Improving education is one thing, but giving students experience is the key issue, says Will Luton
In 2009 I graduated from one of the UK’s first game design courses: BA (Hons) Computer Games Design at University of Huddersfield.
Just over two and a half years later and I’m a director at one of Europe’s most successful mobile game studios, have won awards and am now writing this, here.
Yet despite this I believe, as a graduate and now an employer, that institutions offering games-related course are failing our industry.
This was bolstered in February this year when Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope (a visual FX luminary) published a report called Next Gen via NESTA.
The report finds that only 12 per cent of graduates from games courses find a job in the industry within six months of graduating. This is especially pronounced in design degrees, such as mine, where the figure drops down to 8.8 per cent.
Meanwhile 58 per cent of employers, including us, report difficulties filling positions with recruits straight from education.
There is seemingly a simple conclusion: The jobs are there, but the system doesn’t equip graduates to get them. Games education is broken at most institutions.
There are lots of symptoms of this breakdown, the most pronounced of which is irrelevant, misguided and unfocused content. My personal belief is that this has been caused by a lack of industry-experienced academics and a strong profit focus in vocational universities.
On top of this the academic tools of critical theory in games studies, although improving, are early and lacking. It’s understandable when considering those most qualified to form them are attracted by the conditions in practice over academia.
Yet there is a system in which knowledge is imparted and students are empowered: the work placement.
I took 12 months at Sega Europe. Initially in the QA team, I nagged and pleaded out and in to a production role. For four or five months I got to see how the publishing machine worked from the inside. I saw how deals were structured, visited world-class studios and worked with every department from marketing to legal.
When I returned for the final year of my degree, I had more relevant knowledge than the majority of the degree’s staff and an abundance of confidence.
Here at Mobile Pie we currently have two QA interns, Dave and Valentine, who are being exposed to what we do: Hearing and seeing production as well as getting hands on with more than just testing.
Dave has been writing developer commentaries for an upcoming title and created a project status board for our new office whilst Valentine is taking up coding duties for live projects.
They are gaining real practical experience and life skills which they would not have in an insular games education. It will make them employable in the future and gives them something they can be proud of now.
I believe work placements just work: Of my peers, those that took placements invariably went on to industry jobs.
Unfortunately, work placements are in extremely short supply because many question the financials in an ever competitive and squeezed job market.
If the UK government is to start offering benefits to the games industry, I would want to see it going to support young talent getting real world experience – currently the government gives up to 100 per cent funding for apprenticeships – then to support their first year’s employment or setting up on their own as graduates.
I’m of the strong belief that is how growth can be accelerated. Yet with the country disintegrating under the weight of it’s own debt and a regressive public spending policy, I’ll assume it’s a request that is futile.
We need a new generation in games and the education system is faltering. Offering placements is offering someone their chance to take a tentative step in to an industry that they can inherit and shape.