Industry luminaries slam universities' games courses

Molyneux, Livingstone, Braben on how to fix UK games training - plus video report on skills review, Train2Game and Abertay

A number of leading UK games industry figures have highlighted the problems with education and training for prospective young developers.

In a report by Eurogamer TV (watchable below), Eidos life president Ian Livingstone, currently working on a government-endorsed skills review, claimed that "the problem with a lot of universities is they offer sort of generalist courses.

"They've crossed out the word media studies and put computer game studies. But they haven't actually had a dialogue with industry. We do not need them teaching a philosophy about games, we need computer science, art and animation."

Observed Frontier's David Braben, "there's been more than a 50 per cent drop off in the number of applicants to computer science courses at university. And that's in the backdrop of a rise of 24 per cent in university entrants.

"There are a lot incentives for universities to increase the number of students, because universities are now paid per seat and... there is no quality test for what that seat is worth in the sense of what is taught. So some subjects are a lot easier and a lot cheaper to teach than others."

Mastertronic's Andy Payne felt that there was not enough dialogue between universities and developers. "I would argue that our education needs more direct contact with the games industry, and I think that's down to the games industry to properly reach out to higher education, and then higher education understanding what the games industry really needs.

"It's not that we haven't got the talent, we just don't produce the finished article."

Students at GameLab, supported by London Metropolitan University, were critical of other courses. Said trainee Mark Rance, "I've had friends other universities that were a bit disillusioned by them, finding they were generally a lot of theory and they just ended up essentially being able to review games by the end of it."

By contrast, Lionhead's Peter Molyneux was concerned that some courses were too specialised to be future-proofed. "The games industry changes so quickly that, by the time a student has gone through their three year course, the games industry could have changed radically."

The full report, which also investigates controversial course Train2Game, discusses the success of Abertay University and talks to MP Ed Vaizey about government support for the games industry, is below.

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Latest comments (40)

Dan Lowe 3D Animator, Ubisoft Montreal9 years ago
Not all game courses are bad. I did Game Design at Teesside University and while the course wasn't perfect, there were definitely some talented lecturers who taught a relevant curriculum. Plenty of my friends from that course are now working happily at well respected studios.

I think there's room for improvement, but we shouldn't condemn all of these courses. Some of them are really worthwhile.
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Alan Jack Studying MProf Games Development, University of Abertay Dundee9 years ago
As a student of Abertay, both under- and post-grad, the industry links have really made it what it is, and what it is is really good.
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Jonatan Crafoord Indie Developer, Really Interactive AB9 years ago
I think there definitely is a gap between many universities and the industry but I feel it needs to be bridged from both ends. It is notoriously hard to get a foot in the door at game development companies and in my experience a lot of the people holding the courses don't have the necessary connections nor the time to hunt for them. People who are in the industry and have an interest in the quality of the educations can on the other hand do quite a bit to improve them.

Here I'd especially like to reach out to publishers with in-house developers such as Sony and Microsoft that have the resources and stability to devote effort to long term strategies like improving educations. If representatives are in constant dialogue with the universities they can ensure that the courses are relevant, have a good distribution of disciplines and a right amount of specialization versus generalism. Now the course founders are pretty much left with ambition and guesswork, and the people saying yes or no to the curriculum are even more in the dark.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jonatan Crafoord on 15th October 2010 4:15pm

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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up9 years ago
Bums on seats means you keep your job as a lecturer and the idea of offering courses that tend to follow popular movements and the current dreams of individuals is common throughout higher education, and not exclusive to games. One uni does it, then you have a hundred doing it the next year, as it provides them with a decent intake and therefore a decent income. Im sure some people are teaching the right things on some games courses, but students should be wary about getting sold a course that is more general in nature and probably a good deal easier than lets say computer science/maths/physics/art/grahic design. You just cant teach all of that at once. If I was a student these days, I'd focus on a single discipline. For example, study physics, and learn some programming, and you'll probably have a job for life in the games industry.
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Bryan Robertson9 years ago
It really does depend on the course. My understanding is that Abertay is quite well respected in the industry, due to its close ties with the local games industry.

I've worked with many, many talented programmers and designers that have come through Abertay's Computer Games Technology degree, so they must be doing something right.
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Denis Dyack President, Silicon Knights9 years ago
Some of these issues are why we helped to form 8.

