For some of the graduating UVA students who will walk the Lawn this weekend, it might be difficult to see any direct connections between a major and a future career. Many will receive a degree that provides an obvious path; others have chosen English or other courses of study that are, let’s say, a bit more open-ended. However, one UVA graduate has been putting his media studies degree to work as a game designer, proving that even open-ended majors can be the right choice.
Like many kids, Brice Morrison (’08) loved playing video games. However, it wasn’t until his years as an undergraduate at UVA that he began pursuing his gaming passion more intently. “I’d always enjoyed games, but I never considered that I could do it for a living after graduating,” recalls Morrison. “Then, one day, I came across an article on someone who got an internship at Electronic Arts and that made me realize, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
While still a student in the mid-2000s, Morrison wasted no time pursuing his own internship in game development. Experience was on his side because he’d dabbled in creating games as a hobby, but now he was looking to enter the more professional side of the business. To support this effort, Morrison sought to build a community of other students that shared his passion.
“As I was reading online about all the great games being made in 2006, I realized that they were all made by small teams, but I was all alone,” says Morrison. “I distinctly remember sitting in one of the study rooms in the bottom of Old Cabell Hall and thinking to myself, ‘There are a ton of smart people here at UVA. There’s bound to be some who would like to make games too.’”
Given the wide-ranging interests represented by UVA student clubs, Morrison was surprised to discover that game development was not among the options. So, he took matters into his own hands. “I e-mailed a few friends who I thought would be interested. We met together in my dorm in Lambeth to kick things off, and planned out how we’d get started at the beginning of our third year,” says Morrison. “It took off from there.”
The student club, known as Student Game Developers, led by Morrison and fellow undergrad Scott Geiser, launched in 2006. As with all student groups, its membership and leadership has rotated since then, but the club remains vibrant and active. Participating students work in teams each semester to develop a variety of games, from role-playing games to puzzles, which are then showcased at an end-of-semester expo.
“After I started UVA’s Student Game Developers, I was able to get in touch with two alumni who worked for EA [and] I arranged for them to come and speak at our club,” says Morrison. That connection led to an interview, which in turn led to an internship at The Sims Studio, part of an EA subsidiary. After a successful experience in that role, he was offered a full-time gig after graduation. From there, Morrison continued developing his skills, eventually becoming a lead designer at Zynga, the online game company best known for FarmVille.
Though he enjoyed the projects and teams at EA and Zynga, Morrison continued searching for something more. “I wanted to strike out on my own to do some of the kinds of games that wouldn’t be viable at a larger company,” Morrison says. “The budgets become so big that it can be difficult to take a chance and do wild experiments.” So he decided to form his own development studio, Bromoco Games, in 2014.
These days, his team consists of five designers, though Morrison hopes to add at least one more to the team in the future: his brother Dan, who is also a UVA graduate, a user-centered software designer and a game enthusiast. In fact, the Bromoco name comes from the beginning letters of the words Brothers Morrison Company.
“Working with Brice would be a real blessing,” says Dan. “He understands that joy is a true differentiator in making a great experience, and that joy will look very different when it manifests in the physical world versus on a smartphone screen. As technology pokes into people’s lives in more and more ways, it will be important that people smile, laugh, share and explore these new interactive realms. That’s the promise that Brice can deliver on with Bromoco and his background in games.”
Making good on this promise already, Bromoco Games released its debut game, Buried, on multiple platforms earlier this year. Already greenlit on the popular gaming platform Steam, the dark, interactive game invites the player to inhabit the character of Roger Hastings, a logger in the Kentucky woods who wakes to find both his crew and his memory missing. The choose-your-own adventure nature of the game as well as its textual narrative combine to create an alternative to other types of games that are currently popular.
“I think that games are the art form of the 21st century,” says Morrison. “One of the goals of our games is to have some connection with the real world. I think that UVA, and media studies in particular, taught me about analyzing and understanding the influences around me.”
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