Government enlists leading digital designers from the US to help nurture local talent at cutting-edge training centre Late-night television talk show host Jay Leno once described a university course in video-game design as 'a degree more useless than political science'. Perhaps he did not realise video-game sales have exceeded Hollywood box-office receipts in the past few years. The worldwide market for video games and interactive entertainment is expected to grow from US$23.2 billion last year to $33.4 billion in 2008, according to Dublin-based Research and Markets. A report from consulting group Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu said the 'unrelenting progress in processing power, network bandwidth and storage capacity' would enable the electronic games industry to expand the worldwide installed base of electronic games devices, excluding personal computers, from about 415 million units at present to 2.6 billion by 2010. In the United States, starting salaries for digital games developers have been estimated to average about US$50,000 a year. The amazing growth of the digital games sector shows how people who grew up playing video games are finding their love of gaming can become their ticket to a successful and rewarding career. Industry experts Atussa Simon and Jon Skinner, lecturers from the Guildhall at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas, said Hong Kong had been making aggressive strides in developing the potential of local electronic games designers. Ms Simon, the chief executive and lead game designer of US-based Artemis Software, said: 'The Hong Kong government is serious about growing its game development industry. The government believes that this industry is the entertainment industry of the future, and it doesn't want Hong Kong to fall behind.' Proof of this commitment is in the government-backed Vocational Training Council's efforts to get Ms Simon and Mr Skinner to share their knowledge with local game development professionals. The lecturers led a three-day educational course on game design, which ran until August 27, at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education in Tsing Yi. The Guildhall at SMU is the world's premier training centre for video-game developers. It started offering a unique graduate-level digital games education programme in July last year. Ms Simon was one of the Guildhall's original staff members, invited by the university to work with the Guildhall team in 2002 to help establish the new programme at SMU. Mr Skinner, who joined the Guildhall last year, also works as a games designer at Artemis Software. Since the Guildhall opened its programme, plenty of applications have come from outside the US. Graduates include designers from Australia, China, Britain, Iran and Mexico. On whether a creative process such as game design could be reduced to lectures and classes, Mr Skinner said: 'Of course, it all relies on personal creativity and teamwork, but there are certain elements that can be taught.' Ms Simon said: 'To get started, students are going to need to understand the tool sets, so they can work on the art of making games.' At SMU, the Guildhall lecturers focus on computer-based electronic game development to help students become more versatile designers. 'We don't want students who can just develop games for the PlayStation 2,' Ms Simon said. The Guildhall's first students at SMU will complete their studies in December, following six three-month terms in which they have progressed from building basic two-dimensional games to making full three-dimensional games using a graphics engine that they created themselves. Such research and development could be emulated in Hong Kong if government initiatives worked. In the updated Digital 21 Strategy, the government identified digital entertainment as one of the focus areas for information technology development in Hong Kong. Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology John Tsang Chun-wah said: 'We are working out a set of initiatives to broaden and deepen our efforts in promoting this focus area. 'As a first step, we are working to build up a critical mass of digital entertainment companies in Hong Kong that are capable of producing creative and high value-added contents.' The opening of the Digital Media Centre at Cyberport early this year was supposed to be a step towards building the necessary infrastructure to support digital content creation and improve the skills of industry professionals. Funded by Cyberport and the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), the centre provides high-end production facilities to developers at affordable prices, and technical support from experts. During their visit last week, the Guildhall lecturers found the facilities at Cyberport to be of 'extremely high quality', adding that game developers in Hong Kong should make full use of them.