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Student Day in the Life: University of Bradford's Alan O'Dea

In this Gamasutra educational feature, graduate of the BSc Interactive System and Video Game Design, and current Masters of Business Administration (MBA) student at University of Bradford Alan O'Dea breaks down the detailed schedule of a typical day working toward a MBA with an emphasis in the game industry.

6:30 AM

I rise from my torpor to greet another cold, muggy, rainy day in Bradford. During term time I rise early. My daily regiment of caffeine abuse is kicked off with a super large mug of extra strong wake up juice™. I smile to myself, realising that the earliness of the morning is the constant price I have to pay to complete my Masters in Business Administration. I enrolled on the MBA course to compliment my BSc in Video Game Design and because I believe the video game industry needs business and management skills.

7:30 AM

I boot up the PC and open MS Outlook. I have been using Outlook to track my life for the last few years and keep a record of everything—calendars, meetings, contacts, tasks, birthdays and important e-mails. All this is backed up using the marvellous online tool Plaxo in case my machine decides to kill itself and delete the entire record of my life. I am also a big fan of the online tool LinkedIn which allows me to keep up to date with all of all my contacts. The web has really seen a renaissance of online collaborative tools—blogs, wiki’s, photo, file and data sharing, it’s all good.

First thing in the morning I read and respond to any important e-mails and check what tasks I have set myself for the day. I have a number of university related projects ongoing, for this, my last, semester. I have just completed a week long block elective on Intellectual Property in International Business. A major component of this module was to form a student team and negotiate an IP transfer deal with another student team. As team leader it falls to me to manage the written report for the module. I have set aside a section of my personal wiki for the student team to post up and collaborate on the group report. I check the wiki to see if there has been any late night activity. Some of my fellow MBA students are real night owls.  

I use my wiki for everything. I put my design documentation, university assignments, proposals, and game ideas online. I am even using my wiki to collaborate with my university supervisor for the production of my MBA Management Project (Thesis).



Alan O'Dea early to begin work.

8:00 AM

After I’m done catching up on my task list and send off my first batch of e-mails, I begin my daily reading. There is a large amount of literary preparation for each class and I like to read my management tombs whilst my mind is fresh and alert. Most courses have at least one large business book (sometimes many) as required reading. Lecturers split each daily teaching around a lecture and a group tutorial format. The usual practice for tutorial sessions is to work on a case study in teams. The literary preparation before each of these sessions is necessary and essential. Today I have Project Management at 2.00 PM so I open the lecture notes and confirm the chapters that are listed as required reading and begin reading those chapters and the case study for the tutorial.

This semester I’m taking modules in Project Management, International Marketing and Advanced Strategic Management. I choose my modules for their relevance to the video game industry. My MBA course gives you a chance to study a mixture of mandatory core modules and a good selection of self-chosen electives. I have already completed courses in Economics, Strategic Management, Human Resources Management, Accounting, Marketing, Operations Management, Strategic Technology and Innovation Management.

10:00 AM

Another chapter of the Project Management book absorbed. I take a quick e-break and hit the Internet. I like to read Gamasutra and gameindustry.biz around this time of the morning and check in with the video game industry. It’s always fun to see what manner of industry craziness has occurred in the last 24 hours. I also check in with my favourite blog—www.lostgarden.com. Danc the blog owner has a lot of interesting ideas regarding the game industry and provides a unique blend of business, industry and design ramblings which appeals to my similar mix of interests. Also worth a check is the fantastic Escapist magazine.

10:30 AM

I have a number of non-university projects on the go this semester. I have articles to write, a number of game design projects I’m working on with various online groups, and I am organising the handover of the Bradford University Video Game Society to a new committee. A friend and I set up a video game society at the University of Bradford last year and this year I needed to find a whole new set of students to run it. This semester I am helping a UK video game trade organisation compile data on the Irish video game industry for inclusion in an investment and business opportunities report. All of this activity generates a lot of tasks for me to get through on a day to day basis.

I boot up Outlook, grab my daily task list and see who is on my phone call list for the day. I usually spend 30 or so minutes on the phone talking to contacts, gathering information, or making requests for help on various projects or research. I find it’s better to ring people between 10:00 AM and 12:00 AM in a day, giving them time to get their early morning tasks out of the way and enough time during the rest of the day to respond to any requests if necessary.

11:00 AM

After my calls I compile a list of post-call tasks I have to work on. I send thank you e-mails and write up any findings or notes of interest occurring from my telephone conversations.

11:30 AM

Normally this time before lunch is spent working on any number of projects. I am in the planning stage for my MBA Management Project and this requires me to gather primary and secondary research, surveys, interviews, and questionnaires from developers and individuals in the game industry. I usually spend my time before lunch working on finding contacts, sending letters to studios, or compiling research or data from various sources to use for the preparation of my MBA Management Project. I have just completed the first marks’ worthy portion of the project—the official project proposal. My supervisor and I are using my wiki to collaborate and edit this portion of the project before official submission. Normally before lunch I check the wiki and see if my supervisor has made any edits or amendments to the proposal.

