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Degree 2.0 mash-ups not advisable for computer games careers
June 24, 2008 10:11 AM   Subscribe

95% of degree courses in video gaming at British universities leave graduates unfit to work in the industry, according to Games Up?, an organisation set up to address the UKs video games skills shortage. Maths skills are a particular weakness.
posted by Artw (71 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
95% of degree courses at ANY university in ANY discipline leave graduates unfit to work in ANY industry. Unless you are Ivy League (or wait..what did we decide during that debate?)
posted by spicynuts at 10:25 AM on June 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


That leaves only 15% who are fit. That's pretty depressing.
posted by kurumi at 10:26 AM on June 24, 2008 [28 favorites]


They should focus on the math, and only then work their way up to the maths. One step at a time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:30 AM on June 24, 2008 [11 favorites]


Shut it, yank.
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on June 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is what happens when you rename polytechnics as universities, while lowering standards.

(i.e. you get repeatedly re-elected)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:31 AM on June 24, 2008


AnectdotalEvidenceFilter: Most of the people I know in the games industry don’t have a related degree at all, and either just hung on in with crappy jobs and worked their way up or crossed over to there from comics (a field where the UK has a ton of talent, but everyone knows it’s going to die on it’s arse sooner or later). Those aren’t programmer jobs, of course, but I doubt a fancy degree would help with them either.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on June 24, 2008


It seems like the average video game grad can barely tighten up the graphics on level 3 nowadays. If only some sort of parental figure would have recognized their lack of skill and warned them that they would never get anywhere with video games.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:37 AM on June 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


So have the amazing profits of games like GTA4 started to trickle down to the programmers yet? Or is game programming still an economic wasteland populated by 20-somethings working 80 hour weeks for crap pay because video games are cool and they aren't burned out yet?
posted by tkolar at 10:39 AM on June 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Have the amazing profits of games like GTA4 started to trickle down to the programmers yet? Or is game programming still an economic wasteland populated by 20-somethings working 80 hour weeks for crap pay because video games are cool and they aren't burned out yet?

The second thing.
posted by rokusan at 10:40 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or is game programming still an economic wasteland populated by 20-somethings working 80 hour weeks for crap pay because video games are cool and they aren't burned out yet?

It's still that.

Related to the article in question, it seems to me like all the qualified but unemployed games industry hopefuls over here should seriously consider a move. The currency over there is worth more and there's apparently a need for talent and skill, whereas here the value of your work is continually dropping and there are virtually no jobs in an incredibly cutthroat market.
posted by shmegegge at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2008


Video game designer courses are the latest fad degree. If they want to stress math that much, they're probably better off making video game design a minor of computer science.

Anyway, there's this beautiful chestnut in the article:

"However, we are facing a serious decline in the quality of graduates looking to enter the industry. The dearth of maths, physics and computer science graduates is hitting us hard along with other core UK industries."

The quality of applicants is declining because you people pay crap and work people 70-80 hours a week. Starting salary $55000. End salary: $85,000. And you will be working from 50-70 hours a week on the project. At the low end that comes to $13 an hour. There are much more lucrative and less stress inducing ways to use a computer science degree.

A dearth of workers is simply stating that the price is too high for their liking.
posted by zabuni at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


My understanding is that teh world of games is a bit of a boo-bust thing, where most of the time peopel are grinding a way for very little, then every so-often a game hits it big, everyone gets rich, then they buy ferraris and crash them. I suspect that if you're working at Rockstar you're doing quite well right now.
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2008


tighten up the graphics
25 years of tighten up the graphics
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:44 AM on June 24, 2008


zabuni, what country are those stats for? I don't know anything about the British games industry, but I would imagine that any market with a lack of capable employees will end up raising the salaries for those employees just to attract new hires. those stats you quoted look a lot like US stats.
posted by shmegegge at 10:46 AM on June 24, 2008


They are, and employers will raise prices, but not before going for government intervention like increasing the number of foreign worker visas or trying to increase the number of qualified graduates.
posted by zabuni at 10:50 AM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


They'll be okay once they get the point update and the expansion pack for their degrees.

Of course, they could have just got the trainer for their courses and joined the 85% in a fraction of the time.

