Metafocus: Nine Steps to Learning How to Make Serious Games in VR

Written By

Matt Sparks

September 27, 2018

The virtual reality (VR) and serious games industries are small and relatively new. There are no formal game ratings and standards, no serious game guilds, no VR ethics boards. There aren’t many bachelor’s or master’s degree programs that focus on VR or serious games. As a result, it’s not obvious how to learn the skills needed to create successful projects in either niche. And yet, both industries are evolving and growing at exponential paces. The VR industry is largely making everything up as it goes. The serious games industry is too, albeit to a lesser degree. And so must we, if we wish to keep pace. How can we, as eLearning professionals, learn what we need to survive and thrive in this Wild West environment? By creating our own curriculum, of course.

Create our own curriculum

This means we must decide exactly what we want to learn, understand how we learn best, research the available resources, make a plan for learning it, and then execute the plan. I created my own curriculum for learning to make serious VR games—and more generally, to develop my technological literacy. This curriculum has nine distinct steps, listed below in the chronological order that I started doing them. However, I’m still working all nine concurrently.

Nine steps to learning how to make serious games in VR

1. Make a plan

First, I wrote down specifics of what I wished to accomplish, such as learning how to use Unity game engine, learning to program in C#, interviewing serious game developers, etc. I decided to deploy multiple methods simultaneously. I wrote down SMART goals with specific timelines that I refer to frequently.

2. Take out the (head) trash

This one is tough for me, as I often get tripped up by self-doubt. However, I shouldn’t overthink everything. Instead, I should just get to work. For example, I have to remind myself repeatedly that programming is not hard to learn. People who know how to code aren’t special. They just sat down and did the work. I can do that too. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself if I don’t get something right away, I just have to keep plugging away.

3. Read

I read everything I can get my hands on. This includes blogs, books, and magazines. Learning Solutions is a great resource, with countless articles on VR, serious games, and eLearning. Learn Code the Hard Way is a fantastic ebook and video series for beginning and intermediate programmers. My favorite blogs about VR include Road to VR, UploadVR, and VRScout.

4. Join the community

I attend relevant events and meetups. I interview VR experts and serious game developers. I had 100 coffees (i.e., coffee meetings with 100 industry insiders). Within a few months, I personally knew many of the important players in the VR and serious game industries in Central Texas.

5. Take classes

Over the past couple of years, I’ve taken inexpensive (and sometimes free) online courses at Udacity, Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare. Many of these courses were better than courses I took in college and grad school. I’ve also completed some of the many wonderful (and free) tutorials offered by Unity itself. I occasionally watch YouTube how-to videos. I’ve taken classes at community colleges and universities.

If you want to dive even deeper into programming, Georgia Tech offers a reasonably-priced, self-paced online master’s in computer science that’s rated the eighth best CS program in the country. Master’s aren’t necessary for most of us, but know that quality, affordable resources are available, no matter how far down the rabbit hole of learning we want to go.

6. Start a project

Perhaps the best way to learn how to do something is to just start doing it. Come up with a project idea (the crazier the better), break it down into its components, pick the single easiest or most important component to build, and start building it. You’ll learn everything you need as you go. One of my more fun projects, Bird Feeder 3000, taught me a lot about programming, 360 video, and various other emerging technologies. I also got to talk about it at a major conference, where I met even more people in the VR industry.

7.  Write about your project

As part of my own long-term plan to increase my technical expertise and learn to develop serious VR games, I started writing this column. My own knowledge and skills increase every month as I do the research required to write each article.

8.  Stay up to date

This one is easy if you’re a teenager or a parent of one. I’m neither, so I have to make an effort to learn about the latest social media apps, games, trends, memes, etc. For example, I not only have Snapchat and Instagram accounts (unlike many of my 30 to40-something friends), I recently went to an AR meetup where the speaker taught us how to make filters and effects for Snapchat and Facebook. It was surprisingly easy to do. It’s one more tool for the toolbox, and, more importantly, each time I do something like this I feel a little more tapped into the rapid evolution of technology and culture.

9. Reassess as you go

I think of this whole plan as an experiment. Therefore, I apply the scientific method to test my hypotheses about how I can best learn VR and serious game development. One way I do that is by checking my progress on a weekly basis. I collect data on everything I do. If I’m lagging in some area, I change tactics. I continually update and improve my plan.

Accountability is important to assessment, too. My partner, Jenn, and I discuss our goals and weekly progress every Sunday evening. We hold each other accountable during the week if we’re slacking off or allowing self-doubt to derail our efforts. Mentors are also good for accountability. I don’t currently have any VR or serious game mentors, though I’m working on it.

How do you learn best?

These are my nine steps to developing the technical expertise to create serious games and experiences in VR. It’s always a work in process. I’d love to hear what you include in your curriculum for learning to build VR and serious games. What’s working for you? What isn’t? What did I miss? Please let me know in the comments.

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