School Daze: On Gaming Degrees

By Alec Meer on October 15th, 2010 at 6:22 pm.

when words attack

Perhaps a little outside our bailiwick, but given a fair few RPS commentors seem to have worked on or hope to work on games it’s well worth covering this, I think. Eurogamer’s Johnny Minkley has spent months investigating the UK government’s relationship with games, with this third chapter specifically looking at what this country is doing to train up tomorrow’s developers.

Short story: if you’re planning on getting onto the games industry via the academic route, this is a must-watch. The same’s probably true if you’re an employer looking around for new talent. Or if you just like watching the likes of David Braben, Peter Molyneux and Ian Livingstone.

Far too many university courses are based around theory rather than practice, and their graduates “just ended up essentially being able to review games by the end of it,” as one student puts it. You certainly don’t need to spend thousands of pounds and three years to do that. Or “We do not need them teaching a philosophy about games, we need computer science, art and animation,” as Ian Livingstone puts it.

The show – which is incredibly well put-together – looks at the courses that do work, how the games industry and the government need to improve matters, and has some warnings against too-good-to-be-true course offers.

Again, if you’re even slightly thinking of signing up to a games course any time soon, you owe it to yourself to watch this.

Also covered is the positive role games can play in education themselves, flying in the face of those all-too-regular accusations by newspapers that all they do is turn kids into pint-sized sociopaths.

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153 Comments »

  1. Barman1942 says:

    “Far too many university courses are based around theory rather than practice, and their graduates “just ended up essentially being able to review games by the end of it,” as one student puts it.”

    That’s why I’ve made up my mind to get into DigiPen. Valve, and plenty of other devs hire from them. But for anyone wanting to get into game design, be aware that the industry has plenty of those, and a lack of programmers (or so I’ve heard).

    • Aemony says:

      “True” programmers, yes. I’m pretty sure that average game programmers are there plenty of, but those with the ability to i.e. create the next Unreal Engine is there few of. At least after what I’ve heard.

      Many can create modules to an already created engine but few can actually create the very engine in a bugfree fashion.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Because creating an engine nowadays is a pretty insane and insanely huge project. That nobody pays you for anyway. I admit, I planned on building several engines. But every time, using an existing one, and maybe modding it a bit, just made more sense. I mean, re-use is the freaking point of programming libraries!
      Game engines only should be more modular. A lot more modular. It’s like those horrible “frameworks” you see so often. Which only means that they don’t play well with anything else and you have to take the whole package. Which is just plain stupid in an anti-pattern way.
      I hope there will be standardized interfaces for games in the future. I mean between world models, rendering engines, sound engines, physics engines, I/O & control mapping, HUDs, menus, persistence engines, network engines, standardized role-playing modules/libraries, etc.
      So you could patch stuff from competing companies together.

    • Ragnar says:

      I’m not sure why a really good programmer would want to work in big game studios. From what I can tell you don’t get very well paid, the hours seem to be really killing and the creative freedom is given to people calling themselves designers and producers. A small independent studio might be worth it though, if you have the right combination of people in it.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Your chances of getting a job are going to be increased if your degree doesn’t have the word “games” in it.

    • kwyjibo says:

      ^ Apologies, did not mean to reply to that post.

    • Barman1942 says:

      @Ragnar

      Yeah, I’ve heard horror stories about the big game devs. Ideally, I’d want to work at a place like Tripwire, or, and this may be too bold, even Valve, some day. But a job at an EA or Activison dev? Count me out, which is why I’m going for a degree that can be used outside the games industry as well, back-up plans and all that.

    • Jacques says:

      If you’re a really good programmer and you want to make lots of money, just go work in investment banking.

    • Barman1942 says:

      @Jacques

      Honestly I’d rather work on something I love, I just wouldn’t find any sort of joy doing that.

    • Starky says:

      I’ve a friend who did his masters in computer science, is a A+ programmer – I can just about code my way around unity, but he’s a ninja. I also consider myself a pretty smart guy, but he makes me feel dumb as a bag of rocks – He worked for 2 years in the games industry before he rage quit…

      During those 2 years he worked 70-80 hour weeks for 25K a year (with supposedly a 10k bonus that never materialized), no thanks, only pressure and no real credit or praise for his work. No real chance of career advancement, or promotion.

      So he moved into software development instead, and now earns 120K a year as a programmer doing business solutions, and in a few more years will probably get promoted to project lead and be earning £200k a year. Oh and he works a 40 hour week with flexi-time, and is respected by those he works for.

      I Wish I was as smart as he is.

    • Jacques says:

      Fair enough, it’s obviously not for anyone.

      People should consider doing more programming courses rather than “game” courses. They’ll have more options when they leave universities.
      That stands for most things as well, a more open degree is usually more useful than a purely specialised one, especially if you’re like me and not 100% sure on what you want to do with yourself.

    • Andreas says:

      Everybody wants to work in the games industry sadly – so the salaries are never going to be competitive. The same thing applies to gaming journalism: even the best writers are lucky to earn 20k. You’ll do far better in any other field.

  2. Shagittarius says:

    “Game Designer” isn’t even a real job title.

    • Ricc says:

      It is, actually, and the lack of one can ruin your whole project.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      As a game designer, I disagree. A game designer is the job of someone who actually designs the game. Meaning fitting it all together, having the big picture and main idea, figuring out the mechanics on the big scale, etc. Where “game” can be anything from a rollercoaster and a sport, to a PC game.
      A programmer usually is a bad game designer, because he’s not so much a creative person. A (graphics/3d/…) designer is also a bad game designer, because he’s not good at figuring out mechanics and rules. A game designer should at best be both. But in reality, that of course means a bit less detail. Detail is what dedicated jobs for those tasks are for.

    • Gothnak says:

      Outrageous, variants of it have been my job title for 10 years of my career!

    • draknir says:

      Yes, it is. You can’t simply throw together some programmers and artists and expect a good game to come of it.

    • Ragnar says:

      @BAReFOOt

      A designer (regardless of it being a game designer or other software designer) really needs deep knowledge of programming (and in the game designer case probably art too). Yes, the job of the designer is to see the overall picture. But a designer that has little understanding of the detail will never be able to assemble the big picture and the result will invariably be a mess of a software.

    • RogB says:

      it all depends on skill rather than title.
      a designer will say nobody else can do his job (see above), yet a programmer or artist thats been making games for over 10 years is in a better position to say what makes a game good than someone straight out of uni or from a job behind the counter in GAME.

    • Shagittarius says:

      What you ALL are describing is a producer. Not a game designer.

    • Ravenger says:

      Game designer is a pretty all-encompassing title, and it means different things in different companies.

      Some game designers are actually map designers, others are almost programmers, using scripting languages to create gameplay (I’ve spent a large part of my design career doing this), others (normally leads or senios) work mostly to create the general principles behind the game and then farm out individual elements to junior designers.

    • Shagittarius says:

      I think the confusion here is improper use in the modern game industry of the title “Game Designer”. They use it as a catch all to make different jobs sound more attractive to gamers trying to enter the industry.