The real question is how many graduated on their first life and without any continues.
posted by davemee at 10:55 AM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, man...does this mean those guys will have to get jobs outside of the video gaming industry? YOU GUYS I DON'T THINK YOU REALIZE HOW SERIOUS THIS REALLY IS
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:59 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


...I would imagine that any market with a lack of capable employees will end up raising the salaries for those employees just to attract new hires.

You apparently haven't heard of a little place called Bangalore.
Just as in every other tech field, these jobs will just get sent offshore, while corporate wrings it's hands over the low quality of home-grown workers.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:00 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The problem is compounded by the quality of so called specialist games degree courses; 95% of video gaming degrees are simply not fit for purpose."

As usual, the way the article was written is inaccurate. The quote is that 95% of the specialist video game degrees are not fit for the industry, not 95% of courses. And that's nothing new - most multidisciplinary, specialist degrees at universities are not up to the same level as single-major focused degrees. These specialist degrees usually have requirements like 3 intro courses per subject - not nearly enough to develop real, usable skills in any area. So the students who graduate with solid degrees in graphic design, computer science, or physics are better equipped to get jobs in the video game industry than the ones who graduated with "video game" majors. No surprise here.
posted by junesix at 11:00 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


The humanity!
posted by proj at 11:02 AM on June 24, 2008


Look more closely people.

The problem is not that only 15% of graduates are employable -- it's that 95% of universities with game-related degrees have not accredited their course through an organisation called Skillset.

The accreditation was only created in 2005, and it is still listed as not yet finalised. How can they expect 22 universities to go through an incomplete accreditation in under three years?

In addition, the article states that industry leaders are looking for Maths, Physics, and Computer Science graduates, not Videogame graduates.

Poor reporting. The details don't add up.

1. Skillset is trying to expand its reach:

"Skillset wants more universities to join the scheme to make sure graduates are properly recognised and supported by industry."

"Without some sort of common standard, like Skillset accreditation, these degrees are a waste of time for all concerned."

Skillset spokespeople are conflating standards with quality, which is not logical.

2. The GamesUp consortium wants the Government to fund new computer gaming departments in universities rather than simply extend accreditation:

They are calling on ministers to help industry create centres of excellence.

3. Those of you who think the gaming industry has maintains low pay standards in the UK may be right. Game companies want the Government to pay their interns.

They also recommend government-assisted work placements for games, maths, physics and computer science undergraduates.

Overall, I'm not sure what this article is saying, aside from "Gaming Companies and Organisations want Government Money".
posted by honest knave at 11:04 AM on June 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


I distinctly remember the sensation, early in a pretty good graphics course I took in school, that, well, shit: it turns out I did need to use that stuff in real life after all. I ended up giving myself a crash-course in matrices—I was still shit at them, and I've forgotten most of what I taught myself at the time, but it got me through the course well enough to render a hopping, waving Batman in my clumsily rewritten GL library.

Video game math will fuck you up. It's good stuff. Anybody who wants to do serious software engeineering should be required to write a rudimentary 3D rendering engine. Even if it sucks and you fail at it, it's a great way to reality-check some of the scope of what you do and don't know. One of the most valuable lessons in a computer science education is that of humility in planning: that there are things you have no idea how to do when you first start to consider doing them, and that you need to learn to identify your own ignorance early on if you want to get anywhere.

Here's the first comment on the article in the "Maths" link:

Not to let Clayton discourage anyone out of the field, it should be pointed out that the complicated math doesn’t kick in until the more advanced topics of Computer Science. Programming, as an application of the science, comes with enough drop-in engines and libraries to take all of the complexity out. Though that obviously comes at the expense of innovation.

That comes at the expense of having any idea what's going on under the hood. Which is, yes, fine if all you're interested in is high-level application development, and I don't want to besmirch it because I'm often in that very position of wanting to get down to making something instead of building a toolset—but if what you want to do is program something as complicated as a modern 3D game, you need to understand what's happening under the hood.
posted by cortex at 11:15 AM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


95% of video gaming degrees are simply not fit for purpose

95% of video games are not fit for purpose. Maybe the video games industry should think about that, rather than wringing its hands over its ability to churn out yet more dull and derivative formulaic drivel produced by underpaid cannon fodder.
posted by normy at 11:16 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


So have the amazing profits of games like GTA4 started to trickle down to the programmers yet? Or is game programming still an economic wasteland populated by 20-somethings working 80 hour weeks for crap pay because video games are cool and they aren't burned out yet?

