From Italy to the World – An Interview with Marco Accordi Rickards

Last month at Tokyo Game Show had the opportunity to meet with the delegation from the VIGAMUS Academy of Rome. We spoke to its director and chairman Marco Accordi Rickards about the development of the academy and the plans for Asia. VIGAMUS Academy is a 5-year after-diploma university program structured in 3 years of Bachelor’s Course and 2 years of Master’s Degree, entirely dedicated to video games. The courses, developed together with Link Campus University in Rome, provide students with the necessary fundamentals to apply for any career in the video game field. Marco, you are the founder of VIGAMUS. Please introduce yourself and the business of VIGAMUS.

Marco Accordi Rickards

Marco: I started working 15 years ago as a video game journalist and critic, becoming after some years editor-in-chief of various magazines; in particular Cube and Game Pro (EDGE Italy), PlayStation World Italy, PS Mania and Game Republic; also, I was the editor of the video game pages of the Italian version of Empire Magazine.

Beyond my activity as a journalist, I started operating in the field of the preservation and culture of video games, organizing conferences and events and inviting in Italy many professionals in the game industry (among them: Peter Molyneux, David Cage, Ian Livingstone, American McGee, Suda51).

Being aware of the artistic and cultural value of video games, since 2007 I have been teaching in the “Theory and Criticism of Multimedia Interactive Works” course at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, the first academic course in Italy about video game history and journalism. Since 2013, I have been also teaching in the “Organization of Editorial Activities” course at the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome.

At the moment, my main responsibility is the direction of the strategic activities of VIGAMUS Foundation. Among them, the direction of VIGAMUS, the Video Game Museum of Rome, second game museum in Europe and sixth in the world, opened in October 2012. The main mission of VIGAMUS is to preserve and divulge the history and evolution of video games through thematic exhibitions, conferences, research projects, consumer and business events. Please give us an insight view to the VIGAMUS Academy. When the academy starts, what are the subjects, and how long runs the study?

Marco: VIGAMUS Academy is a 5-year after-diploma university program structured in 3 years of Bachelor’s Course and 2 years of Master’s Degree, entirely dedicated to video games. The courses, developed together with Link Campus University in Rome, provide students with the necessary fundamentals to apply for any career in the video game field: from journalism to communication and marketing, from game design to product management and localization.

VIGAMUS Academy Students 2015
VIGAMUS Academy Students 2015

The course was in fact developed in order to create new professional figures for one of the most growing and promising markets of our times. Thanks to national and international teachers with key roles in the game industry, students can learn the theory and practice of these jobs, and obtain precious contacts with a huge number of Italian and international professionals of the game industry, through lectures and practical workshops.
The Bachelor’s Course will start on November 9th, with a Special Academic Opening Day open also to the general public. What final qualification will get the students? Do you qualify your students for the local Italian market or for the global ventures?

Marco: The game industry of today requires the development of specific skills, and therefore qualified professionals. VIGAMUS Academy aims to teach the required skills to the students in a national and international environment, giving them the opportunity to work in the main game events in Italy and abroad (e.g.: the gamescom in Cologne, where a group of students worked last August) and learn directly on the field.

VIGAMUSacademyAfter the 3 years of course, the students will obtain the Bachelor’s Degree, having the opportunity to work in internship programs in Companies as Grasshopper Manufacture, Asus, Razer, Bandai Namco Entertainment, all partners of VIGAMUS Academy. Started in 2014, VIGAMUS Academy has doubled its classes and students in only one year of activity, developing, for the upcoming academic year, two classes and a total amount of 80 students (plus the 35 of the first year, now following their second year of Bachelor’s Course), and a portfolio of partners which is always growing. Such a response has been showing that also in Italy the need to train new professional figures is now acknowledged by people and companies alike. Who are you teachers and trainers? How big is your team to manage all of your activities?