      A pure game designer is a myth. No one does just game design, its producer, or lead programmer, or whatever have you, and a colabrative effort on the deisgn from all those involved, everybody is in effect a game designer, but no one really is the “Game Designer”.

      If you wrote up a design document, handed that off to someone else who produced it for you and you never had anything else to do with it after that you can consider yourself a “game designer” otherwise you might have aspects of game design in your job, but thats not really your title. Companies are always happy to hand out titles especially if it doesn’t come with any spectacular monetary compensation.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      Clearly you’ve never been inside a large game studio.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      … if you’ve never run into a full-time designer, I mean.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      Sorry that came out more sarcastic than intended. I think there’s definitely a lot of confusion about the role, but there’s technical designers balancing things and getting down to the details of how things work (which sometimes overlaps with gameplay programming, but not necessarily), there’s level design (which is generally separate from environment art these days) and there’s even the fabled creative directors, lead designers et al that do write design docs, but still have plenty to do after…

      I’d say all of these are game designers.

  3. BA(hons)Louse says:

    I’m in final year of a games design (BA hons). I would say that there is nearly as much blame on the students as on the lecturers when a course doesn’t give results.

    I have watched students go from freshers, to final year students to graduates, doing what the lecturer asked to get the grade. By the time they graduate they still have no idea what area of games production they want to work in, and don’t have the skills to get a job anyway. It’s clear that the syllabus is lacking, but the fact is, these students did what they needed for the grade, not for the job.

    We have a hard ass lecturer who says time and time again. ‘You need to be doing this stuff in your own time’. But that’s just the half of it. If you want a job making art in the games industry you need to eat sleep breathe game art. You need to read Gameartisans, polycount, CGhub and the like as if they where your holy fucking texts. That is where you will get the cutting edge tricks, the inspirational images and the competition to get you an industry standard portfolio.

    Our course is severely lacking. at no point did we get a lesson on how and why you bake normal maps from high poly models. At no point did we learn about hard surface modelling. But more than half the students didn’t even care. some still don’t really know what these things are.

    Obviously, the lecturers need to tech this stuff. To break down the pipeline of asset creation. But if they don’t, and you haven’t even noticed, its because you are relying on coming into class twice a week to have someone tell you what to do. It’s because you don’t read up on the important shit, its because you don’t care. Wake the fuck up and take initiative. This job is not a dos, it is hard fucking work.

    (ok this post exploded. Also, taking off my usual username to follow current trends :B …This is the stuff I never yell at my fellow students, but want too.)

    • Rob Hale says:

      This is the problem with higher education in general not just games.

      I remember being pressured in school to go to university because that’s what you do. I had no idea what I wanted to do and back then the catch-all “I have no idea what I want to do with my life but apparently I need a degree” subject was “Media Studies”.

      I didn’t bother. I did start a course in music production (I was interested in it) but failed the first year for the reason above – I was spending my spare time making mods for games. So I dropped out and applied for jobs as a level designer. I got hired and ten years later I just shipped Enslaved (as well as some others on the way).

      The simple fact is that if you want to work in games then nothing will stop you from making games it shouldn’t be a job it should be a passion. We hire people who we know that if nobody else hired them then they would still be spending every night making games in some way. These are the people the games industry wants.

      “Games Design” course are just the new “Media Studies” courses. Most of the people on them join because they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their life and making games sounded like a good way to spend 3 years and put off taking a responsibility for your life.

    • Ging says:

      you probably should just yell it at your fellow students, not that they’ll listen mind you – students are like that.

    • ok that was a dumb name, sorry says:

      Spot on. Everything I learned that will (hopefully!) get me a job, I more or less taught myself. I say more or less because the internet is full of people who really want to make you a better artist or programmer and they will be invaluable! :)

    • Barman1942 says:

      @Rob
      An interesting insight into someone who hires, will definitely take what you said into mind and mull over it for a while.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      That sounds about right. You are responsible for your own education, regardless of school. The people who go the extra mile and fill the gaps in their own time are the ones that get jobs.

      You could go to the best school in the world and learn nothing if all you do is show up.

    • Andreas says:

      Yeah, this is an issue with university education, not games. I’m a politics and economics student, but nobody tells us to read the Economist, keep up with the market, and start specialising with intern-ships, industry contacts, and the like.
      But you do make a good point that, especially in such a specialised field as games design, it should be pointed out more often.

  4. Unguided says:

    You can get theory just by studying the basics for each genre and attending panels at conventions. The best way to learn is to get practice and critique, make simple games and ask other game making hobbyists what they think.

  5. mlaskus says:

    My college disguises an advanced course in C++ programming as a games design course.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Sad. Programming really has nothing at all to do with game design. Game designers should be experts at social studies, psychology, logic, visual design, storywriting, and programming. Some of them to understand, what is fun for people, and some of them to implement what he learned.

    • Ragnar says:

      You are contradicting yourself. If programming has nothing to do with game design, why do you say that the designer needs to know programming?

    • GHudston says:

      So they they know enough to work with the programmers. It’s a nightmare working under someone who has no idea what you do and how you do it.

    • Devan says:

      On the other hand, anything that gets more people into C++ can’t be all that bad. :)

    • mlaskus says:

      But C++ is evil! ;)

  6. BAReFOOt says:

    I don’t hire people with degrees. They think they are finished with learning, or just do it for the money. Or even both. I hire people who love what they do (which means they are very good, or will soon be very good) and are smart and nice to be around. No matter the scraps of paper they present.

    • AndrewC says:

      You hire people?

    • mlaskus says:

      I am quite surprised too…

    • Unaco says:

      What about some one who loves what they do, who also has a degree? Or does a degree automatically exclude them from consideration?

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Yes and no. See, I disapprove of traditional business models. People that work for me, are independent, self-employed, and equal partners. Not a hierarchy, but a network (a graph for you mathematicians). But nonetheless, there are those with long-term contracts. Which is what I meant when I said “hire”.
      It’s a network of trust. Simple. Like it was meant to be by nature. And I could never ever go back. :)

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @Unaco: Well, it’s actually of course more complicated that what I described above. There are gradients. What I look at, is… you could say “that glow in the eyes” when someone speaks of the relevant topics… You can see, why someone does what he does. I chat a bit, and if we are on the same wavelength, and I am sure he knows his stuff, we can proceed.
      Honestly, it’s pretty rare that those are people with degrees. But of course, a degree does not automatically and blindly disqualify someone. That would be very stupid.
      What it does, is make me more wary. Out of experience. That person will get a harder and more detailed look. Sorry.

      Oh, and: Yes, my English may be bad right now. I did not sleep last night, because I had to finish a project. And it’s not even my native language. Feel free to point at me and laugh. I won’t notice it anymore anyway. ;)

    • RogB says:

      I agree with parts of this. (i hire too..)
      I dont give the slightest toss whats on the cv. absolutely none.
      All i care about is the quality of the portfolio, and if we get them in for a chat, they dont come across as a dick or a serial killer.

      we got a cv in this week from someone with a MA and a BA in animation, and it was very nearly the worst one we’ve ever had sent in…

    • kael13 says:

      What about people without experience? Would you ever hire someone who had not worked on a project before?