"By adding interactivity to moving images such as film (the '7th art), we are creating what Silicon Knights' has dubbed for many years as the '8th Art'," said Silicon Knights President Denis Dyack. "We have been promoting the '8th Art' for many years, and are beyond excited to have aligned with three outstanding partners McMaster University, AGH and Mohawk College that share the same vision, and understand the need to grow the talent and resources in this arena.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Denis Dyack on 15th October 2010 5:55pm

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Saehoon Lee Lead technical artist, Kuno Interactive9 years ago
It is important to teach specialized skills. However, it is equally important to be able to constantly adapt and have self learning skills. So the balance is the key.
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I'm quite saddened there is virtually no comprehensive intergration of games/entertainment development with the local london hub of studios. Think of the potential to make it so awesome. Soho has already a well entrenched movie/animation hub. games and movies are so burred in terms of its borders, it just needs some head knocking to bring it all together I reckon
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Rory Parsons Studying Computer Games Design, University of Central Lancashire9 years ago
I'm finding UCLAN pretty good so far. I'm only in my first year, but already have a few years of professional game development experience and I'm pretty happy with what I'm learning.

The course is a little more focussed on Art than I'd like, but learning photoshop and Maya will definitely prove useful in the future and it gives people the option of working as an Artist as well.
It also helps that the course has games industry ties (Travellers Tales), as well a heavy focus on practical work.

That said, I looked at pretty much every Game Design course in the country and the only ones that really stood out were Abertay, Teeside, UCLAN, Portsmouth and Newport (although I think I've heard that Bournemouth is good too).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Rory Parsons on 15th October 2010 9:44pm

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If i had my way, i'd make sure everyone working in games - be it art, programming or sound all do a 6 month game design module. this will helpfully cause a more thoughtful approach and appreciation when developing game assets
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Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London9 years ago
Well, I've been taught by industry professionals with experience from games companies, to graphics companies, to mobile industry and more so I can't complain about that side of things..

I do believe some courses should have a stronger focus on the games technology as opposed to having largely abstract computer science and IT subjects with a little bit of game theory on the side.

Anyway, plenty of people have bagged top jobs from games courses so the criticism should be taken with a grain of salt or at least considered a case by case issue.
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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship9 years ago
Bottom line is, there's probably less than 10k front line developer jobs in the entire UK. Even if every single one of these courses was amazing, and every student stellar, there just wouldn't be room for them all, not by a long way.

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Russell Billingsley Studying Computer Science with Games Development, University of Hull9 years ago
as a prospective student on a course like this, actually mulling over where to apply at this time, this article confuses me as to the correct way to get into the game industry, do I go on a course like this or learn all relevant skills outside of this and start on my own project and use that as the experience that most/all Developers require of applicants.
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Antony Cain Lecturer, Teesside University9 years ago
Russell, go on a course and start your own project ;)
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Russell Billingsley Studying Computer Science with Games Development, University of Hull9 years ago
wow that was a fast reply :), im slightly worried about my UCAS application tbh, at the end of this year i should be on 240 will it be enough for a good course?
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Gregor Manby Producer 9 years ago
Russell, try looking at some prospectus' -
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Ryan Locke Lecturer in Media Design, University of Abertay Dundee9 years ago
The games industry would serve itself well to support these courses, and should be leaping at oppotunities for productive imput.
Our course (Mprof Game Development) at Abertay has come along way to ensuring the correct skills are nurtured and we do receieve alot of needed attention for it. Im not sure what the situation with other universities is, but Im confident by the end of this course in september, each of us will be more than qualified to fill positions in industry.
Sure this sounds like pie in the sky, but if ever in doubt, please do drop in and see us, we're more than happy to show people what we do.
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Josef Brett Animator 9 years ago
All the Edge 'Region Specific' features talk about this with games developers across the world. The general consensus seems to be that there are some great courses and a lot of rubbish. The advice always seems to be, if you're not enrolled on a course already, then enroll on a computer science course, not a generic one. If you are on a games course then do as much as possible outside the course - demo reel is king.

On a side note, the 'Train2Game' courses have seemed dodgy since they appeared. I couldn't understand why they were at the careers fair at the Expo. The rest of the people there were top notch and should have been, but the 'Train2Game' folks looked like stereotypical used car salesmen (no offence to actual used car salesmen - I mean the dodgy film sterotypes).

