With the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Southern California Games Expo had to quickly shift from a 2,000-peron physical event for students and faculty to an entirely online event. For almost a decade, according to Princeton Review, USC Games has been North America’s No. 1 ranked game design program. USC Games director Danny Bilson said that, with additional financial support from sponsor Jam City, the group scrambled to create an online-only expo to feature 50+ student game demos.
VentureBeat reports that Bilson said, “every single faculty” in USC Games, which is a joint venture between the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, participated in putting together the digital Expo. “We had to figure out how to show games, and that’s a lot harder than in-person,” he said. “We’re dropping 50 executables so that people can check out and enjoy the final projects of the students.”
Bilson reported that, when USC was locked down, many projects were in between alpha and beta tests. Teams were trimmed to about 15 people, versus as many as 60 students forming past years’ teams. About a dozen of the games had been in production for over a year. “These games are as good or better than anything we’ve ever had,” he said. “And as it’s a tribute to the students. Combined with their world coming apart, and their games coming, we felt that our expo had to go on.”
More than 50 games will “be available to play and download, and in all more than 90 student video games will be highlighted throughout the Expo,” with “perhaps all of the 400 students in the program … also participating in the Expo day.” Bilson reported that “several celebrity drop-ins” are also expected.
On Monday, May 11 at 10:00 am PT, an Expo preview will be open to high school and middle school students who will be able to talk with USC faculty and students about “the potential for continuing education and careers in the video game industry.” The Expo will open on May 12 at 2:00 pm PT, with a keynote from Bilson. The event will be hosted by The Game Awards’ Geoff Keighley. Those interested in attending can sign up here.
“I’m going to talk about connecting, using our art form to connect people in isolation,” said Bilson. “We’re making products that connect people. And I think games are going to be a little more important as an art form than before because we’re needed to connect people when they’re at a distance … our students are going to succeed in work because of the experience that they have just had to go through.”
Among the lineup of games this year are “a physical-therapy simulator, a virtual reality game that helps players feel what it’s like to bUniversity of Southern Californiae a black person in America, [and] a game that uses eye-tracking technology to escape from a dark room.” Games that debuted in past USC Games Expos include “award-winning projects such as Mobius Digital’s ‘Outer Wilds’ and Thatgamecompany’s ‘Flower’.”