  7. Donethat says:

    While what you’re saying is true, what you’re going to miss out is the interaction between disciplines that a decent program needs to have. You need to know how to work with programmers, artists, et al. It’s incredibly important for anyone hoping to get into the industry.

  8. Gothnak says:

    So, any advice on how a veteran of the games industry gets a job being a lecturer? I have been thinking about it… ;)

    • Ging says:

      If you’re in the UK, than right now, don’t – budgets are getting cut all over the shop and with the change in fees lots of universities are going to shut down “frivolous” courses that don’t bring in the big bucks (arts & humanities, in the main – generally “games design” courses are considered arts).

    • apsaps says:

      @Gothnak
      (This reply will probably fail)

      Start a school. The lead programmer from World in Conflict did just that 2 years ago.
      http://www.thegameassembly.com/

    • Nullkigan says:

      @Gothnak, this is late, so I’m not being precise or clear here. Nor am I at the lecturer stage myself, but I AM in academia, so this may shed some light…

      In normal academia there are two types of lecturer; those with PhDs who have come up the acaedemic route, and those from industry. The later are much rarer and tend to be one or two per department (at least in Engineering, I’m not Computer Science or equiv so take with a grain of salt). They’re normally people asked to teach a module or two each year on day release from a company, for suitable remuneration rather than full time ‘lecturers’ (who actually spend most of their time on research rather than teaching).

      If you choose the PhD route, you’ll go into research for a while and a lectureship will follow naturally [Postgrad Research (3 years)->Postdoc (4-6 years)->Lecturer (stop counting)->Professor(if lucky), although I know a few people who managed to skip Postdoc straight into teaching]. It’ll also let you develop new skills, and at the end you get to make the choice of stay/go. However, being a researcher would be a SIGNIFICANT lifestyle change for you, as even when on a Cooperative Award in Science and Engineering (basically, research at Uni on a topic picked by a company, with joint funding and management) the money is poor.

      If you want to be an external lecturer, contact local universities and offer to provide an industry perspective. I’d say aim for heads of departments, but that’s because the three I’ve known have been really really awesome and actually read their own mail. They should be able to provide the necessary details. You will almost certainly be required to take one or two short courses on teaching, and then probably be asked to help out with a module for a while until they’re confident you have a good grasp on the academic system.

      In both cases, you should keep an eye on jobs.ac.uk, as this lists many of the open lecturer and researcher posts. The Times Higher Education mag can also be occasionally worthwhile, but is extremely general in scope.

      As others have mentioned, the current economic climate is not favourable to traditional universities and you may be better off speaking to the companies mentioned in the eurogamer video. Alternatively, you market “externs are cheaper because they’re part time” or “the economy will have recovered when I’m a Dr!” really, really hard.

  9. Gothnak says:

    I hire people with degrees, but it’s the ‘work outside of degrees’ that makes people stand out. Someone with a 1st doesn’t interest me, that just shows they can study… Mods, or projects with your friends, that’s how you stand out…

    • Unaco says:

      Having flirted, briefly, with seeking gainful employ is the commercial software engineering market a few years ago, I can say that this was also the standard for that industry as well. It isn’t really the numbers after your degree (as long as you have one and it’s either a 1 or a 2), but the portfolio of your coding that you present that matters the most. Thankfully I was able to dismiss that job nonsense and do a PhD.

    • RogB says:

      yep, same here. Work on a mod shows passion, working out problems and learning for yourself.

  10. Scroll says:

    I’m in my second year studying Film studies and Business management, so yeah not hugely related but.. With all the academic writing I’ve been doing over the last year I have no pretty much decided to write about games and other such media.

    Basically even if the course is theory based there’s a lot to get out of it. Well I hope there is. So I hope to support my degree with a portfolio of interesting articles. We’ll see if I can keep to that.

  11. Ging says:

    I lecture on a games design course at the university campus suffolk – we avoid being branded as either a programming or art course (in fact, if prospective students show up and show an overly keen interest in doing either we recommend they look elsewhere, we won’t be covering the topics in sufficient detail). What we do aim to do is hammer students through multiple projects, currently the majority of them work in flash – we’re expecting somewhere around 70 games / projects by the end of this academic year, including key stage 1 educational titles, distinct themed final year group projects and a number of UDK based projects.

    We dont want to push out the next big programmer or artist, we want to push out students who are able to work to fixed deadlines, following industry practices (milestones, project tracking, version control etc) while also designing and implementing a range of interesting game mechanics either off their own back or within the confines of a fixed brief from outside partners.

    Even with all that, we’re always looking at ways to improve the course – all our modules are written in ways that mean we can introduce new elements or take on board commercial briefs without causing major disruption and stopping us from having to sit tight for the next five years while we wait for the next chance to re-write the course handbook.

  12. Robert Yang says:

    As a former instructor (and now a current masters student of design) and self-taught designer I’ll throw in my 2 cents: MAKE GAMES. Like, right NOW.

    MAKE SOMETHING PLAYABLE RIGHT NOW. YOU DON’T NEED A 2 OR 4 YEAR SCHOOL TO TELL YOU HOW. Just download Flixel or Gamemaker and start reading tutorials, or download Unity and start reading tutorials, or download UDK or the Source SDK or Crytek Sandbox and start making stuff. The tools are there and the documentation is there and a helpful community is there.

    Once you know how to make games and you’ve been making games for a while… THEN go to a design school. NOT a game design school, but a generalist design school that’ll expose you to other fields of design and let you bring that back to video games.

    That’ll ultimately be more valuable than some guy teaching you how to use Maya — when you can just watch an Eat3D or Gnomon DVD and learn at twice the rate.

    These game design school are like applied maths — useful in the short term, but really just some tips and tricks. An established generalist design school teaches pure maths — it teaches you how to think, to abstract and to wonder beyond your current context. And that’s what’s important for game design.

  13. noobnob says:

    You probably learn more stuff about game design on the internet and enthusiast circles rather than the average “games design” course. I considered that at some point, but I’m glad I changed my mind. The study of games in the academia still has a long way to mature.

  14. Ziv says:

    I’ll definitely watch that, after I finish school and mandatory army service I want to go to england to try my hand at the gaming industry. I’ll keep watching this comment thread too.

    Can you tell me how does the english work permit works for people outside the EU? I’m from israel and I think I’ll go and try to study or find an internship, in the meanwhile I’m trying to learn more about game design and trying to make things (just bought L4D, gonna try level design :).

  15. Tei says:

    Do you want to make games?
    Make games.
    You don’t want a academia for that. Or to be more precise, you need to make games added to some academia.
    The academia of choice is important in your life, DigiPen or other academia that seems well positioned seems ok.. is not recomended. Is recomended to make some normal IT courrier.

    Here seems the priorities:
    1) Make games
    2) Make games
    3) Do any IT academia, generalistic is ok

    Doing games you learn a lot, and you test yourself, and you build a book of games you can show, and you probe yourself you can do games, and If games scares you… better get that sooner than late.