Programmer salaries are great right now - $70K easy, on up to $120K. Past few years have been good to programmers, not so much to those of us in lower and mid production, or those in more junior design. The 80-hour work weeks are only the last 3-6 months of a project. The rest of the time it's pretty easy going.

Really what it comes down to is - what can you do? If you show the people making the hiring decision a mind-blowing graphics demo or art reel, and then once hired, actually live up to that reel, nothing else matters and the sky is the limit. I know a lot of people in this industry with no degree (myself included), although programmers and artists are far more likely to have one. Come to think of it, damn near every audio department person at Harmonix has a degree from Berkeley. Design (after QA) seems to be the department with the least or least relevant degrees.

Personally I think design degree programs are crap, and there isn't a lot of respect for them that I've seen. Good game design isn't something you can learn in a classroom; creative vision and insight doesn't come from books. A dual-major comp sci./film student with some amazing mods and a good level reel under their belt is probably the only real way to go there.

But, yeah, to sum: show me something amazing.
posted by Ryvar at 11:16 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


So the students who graduate with solid degrees in graphic design, computer science, or physics are better equipped to get jobs in the video game industry than the ones who graduated with "video game" majors. No surprise here.

Exactly. A game company is never going to be looking to hire an undifferentiated mass of Video Game People, any more than an insurance firm puts out listings for Insurance Guy or a newspaper hires Newspaper Person.
posted by cortex at 11:22 AM on June 24, 2008


To cap it all off, most sidescrollers usually incorporate some sort of scoring system with an exponential function representing growth for consecutive hits. While each thing is small within itself, combined, these can pile up quickly.

Oh come on, that might have been true in his Mario example, but I don't think it's the case for 'most' side scrollers. And either way, the basic math needed to write a side scroller amounts to littler more then elementary school arithmetic. Implementing the 'exponential growth' system only means adding larger and larger numbers. I wrote plenty of little games without even using algebra when I was a kid.

There is actually a lot of programming you can do without strong math, in particular simple web based programing, lots of game scripting (including level design). But obviously if you want to be a 'real' programmer, you're going to need to be strong in math.
posted by delmoi at 11:27 AM on June 24, 2008


Anybody who wants to do serious software engeineering should be required to write a rudimentary 3D rendering engine.

Does the hack wireframe thing I did in TI-83 Basic while bored in class count? If I remember right it wasn't full 3D but more hacky like Doom or Wing Commander or something. I rendered a cube and a diamond then got bored of typing in vertex coordinates.

Be careful about learning too much math, though, kids. It can fuck up the brain and stereotypically mathematicians have a bit of a tendency to go insane. (Or perhaps go sane, which is about as bad in an insane world.)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:31 AM on June 24, 2008


Maths skills

The grammars skills are pretty shabby too.
posted by three blind mice at 11:40 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Long hours and hard work, but at least it's paid work. I was looking at the same hours, only with worse treatment and zero to fuck-all money to work in the film industry in the UK. With enough horror stories of friends working for free for 6 months for the possibility of a contract, I went a different route and took my film production degree and started working from the bottom at a videogames company. Game testers get paid, runners don't. Not a lot, but enough to survive with, even in London. 4 years later, I'm in Madrid in a specialised senior position, with a respectable salary and healthy benefits and on a career path towards producing games. I got here not by being more talented than other people (most people in the industry are very talented, more so than their positions require) but through hard work. I know I have several more years of hard work ahead of me if I intend on 'making it'. Everyone wants that 100k a year job straight from university designing games for Valve, but only a handful of people are willing to put in the years of back-breaking labour that is usually required. We don't all make Narbacular Drop as our graduating project and I accept that.

It's like any creative industry: it comes down to talent, perseverance and healthy heaps of luck to make it anywhere. I give it 5-10 years before gaming is in the same state as film and the desire for people to get on to the bottom rung of the ladder will be so high that companies can just stop paying testers altogether. A degree is secondary to work-experience or, as other people have stated, a portfolio.

It's a fascinating industry to be in right now and it would take a hell of a lot to take me back to film (or any other industry for that matter).
posted by slimepuppy at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2008


The grammars skills are pretty shabby too.

Not quite so shabby as cultural competency skills.
posted by camcgee at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


Three blind mice, maths is what mathematics are called in UK English. In case that was unclear. I like it; it keeps the plural of the proper form.

