Where Are They Now?
showcases interviews from former IGDA scholars. IGDA scholarship recipients have accomplished impressive professional feats since their time in the program. These accomplishments range from working on award winning games to founding companies. Past IGDA scholars have pursued a variety of paths in the game industry and this series aims to catalog those paths for supporters & participants of the program. Our hope is to inspire current students to reach their goals and dreams.
Read more interviews by clicking here.
Meet Robert Zubek
Robert Zubek is a game designer and developer, and co-founder of SomaSim, an independent studio in Chicago.
Before starting his own company, he was a principal software engineer at Zynga, where he was the founding engineer on Cityville and a software architect on Farmville 2, the company’s two large-scale social games. Prior to Zynga, he developed online game infrastructure at Three Rings Design and console games at Electronic Arts. Dr. Zubek holds a PhD in Computer Science from Northwestern University, where he did research on game AI and robotics.
Why did you apply for the IGDA Scholars program?
I was awarded the scholarship to GDC in 2001, the very first year of the scholars program. I was just starting grad school then, and got really interested in doing research on games, which at that point was just getting started.
What was the biggest benefit of the IGDA Scholars program for you?
Going to the GDC! I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, not on a grad student’s budget. And it was a great experience, a massive knowledge download compressed into just three days. I also met cool people in the scholars program. Unfortunately we’ve mostly lost touch over those 12 years, and I wish we hadn’t.
What projects have you worked on since the IGDA Scholars program? Upcoming plans?
Since the scholarship, I continued grad school, and defended a CS PhD in 2005, with a thesis on AI for games and conversational agents. My first industry job was at EA, on the Sims and Lord of the Rings franchises, then I moved on to a startup called Three Rings Design, which was a pioneer of free-to-play casual MMOs. After that was another startup called Zynga, where I built several very-large-scale social games, such as Cityville.
Finally, last year I started my own company, SomaSim, dedicated to making simulation games. We’ve just released our first game earlier this year – it’s a city management sim called “1849″, set in the California Gold Rush.
How about that for 13 years on fast forward?
What advice would you give those applying to the IGDA Scholars program?
If you get accepted, immerse yourself in the conference, learn as much as you can about the industry. Take advantage of any mentoring you can get from experienced industry people – you can get much more out of simple conversations with seasoned developers, than from dozens of blog posts or opinion pieces.
Finally, stay in touch with your peers in the scholars program. When I look through the list of past scholars, I’m amazed by how many names on there I recognize. Many of you will go on to do great things.
Learn more about Robert by visiting his website and follow him on Twitter.