    Heres my final advice:
    Don’t try to enter the game industry, seems a horrible job. Maybe wen it work is okay, but the general life style is horrible. People have almost never see his wife, kids, etc..

    • Ricc says:

      @Tei:

      That is also the approach I’m currently taking. I’m studying Media Informatics (including some technical / theoretical computer science) and am currently learning how to write a software renderer. :)

      A lot of Indie developers repeatedly mention that they “have to wear a lot of hats”. In fact, all of them. I think going with a non game-specific study will help you prepare for that a little bit better. Not that 1) and 2) are still the most important, though.

    • Tei says:

      Eeeek…
      I hope I get shot for the horrible spell and grammer of this post, or theres no justice on this world.
      (good thing, theres not justice on this world, weeeeee!)

    • Scandalon says:

      Tei, you know we all love you, and you have my respect for conversing in a non-native language…but you do realize that ALL of your posts have (English) grammar issues, right? :)

    • Tei says:

      Final generic advicecetronic:

      4) Don’t make 1 game, make a lot of game. 1 game = 1 point of experience, N games = N points of experience. Two small games give you x2 more experience than 1 big game.

  16. GHudston says:

    This is a bit close to home for me. I decided that I would join up to a games design course a couple of years ago. I had just started my second year when I dropped out.

    I went to Uni solely because I had had it drummed into me that that was where you go to get a “Higher Education”. It is drastically in need of rebranding to something like “Higher Qualification” as “Education” could not be further from the goal of most Universities that I am aware of.

    The problem was that the class was so big and the students ranged from people already working with 3D modelling or concept art down to people who could barely hold a pencil (Seriously. My course was an art heavy course and one student couldn’t draw a stickman to save his life. How does that happen?!). Because of this, every lecture was aimed at the lowest common denominator and you could glean the same level of information from the first few chapters of a “Maya for Dummies” book or a handful of free tutorials online. It didn’t take long before I started to wonder where my £3000 a year was going as everything that I was learning was down to me doing it myself in my own time, which I had been doing before the course anyway.

    The sad thing is that these “Lowest Common Denominator” types made up at least 80% of the people actually getting a degree from these courses. All you have to do to earn a degree is turn up 3 times a week and hand in some rubbish at the end. Usually just completing the work is enough to pass, it doesn’t need to actually be good quality. Those with skills and talent (there were usually one or two really talented guys in every class of about 60 students) usually had both before they even started the course and came out with basically the same qualification as everyone else. Employers know this and your degree counts for nothing without a portfolio to back it up; something which you can do for free without all the other useless stuff taking up all of your time.

    I don’t think for a second that this was just my course, the Uni I went to is recognised as one of the best in the country for Design and has one of the top rated Games Design courses that I could find at the time that I was searching.

    So I quit, spent about £100 on books about 3D modelling and concept art and spent 2 weeks learning more about Games Design than £3000 and one year at Uni got me. I am still massively disappointed and the whole thing was a huge blow to my confidence.

    • Barman1942 says:

      What books would you recommend for those areas?

    • GHudston says:

      I got Introducing Maya 2009 and then Mastering Maya 2009 (published by Sybex, I think.) for learning the software that they tried teaching me at Uni, it’s not specifically geared for creating models for games so you don’t necessarily need to learn everything in there but it helped me to break past the daunting interface and get a feel for it so it’s be worth doing anyway!

      For inspiration and for some insight into how the pros do things (not so much a straight tutorial) defiantely look into the Digital Art Masters series from 3Dtotal and, if concept art is your thing, you need to get yourself a subscription to ImagineFX.

      Once you get past the basics, pick an engine that you want to work in and just search around. There are hundreds of tutorials online for just about anything that you need to learn and once you get past the basics of learning the software the important thing is to just start making stuff and experimenting. The learning sort of happens by accident.

      Hope that helped!

  17. DuckSauce says:

    “Again, if you’re even slightly thinking of signing up to a games course any time soon”

    Add: if you live in Britain.
    What use is it to the rest of the world? :P

  18. Chris Whitman says:

    So, basically: “We don’t need people studying philosophy or theory, we need people who know how to make whatever the market wants this year.”

    Maybe I’m cynical, but I feel like that complaint amounts to stating that people leave university not properly equipped to work as the guy who writes the tool that the junior artists use to smooth the geometry of the left legs of 12% of the monsters in the fifth area of the ice level.

    I mean, obviously there are a lot of skills that go into making a game, but a university is a place for education, not a factory to produce workers. People criticize universities a lot these days in general for being useless, but it’s clear that “useful” in this context only means capable of getting you a job and/or preparing you to produce a product.

    It’s been typical, for as long as I’ve worked in software development, for a lot of a developer’s training to occur on the job. Businesses do not like this. They don’t want to have to pay to mold young devs into skilled employees. The ideal situation is what they’re talking about here: the public pays to produce workers who in turn immediately produce profit for private corporations.

    The goal of universities has always been to produce well-rounded, educated individuals. I hope everyone understands why that’s important.

    • Devan says:

      That’s an interesting point, Chris, and it makes sense. I learned a lot of valuable things from the philosophy and English and management-type courses I had to take which I didn’t expect I’d learn before taking them. I guess the real challenge is for the institutions to find the right balance in the courseload to satisfy both the need for well-roundedness and for developing current, practical skills.

      Four years should be enough time to do both, I would think.

    • Rinox says:

      I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t matter if you study philosophy, engineering or art. The core of academic schooling is learning to analyse problems and to take a critical approach to them. That’s a skill that (should) be applicable to any situation.

      Instead of criticising universities or university studies for their shortcomings, I would rather point a finger at the labour market these days with its ubiquitous ’3 years of experience’ for entry level positions and rusted mindset on job flexibility. They’re looking for ridiculous candidates and are very skeptical about hiring people with the ‘wrong’ degree in a certain sector or position…which is silly as in many jobs you’ll learn 95% you need to know at the workplace itself, not during your training.

    • NieA7 says:

      Good point well made Chris, I agree entirely.

    • Archonsod says:

      “They’re looking for ridiculous candidates and are very skeptical about hiring people with the ‘wrong’ degree in a certain sector or position…which is silly as in many jobs you’ll learn 95% you need to know at the workplace itself, not during your training.”

      Erm, that’s why they ask for experience. A guy who’s spent three years doing the same job for another company has already picked up the 90%; you can just show him where his desk is and where the fire exits are and let him get on with it. A guy fresh from Uni on the other hand is starting from scratch, and it’s going to take some time for him to pick up enough to be effective. Guess which one the company would rather hire, particularly in an economic downturn.

      To be honest the problem isn’t so much the university as the students. They should really teach them how to fill in job applications before they leave. When we’re looking for experience we’re looking for any relevant experience, whether professional, academic or hobby. What you tend to get from graduates is that they gained their degree. Which is nice and everything, but my boss isn’t going to give me a week off while I go track down the prospectus to find out what your particular university may have taught that could be relevant to the role.

