Raymond Tan is currently completing his last year as a Mechanical Engineering major with a minor in Entrepreneurship at Ohio State University. His passion for games and leadership skills in the eSports arena really set him apart as a candidate and winner - Ray started a student organization called the E-Sports Initiative, a charity video game tournament, in 2011. Learn more about the E-Sports Initiative and read about Ray’s inspiration behind starting this organization below.
Who is your main inspiration (either in gaming or overall)?
I want to preface this response by saying that I cannot talk about inspiration without recognizing two professors, from among many, who have shaped my career vision and provided me the opportunity to grow and learn more about myself: Deborah Grzybowski and Artie Isaac. They believed in me, challenged me, and committed to me; I would not be where I am today without them, but perhaps more importantly, I would not be able to appreciate the impact that teachers have the way I do now. As each generation is beholden to the one before it, I too have been inspired to pay it forward and touch lives in similar fashion.
Within the media industry, I have a great respect and admiration for Walt Disney; a man of incredible tenacity, Walt redefined the entertainment experience for his generation and embraced the power of storytelling as a way of connecting with his audience. While today’s digital media allows for an unprecedented level of interaction, both with the medium itself as well as with other users, it is still important to remember the atavistic affinity that people have towards compelling stories; Walt Disney’s stories are unmatched in their broad appeal and timelessness and the company is in a very favorable position as we approach another paradigm shift in the media industry. He is, unquestionably, one of the greatest storytellers of our era.
Tell us about your ideas of how you want to influence the gaming industry.
From my perspective, the digital media industry—and let’s define digital media as the video game industry in this context, excluding ancillary industries such as eSports—is rapidly maturing and there are two important trends taking place:
As industries mature, they tend to move their focus from product offerings to service-based offerings. The digital media industry is no different and will soon shift towards advanced services as an offering, including user base acquisition, big data aggregation and analysis, and graphics and physics engines for product development. The latter applies to 3-D rendered graphics, animations, and physics effects, which are seen in a wide gamut of mediums, from feature films to games.
The other trend occurring in the industry is the increasingly strong intersection between the video game industry and the traditional film and television studios. Within the digital media industry, there is an ‘intellectual property arms race’ where producers fight to acquire rights to popular intellectual property (IP), such as The Walking Dead, for their video games. In fact, the opposite is even true—Steven Spielberg is slated to produce a TV series for the lucrative Halo video game franchise.
In this rapidly-changing landscape, I hope to leverage a background that is familiar with both the technical demands of advanced services and the legal underpinnings in brokering media IP to help facilitate this transition for the industry and position a firm or advisory of my own in an advantageous position, while remaining adaptable to change. The type of content, the distribution channels, and even the very mediums we use to tell stories and consume media are changing; the collective entertainment experience is due to evolve again, and with it, the human story.
How has your education and work in Mechanical Engineering helped you toward your goal in the gaming industry?
As I mentioned earlier, I see the focus of the digital media industry bifurcating towards intellectual property and advanced services—the latter of which includes physics and 3-D graphics engines that are continually improving to meet both technological capabilities and consumer demand. Through a structured education in Mechanical Engineering, I have had the extensive opportunity to use software such as Autodesk Inventor to design, visualize, and simulate virtual objects. Autodesk is even able to render and analyze these objects under simulated conditions, such as fluid flow or collisions.
It is easy to see the potential for Autodesk software to be used in technical drawing, modeling, and virtual physics applications in the digital media industry—in fact, Autodesk has already been making such forays into entertainment and has begun advertising its products to both independent developers and corporations alike. An interesting counterpart to watch is Unity, a graphics engine that started in the game industry that is now expanding into the data visualization, modeling, and simulation space—the opposite trajectory that Autodesk is charting.
While my technical background and quantitative aptitude have prepared me to work with the forthcoming advanced service offerings, I also intend to acquire a formal education in both business and intellectual property law to best position myself to capitalize on these upcoming trends. However, the keystone of my college education has been my experience founding and growing my video game industry nonprofit, E-Sports Initiative.
Tell us about the E-Sports Initiative and your inspiration behind its creation.
The E-Sports Initiative (ESI) was founded in January 2011 after I spent a year in the dorms watching myriads of students playing video games and wondering why none of the philanthropy groups on campus were utilizing video games as an engine for charity funds. Pitching in several hundred dollars, I pulled together a group of students to purchase thirty-some television and console sets to host a video game tournament; we raised close to $1000 in this first haphazardly-thrown together event and recouped the entire initial investment. Why stop there? To date, ESI has raised nearly $15,000 in ticket sales alone and partners with companies in the $75 billion digital media industry that want to get their brand in front of the hundreds-strong live audiences at each event.
However, there is an ideal that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation espouses, along with other avant-garde schools of thought in philanthropy, that charities must be self-sufficient; over-dependency on public dollars has contributed greatly to nonprofit turnover in a tumultuous economy. In pursuit of self-sustainability, we realized the need to move beyond a simple, events-based value proposition while also developing a vision for ESI that aligned with a social cause.
In the game industry today, there are two major problems with the workforce: pervasive poaching and cyclical hiring—a process where companies bring large groups of contractors (e.g. programmers, artists, etc.) onto video game projects and lay them off shortly after the game’s release. The latter process, in particular, generates undue stress and demoralization among workers while discouraging companies from maintaining full-time workforces. I believe that these two issues are indicative of a larger problem in the industry: the lack of a competent and consistent talent pipeline.
We are addressing this issue by positioning ourselves as a talent agency for the industry, focusing on the entry-level subsector, that offers companies in the industry access to a committed and better-prepared talent pool of students. These new graduates would gain experience and industry-specific preparation, before they launch their careers, through our certification and training programs which will leverage both the reinvested revenue from our corporate services, as well as the nonprofit grants available for computer science and analytics education at the state and national level.
ESI is therefore an interesting case study, as it is a nonprofit that started out as an orphaned value proposition, but was gradually sharpened into a focused, self-sustainable mission, with diversified revenue streams, that addressed both private sector issues with workforce talent and the social issue of inadequate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education representation. We owe this to our deep insight of the industry, our adaptability, and a bit of ‘social visioneering.’
What is your next step in working in the gaming industry?
At this time, I plan on furthering my education with both an MBA and a JD; there is a wealth of opportunities available, from deferred admission MBA programs to law programs in media IP. There are also attractive combined degree options, such as the JD/MBA, that would afford me the best of both degrees while shortening the length of education. I look forward to honing my insight, vision, and strategic thinking, but I must also weigh the opportunity cost of continued education against the impact I can make on the industry immediately after graduation.
Where would you like to see the gaming industry in the next five to ten years?
I have already outlined my forecast for the entertainment industry and I certainly hope I’m proven right! More importantly, I would like to see my generation—the ‘Millennials’—be able to push the envelope for the retelling of the human story and confront this ambiguity presented to us by a dynamic industry and a changing world, just as the generations before us were able to!