Club Spotlight – Level Up! Interactive Entertainment Association

In June of 1972, Atari PONG was released as the first commercially available video game to consumers.  A decade later the world was introduced to the adventures of Mario as he first jumped over Donkey Kong’s barrels and grew to navigate castles in search of his princess, squashing koopas beneath his feet and facing off with his new nemesis, Bowser.  As technology accelerated according to Moore’s law, so too did the immersive worlds of videogames.  From Hyrule to Mt. Olympus, novel realities were constructed as a new medium in creativity and storytelling blossomed.  Today, the video game market is approaching $90 billion dollars in value and spans across consoles and PCs, vying for consumer attention and inviting them to enter a reality far more expansive than the sober reality of COVID lockdowns and stay at home orders.  Worldwide, people can make themselves comfortable and escape into multi-dimensional worlds spanning historical battles, xenomorphic enemies, and characters so richly developed that they elicit our deepest human emotions.  It is within this context that the Foster Level Up club was born and where it continues to grow as a means of bringing together students and the video game industry.

Level Up! Interactive Entertainment Association

Founded in 2016 by Foster Evening MBA student David Lau, Level Up is a club dedicated to bridging the gap between MBA candidates and the proudly non-conformist gaming industry.  David entered the Foster MBA having already blazed a trail within the gaming community.  David began his career in 2005 as a tester, responsible for creating automation scripts to increase the efficacy of the classic game Age of Empires.  David grew in his role and eventually became a producer, the person in charge of overseeing the development of a video game.  While attending Foster, David noticed that there was a profound lack of connection between the gaming industry and MBA graduates.  Traditionally, both groups have been apprehensive of one another.  For MBA graduates, a career in gaming may not be perceived as glamorous as product management or consulting, while the gaming industry may look warily at MBA graduates armed with free cash flow projections as a necessary tool in the highly creative process of dreaming up entire universes populated with unique narratives.

                    Game Night at Foster

Level Up’s mission statement is ‘to connect MBAs with the gaming industry and to broaden the gaming industry’s understanding of MBAs’, an attempt to build a two-way street where both groups can find value in one another.  If we look at the overlap between MBAs and the gaming industry, the opportunities for MBAs to add value becomes clearer.  David’s previous role as a producer required a long-term vision to grow a game from simple lines of code to an immersive universe.  The producer works with sound mixing and software teams to bring a vision to life and is responsible for delivering a quality experience that consumers enjoy.  Reading between the lines, the role is not so different from a traditional product manager, who must also work across a variety of cross-functional teams to build consensus and manage the creation of a new physical or digital product, all while managing project timelines and budgets.

There are a lot of opportunities to be involved within the industry, so what Level Up helps to do is educate Foster students who don’t know much about the gaming industry as well as showcase to gaming companies that MBAs possess the relevant skills to be valuable to the gaming industry.

– Matt Anderson (Class of 2021 and current Level Up President)

The Humanity of Video Games

A misconception exists in the minds of many consumers that video games are a means to escape reality and offer little value to the growth and development of an individual.  However, this notion can be dispelled when taking a closer look at how video games help us to learn, grow, or even cope.  Aaron Chang, a first-year Foster MBA Evening student and Level Up board member found solace in video games after the passing of one of his business partners.

After my friend’s death from cancer, his wife gifted me his Playstation 4.  When we were working together in South Korea, we rarely had time for videogames, but I had seen him start playing Final Fantasy XV at the end of a long evening.  As I worked through the mourning process of the loss of my friend, I fired up the PS4 and found his most recent save file of the game.  I continued to play through it and upon reaching the conclusion felt a moment of catharsis and release.  It was like I was able to reach out to him and say, ‘I got this, man’. 

Talk to gamers and you will find that many have built an emotional connection with some character or world, something that spoke to them and touched the core of what we call humanity.  Rather than an escape from reality, video games can be a method for us to perceive the world around us in a different light or to view a world through a different lens, whether in the first person or third.  Friendship, love, death, sacrifice, despair, and hope.  All these emotions and more have the power of coming from a medium that rivals Hollywood blockbusters and New York Times bestsellers.  The level of detail and immersion is expanding as videogame graphics continue to become more sophisticated, to the point where it will be difficult to distinguish between the world around us and the 3D contours before our eyes.

A Virtual Oasis in Turbulent Times

This year, the club has seen an increase in participation due to the largely virtual social gatherings students are currently constrained to.  Outside of coffee chats and informationals, the opportunity to bond with Foster MBAs across classes and programs over video games such as Among Us, Code Names, and Spy Fall is unique and presents an avenue to relax, kick back over a fun experience, and bond with classmates as you try to determine who is sus.

While interaction is currently taking place in the virtual world, Level Up does plenty of bridge-building in the physical one as well.  It may not be well known, but Seattle is one of the top three gaming hubs in the nation, home to iconic companies in the gaming industry including Bungie (Halo/Destiny), Niantic (Pokémon Go), and Valve (Steam, Half-Life).  Level Up has hosted student treks to several company headquarters, where employees participate in panels that give further insight to MBA students on their experience within the industry and help students envision themselves in a studio role.

          A Field Study at Halo Headquarters

Visiting Valve was such a unique experience.   Seeing the studio firsthand helped dispel any preconceived notions I might have had about the work environment, and I pictured myself sitting at a desk a few feet away from a full sound recording studio, working on creating a game and having the ability to take a break and play some of my favorites against co-workers when on break.

What many MBAs may not know about the gaming industry is just how competitive it is to access, rivaling venture capital, investment banking, and consulting firms for how many new hires are admitted from a sea of applicants.  Because the gaming industry falls underneath the entertainment umbrella, there is a lot of competition, and students seeking opportunities should bear in mind that they need to be fully invested in the journey if they wish to break in.   Gaming companies do not typically offer summer internships, instead focusing their efforts on full-time recruiting and hiring.

That said, for those who seek the treasure, a path can be forged.  Current Level Up members include students who have started their own gaming companies, worked in industry at Wizards of the Coast (makers of the famous Dungeons and Dragons series), and a first-year MBA student who serves as the general manager of a professional E-sports team.  As the relationship between gaming studios and the Foster MBA program continues to grow, new doors are sure to open for MBA students wishing to take their careers to the next level.  If you are interested in learning more about Level Up, please visit their website or contact Matt Anderson.