      WRT having the “wrong” degree it’s because an employer will assume the degree subject is your chosen field, so if you’re applying for a job outside of that you need to make sure the application explains why. Otherwise they’re likely to question whether you’re serious about the job or not.

    • Rinox says:

      @ Archonsod

      Obviously, but you know just as well as I do that “being able to go in and start working effectively right away” is a simplification even for people with experience. Every company has its own way of working, its own sensibilities or many use different systems. No 2 jobs are the same. I particularly railed on “3 years of experience” jobs since those 3 years really don’t make too much difference in my experience.

      The reason why it doesn’t make sense is because there aren’t many opportunities to actually get experience anywhere (since all similar jobs ask for the same thing) and if you do find a job in the same sector straight out of uni you’re probably doing a low-level support one that has little to do with the actual position you’re gunning for. It’s just related to it. Add to that the fact that people who already have 3 years of experience in such a position aren’t usually looking for another 3 years in the same position, and you’ve got a bizarre sort of labour market hurdle that seems to be inspired by business models more than any realistic candidate profile. (and yes, I have been employed for years, this is not a personal rant – but I know many people who suffer from it).

      re: the chosen field thing. It’s also a societal convention. There are societies that encourage job mobility accross different sectors/fields and stimulate it. In Western Europe (counting the UK), once you’ve started going down a certain career path (say HR) it’s hard to make a satisfying switch to another field after a few years without pretty much starting from 0. And I’m pretty sure the fact that you’ve had a lifelong interest in that other field doesn’t count for much at that stage – your CV won’t even make it through the first selection round, as it’s often an automated program that skims CV’s for keywords.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      The “3+ years of experience” is just there to discourage those who are easily discouraged. It’s rarely an actual requirement.

  19. Jacques says:

    I was on a “Games Technology with Business” degree at Kingston University (London) a few years ago. Got bored in the first year and moved on to something I found more interesting.
    The university atmosphere in the course didn’t help things. There’s nothing worse than being in a room with one hundred other students and needing to speak to the lecturer about work.

  20. Frightlever says:

    Do they work for you in a rigid structure, with authority flowing from the top down? Like a pyramid?

  21. frosty840 says:

    I did a Computer Science Degree at De Montfort university. In my final year, I took their Game Programming module.

    Due to our endless complaints to the university about the sheer, blatant, balls-out incompetence of the the module leader, he was taken off the module and it was withdrawn from use until, basically, it could be reworked by someone competent.

    We were all a little cheered up by this until we realised that he was still in charge of the gaming degree

    So, yeah, basically don’t study gaming there, is what I’m saying…

  22. leo says:

    I went to a really crappy program at a college, a 2yr degree in Applied Science (?) for game design. Most of the people in the program probably couldn’t cobble together a game with game maker. Most of what I’ve learned has been on my own time, since class projects aren’t really emphasized (and we had no time to do them, so they were pretty awful)

    One of my professors literally had ADD, and had a “game design” class after the “3D programming” class, both of which I attended, and since he didn’t have a lesson plan so he played Zero Punctuation videos and the developer interviews that came with the Special Edition packages of some games. For an entire semester. I learned more from the developer commentaries in Valve games. We had a total of three assignments, and one project.

    The best professor was a guy who was a project manager at EA in the 90′s. Dude had some crazy stories, and it was pretty clear that EA had completely destroyed his soul.

    There was also the Math and Physics for games class, which, due to scheduling conflicts, was THREE really hard classes in one. A programming lab every week, with pre and post labs, along with math homework. I actually looked forward to tests weeks, since they gave us two weeks to work on our labs instead of one. I worked harder in that class than I ever had, and I got a D. if anything, it convinced me to always use an existing game engine for physics and collision detection, since doing it from scratch for anything but rudimentary stuff is a pain in the ass.

    Thankfully ((?) I’m working with one guy as an intern now, he’s looked at a game I recently made for a TigSource competition and wants me to publish it on XBLA. Maybe through that, and doing QA for a few years, i can get a job somewhere.

    At least it’s better than two guys I knew, who couldn’t find a job after getting a 4 year degree in game design, they can barely program and had no design direction (I was the one doing all of it) or idea of how to run a mod team. We tried making a puzzle game, the code for which was all in place, but they wanted to add MULTIPLAYER and other complicated things. I just wanted to add a few more levels, change art assets, and release it.

  23. MrEvilGuy says:

    yay Canada!

  24. Devan says:

    It’s a good thing to consider for industry hopefuls. I’ve been a programmer (“Software Engineer”) at EA for three years and I didn’t even have a degree when I was first hired (was straight out of my diploma). The school that I went to (BCIT) prepared me very well for the work ahead, even though it was not a game-specific program in any way. The reason it was valuable was that it focused practical, hands-on assignments where we got lots of experience in actual programming tasks, but also included sufficient amounts of the theoretical teaching that would be the focus of a Computer Science degree.

    For programming, at least, I don’t think that a “Games Degree” is of much more value than any other based on software. It really just comes down to whether or not you have the hard skills it takes to implement features on time and up to spec, as well as other programming tasks like code maintenance, bug fixing, refactoring and optimization. If you have those skills and can demonstrate them in an interview, you’ve got a good shot and landing a programming job. All the rest you can learn as you go along.

    Of course, this is all based on my own experience with a large company and your mileage may vary.

  25. Ubiquitous says:

    I’ve been looking at schools a lot lately, and I visited Flashpoint Academy in Chicago. I was just wondering if any of you lovely RPS-types have anything to say about that school specifically.

    It seems very interesting, and very expensive, and I’m just worried that I may spend all this money to do something that I could’ve accomplished without the aid of a school.

    Anything, that you guys might know, or have heard would be very helpful. Especially those of you who work in the industry.

  26. Hallgrim says:

    I simply cannot understand why anyone would pay to get a degree in the field of “gaming”. It’s an industry that is so rotten to its low-level employees that very few make a long term career in it.

    I paid more than $50,000 while getting a BS in Chemical Engineering in the US, and although the jobs paid well it turned out to be an incredible waste of money because I wasn’t in the workforce for more than a few years (for good and bad reasons). Here you’re almost guaranteed to not be in the industry for very long, and most new graduates won’t be able to obtain the kind of salary I could in ChE, even if they can find jobs. Seems like an incredible waste of money.

  27. David Farrell says:

    I take issue with some of the commenters here who are making such claims as:

    “You can get theory just by studying the basics for each genre and attending panels at conventions.”

    and

    “You probably learn more stuff about game design on the internet and enthusiast circles rather than the average “games design” course.”

    I used to think those things too. I have a traditional CS degree and like most folk, I assumed that there wasn’t much you could be *taught* about games design.

    I used to think many things that I now see for folly.

    Mostly for fun (to give me something to do besides web-dev), I signed up to study games design (part time) at Caledonian Uni* in Glasgow in 2005.

    The content we were taught really blew / opened my mind. We studied Caillois and Huizinga and learned about the psychology of play and different play styles. We studied a player-centric approach to design that once and for all destroyed any naive assumptions I had that “you should design for yourself”. We studied Rollings & Adams and used personae to really get inside the head of the player before we designed. etc. etc.