Plus I like it when Americans and English people get into apoplectic fits about the 'proper' spelling of things. I'm a filthy foreigner and can butcher English with impunity.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:49 AM on June 24, 2008


So the students who graduate with solid degrees in graphic design, computer science, or physics are better equipped to get jobs in the video game industry than the ones who graduated with "video game" majors. No surprise here.

You (and Cortex) said it. Not only is the general major (surprise) too general, but there also isn't much rigorous academic history and research/teaching competition in "video game" university departments. Not to mention that an essentially vocational degree in a non-traditionally-vocational field doesn't prepare students for that field.

It's the same reason why law schools look for talented philosophy, political science, history, english, linguistics, etc. majors and almost universally scorn "pre-law" majors.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:02 PM on June 24, 2008


So basically video game programmers also follow Sturgeon's Law? +/- 5%
posted by drezdn at 12:08 PM on June 24, 2008


From my experience interviewing (for programmers,) there's something very 'checklisty' about a lot of these programs. When these were first really hitting the scene, the first couple guys I saw seemed damn impressive. "Wow! He's done A-Star pathfinding, and a renderer, and a physics engine, and this and that and the other, and has this portfolio, and yadda yadda,.." but then, you start kinda looking past that and trying to gauge deep intelligence and understanding, and.. yeah.. it can really fall apart at that point. Guys who have been doing CS programs, learning fundamental skills, and guys who maybe don't have a big 'portfolio,' but have gained their skillset as self-starters, from the ground up.. those guys often are the ones who seem to end up with the deep understanding.

My 2c, anyway.
posted by blenderfish at 12:43 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Three blind mice, maths is what mathematics are called in UK English. In case that was unclear. I like it; it keeps the plural of the proper form."

I think what he was saying is that if you're going to pluralize "math" to "maths", then it should be "maths skill." "Math skills" is short for "mathematical skills," but "maths skills" is short for "mathematics skills," which is just retarded. Unless you're arguing that "maths skills" stands for "mathematicals skills," which is beyond retarded. That's why I prefer "math"—it's shorter for more words within the same family.
posted by Eideteker at 12:45 PM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can't think of any reputable universities that offer a "video game design" degree. I'm sure that most CS grads who paid attention in their math classes would be a better bet for video game design.
posted by gyc at 12:53 PM on June 24, 2008


"Math skills" is short for "mathematical skills,"

Or for "mathematics skills", if you're willing to entertain the not-exactly-extraordinary notion that a mathematical skillset could be conceptually partitioned into discrete sub-skills, each being an individual mathematics skill.

"Physics" and "economics", in the mean time, get a free pass.
posted by cortex at 12:55 PM on June 24, 2008


It's like any creative industry: it comes down to talent, perseverance and healthy heaps of luck to make it anywhere.

Or a whole lot of schmoozing and ass-kissing.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:04 PM on June 24, 2008


'"Physics" and "economics", in the mean time, get a free pass.'

??? - I have always heard economics shortened to "econ"; never to "econs". As for the other bit, go back and read my comment again.
posted by Eideteker at 1:12 PM on June 24, 2008


Economics, however, doesn't get reduced to "econ" casually by non-econ folks nearly as consistently as mathematics gets reduced to "math[s]". "Economics" is more or less what most random folks call it, complete with the s. Physics, ditto. So I don't think there's a clear linguistic leg to stand on here, as much as I agree that "maths" sounds bizarre to me personally as someone who grew up around "math" instead.

As for the other bit, go back and read my comment again.

I did read it. I responded specifically to it. You didn't address the specific possibility that I presented in my response, which is why I responded to it. If you disagree about the idea that it could be reasonably conceptually partitioned like that, say so, but I find "mathematics skills" a much more plausible and much more readable example than "mathematicals skills", so I'm not sure what you're getting at.
posted by cortex at 1:22 PM on June 24, 2008


"mathematics skills" a much more plausible and much more readable example than "mathematicals skills"

Which is why I referred to the former as merely retarded and the latter as beyond retarded. "Mathematical" comprises all sets and subsets. As much as I'm being a languagedick just for the fun of it, I still don't think you parsed my comment completely.
posted by Eideteker at 1:42 PM on June 24, 2008


