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  • Extract: Breaking Into The Game Industry

    [08.16.11]
    - Ian Schreiber and Brenda Brathwaite

  • Question: How much weight do studios put on the major or college attended?

    Brenda: Although certain schools are known within the industry-and that matters in certain ways-the rounded answer is, "not a lot." A great school and a great GPA will not save anyone from a poor coding test or a subpar portfolio. A school is only one part of the equation. Great employees come from poor schools, and train wrecks graduate from schools we know and love. Think for a moment. Odds are, you had such a train wreck and a superstar in your own class.

    It's true, however, that certain schools have a reputation within the industry for producing some consistently good students year after year. This accolade is the result of good teachers, their own networking within the industry, and a selective admissions process that makes sure that the cream of the crop they graduate were already pretty damn close to cream when they entered the program. You can recognize the programs by their professors-they are involved, making games or contributions that matter, and are known within the game industry.

    All major game companies have employees whose job it is to reach out to colleges, establish relationships with key departments (programming, graphic design, digital art, game design, and so on), and in many cases, visit the colleges to interview students. With literally thousands of schools out there, these university relations folk can only visit so many schools in a particular year. So, it's important to realize that choices are being made by companies, and those choices may matter to you. When interviewing schools, ask which companies have visited in the last year and further ask about recent student placements. Many schools can trot out a list of students who have been hired by one big firm or another, but that list of ten students may be out of thousands. Ask about recent trends.

    As much as these companies are hitting particular schools, they are also posting opportunities on their job sites, so that alone shouldn't be a deciding factor. As far as a major goes, it's a more challenging scenario. Traditional degrees in programming offer truth in advertising. With game degrees, though, the waters get muddier. Some are such a mash of programming, art, and design that the resulting student is likewise a mix of talents, and such a person hasn't developed the level of proficiency necessary for even the lowest level gig in the industry. Think of the degree and the school as two variables in a larger equation that includes practical experience, your social network, your portfolio, the way you present yourself in an interview, and a bit of luck.

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