Parents, teachers and pupils "alarmingly" ignorant of games skills

First details of Government-backed Livingstone-Hope Review emerge

Parents, teachers and students have a "worrying lack of awareness" of the importance of core subjects like maths in pursuing a career in games development.

That is one of the key conclusions of the Government-sponsored Livingstone-Hope Skills Review, according to headline data released ahead of the report's publication in January.

Standout findings from the research conducted by NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, include:

  • Only three percent of 11-18 year-olds, seven percent of parents and 15 percent of teachers believe maths is the most important subject for a career in games development.
  • 30 percent of 11-18 year-olds, 18 percent of parents and 44 percent of parents believe ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) is the most important subject.
  • Only 22 percent of teachers claim to have a basic knowledge of programming.

"These findings justify industry concerns about a lack of awareness of the hard skills needed to succeed in these high tech industries," said NESTA in a statement issued to

"The widespread belief among young people, parents and teachers that ICT is the most important school subject for the videogames and visual effects industries is worrying."

Eidos life president Ian Livingstone, who is leading the review with Double-Negative's Alex Hope, commented: "The UK is a centre of excellence for videogames and visual effects. However, these results point to a worrying lack of awareness amongst young people and parents, of the skills needed to get a job in our industries.

"We will set out ways to change this situation and ensure that we have the workforce that we need to stay at the top of the global development league".

Speaking to, Livingstone added that the research represented "the biggest data collection ever carried out on the games industry".

In addition to a wide-ranging survey of games studios, IPSO-Mori has interviewed over 550 children, 900 parents of children in full-time education and over 400 teachers.

Livingstone confirmed that all data had been collected and the Review team was currently engaged in "policy development" ahead of publication, which is planned for the end of January.

NESTA added that the review "will make recommendations to Government on how the UK can become the best source of talent in the world for the videogames and visual effects industries and secure its continued rapid expansion".

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Latest comments (36)

Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London7 years ago
It's quite insulting in a way, and I remember some past comments like "Just sounds like you play Playstation all day." from all sorts of people, including a random teacher or two.

The skills involved in games technology & design are incredibly vast. Many school subjects are relevant. The higher level technology subjects involved are incredibly flexible from industry to industry too.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments7 years ago
This may be clearer in the full report, but isn't asking what subjects are needed to work in games a bit of a poor question? Given the breadth of roles, you may as well ask what subjects are needed to "work in a hospital"...
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D7 years ago
@ Neil

That was the first thing I thought when I saw the maths point.

And only 22% of teachers claimed to have a basic knowledge of programming. Again, surely that's no surprise or, even, a bad thing? I mean, with the amount of teachers out there, 22% actually sounds pretty high.
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Show all comments (36)
Ricky Hodgson Studying BA (Hons) Computer Games and Visual Effects, Anglia Ruskin University7 years ago
Kind of an odd question to ask I guess. I think the main issue is primary/secondary school teachers not educated or interested in games generally. The ICT answer is most likely linked to poor understanding on the educators part i would think. I heard them talk about games and programming mote than my art and math classes ever did. Which come to think of it was.. Never.
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Jonatan Crafoord Neuron, That Brain7 years ago
I find it kind of strange to base the research on the assumption that maths is the most important skill for video games development. It is as if the researchers consider programming the only relevant aspect of this business.

And I agree on the comment that 22% teachers knowing programming actually seems surprisingly good. I'd venture to say that not 22% of the people in a game development studio know programming. :-p
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Chris Bradwell Senior 3D Artist, Proper Games Ltd7 years ago
"...interviewed over 550 children, 900 parents of children in full-time education and over 400 teachers" That means only a small portion of people in this country have been interviewed to obtain these results, how accurate can they be? Never the less, generaly it seems (including the government), ignorance is chosen towards the computer games industry.
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Ella Romanos CEO, Remode7 years ago
I agree that 22% doesn't seem bad. However this does reflect a conversation I had with an extremely talented sixth form student last year - he wanted to be a games programmer, had learned a huge amount already, and his favourite subjects were maths and physics. He had been advised by his school and parents that maths or physics would not be good choices for a degree as they would not make him employable, particularly if he wanted to go into games!
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T Lewis Senior Programmer, The Creative Assembly7 years ago
Also, the 'ICT' they study these days isn't the programming classes that I did as a kid. It's all rather plebeian nonsense about how to use office software. The sort of thing you should just be able to pick up with an afternoon of experimentation.
Still, as a wise man once said: 'Never let school get in the way of your education'. The brightest kids of my generation had the nouse to teach themselves and I very much doubt that'll change. Even better, kids who can teach themselves now have a whole internet to learn from, provided they don't get distracted from their work voicing opinions on message boards (or playing too many computer games.. anyway).
Just give bright kids the space and tools to learn and reward them when they do well, rather than try to impose some ridiculous top down 'solution' penned by people with absolutely no understanding of what is important.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by T Lewis on 13th December 2010 3:45pm

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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve7 years ago
I can't say these figures worry me. For one thing I doubt this issue is one specific to the games industry, how is everyone supposed to know the requirements for every type of career? If people are serious about getting into the games industry they'll do their research.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 7 years ago
Bit of a glib way to look at it, I mean as Neil said the the skills involved in the games industry is much wider than they know. Better to learn general skills then focus later on when you do your research into your job interests (bet it game or not).

