Serious Game Alumni Interview #4 with Daniel DeMaiolo

Daniel DeMaiolo

Daniel DeMaiolo, an MSU alumn, always knew he wanted to do something that involved gaming. He started at Youngstown State University where he studied advertising/public relations and marketing management. During that time, he focused much of his time on researching game economies, advergaming, and virtual world marketing, leading him to the epiphany that he wanted to learn how to make these same game worlds. It was then that he enrolled in the MA program at MSU, focusing on game design and development and the Serious Game Graduate certificate.

Today, DeMaiolo is living in San Francisco and working in the game industry.  After graduation he joined a small, Michigan-based startup, Fine Orange, to create fun, innovative mobile and desktop games. Fine Orange relocated to San Francisco and became part of Sourcebits, Inc., a global expert in mobile strategy, design, and development (including games), based in San Francisco.

As an aspiring game designer, DeMaiolo recalls two of the most important courses of his student career: Game Design and Development II and Foundations of Serious Games. In the first course, DeMaiolo found himself pushed forward by fellow students to develop digital games rapidly. Many of the projects, he recalls, were amazing, despite a short development cycle. In Foundations of Serious Games, a course within the Serious Game certificate, DeMaiolo discovered “the skills that most designers underestimate—paper prototyping and board game design.” To him, these skills are an invaluable asset when it comes to saving money, time, and unneeded headaches. “In fact,” he mentions, “I was able to apply this skill my very first week on the job [in the game industry] by using poker chips and sticky notes to paper prototype a portion of my current game.”

“One of the valuable lessons I learned from a guest speaker is that every game is someone’s favorite game.  Knowing that I can have that kind of an impact on someone is the reason why I got into game development in the first place.”

Now working as a game designer/ copywriter, DeMaiolo is responsible for developing UX/UI documents, creating wireframes, creating and balancing a game’s economy, designing systems for stats, writing copy and narrative, managing assets, and much more. He’s learned that in a start-up environment, designers often take on many different hats, but provide a strong connection among team members. That same camaraderie is DeMaiolo’s favorite aspect of his job as a game designer, taking tough design challenges and overcoming them as a team.

But DeMaiolo feels strongly that the Serious Game certificate had a strong impact in preparing him for his job as a game designer. Much of his ability to work and collaborate in teams stemmed from these courses, and he believed that the Serious Game certificate pushes students out of their comfort zones and “teaches students how to think like designers of any form of media by identifying problems and creating elegant solutions.” The program, he says, provided him with skills applicable to other forms of media as well.

“Before I graduated, I was terrified of failing.  I didn’t really want to go to GDC and didn’t really know how I’d even get into the industry.  It kind of seemed like a lost cause.  I remember reading a passage from one of Jesse Schell’s books that said something to the effect of taking a deep breath and repeating, ‘I am a Game Designer.’ It’s really that simple.Take a deep breath and have confidence.”

As far as advice goes, DeMaiolo offers three pieces of advice: don’t be afraid of failing, network, and be ready to make sacrifices. To those looking to become game designers, it’s important to learn how to communicate effectively and learn as much about the trade as possible, always remembering to talk and network with others.

Dr. Carrie Heeter recalls DeMaiolo from her courses, and reminisces about him and his twin brother, Derek who also went through the MA program: “It was amazing having awesome identical twin brothers in the graduate certificate courses.  Both were overachievers, going above and beyond on every project.  To help me tell them apart visually, one wore a silver bracelet and one a gold bracelet.  On days when they wore the same clothing, the bracelets worked fine when I was close enough to look carefully at their wrists. Two delightful and talented young men!”

Stay tuned for next week’s profile of Derek DeMaiolo, the twin brother who also works in the game industry.

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