Frankly, one of the things that has struck me is how often video game companies, publishers especially, seem to be run by people with business degrees who know nothing about games and whose principle understandings of market structure and influence don't translate well in the games market. (I say this with little understanding of economics and business, mind you. I speak mostly from what I hear about the publishing side of things on various blogs.) It's a relentless machine that seeks to be hollywood with a 2 week maximum turnaround, and the result is endless sequels and "re-imaginings" without a noticable improvement in quality (certain notable exceptions aside) which flood a market starving for quality material but willing to buy whatever you put out because of how rabid the fan base is. It's a system that has worked thus far, but which seems to me to be begging for reinvention, and when someone comes along to explode the minds of some students with some seriously gaming-specific business courses, I think we'll start seeing a revolution in workflow, marketing and supply chain structure that will hopefully go some ways toward eliminating this endless crush developer cycle. But to my mind it has to start with a company that sees how poor traditional business models are for games business. Maybe valve is that company, I don't know. They certainly seem to want to reinvent the PC side of things. I tend to think they're being kind of myopic, though, despite all the amazing games they've brought to market.

What I CAN think of, though, are companies like Atlus. They created what was called the best rpg of 2007 in a lot of places when they made Persona 3. It was what I think anyone would have called a super niche product until it exploded into mainstream success. A dating-sim rpg? With randomly generated environments, no random encounters and a daily one hour grind for leveling up? And yet, it's terrific, and everybody who's into jrpgs seems to love it. The craziest thing about it, though, (and Atlus games in general) is that they're sold in absolutely microscopic quantities. Once you hear about how amazing it is it's usually already sold out. It drives the fans crazy, but you don't see anyone over at Atlus crying over their wheelbarrows full of money. These games are made on the cheap, using noitcable gameplay and graphic shortcuts (the aformentioned randomly generated levels, the fact that character's feet don't seem to grip the floor properly when they run, etc...) and undersell their product, but now they're on everybody's radar. Etrian Odyssey II, which I only just heard about the other day from cortex and penny-arcade, was sold out before I'd even heard of it and it only just came out. This is an incredibly niche old-school might and magic style rpg with jrpg style graphics where you have to draw your own map as you go along. But everyone seems to love it, despite it's incredible brick wall learning curve.

Then you've got Nintendo, people who have been a little retarded in the past but who recently seem to have nailed the market. They have what everyone in the industry seems to be calling a dearth of quality games for the wii, and yet they're sold out everywhere and have been for years, now. They have not been reliably left on shelves anywhere in the world since they came out. New controllers, new balance board, a new focus on party games combined with a chronic shortage of stock and the wii is the hottest shit since the first turd left out in the sun. They are practically the textbook example of the problem I mentioned above of retreading old franchises, but on the other hand a game like Super Mario Galaxy seems to have wowed every person who has played it with its originality and unique use of the wii controller. And on the other side of their catalog we have Wii Fit, completely changing the way a lot of people saw the console and its potential. Nintendo grabbed the "casual" market by the short and curlies and hasn't let go, yet. If the other consoles are scrabbling to put out casual material, you wouldn't be able to tell since nintendo has it so firmly in hand that nobody seems to even consider their competitors a viable platform for casual play, with the exception of rock band and guitar hero.

So let's talk about those. Hot damn, did those guys get it right. These games have existed in one form or another for some time, either as guitar games found in japanese pachinko parlors or simply as the rhythm games we all know such as donkey konga and dance dance revolution. But along comes Harmonix, who sees the licensing potential of popular music and the incredible profit potential of selling branded and expensive controllers with each copy of the game and suddenly they've brought activision back to the fore as a game publisher. after the blizzard merger activision is now the number one publisher in the world. (don't even get me started on blizzard.) These guys are the George Lucas of video games: the profit potential for the branding and marketing of these games is through the roof and has completely blown people's preconceptions of what worked in video game sales. 2 week turnaround? Pfah! These games sell all year round, and the next one hits just in time for the slow down in sales. If anything, these guys are in danger of mimicking George Lucas' OTHER notable trait, which is the relentless pumping of a single franchise beyond all credibility and quality.