I'm guessing they paid to turn up or something. I felt sorry for all the folks they were signing up. They seemed to appear to offer them the moon!
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Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College9 years ago
A course on game design should be just the beginning. Spare time should be used to further develop skills, learn new skills and to do things outside of the classroom that will help land that dream job. I think a lot of students see it as just that, a job. At the end of the day it is but it should be much more than just that in my opinion. The industry could do a hell of a lot more to help and support colleges/universities so instead of complaining start helping!
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Robert Farr (Graduate) Studying BA Hons Creative Computer Games Design, Swansea Metropolitan University9 years ago
It's hard to get entry level (Entry level for QA itself, not for other positions) QA work right now too, Codemasters put up a job listing for 100 QA positions recently and within 7 days they'd updated it with a note about unprecedented demand.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Robert Farr (Graduate) on 17th October 2010 10:55am

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James Martin Editor, The Gamer Scene9 years ago
I'm currently in Year 11; GCSE year. I seem to be the youngest here, but what I've always wanted to be is a games developer. I've been writing for websites for about a year and have a couple of contacts with PR people, but nothing more really.

I'm thinking that to be a developer, you need to be good at maths and physics, which...I'm not, really. But my maths teacher is bad, as is my physics teacher (in physics for an Internally Assessed Activity exam she let us have a supply teacher whilst we did it, people copied off the answers she gave us and they got a B. That's how bad she is), so I'm a bit worried. I just don't know what's best to get there. I don't know what I should be doing outside of school to help; at the moment I know a bit of HTML, XHTML and that's it. In ICT we've done OCR Nationals and it's so easy it's untrue. Making PowerPoints is, to me, and most other people on my classes, useless.

I'm thinking about maybe being a QA tester as I read that this can be a great way to be able to get into the gaming industry at a later date, but I don't know what it entails; working from home, age, etc.. I suppose I need to do some researching there.

But I suppose what I'm trying to say here is...where should I go? What should I do? Is it worth going to university? Of course, I'd like to go, but if I don't, will it make a huge load of difference?
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Russell Billingsley Studying Computer Science with Games Development, University of Hull9 years ago
James, this is my exact quandary, do I really want/need to go to university, get strapped with a ton of debt just to learn something that i can most probably pick up easier working from home. Im in my second year of college now and if the lecturers are anything like the tutors we have, then its a definite no. my argument for going to university at the moment is to force me to learn the skills needed, because outside of that I will just become sidetracked and never have the time to learn the skills necessary, regardless of how much I want to learn them.
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James Martin Editor, The Gamer Scene9 years ago parents said that not going to Uni would mean you'd have to start at the bottom and work your way up, whereas if you go to Uni you miss out the crappy things and just go in at higher...if you get what I'm trying to say.

But I'd imagine game developing is different: you need to learn programming languages (something that I really wish I was doing now) and everything else.

Maybe it's worth doing a computer science course at Uni? I don't know.
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Volker Boenigk Executive Product Director, Gameforge9 years ago
I completely agree on the specialist courses. Perosnally, when I am looking for Game Designers, the majority of applicants from universities know a bit of this and a bit of that, but they don't excel at any one area and, even more problematic, they don't understand that (unless you run your own thing), you will never be doing all of these things. Most graduates apply, believing that they will be able to come up with game ideas, create some 3D assets, build a level and construct the interface. This is not true, and most of the time a major blow to the young prospects' dream of working in the industry.
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From the visual side of things,
I would heartily recommend:

Year 1:
- 6month Games Design & QA
- 6month Basic Entertainment Design/Theory

Next, depending on your choosen specialization into:
1/ 2D eg. conceptual and production design
2/ 3D & Animation
3/ Hybrid of 1 and 2

Year 2 and 3: can be structured accordingly and tapered towards their regional hub
- I'd like to see some sort of 2-3 month apprenticeship at year 2 and 3,
thus when graduates graduate, - they would have had a good inkling and some understanding of the additional work and basic skillsets they need to gather/develop suitable to their desired role

The key aspect is, University is crucial to allow the individual to develop, both in technical skills and maturity as a individual, and learning to work within a team, have the right attitude, aptitude are all skills that have to be honed and allowed to shine through.