    I left that course with a real insight into how amazing games are.
    How amazing play is.
    How amazing, and complicated, games design is.

    I also left that course a far, far better designer than I entered it.

    Since then, I’ve worked on a few games (nothing anyone here would have heard of) and all of my design work has been influenced and led by the content we studied on that course.

    Of course, the irony is that I have a CS degree, and I probably got hired on my various projects as much for my programming background as my design background.

    Games Design is an amazing subject. There are a wealth of insightful books and papers on design. The industry is young and it is certainly VERY HARD for a Games Design BSc Hons to get that first job without art or programming to give them a foot in the door. But when they do, I truly believe that a background studying games design will help them create better games.

    * disclaimer. I recently started a PhD there and as part of that, I teach a module on the design stream. So colour me biased if you must. I still do bits of freelance design work however so my experience is not just academic.

    • noobnob says:

      Look, when I posted that, I didn’t mean to downplay the importance or the complexity of game design, but I understand how you looked at it that way, so let me expand my thoughts further.

      You said it yourself, the games industry is young. But it has quickly grown in this multibillionare behemoth that many couldn’t even imagine it could exist decades ago. The bedrock of gaming lies in the recent advances of technology, and you should know how much of a mess IT/CS related courses were in their infancy (and they’re still a mess in many places, but it’s better now). Academic studies on games are going through the same process on top of all the technological advances, so as a result you have many “games design” courses that have trouble figuring out their syllabus: it’s a bit of programming, it’s a bit of mapping, it’s a bit of sound engineering…and you have also the courses that neglect one thing or another, making the entire course a whole lot mediocre and leaving students unprepared for any future changes/trends. Other courses could teach those technical skills and theoretical content in a more focused manner without anything related to gaming, and leave the student to flex himself and adapt according to the specialization s/he seeks, which could be related to game development or not.

      Just consider yourself lucky for having attended to a course that gave you useful knowledge that made you think about the intricacies of the game and the ones who play it, because there aren’t many “game design” courses that focus on that.

      AND that’s why I say that the internet and enthusiast circles (which you will usually find on the internet anyways) are great to acquire knowledge and experience on game design, because you can pretty much set up your own experimental lab on your computer, play games on it, play games from other enthusiasts, test your own creations, release your games and see how people react/watch them relate their experiences, discuss about the impact of gameplay elements on the players, find like-minded people and setup a team…without having to attend university courses.

      Not to say that the academia is useless for game design, but it’s just that it’s better to do all that before attending any university, regardless of your aspirations to learn anything about game design. As I read your post, you actually designed some games before attending that games design course, yes?

    • Matt W says:

      As with pretty much any creative profession, the theory is only useful if you know how to apply it. Being able to recite all the elements of the Hero’s Journey is scant help for a “professional writer” who can’t write good prose.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of people having a theoretical grounding in the work they’re doing – but on their own the only thing purely academic degrees qualify you for is a career in academia.

  28. Auspex says:

    If Abertay’s computer games technology course is one of the good ones then the games industry is fucked. I lived in Dundee from 2006 till May this year and the people on that course were, without fail, utterly cretinous (even for students) with absolutely no knowledge of games that were released before 2006. They also, somewhat crucially, appeared to not make any games – I have made more games than the vast majority of graduates from that course and I have a bloody law degree!

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      Maybe the main draw is Dare to be Digital? I don’t know much about the school itself, but that program seems quite successful.

  29. Farkeman says:

    Lol , an article about article :D

  30. Alex says:

    Interesting. I’m on the BSc Computer Games Programming course at De Montfort Uni, that’s not the one you’re talking about is it?

    So far I wouldn’t say I’m as disillusioned as you were but I must admit I’m not entirely satisfied at the moment with the way things are going.

    What’s the name of the lecturer?

  31. Hexanol says:

    My background: I did a BSc in Physics, and am about to start an industrial doctorate programme doing research at a large publisher. If you’re bright you owe it to yourself to go for a more intensive degree than ‘Game Design’. It’s unfortunate, but videogames are still young, and the training apparatus just isn’t there. Getting a hard maths/computer science degree and then experience in an actual company is going to be far more useful than any alternative… and in the worst case, if you burn out you’ll have good general qualifications.

    For perspective- Oxford runs a film studies course. It doesn’t run a videogames course.

  32. Paul says:

    I agree with everything Rinox said, this issue goes way deeper than the games industry its just the games industry is one of the least mature industries (it is going through alot of what the many other industries have taken aeons to grow out of simply because its so new) so the major faults with the employment market are most obvious in it. But yeah in a nutshell the games industry treats employees like crap.

  33. JackShandy says:

    First year Game Design student here, from Griffith University, South Bank, Queensland, Australia, other side of the world. Our course is super, super practical: I have not had one exam, or anything where I had to write an essay. (I kind of wish there was more writing, actually, because I’m pretty interested in the theory of game design.)

    The course revolves around trying to make us into all-rounder indie guys, actually: We’re doing life drawing, animation, concept design, programming, digital production. I think the idea is to make us flexible enough to go anywhere. I’m planning to try and go into indie games myself anyway, so I’m loving it, myself.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      That actually sounds pretty good. You probably won’t be skilled enough to get hired in a studio right out of school but you’ll have a good base to build in on if you want to specialize and a broad range of abilities if you want to do your own thing.

  34. Ninja Dodo says:

    … if you’ve never run into a full-time designer.

  35. Ninja Dodo says:

    reply fail (please delete)

  36. jdesler says:

    @JackShandy That sounds a lot like the degree i finished in 2008 at RMIT. My course was basically a liberal arts degree with an emphasis on practical game development. I mean that in a good way. We formed project groups with students from the programming and design streams and had to produce several games. It was really valuable learning how to work with other people of different skillsets and personalities. The truth is I could’ve worked on games or mods without going to university, and that may be a better path for some people. But personally, i enjoyed the opportunity to take electives in stuff like art history and writing.

    I can only echo what others have said in the comments in that the best way to learn how to make a game is to MAKE A GAME. Since graduating, not one employer has asked to see proof of my degree. Every job I’ve been hired for was based on the games I had made. Two of my student projects were even covered on RPS, the GMA award-winning website :).

  37. Ravenger says:

    Games is actually one of the few industries where it’s possible to get a decent job without a degree (though obviously academic qualifications can help).

    If you’ve got the talent and the motivation enough to do some high quality mods for an existing game, or have programmed your own game in your spare time, or have a good showreel or art portfolio then you can get your foot in the door in many game companies, as they look for talent and merit rather than just qualifications.

    It is hard work though, and you generally won’t get to choose the projects you’re working on unless you get a senior position. Hours can be long, and the pay not as good as other similar jobs in the non-games sector, but you can at least have the chance of seeing something you’ve worked on going on sale, and the prospect of thousands, even millions of people worldwide playing a game you’ve worked on. Not many jobs will give you that satisfaction.