Long story short: I don't know what these guys are doing with their coders at home, what their hiring and workflow looks like. I do know that they serve as ample evidence that the typically accepted standard for gaming business is not the only way to be a massive and startling success. So it occurs to me that the problem of corporate gaming hiring policies (revolving doors, perpetual crunch time and unpaid overtime) is the result of a broken system, and that all it takes is for someone with a little bit of savvy, and not business savvy so much as gamer savvy, to finally tear it apart and create the new business dynamic. The system that exists is not the only system that works, it doesn't even work. It's just the only system mindless corporate execs know. Maybe it's time someone else drove them out of business.
posted by shmegegge at 1:49 PM on June 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


We may just have to disagree on whether "mathematics skills" is in fact retarded as a construction. And there could be a parsing thing here, but you're speculatively defending an argument on three blind mice's part that I'm unconvinced he was even making; to me, it read like he just thought "maths skills" was prima facie ungrammatical.

And by god, I'd rather have a languagedicking argument about a hardly-clear-cut defense of a non-existent argument in terms of relative assertive retardness with you more than most folks, man. Gimme a hug.
posted by cortex at 1:56 PM on June 24, 2008


where you have to draw your own map as you go along

Dude, you get to draw your own map.
posted by cortex at 1:59 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Math skills" is short for "mathematical skills," but "maths skills" is short for "mathematics skills," which is just retarded.

Huh? There's nothing wrong with that construction.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2008


shmegegge: [ citations needed ]
posted by blenderfish at 2:33 PM on June 24, 2008


[c.f. shmegegge's Ass, (c) 1979, Papa and Mama shmegegge Publishers, inc.] take it for what you will.
posted by shmegegge at 2:40 PM on June 24, 2008


also [cf various blog's shmegegge has read, he thinks.]
posted by shmegegge at 2:42 PM on June 24, 2008


blogs
posted by shmegegge at 2:42 PM on June 24, 2008


shmeggege: To be less blunt, that was literate and (mostly) relevant, but I think it is based on some assumptions that aren't necessarily objectively true or easy to ascertain the truth of. As such, I think it would be a more valuable essay for you to post somewhere and for people to enjoy if it had a little more research behind it. Specifically, the profitability of these companies and games, and a broader-based view of both the pervasiveness of game industry experience in the higher echelons of game publishers, as well as the pervasivenes of business experience further down the org chart. I, too, and many others, have put a lot of thought into the things you've discussed, and in light of some of the facts, I think some of these problems are a lot less tractable than you might think.
posted by blenderfish at 2:50 PM on June 24, 2008


hey, no doubt. I'm just kind of long-windedly dropping my $.02 in. I really don't intend it to be thought of as some kind of unassailable analysis. Really, it's just my perspective on things, hastily written.
posted by shmegegge at 2:59 PM on June 24, 2008


frankly, I'd love to hear where I'm off. the games industry, especially the plight of its employees and the difficulties of publishing, amounts to one of my favorite topics for idle contemplation.
posted by shmegegge at 3:00 PM on June 24, 2008


I can't think of any reputable universities that offer a "video game design" degree. I'm sure that most CS grads who paid attention in their math classes would be a better bet for video game design.
posted by gyc at 3:53 PM on June 24


No. Example of why this is wrong: id Software

That mentality worked when we weren't doing projects in the tens of millions of dollars shooting for millions in sales. We are now.

I just went around the office and asked what people thought: general consensus was making mods, film school, and creative writing topped any degree program. Programming background never hurts, and psych courses are useful as well. For people on the level building side of design architecture is a huge for helping to establish look, but you have to unlearn a lot of things too because what we do isn't actually real - and all the smoke and mirrors has to be efficiently rendered.
posted by Ryvar at 3:02 PM on June 24, 2008


shmegge: Naw, it was good, but there's just such a lack of hard data out there. Blogs are great at disseminating juicy, anecdotal tidbits, but they don't, in general, provide useful, broad data.

If you could break down the management teams of the major publishers, and tell me what percentage of them are from what industries, I would love that. Or how many people working in the trenches at studios have business degrees. Etc.

You should, though, seriously look at the profitability of Nintendo vs. Sony, Microsoft, Atari, Sega, etc. Very interesting stuff.
posted by blenderfish at 3:05 PM on June 24, 2008


Ryvar: I've found that when people outside the industry say 'game design', they often really mean to say 'game development' or 'game programming,' and not really design in a formal sense like you or I would say. Not that I can speak for gyc, but if you substitute 'programming' for 'design', I think his comment stands up.

(I find it interesting that a lot of people don't realize making games involves programming, while a lot of other people don't realize making games involves anything but programming.)

