Opinion// Why Would a Graduate Choose the Games Industry?

Posted 4 Feb 2011 17:29 by
Debbie runs The Average Gamer site.
Debbie runs The Average Gamer site.
Let me just start out by saying that I very much support this week's Livingstone-Hope review of the skills needed by the video games and VFX sectors in the UK.

It's a great piece of work with wide-ranging surveys of all the groups you would expect to be included in an audit of education. Within their 20 recommendations, Livingstone and Hope have hit every stage of the educational processes needed to raise the level of skilled technology and arts graduates in this country and I heartily commend them for what they've done within the remit given.

Therein lies its flaw - the focus on skills shortage as a result of educational failures. Disclosure: I'm a UK computer science graduate. I've played video games my whole life. Back when I graduated, I wanted to go into games development but my university careers service was, let's just say "inadequately informed" about the industry.

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts's (NESTA) recommendation 10 (set up online careers resources) and many of the others aimed at schools will go a long way towards addressing the problem of exposure to the UK's games development sector. Where the report hits a major stumbling block is on addressing what happens after education - industry working conditions.

After giving up on my careers service, I did my own research to find a career path I might enjoy. I found the very encouraging Blitz Games Academy resource for people looking for a career in games. And then I found ea_spouse. I chose to work for the NHS instead. Six years on and we find the same story happening again on Homefront. A couple of years ago an insider told me about a certain UK-based arcade racing developer running name-and-shame boards that ranked employees by the number of overtime hours they had clocked. Those at the bottom of the rankings were the ones not pulling their weight.

I graduated with plenty of talented programmers who like games. They work at Morgan Stanley. They work at PWC Consulting. They work at Last.fm. They work at Microsoft. When you hear that games development studios are working 7-day weeks and 10-hour days for 6 months or more... when you look at MCV's recent salary survey and discover that the average experienced games programmer earns only 27,416... why in god's name would you choose to work in this sector?

Any article you read on these issues is followed by a bunch of developer comments saying "Yeah, this is how it is. If you don't like it, go into banking." Graduates will do exactly that. The report itself acknowledges that experienced games professionals are moving on from big development houses.

I find it incredible that one of the highest-grossing industries in the world is so determined to burn its workers out. This is why there's a skills shortage.

Brain Drain
This is why there is brain drain. The "best and brightest" people don't want to work under those conditions and they have plenty of alternatives. Lecturers at City University and Imperial College London have confirmed to me that their top Comp Sci and Physics grads are going on to careers in the City.

I agree that the solution is to increase the number of students studying science and technology, but this dream that education will produce fully capable grads that want to hit the ground running in games is unrealistic. Those industries that do snap up the best and brightest still push them through a two-month training period, offer mentors and provide support and study leave for further industry qualifications.

Working Conditions
What do games companies offer? The opportunity to work 60+ hour weeks for two years on a product that might be celebrated for two months before the audience moves on the next new and shiny. That's the perception among my programmer friends.

Educating and attracting the next generation is a great thing. How do we prepare the industry to retain them?

Debbie Timmins runs UK games website The Average Gamer

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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