  38. Johnnemann says:

    Thanks for saying this. This is my feeling as well. I have a whole rant on the subject of “practical” education, which luckily I’ve already typed up once: http://alltheworldsagame.blogspot.com/2010/07/game-focused-education.html

    The basic thesis is that you should be trying to educate yourself in order to be a better person, rather than a better cog in a machine, or a better bottom-line for some imaginary company. Please don’t start thinking of yourself as merely an employee before you’re even in the dull maze of cubicles, all alike.

    Obviously all game industry interviewers are different – I couldn’t disagree more with the guy above who hates hiring people with degrees. Following anyone’s advice on “how to get hired” is a loser’s game, because you can’t possibly know the philosophy of the person who will be across the table from you. Instead, live your own life, make yourself the best, most interesting person you can be, and love making games.

    • Johnnemann says:

      Ugh, obviously that was a reply to Chris Whitman. How does anyone ever comment on this website?

    • Archonsod says:

      The problem is the same as with most practical disciplines. Unless it’s a small company it won’t be anyone associated with the actual job who interviews you, it’ll be a HR drone with a checklist. If you’re lucky, they may have played Minesweeper once.

  39. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    Ian Livingstone is a god amongst men. If all he’d ever done was write City of Thieves, he’d remain at least a demi-god.

  40. Lyndon says:

    Sorry for the rant.

    I don’t know what it is like in Britain but in Australia we have two kinds of tertiary education, University and TAFE. University is for academic learning and TAFE is for practical skills. Traditionally, middle class kids went to University and did their book learning while the working classes went to TAFE and learnt a trade.

    If you apply for a game course at TAFE it will be much more heavily focused on the practical side of matters. You’ll also walk out a much less rounded person and your degree will only really be useful for one thing. However, if you go to a university and do a game studies major then you won’t gain any real practical skills but you will gain the ability to think deeper and more critically about games as well as the ability to think and work independently that any university course will teach you. Personally I think this is fine. The TAFE student will gain practical skills but they’ll have to learn critical thinking and reasoning on their own time (not easy) while the university student will have to learn the practical skills on their own time (also not easy).

    Either way students leave a course without all the tools needed to succeed. But that’s okay. The students who don’t really want it will have wasted their time, but the students who do want it will be putting in the extra effort. The university student will be working on mods or indie games in their own time, while the TAFE student will be boning up on their Juul and Huzinga whenever they can. Whether your course is theory or practical it’s up to you to make the most of it and industry needs to recognise that education isn’t going to churn out a large amount of totally awesome people, but it will help the talented few reach their potential.

    Also, not hiring people with ‘the book learning’ cause ‘I didn’t need it’ is just pants on head retarded.

  41. DMcCool says:

    Brilliant Post, great comments, this is why I love RPS. I came withen a nat’s bumhair to signing up to a nondescript game design course this year but I’d heard just enough horror stories to think better of it. I didn’t know where to go to find out which courses were worth it, if any. Posts and discussions like this can be really important (though maybe if this video had come out just before the UCAS deadline it’d have been even more helpful..)

    Soaking up all the advice, it seems the best option really is to keep making games until a point is reached where they are no longer shit. Its really encouraging to hear first hand that this is what people want, I feel a lot better for snubbing the Games Design BA route and focusing on making myself into a one-man portfolio monster for it. Slightly less bloody scarey, y’know?

  42. Shagittarius says:

    I was working in the game industry probably before you were out of elementary school, and there was no such thing as a game designer back then either.

    Your missing the point. No one just designs games in the industry, thats not enough to contribute, everyone has game ideas, everyone. You have to have more to offer to get a job in the industry than just “game designer”.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      I guess we’re arguing over semantics. I agree there’s no such thing as an “ideas man” who just tells everyone what to do. Design is such a vaguely defined role that it usually overlaps with other disciplines in various ways but I’ve worked with plenty of designers that didn’t do programming or project management.

  43. The Great Skratsby says:

    I’ll have to watch the video, but I am actually finishing a three year bachelor of arts in game design, in Australia (not at a private institution).

    I found generally that the course direction was not nearly as focused as it could be, and there were far too many subjects completely irrelevant (far too many fine arts centric subjects). Also on the contrary to the article there was a complete lack of theory, we were thrown into mod production in the courses first semester expected to establish our own roles. The only theory knowledge I have developed over my time in the course as been on my own accord and personal enjoyment.

    What I also know is after these three years there are plenty of students far less prepared and qualified than I am for industry based work, and I’d say even now I am under qualified.

    Which boils down to continue working on my own post course, and moving countries to find work; to the UK in a baptism of fire.

  44. W Main says:

    I chose Computing Science knowing that any course in Games Development or whatever has always been a somewhat dubious choice, particularly as it limits your ability to enter anywhere else except the games industry, and even then your likely role in the industry would be code monkey.

    But hey, i’m still unemployed, so what do I know…

  45. Ninja Dodo says:

    College is an opportunity to learn, not a guarantee. If you’re lucky you’ll be surrounded by like-minded students and some decent lecturers with industry experience… so learn from EVERYONE, make friends with people (these are your future colleagues) and learn the things you don’t know yet in your downtime. Do mods and other personal projects! Make games! Make art! Make whatever your thing is. Plenty of free tools to experiment with.

    You have to really want it. Only kinda wanting it will not get you hired.

    I also agree though with the people who have said not to underestimate the value of broadening your horizon beyond game development and learning to think critically and solve problems creatively.

    By the way, anyone aspiring to get into games should listen to this podcast:

    http://gim.acanaday.com/

    Bioware on how to break in. It’s not maybe as relevant for working at a small company but it’s good general advice and it’s interesting to see the degree of specialization in a studio of this size.

  46. Qwentle says:

    I’ve a Honours Degree from Abertay in CGT (a heavily programming and math based course, with modules in other areas) and it definitely helped me get into the games industry, as well as being able to communicate with other disciplines.

    While the course was heavily about giving you deadlines and leaving you to figure out how to solve the problems, it did help me become proficient at various languages where I probably would have struggled on my own (I’m not great at motivating myself, especially as I entered uni a little before WoW came out). Admittedly I was employed as QA, but nowadays even entry level testing lists a related degree under the ‘required’ category (though really experience and enthusiasm will make up for it). When I took to hiring, a games programming degree was very useful as it ensured the graduates were technically adept, could debug efficiently and were likely to be focused on a career in the industry.

    As a lot of the guys above are saying, the games industry is low paid and long hours, and it’s definitely not a career to go into if you care a lot about your salary. If you want a ton of money, financial companies pay multitudes better and often target games developers specifically as there are many transferable skills.

  47. zoombapup says:

    I’m a lecturer at University of Bolton, I teach game design and game programming (I’m a programmer by trade) part time. I’m also an indie developer now.

    One thing I’ve been really frustrated with is how all game courses get lumped in with each other. Of course I wouldn’t expect people to know otherwise, but it gets really depressing when you have to fight the academic side (believe me University chancellors don’t want to run game courses) AND the industry (although luckily we get a few champions who really bat for us).