Nowadays, of course, as you allude to, programming is very important, but content is a huge part of the overall budget. And, depending on where you work, people who do 'design' (or different parts of it) may be more or less technical. Some places, all of the game logic is done by programmers, all of the art by artists, and the 'designer' collaborates closely with a programmer and an artist to get things done, while in other places, designers end up doing the primary scripting and modelling work themselves. There are definitely a lot of possibilities there, so it's very hard to say what the exact right way to train is.
posted by blenderfish at 3:19 PM on June 24, 2008


I've found that when people outside the industry say 'game design', they often really mean to say 'game development' or 'game programming,' and not really design in a formal sense like you or I would say. Not that I can speak for gyc, but if you substitute 'programming' for 'design', I think his comment stands up.

Good point, and yes.

And, depending on where you work, people who do 'design' (or different parts of it) may be more or less technical. Some places, all of the game logic is done by programmers, all of the art by artists, and the 'designer' collaborates closely with a programmer and an artist to get things done, while in other places, designers end up doing the primary scripting and modelling work themselves.

One of the interesting things going on in the industry right now is that the increasing ubiquity of Unreal 3 for FPS games seems to be normalizing all this stuff. It imposes - particularly with the layered sublevels approach - a certain . . . psychology of workflow. I could be operating from a very niche perspective, here, but it feels like the division between 'designer' (as in someone who does the rough cut of the structure and tactical arrangement of levels, scripting in levels, AI pathing, and high-level design of game mechanics) and 'level builder' (someone who actually places all the visual assets) is becoming increasingly distinct.

Hooray for standardized specialization?
posted by Ryvar at 4:00 PM on June 24, 2008


A game company is never going to be looking to hire an undifferentiated mass of Video Game People

To balance out what I said earlier, I should point out that Carnegie Mellon's Electronic Technology Centre is a great example of industry working together with universities to produce a very good game-related degree. It was founded by Randy Pausch, whose last lecture was a legend this year.

I suspect that what the British game orgs want to do is create an ETC UK. Even if the Guardian is a bit befuddled, I hope they find a way to do it. It's a wonderful idea.
posted by honest knave at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2008


Heh. From my industry mate in Edinburgh:

Although, of the whole four games courses that are actually officially accredited, three of them are in Scotland, and the other one’s in Wales. Fuck you, England.

Hurrah for Dundee’s very own University of Abertay, which seems to be the only place in the UK that offers respectable games degree courses.


Statistically he’ll die young from chronic lard-blockage though.
posted by Artw at 4:50 PM on June 24, 2008


Ryvar: One of the interesting things going on in the industry right now is that the increasing ubiquity of Unreal 3 for FPS games seems to be normalizing all this stuff. It imposes - particularly with the layered sublevels approach - a certain . . . psychology of workflow.

Of course, it goes the other way, too. Toolsets definitely influence workflow, but workflow in turn influences the toolset. (Both minds and large codebases are difficult to change, so this can take a long time.) But, I think this is a good example of why it is critical for a studio to develop its own tools (even if you're licensing them;) otherwise a studio can lose that which makes it unique, and become a mere commodity.

Hooray for standardized specialization?

Hehe. There's definitely a reason that the phrase "assembly line" doesn't have the most positive of connotations when applied to creative endeavors. :)
posted by blenderfish at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2008


MATH'S SKILLS

MATH'S SKILLS

YOU PEOPLE ARE ALL DUMB CANT' NOONE GET IT RITE
posted by davemee at 2:57 AM on June 25, 2008


I'm a game developer, a client-side programmer to be more specific. I have almost a 2 year degree in programming, and a 4 year degree in Management Information Systems, but that means nothing to my employer because they've forgotten I even have it. They forgot/didn't care that I had prior programming experience as well, but that's a long story. :P

I am amazed at the combined suckitude/ballsiness of many applicants who've gone through Full Sail or other similar schools, who could not program their way out of a wet paper bag that's open and has a big hole in the side. Their resume is full of things like "lead technical director" or "senior programmer" or the like, but given a whiteboard and an hour they couldn't write a routine to detect the intersection of two rectangles.