And alot of time within University will neccisitate hard graft during one's persnal time to obtain the right skillset to create a well honed specialist/generalist tapered towards the Games/Movie/Animation industries
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Peter Law Freelance Game Designer and Unity Developer, Enigma 239 years ago
James, there is nothing stopping you from learning the things you REALLY wish you were learning, now. You can always self teach, the internet is a great teacher.
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Christopher Reid9 years ago
I am currently at college studying video games. I'm due to go onto university and I'm looking towards Teesside but I am torn between a course in games design and games art. I have heard that games design is not an entry level job which makes a course in design look rather redundant.

I was wondering would it be better to study art and work my way into the industry as an artist, rather than studying design and struggling to find a job because of a lack of industry experience.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated, cheers.
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Chris Fox Studying BSc Gameplay Design and Production, Staffordshire University9 years ago
I'm in my second year and learning Games Design, Engines & Physics (ie UnrealEd and uScript), a bit of LUA and taking modules in Realism and Narratology. There is a lot of group project work at the level, creating an Unreal game and a Tiler/LUA based MMO. This is with the aim of becoming Games Design (presumably starting as QA then Level Designer/Builder first).

My course is one of several that Staffs offers, all of which are offered as providing skills focused towards a particular career path with the basis of good principals in the process of creating a game and working in a development environment.

Having watching the Eurogamer program, I am now especially worried that perhaps all this is essentially useless. It sounds like my course is better than others but is it good enough?
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Shane Sweeney Academic 9 years ago
People who study Cinema studies don't expect to learn how to direct a film. There needs to be a *Clear* distinction between a Game Studies course and a Game Development course.

Both are important.
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Ben Howse9 years ago
As someone studying a "Games" course at University I can tell you that the Universities in Australia are teaching the most generic courses they can.
In fact, they require a Diploma in Games Development to get into the course, yet all they teach you is a generic Bachelor of Information Technology course, with a SINGLE "Games Design" course.
And even then, all that's required in that course is to:
A. Develop a card game
B. Develop a board game
C. Use GameMaker to create a PC game.

If I wasn't currently employed as a QA Tester in a games company, I'd have little to no hope of having the experience required by the industry based on what is taught at University.
In fact, I believe I learned more about the game development process doing my diploma than I have doing my bachelors course.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ben Howse on 18th October 2010 1:29am

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Mike Reddy Course Tutor BSc Computer Game Development, University of South Wales9 years ago
This last comment horrified me. Generic courses give ammunition to the prejudice still shown by Braben and the like. In fact, the Wah post earlier has a point. The irony is that courses that are Computer Science/Software Engineering with some token game stuff tacked on were heavily criticised for being "bums on seats" a while ago. Undergraduate awards that attempted to embed Ludology (games studies and theory) were "Micky Mouse". And the advice of "do a proper degree" - I.e. Physics - is laughable, when schools don't even teach traditional Science anymore. To be honest, I'm getting rather sick of Industry telling me there's no dialogue going on, when we have had to fight/cajole/court the contacts we have at Newport; most don't exactly make it easy, Blitz being an exemplary exception, which is why TIGA's support of educational links is so important. Not seeing much if this from UKIE!

Making games, especially in as large an inter-disciplinary group as possible, with the hard science/tech/art&craft behind it (depending on your discipline) is what is important. That's what we try to emphasise at Newport. And making games is something you can do for free, at home in your spare time. Universities can/should be providing Industry tools (PS3/PSP dev kits, etc) but more importantly, a supportive/creative community of peers and informed staff. Making games requires team work, good communications, experience of working in a diverse community of practice. Most importantly, universities allow students to learn by really messing up, reflecting on mistakes, and becoming autonomous self-disciplined and adaptive to new challenges.