    Here’s a few insights from someone on both sides:

    It is usually possible to spot the students who will make it into the industry in the first few weeks of a three year course. Why? Because they are the ones who are actively learning for themselves. Unfortunately we are not allowed to turn away everyone else. So when you put down students coming from game courses you really are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Game courses that are run well, have strong industry contact, decent lecturers who have industry experience and who really care and play about games DO exist. But that doesn’t guarantee anything, because its still up to the student to work their asses off. Not that many really want to be IN the industry that much.

    The industry shoots itself in the foot (as has been highlighted in previous comments) by being pretty crap itself. Shocking working practices. People being laid off whenever it’s convenient etc. Doesn’t really make for a great sales pitch to people who are high-flyers does it?

    There are a ton of dodgy courses (and you really should study that train2game thing hard if you are thinking about it). Honestly, the only way you really know about a course is to do your homework and meet the people teaching it etc. Get a feel for the philosophy. There ARE good courses out there so don’t think its not worthwhile. But it will take legwork to find the good ones.

    One thing thats been very surprising to me is how few of my students have considered becoming indies when they leave. Not because they can’t get a job, but because they simply don’t have that kind of feeling about wanting creative control. I’ve only had I think 3 out of maybe 300 or so that have expressed that kind of interest to me. Wonder why that is?

    The games industry needs to get a bit more mature about how it recruits. Its a big money earning industry but spends almost none of its profit on training, which is counter to what many big industries do. Imagine an engineering company that doesn’t do training? Hardly ever happens. If industry engaged with Universities more, it would have a positive impact on the quality of output overall.

    Finally, I think the industry loses out a lot by not engaging Universities in a way that pushes them to research the right sorts of things. Frankly most academic study of games right now is horribly misguided. There is so much to learn and investigate, but the lack of academic direction has given rise to far more discussion about things like narratives where academics from other areas have shoehorned in their own agenda in the “cool” games area. Design in particular is still (from what I experience at GDC) far too intuition based and not nearly scientific enough. Given that we now have the ability to gather huge amounts of interaction data it seems a real waste that we aren’t studying interaction design based on metrics more. Only a few people push this year-on-year at GDC and yet I still see designers who completely ignore it.

    There’s lots of work for industry/academic partners to do. But I simply don’t see the willpower from either side. Which is why I’m an indie :)

    • DrazharLn says:

      Thank you for this comment.

      I’m a CompSci student at one of the best Universities for the subject in the UK, I’ve thought a lot about possibly going into the game industry, but the more I read about it, the more it seems like crap.

      So many of the businesses I hear of are run in horrible, immoral ways. I would have thought we could do better.

      I expect that I will produce games at some point, but unless I can find a quality employer who values their employees properly and doesn’t act like some dystopian corporation I’ll probably go it alone.

  48. Ninja Dodo says:

    If you want to get into programming this is a good place to look:
    http://aigamedev.com/

    (there was a pdf about breaking in specifically but the link seems to have gone down)

    For animators, this school is highly recommended:
    http://www.animationmentor.com/

    I did a bachelors in game art at Teesside Uni, though it was called “Computer Game Design” – I think they’ve made it less art-based since – and I got a good grounding in general 3D art out of it (though I have to say the best thing about Teesside was the excellent Animex festival http://www.animex.net/), then I did Animation Mentor to push my skills some more while I got a job in Amsterdam.

    Professionally I’m an animator but I’ve always been interested in design as well, so I tend to do that on my own time.

    I wonder what the percentages are of indies who have transitioned from working in the industry to people who have gone indie from the start? It does seem odd that not many students consider it as a career path. Maybe the born indies are just not the ones going to trade schools…

    I think both are interesting in different ways.

    • Ricc says:

      @Ninja Dodo:

      Thank you for the links and the podcast above. Looks very interesting!

  49. pupsikaso says:

    I don’t know why everyone is praising Canada so much. I live in Toronto and have been wanting to get some sort of games related education, but there just isn’t really a choice here. Most universities and colleges that do have a games related course are very heavily art based, and since I couldn’t draw a stick figure to save my life these courses are not for me.

    The only course that is at all design / programming biased is in a (relatively) new university in a nearby town 60km away, but it is a mix of business and games. It’s even called “Game Design and Entrepreneurship”. I thought maybe this would be just perfect for me if I wanted to become an indie dev, then I’d have some skills in game making and some skills in running a business. But taking a closer look at the course, they don’t seem to go very deep into either of the disciplines. I’d probably be wasting a very large amount of (student loaned) money taking the course, and walking away with very few skills. I’d be very surprised if I could be hired with such a degree, and not at all sure it would teach me the right skills to succeed as an indie, either. And then how would I repay that student loan?

    So now I’m completely torn. It’s either take a general 4-year Computer Science course and then apply what I’ve learned from there to game making and supplement it with self-study of other subjects (like psychology, visual art, etc). Or just keep studying by myself from books and websites and hope that I have the willpower to persevere.

    People just hear that Canada has tax breaks for game companies and automatically assume that everything is peachy over here. Maybe the other provinces like British Columbia (where Vancouver is) or Quebec (where Montreal is, and where Ubisoft just recently opened a new office) have better courses on offer, but I hardly have the means to move and live in another province.

  50. jimbob says:

    i agree with a few things people have said here but not all, i work in the industry and have done for years now as an Artist .

    @ BA Louise “If you want a job making art in the games industry you need to eat sleep breathe game art”

    um not really, the only thing you need to make game art is TALENT, which can’t be taught, your either s**t or your not. i will agree you need to be committed. but at the same time you don’t need to work 100% of your time for work. you will simply burn out and i have seen it happen to many people who have tried and failed. you need to get the balance right.

    I can normally tell who will stay and who will go in the first few days when new people join our company. its so obvious. the major problems are normally 3 things.

    1) art grads that aren’t techy,
    you need to have a techy aspect to you, even if you do art. you will be dealing with programmers ,designer and bugs all the time. you need to get the tech and be able to problem solve and help other and work as a team to get jobs done. I’ll admit company and roles do vary between companies, but generally this is what you need.

    2) were not talented in the first place. we have had people join our team who couldn’t even draw a straight line, could not follow simple instructions. people who have lied at interview about there past employment history. dont do it

    3) be able to take criticism and learn from it. coming in thinking you know everything will only see you fail and be classed as a dick head by everyone on your team before you even pass your probation which will = goodbye. don’t be a dick head, just learn, get on with it and keep your nose clean.

    i have a computer science degree. but i have no problem in saying that my degree has not really helped at all in getting a job in games. its my PORTFOLIO which got me into games. degrees are worth doing but at the end of the day games companies just want to see hi quality work. which most uni portfolios don’t include. uni portfolios have uni work in them, meaning less projects that you need a written explanation to understand why you did what you did.

    imagine what an Art director is going to think when it lands on his desk and he looks though it? i have seen it, the amount of times i have seen our art director look at people work and mutter the word ” how on earth did the person get a first” is astounding.

    simply they don’t care about your degree, its what you do with is not what grade you get. if people dont go WOW! that’s amazing don’t put it in your portfolio SIMPLE AS it will only show one thing to your employer that you don’t have a good eye for what is good.

    i hope this helps, its my observations from the other side.

    good luck everyone