On Game Education, and Getting a Job as a Game Developer – thoughts from the Swedish Game Conference
Just returned from Swedish Game Conference in Skövde, a two day event connected to the Game Incubator Network. It’s a incubator for new companies in the game industry (meaning the computer game industry). Mostly aimed at industry, but with some really interesting discussions on connection between industry and academia. The questions revolved around the role of academia and what the industry want. Are you in an education? Are you holding an education or are you a recruiter? I would very much like to hear your side of the story! Reply here, on twitter or facebook if you have something to add! But first, lets summarize the thoughts from the conference:
This is really an old subject, the academic education system doesn’t seem to satisfy the needs of the gaming industry. Very few of the students in game design educations actually ends up working in that industry. it’s not that they are unemployed, but rather they find work in other areas. The reasons fort this are many, some of them mentioned in presentations and panels, by both academia and industry are:
- Economical – the game industry doesn’t pay that well, and when you can get a substantially larger salary in more classic IT-industry this is quite attractive. As mentioned today, people in game industry go onto it for the passion.
- Distrust in academia – A lot of game companies are started as ‘my basement’-companies by people with passion, and even if they are bigger now it may be hard to go from that to value of academic education.
- Knowledge – the Academic educations doesn’t teach the right things.This sees to be especially true when it comes to programming. The industry wants C++ programmers more than anything else, this is usually not the chosen language of programming educations.
- Unspecialized – Many game design educations try to educate game designers with a broad view of games, instead of specialists. There’s a big difference between a programmer and a graphic artist, instead of trying to teach all it’s better to focus on one thing and get really good at that.
These are all good points, but I believe some things has been missed, some thing was simplified, and some things just plain wrong! Let me add my thoughts to the list, and take into account that this is far more of a rant than an actually well researched issue:
- I believe the economical reason above is about a lot more than economy. The passion mentioned is not only about love of games, it’s also about giving up on a lot of other stuff. Looking at working conditions the game industry is actually a quite unattractive working environment. Many companies demand unpayed overtime, scheduling crunch time at periods with work more or less 24h/day for periods. I’m not saying it’s like this everywhere, and from what I’ve seen it’s better now than some years ago. But with this attitude still a part of the industry it’s hard to work if you have other interests outside of your work. A lot of people going into the business leave in a couple of years (I’ve heard an average working time of 6 years for a programmer, but don’t have any sources on that) simply because they value other things: friends, family, a nice vacation.
- The distrust in academia may be deserved. Academia teach people that they know better, and even if that’s true, better is not always the best way. Following the form of the company may be better. From some of the talks I feel there’s also a misunderstanding in what research is. The talked about that they use academic papers, but usually about ten year old papers building upon them and going in other directions. This I see a lot, and i believe there’s nothing wrong with it! This is not about research going in the wrong direction, it’s about research being ahead. The things done in research environment’s isn’t directly applicable on today’s technology, if it was it would be engineering, not research. Research is looking ahead, creating the new, and in ten years from now the same people will find the greatest papers and implement them, probably in a bit different direction.
- And, finally, the knowledge and unspecialization (yes, it’s a word!): There’s a connection. It may be true the industry wants specialists, but academic education is not only for industry, it’s also for the students. A lot of people don’t end up in the game design field, but they do end up in jobs, and often in jobs they like. In these jobs they need more than a specialist education. Also, a large part of gaming industry is small companies, of course the big ones want specialists, but there’s a much bigger chance of becoming a web page or mobile app developer in a company with five employees, and then you really need your broad education! After a four year university education you should not end up a code-monkey, or at least you should not be educated to become one. You should have a bigger understanding, you are by then well educated in researching and solving problems, even if they’re outside of your main field. Even if that’s your way into the industry you should have an understanding that will help you in the bigger picture . And, by that, we’re back on distrust in academia. But maybe it’s not really about distrust, maybe it’s more of a misunderstanding of it’s purpose.
And, as I said before: Add your comments and show your view! I’ll especially like to hear about the passion – work time conflict. Does it still exist? Have you felt it? How do you deal with it? Also I’d like to hear a bit of your views on the importance of extra, out of school, projets during your education!