Extra-curricular activities beyond cookie-cutter courseworks are critical. Newport (and others!) supported X48, Dare to be Digital, the Global Game Jam, and Games-EDU last year. Giving students a chance to show they truly understand the game development pipeline, and significant news and events in the Industry, like this Livingstone Hope Review. We have made representation to the third party researchers doing the groundwork for this, to try to lobby for a better representation of universities. Let us hope that they take on-board our continued disgust at misguided, unfairly critical dogma aimed at an excellent, underfunded and under threat HE sector, currently scared stiff by the Comprehensive Spending Review an a likely 80% cut in teaching revenue.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mike Reddy on 18th October 2010 6:28am

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Sean Humphreys Studying MSc Video Game Enterprise and Production, Birmingham City University9 years ago
Here at Stafford I think I'm in good hands as there are lots of industry links here. Industry employees of varying professions come in regularly to give advice, and sometimes even workshops (e.g Codemasters and PlayGen). Also we are encouraged -and more importantly given the resources - to do "extra" things such as the Global Game Jam 2010 (which was an excellent experience), and the university's own "Boot Camp", the goal of which was to to accurately simulate a game production studio environment for a week - strict deadlines, roles, pipelines, professionalism, etc.

Ever since starting here last year I get the feeling that I am learning real skills that will come into play in actual employment - as opposed to merely looking at games and studying them.
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Matthew Hill Head of Recruitment, Specialmove9 years ago
Certain Game Devs have staff dedicated to building long term links with education. I'll point them to this thread as they are best placed to give specific advice.
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I did a games degree as I was given careers advice that without a degree my CV would get filed away by HR before anyone technical got a chance to review it. I already had the majority of my programming skills before going on the course, and thankfully that meant I was able to spend the three years building up my skill set in more advanced and interesting ways than having to focus on my coursework. The problem I found was that the course was indeed a very much a bums-on-seats course, trying to cater for way too low a common denominator, and as such the tutors couldn't really help or inspire those wanting to go beyond the material. Still makes me shudder when I remember explaining to a teaching assistant of ours how C++ templates worked...
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Geraint D'Arcy Writer / Poet 9 years ago
Maybe there is call for an academia / conservatoire division in the education of games developers like there is in Theatre and film: places where the philosophy and theory is taught and places where the production skills are developed and programmers are trained. The two feed eachother and need eachother: theatre conservatoires tend to produce established text-based theatre work to a high degree, academic institutions create/write/improvise new experimental work, and outside these institutions everyone works on private projects together to gain experience while they wait to "job" in the industry.
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Mauro De Biasio9 years ago
I think that self learning is a good opportunity, but most of the time you don't actually know what needs to be someone in the industry. Is true maybe that University lack something, but if a sw house was suggesting what you need exactly to have a place in their company, self learning would be easier. What I mean is, right now I'm searching for a job as a web developer, most of the company is so general that you don't actually know what you have to know to be suited for the job. With the game industry is the same, sometimes you don't actually know what to do to be suited for a position.
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Jeromy Griffin9 years ago
Well in my opinion I believe that when it comes to tring to persue a career in the gaming industry do your resaerch know what you are getting ur self into and I am a New user on here reason i was researching game industrys and their history backgrounds and the same for colleges thats teach courses in the gaming industry.
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Yusuf Pisan Associate Professor, UTS9 years ago
Some more comments on the IGDA Game Education Listserv about this article:

[link url=
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Steven Yau Senior Game Developer, King.com9 years ago
I hit the problem when I was in the industry that I wanted to put myself forward and help out in academia but couldn't because of company direction and image. They wouldn't let me talk to the 'public' without proper training and internal company speaking experience in fear I would harm the image of the company.

The fact neither the training or speaking opportunities turned up or offered meant I couldn't do anything which really frustrated me. What confused me further was that already did a University visit and several presentations the year or two before on my own accord with permission from the company so I couldn't understand why they wouldn't let me again.

On notes of the games courses, we do have too many in the UK given the size of the industry here and only some of them are actually any good. Derby and Hull are usually the first comes to mind. One problem I see a lot is that many students want to become Designers and there isn't no set progressive path from the entry level in the industry to become compared to Programming and Art.

As such, I find it hard to give education advice as how would you teach a creative subject in a way that would prepare someone for a job where the entry level position to 'break in' can be in a different discipline?
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Saint Walker Games Manager, Creative Skillset9 years ago
Please remember there are courses that have been judged against the industry's own criteria- and assessed by industry themselves. They're Skillset accredited courses. They stepped up to the plate, conform to the criteria the industry asked for, and work hard to supply the talent that is needed. If you're short of skills in your company, start a dialogue with them.
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