I'm a teacher and I'm hoping to get a group of 15 of my high school students a sort of an interview with a game developer. These students are interested in game development and I just thought it would be good for them to get advice from someone in the field. I'm thinking we'll probably just try to skype with someone for 20-30 minutes and pick their brain. Does anyone have any idea of who might be good? Obviously someone too far up the dev heirarchy might be a little hard to get, so I'm setting my sights a little lower. But not really sure where to start . . .
First off, this is awesome. These are some of the most powerful experiences your students can have.
With that said, you might be surprised by who you could get. Somebody like Gabe Newell has been known to respond personally to emails, and it might be feasible that he'd give some of his time to help inspire the next generation of development talent. Aside from that, you could see if somebody from Double Fine might give some time to you. But other than higher-ups, there's been a flood in the past five or six years of independent talent, and they could inspire your students to start making games with the tools in front of them instead of waiting until they can get a position in the big games industry. There are a bunch of people you could go to for this. Erin Robinson is a great example of a woman who's seen success in indie games, and a good trick might be to look through different bundles (Humble Indie Bundle, Indie Royale, etc.) for who contributed games to those and then contact some of those people.
Gabe would probably respond to you if you email him, so that's worth a shot. Brad Muir is a wonderful human being, and he would probably reply to you if you contacted him as well. Not sure if either would actually do anything, but they'd reply :)
Either of the dudes of Team Meat might be happy to do something like this, they seem like real nice guys, but they might be super busy still.
Just start reaching out to people big and small. I remember in one of my college classes, some girl somehow got the guitarist from Def Leppard to come speak to our music class. Just totally out of the blue, he ended up being a really nice guy. I'm sure the same could be done with a game developer or two. What's the worst they can say, no?
I'll keep you in mind next year, when I'll be teaching "Drug abuse: The pleasures and pitfalls".
Although I am not technically a game designer, I would be willing to talk shop with any number of high school students about life and the dangers of extreme methamphetamine abuse.
I hear all the time about how accessible Gabe Newell is, if you send him an e-mail and some way to assure him you are not some kid from 4chan, you will probably get at least a response e-mail.
Tim Schafer is a nice guy from what I have heard, and he's got his hands in all of the current gaming trends (motion, mobile, indie).
Just keep it honest for these students. The game industry is extremely hard to get into, and if you land a job at a studio it's probably going to be a job where you are required to work extreme hours for relatively low pay. Brad Muir is an awesome man, and Double Fine is a great studio, but probably not really representative for the general state of the industry.
Rather than trying to access people as high-profile as Gabe Newell and David Jaffe (who have businesses to run, games in development, etc.) why not try to contact people in your area who work in the general rank-and-file of game development? For example, if you're teaching near San Francisco, instead of trying to get Double Fine's own Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, or Brad Muir, why not try Supergiant Games' own Jen Zee, the artist behind the beautiful Bastion? Or maybe ask for somebody from Double Fine, but why not ask one of the artists who worked on Stacking or Costume Quest?
I just feel like the "legends" of game design are pretty goddamned accessible. I can find out what Tim Schafer is up to almost immediately with a google search (leading to a recent Polygon interview) and a follow of his twitter feed. Would it be more exciting to meet them than, say, a programmer from Chicago who worked on a bunch of Midway games? Sure! But said programmer has very different insight from those who have struck game design gold, and a brighter focus on the people who make games beyond the simple "Big Name Game Designers" would probably do a lot of good for your students.
Local game developers may indeed jump on an opportunity like this. Not sure where you reside, but research what developers are in the area. I'm sure a studio would be willing to send a guy or two to talk about game development. :)
As far as a talk over skype, I do suppose that's possible. Just depends on the studio!
(Brad Muir signed on? Great! He's the best kinda guy.)