Marco: VIGAMUS Academy’s teachers are all real professionals working in the game industry. They are Italian or international professionals: they give frontal and special lessons, case histories and conferences. To give some examples: our game marketing teacher is Christian Born, Country Manager of Bandai Namco Entertainment Italy; our special Professor for the game design course is the famous game designer and CEO of Grasshopper Manufacture Inc. SUDA51. Among VIGAMUS Academy teachers there are also: Avni Yerli (Co-founder, Crytek), Frank Sliwka (CEO IBMedia and gamescom consultant), Stefania Duico (Marketing Director, Xbox Italy), Alberto Coco (Marketing Director, Ubisoft Italy), and Umberto Bettini (Country Manager, Koch Media Italy).
As far as my team is concerned, we are, in fact, a small team, but a very energetic one: we love what we do, and I think this is the key for our business. You have your kick-off event on November 9 and you invite keynote speakers. Who are they?

Frank Sliwka CEO IB Media Singapore
Frank Sliwka CEO IB Media Singapore

Marco: The Academic Year will start on November 9th with a special event open to public, featuring international guests that will deliver special keynotes and talks. Among them: Robert Krakoff, Co-founder and President of RazerTM, world leader of integrated devices and video game software; Frank Sliwka, CEO of IBMedia and Consultant for events like Gamescom and GDC, and Jakub Szamalek of CD Projekt Red, Screenwriter of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. What are your plans for Asia? Do you have relationships to Universities in Asia already?

Marco: In fact, we are working to develop partnerships and educational programs in Asia as well as in the rest of the world. We have already started a partnership with the Vantan Game Academy, a huge institution in Japan with over 20 years of activity. When in Rome, what I can expect from a visit at the VIGAMUS museum?

Marco: VIGAMUS was conceived as a “house” for video games and players, not just as a museum. It is a place where people can meet, celebrate and play together. This philosophy is expressed by the VIGAMUS tagline: “Past, present and future of video games”. VIGAMUS is a place for old and new gamers, for families and people who want to know more about this fascinating universe. VIGAMUS puts on display not only the history of video games, but also unique artifacts donated by video game companies and developers from all over the world; among these, the Doom Master Disks, donated by the world famous Texan developer id Software, and an original Space Invaders cabinet from 1978, donated by TAITO Japan and available in free play.

Worth to mention is also the “E.T. The Fall. Atari’s Buried Treasures” exhibition, which allows visitors to discover one of the most fascinating legends ever known in the history of video games, i.e. the story of the Atari’s cartridges and hardware found in the excavations of the desert of New Mexico, USA. VIGAMUS was the first museum in the world to display the symbols of the collapse of the video game industry in 1983, donated by the City of Alamogordo and now considered a unique episode of “video game archelogy”.
Inside Epson Multimedia Conference Center (100 seats), the museum hosts a huge variety of happenings, divided between consumer events designed for the general public, seminars about retro-gaming, and high profile academic round tables.

Asssassin's Creed Room
Asssassin’s Creed Room

Our consumer events are usually organized together with the Italian and international game companies: for example, through the years we’ve organized together with Ubisoft Italy many special days dedicated to the Assassin’s Creed saga, inviting as special guest the Italian voice actors of the games, organizing activities such as trivia and art contests, cosplay challenges, live performances. Consumer events, like the Assassin’s Creed Day, are the most successful and loved ones.

We have always been encouraging the direct experimentation of video games: over 55 interactive stations allow visitors to experience first-hand the titles that made the history of video games and the most innovative technologies. The interactive areas within the structure host not only different types of platforms and software, but also different gaming devices: from the pinball, considered the ancestor of the first video games, to the coin-ops, symbols of the arcade mania of the 70s and 80s, to the console stations, up to the Oculus Room.

Oculus Room
Oculus Room

The Oculus Room is the only permanent structure in the world authorized by the virtual reality giant Oculus VR. Inside the Oculus Room, the audience is able to experience the Oculus Rift virtual reality device, seeing with their own eyes the future of electronic entertainment.  Do you have any time to play games? What is your favourite ones and why?

Marco: In fact, I don’t have much time to play games, these days, apart from evenings and weekends. I do love story-driven RPGs, adventures and turn-based strategic games. My favourite game of all time is UFO: Enemy Unknown, a sci-fi turn-based strategic game developed by Mythos Games and MicroProse in 1994. Recently, I had the chance to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and I really loved it. Given my interest in interactive storytelling, I truly appeciated LA: Noire and Telltale’s The Walking Dead. I also love many Infocom’s text adventures. Marco, thank for your time and the interview