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  • Reassuring Parents About Game Degrees

    [12.20.07]
    - Dr. Andrew Tuson
  •  In the U.K., academics play a key role in selecting and recruiting students to degrees. I have been involved in this activity in one way or another for eight years. In my experience, parents play a very important (albeit often low-profile) role in a student's decision. This is entirely understandable, as though students will be making a significant investment in time and money, so will their parents.

    This article has two aims: to reassure parents of the merits of games degrees and to give advice on how they can help in selecting the right one. It is based on the questions I often hear from parents of students wishing to take City University London's BSc (Hons) Computer Science with Games Technology degree, but I am confident that the topics will be equally applicable elsewhere.

    Are there jobs in the video game industry?
    Yes. In the U.K., the creative industries (of which games are a part) are one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.K. economy. In London, the creative industries are the second largest sector by GDP after the financial services industry -- no mean feat given London's role as a world financial center. The game industries in the U.K. and the U.S. are both larger in value than their film industries.

    This is not to say that getting employment in the game industry is straightforward. The industry is perceived as glamorous and requires a high-level of skill and ability to enter. This applies across other graduate destinations and is not unique to games (though it is especially competitive in games). For example, applicant-to-places ratios for mainstream IT industry graduate schemes can exceed 80:1 in the U.K. The key for potential students is to choose a course that allows them to develop to be one of those high-quality graduates.

    How can a degree help? Is it needed in the game industry?
    The game industry, like other creative industries, is becoming increasing graduate in nature. In the U.K., 40 percent of those employed in the game industry have undergraduate degrees, and 29 percent have a master's or other higher degree, according to Skillset. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that "graduateness" is something that the game industry values. So why does the industry employ graduates?

    The first reason is that a game degree will teach skills directly needed in the industry (for example, C++ for programming roles), or key concepts that underpin the industry such as mathematics and computer architecture for technical roles. For the creative roles, the opportunity to develop and produce a portfolio of work to show employers is valuable.

    The second reason is that a good degree course that engages its student and pushes them to develop helps to produce the agile minds of graduates that can critically analyse information and creatively problem solve. In any creative and high value industry, these intellectual skills are needed to develop great products.

    Expectation management is key. A degree in itself is not what employers desire. What they are interested in are the skills and abilities that students acquire during the degree. A degree course is in some respects like a gym membership: we can show students how to use the equipment, run classes, and provide a program to help them reach their potential, but if they do not engage with these opportunities, they will not improve.

    Will a game degree be recognized outside the game industry?
    Yes, most definitely. There are two reasons. First, many graduate jobs are available to students of any discipline. Employers value the intellectual skills of good graduates.

    The second reason is that many of the topics covered in a game degree are relevant to other industries. Consider a computer science-focused game degree. Such degrees are programming-intensive and so will provide coverage of C++ and software engineering methods that are needed in the mainstream IT industry. Other applications of a game degree include simulation, visualization, and scientific computing. This also applies to game degrees of a creative nature. For example, skills learned in a game design degree can be transferred to the more mainstream animation industry.

    Parents should be reassured that a game degree can lead to employment outside the video game arena. In our experience at City University, which has a strong student employment record, many of our game students take the degree as a fun way to learn computer science (which it is!) and then opt for employment in the mainstream IT industry, including prestigious employers such as Accenture.

    Are game degrees a "soft option?"
    In the U.K., journalists use the term "Mickey Mouse degree" in an attempt to create a moral panic over any new degree subject, but nothing could be further from the truth for video games. Nor is it anything new. Similar things were said about English degrees when they were introduced in the 19th century and social science degrees in the mid 20th century.

    Computer game development has in recent years become a serious academic discipline with its own journals and conferences. Furthermore, computer games push other disciplines, such as computer science, to their limits. For example, the Cell and Xenon processors in the current generation of consoles make some very radical architectural decisions, which means that programmers are currently developing software in a fashion that will find its way into the mainstream IT industry in the next five to ten years. And modern graphics processors have found a new relevance in speeding up scientific computing applications.

    Students working toward a game degree should be prepared to work very hard, given that they will be solving such demanding problems. As noted, game graduates are gaining good jobs in mainstream industries such as IT as well as in the game industry; if game degrees were not challenging, they would not produce this quality of graduates.

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