lot of fun, but it's a lot of hard work. They're playing for much higher stakes," he said of his students.