The courses are probably useful for students who already have some talent and who apply themselves, but in general, they don't seem to weed out those who don't. Everybody passes, and everybody winds up with something on their resume that looks like experience. But it's long been suspected, and more so recently, that some people simply cannot learn to program.
posted by Foosnark at 7:35 AM on June 25, 2008


you know what I've always wondered? how the pre-rendered video gets into the game. I know, this is totally off-topic, but whatever. As a video editor, I've always paid close attention to those rare moments in a game where shit stops and a video comes on screen. They're usually awfully simple from an editing standpoint (not a criticism, merely an observation) and they're usually either some attempt to demo gameplay before the player presses the start button or they're some elaborate cgi moment cut into the gameplay. So I mention this because in all my time job hunting I have never once seen a job posted for a video editor at a games company. (I know, that doesn't mean they haven't been there.) More over, I imagine video editors must spend so little time contributing to the final product that they're probably only working for a couple of days before the gig's done and they move on elsewhere. But what I started to wonder was, since the technical difficulty of editing these particular pieces is probably pretty low, and since they tend to be awfully short pieces, what if the companies are just getting some designer or artist who knows a bare minimum of final cut (or god help me premiere) to just bang something out in a couple of hours?

I don't know why, but this train of thought always lingers in my brain. editing can be so crucial and time consuming in virtually every other video-related enterprise, but games could possibly be one of the few industries where it's simply an afterthought.
posted by shmegegge at 9:09 AM on June 25, 2008


They’ve only recently gotten the idea that maybe they should hire proper writers for those bits, I think the day when the art director doesn’t take it as his opportunity to ape the matrix/action movie du jour is pretty far away.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on June 25, 2008


shmegegge: usually that shit is all outsourced to companies that specialize in CG sequences, based on a script written up by the creative team.

You know how most movie directors *butcher* their attempts to express a videogame in their medium? Most game companies' creative teams *butcher* their attempts to make those little sequences. That ineptitude is a two-way street (with a few significant exceptions).
posted by Ryvar at 11:12 AM on June 25, 2008


If find cut scenes that are outside of the games rendering engine very jarring, as I’m suddenly out of the game and watching some movie. Ones that use the game engine are better, but it’s kind of annoying if the character I control is suddenly doing something that I’m not able to get him or her to do, I mean it’s very cool that McGeneric blows up a helicopter and leaps through a fireball or whatever but really isn’t the whole point of it being a game that *I* get to do that?

Personally I like the Valve/HL approach of having everything you’d have in a cut-scene in the actual game most of all.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on June 25, 2008


ahhhhhhh
posted by shmegegge at 11:38 AM on June 25, 2008


Personally I like the Valve/HL approach of having everything you’d have in a cut-scene in the actual game most of all.

Agreed. The first time I went through Half-Life's train ride intro to Black Mesa, I thought it was cool that the cutscene was rendered in the game engine. Towards the end, I bumped the mouse, my view moved, and I realized it wasn't a cutscene.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:43 AM on June 25, 2008


it’s kind of annoying if the character I control is suddenly doing something that I’m not able to get him or her to do

Yeah, that can be a little frustrating. Worse yet, when the character goes into a cut scene and does something that I really don't seem myself making that character choose to do—moral choices in particular. This is something that JRPGs drive me crazy with, sometimes. I would love, love, not to be forced to let some emo dickhead be petulant for me between fight scenes. Give me the option to be Not A Dick, please, especially if it's not even interesting anti-hero dickery so much as just endless misanthropic whining.

On the flip side, the handling, in Bioshock, of the encounter with Andrew Ryan was kind of a masterstroke subversion of this phenomenon. I won't go into spoilery detail, but it was a very powerfully arresting use of theft-of-narrative-control.
posted by cortex at 11:46 AM on June 25, 2008


Well if you play JRPGs your're pretty much asking to be abused by cut-scenes.
posted by Artw at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2008


Artw: Right on, brother. CG cutscenes are the biggest con ever; they destroy the suspesion of disbelief built up ever, they set up false expectation of the game, the technology, and the range of options the player has, and are a collossal waste of development resources. They're usually required by a lack-lustre art lead who's annoyed they're not the Next Big Director Already Dammit, or a bloated production justifying a larger budget.

While CDs and DVDs ruled the roost, Nintendo's self-imposed cartridge exile on the N64 at least guaranteed the integrity of their narrative storytelling.

(Spoken as a guy whose first job was making big, fat bloated cut scenes, and then realising they looked even worse when the lie of the in-game graphics presented themselves in sharp contrast)
posted by davemee at 11:59 AM on June 25, 2008


Maybe the Iraq war was a bigger con, on reflection.
posted by davemee at 11:59 AM on June 25, 2008


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