My MBA Management Project report explores the major business problems UK video game developers are facing due to the traditional “Publisher Model” within the video game industry. I’m putting together a toolkit of business solutions, strategies and tactics for studios’ to reduce costs, retain their own IP, services, marketing, and sales activities that serve the market directly. The report looks at the “Hollywood” and “Outsourcing” Models as possible alternatives for obtaining and maintaining competitive advantage and profitability.  I’m providing the research to the industry via my project sponsor, a UK video game trade organisation, so hopefully this research will get into the hands of video game managers, producers, and professionals.



Alan O'Dea explaining the value chain of game industry.

12:30 PM

Lunch time. I usually give myself a fairly long lunch. I tend to watch one of my favourite TV shows over lunch or more usually go onto MS Messenger and spend lunch talking about media, news, game ideas, and current game design projects, or more usually the state of the video game industry with my friends.

The wire is buzzing with talk about next generation consoles, the changes these consoles will force on game designers, and the opportunities for independent game designers to make games in the market gaps and niches that these new heavy hitting platforms have created. Xbox 360 Live Arcade and the other consoles with features similar to Xbox Live will all need games to fill their online services. There has never been a better time for big and small game developers to make interesting, unique, and profitable games.

1:30 PM

I head out to university. The university is a 30 minute walk and I like to listen to my iPod on the way up there. It’s a nice walk through a park; it is relaxing and allows for some quality thinking time.

2:00 PM

Class starts. Today I have Project Management. Classes are usually split between a lecture and a tutorial component. Classes are very interesting and there is a lot of participation and involvement in both sessions. Usually, we have a case study to prepare for and discuss in the tutorial session. Tutorials are split into teams of 4-7 and involve in-debth analysis of particular cases or business problems. This semester I have two night classes and one day class. I’m quite vocal in class; a lot of students don’t interact, but I think the best part of any MBA class is the interaction and dialogue that evolves in the classroom as we discuss the finer points of a business and management techniques, strategies, tactics, case studies, and problems.

5:00 PM

Class finishes. Either I head straight home, hit the library for about 30 minutes, or meet up with some friends if we have organised a study group, usually lasting about an hour or two. Today I’m heading to the library to reference past MBA Management Projects to get some sort of feeling for former students’ standard of work, structure, and style.

7:00 PM

Back from university and food pack eaten to regain lost stamina and hit points. I power up the PC and begin working on my own personal and university work. I have a few essays and written reports to complete for this semester so I work on those. I am also working as a game designer with a team of industry professionals and video game design graduates. We use the Internet and collaborative communication, CRM, project management, and other technologies to develop our game projects, keeping our costs down and our overheads to an absolute minimum. Working on our own game projects lets us all work on game ideas we really believe in, experiment with our own solutions and game design concepts, and just play around having some fun. We have talked to publishers and they are keen to see some prototypes. Even if we never launch our games, the process keeps us fresh and allows us to develop our own concepts for our portfolios. At least one evening per week I just hit the gym and do no more work. I also have a Bradford University Video Game Society meeting one night in the week so no university work gets done then either.

I am now also looking for work in the video game industry so I usually send off a CV or two with a cover letter to a studio I would like to work at. I only just started the employment search, so it’s too early to assess if all my hard work has paid off and I now have the skills, capabilities, and training to be a valuable member of the video game industry.

9:30 PM

I finish the day by compiling a list of tasks I have to do the following day, including e-mails, calls, reports, write ups, etc.

10:00 PM

Wind down and watch a TV show or movie or just read a book. I’m reading through the excellent Fantasy Masterworks series at the moment which is made up of a whole range of different books from famous fantasy authors.  I have a rule where I do not play video games during term time. This rule has served me well during my time at university and it means I actually get some work done. Normally I make a list of all the cool games that come out during term time and then get them ordered to play when I have some free time. I played Oblivion and Galactic Civilisation II during my recent Easter break. Both were outstanding games.

I am usually exhausted at the end of an average day, especially around exam and essay hand-in time. The MBA is notoriously hard and time consuming. It is fun, exciting, educational, informative, and enlightening. I only have 3 weeks left of this, my final term, and then all that is left is to work on is my MBA Management Project.

Conclusion

All in all the MBA is a great programme. The grounding you get on modern management and business thinking and the sheer amount of modules you cover is impressive. The Bradford MBA is rated in the top 100 worldwide and is one of the top ten in the UK. The fact that the University of Bradford has allowed my to focus my studies, reports, written material, and MBA Management Project on issues relating to the video game industry is fantastic.

I would recommend a MBA for anyone interesting in the business side of any industry. It is a great compliment to a science, engineering, or a video game design degree. It is a hell of a tough course; you will remember sleep as a fond and distant memory, but I think it is well worth the cost and the time.

Many people have said that I was crazy to leave a highly paid career in my home country, Ireland, to go to University in the UK and try and get into the video game industry. I have always dreamed of working in the game industry and I just hope that spending the last 4 years getting a video game design degree and a MBA on top of that will allow me the chance to work in what I see as the most interesting industry in the world. Video games and their supporting industry are just now growing up, a global industry, sophisticated hardware, significant market players and unique creative, technical, and market opportunities. The video game industry is facing an important time of growth and consolidation and I want to be there making a difference. What’s so crazy about that?

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