If modern game development is growing fast, and becoming increasingly challenging, it’s obvious that we need to hire quite a few graduates, and they need to be the best and brightest, capable of solving really tough problems, with the people skills to work in large teams.
In recent years, a number of universities spotted this trend and began to offer dedicated game development degrees. On the surface, this would appear to be a great idea:
- Game developers are hiring lots of graduates, so there would appear to be a market for these degrees
- School kids love games, so attracting students is easy
- Traditional (higher-ranked) universities aren’t going to change their course offerings in a hurry, so this is a great way for lower-ranked institutions to differentiate themselves and gain some degree of competitive edge, perhaps attracting some decent students that otherwise wouldn’t have given them a second look.
Initially it was only a few universities, but pretty soon everyone wanted a piece of this. If you search UCAS now for courses starting in 2009 with the keyword “game”, there are 314 results (compared to 1762 for “computer science” and, coincidentally, also 314 for “software engineering”).
A closer look
Unfortunately, there are huge problems with many of these courses. From an employer’s point of view:
- These tend to be lower-ranked universities, producing lower quality graduates on the whole
- Sucked in by the lure of videogames, these courses attract some students with extremely low aptitude for programming.
- Most courses spread themselves too thinly in attempting to cover the whole breadth of game development (for example looking at sound recording, or 3D modelling) – unfortunately taking time away from core computer science and software engineering topics (a degree is short enough as it stands for learning these topics seriously in depth).
From the student’s point of view, there are just as many problems:
- The best students don’t get the challenge and quality of education they deserve.
- The rest struggle with programming – they’re just not cut out for it
- Very few of them get jobs at the end of it all
What others are saying
By happy coincidence, this month’s Develop magazine contains a few choice quotes on the topic, saving me the trouble of needing to think up anything too rude myself (I’m being extremely restrained in this post):
The games university bubble will burst in the next few years. Industry cannot and will not take these droves of mediocre graduates…
John Sear, Derby University
That’s coming from someone on a game degree’s teaching staff! He’s spot on – the quantity of these graduates is definitely excessive (the number of courses blatantly outweighs the number of graduate jobs available), and the quality is mostly low. He suggests the employment rate is under 20% on average, including testing roles. This brings me onto my second quote:
I consider it frankly immoral to encourage students to spend money on a course that can never deliver.
Kim Blake, Blitz Games
I’ve met several people who deeply regretted choosing a games degree when they realised they weren’t being taught much, and were unlikely to get a job at the end of it all.
I’m also reminded of the Mickey Mouse quote.
What’s right with them?
I’ve obviously made some gross generalisations here, and it’s only fair to mention a couple of success stories. John Sear claims for example that Derby have a 90% employment rate. And here at RTW, we’ve hired a pretty significant number of our staff from Abertay’s Computer Games Technology degree, for which we have to be grateful. I think Abertay may have been the first such course in the UK, so they really spotted the opportunity and created the market themselves (I’m slightly torn between respecting them and blaming them for that!!) – they can’t be accused of jumping on a bandwagon, for sure. They definitely run one of the better courses of this kind, and their reputation is sufficiently good to attract some excellent students.
Even in the better courses, there’s huge room for improvement, but I’ll leave that for a future post … for now, place your bets on how long the bubble will last.