As said if 22% of teachers do have some programming knowledge I find it impressive myself!
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David Chipp Games Development Lecturer, Kidderminster College7 years ago
I teach on a BTEC in Games Development and I would agree wholeheartedly with T Lewis above. I learned mainly independently as the ICT teaching I received at school was centred around ever increasingly dull ways to input data into Access. I am constantly hearing horror stories about the quality of ICT teaching at our local schools and especially the thorougly lax attitude towards getting them to do anything remotely constructive. This is always a major battle that I have to wage with the students in the first term as they are just not used to working at anywhere near A Level standard.

The major problem is not teachers understanding of what skills are important for particular jobs as surely that is the job of Connexions and careers advisors. It is the level and content of classes which I am positive is vastly below what I received as a student just 10 years ago. Ian Livingston is rightly worried, not just for programmers but for every other business in this country...
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Carl Muller Programmer, HotGen Ltd7 years ago
Isn't ICT the modern equivalent of the classes we had in the 1980s called "typing" i.e. a prelude to secretarial and general office work?

How come computer programming is considered too obscure to teach to fifth formers (GCSE) now when I and so many others were taught it in third form maths?

Anyway, there are far more jobs for artists than coders these days I would have thought so their premises seem a little iffy.

As for the desirability of maths degrees; a friends studying maths (galois theory) has already been offered an internship with a big accountancy firm. The ones studying philosophy... less so.
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I'm afraid I would agree that ICT is the most important part of game development. Even in programming, not every task requires maths. On the other hand, if you plan on making a computer game, it would be quite important to know what a computer is and how to operate a mouse.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 7 years ago
I hate to say this but the proper job of a programmer is to make himself obsolete. It's to create tools that third-parties can use to build content without the need of programming skills. Programming should be a minimal focus in game development - the same way filmmaking should not be overlly focussed with developing camera, lighting and sound technology. True new tech is invented in films (e.g. Avatar), but that is the exception for most titles and not the rule.
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Jordan Lund Columnist 7 years ago
The whole study is somewhat silly, isn't it? Would you expect an English teacher or a Spanish teacher to know anything about programming?

As far as the mathematics bit, you could be an ace in Calculus, but that's not going to teach you C++. The two subjects are completely different.

It also completely ignores everything that goes into game production. I feel safe in saying the people who wrote the script for Mass Effect 2 or Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood aren't mathematicians. The people doing the art direction aren't programmers. How much math do you need to know to do the musical score for a game?

Their entire premise is rubbish.
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Ryan Duclos Code Monkey, Double Cluepon Software7 years ago
@Above Posters

I think the term Game Development is misleading. In Game Development programs, yes Math and Programming are the most important concepts. Kids that want to do Art/Music for a game do not go into a gaming program(at least I hope not). These programs are centered around the core of creating a game from scratch and understanding the basic concepts of a gaming framework, but nowadays kids have powerful tools like Unity3D where now that deep understanding of math and programming can get moved to the side and focus can shift on design aspects on what is 'fun'.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago
I thought the most industry jobs are centered around art asset creation? So you better take a good look at those kindergarden fingerpainting classes.

The situation might improve, if the school system plucks out one programming language and gives it the same care as any other language or math in the curriculum. But how well did you learn to speak a foreign language at school really? School might make you mediocre at a lot of things, but not good enough in anything for today's increasingly specialized world. Even a university degree has to make you a specialist necessarily.

The games industry will have to face the same reality every industry faces. You won't get complete workers from the school system, you will have to teach them yourself. For an industry where teams form and dissolve at a high rate, I can see where that is a problem.
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Neil Aldis Games Writer 7 years ago
Things would be a lot clearer if they included research from the same test subjects on different industries.

This reads more like a knee jerk Daily Mail piece - written to get the biggest response from readership...
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Saint Walker Games Manager, Creative Skillset7 years ago
>>That is one of the key conclusions of the Government-sponsored Livingstone-Hope Skills Review

As a point of info, this is just one of a number of surveys the Review has conducted- so these are just of the KEY conclusions of one of eight surveys!
The Livingstone Hope review is looking at the 'talent pipeline' from Schools onwards- and it's clear one of the 'blockages' is both parental guidance of young peoples choices, and young people's awareness that there are a bedrock of subjects that the industry needs. This is about the review finding out what misconceptions and preconceptions are out there, - its not about suggesting that everyone should do programming.
These stats and many others show that kids, teachers, and various careers advisors in school are ill-informed (or rather, 'under-informed'). Thats partly because it's a new industry. Now we know there's a problem with ideas of what skills you need, we can look at placing relevant advice in schools.
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JJ Studying Digital Media & Multimedia Technology, London Metropolitan University7 years ago
As fun as Video Games are, kids and young people have an falsified opinion that the essential factor needed to work in the industry is to have a qualification such as ICT. I have a core ICT background, yet understand the importance of the core subjects (Maths, English & Science).

For a job such as Programming, mathematics is an essential element that must be understood to be a successful at such a job. Nowadays, where storyline is one of the most important elements in a game; cut scenes such as those in games like 'Uncharted' and 'Mass Effect' have great depth to character dialogue. For such great writing, English language and a great understanding of literature is essential.

The government are trying to push young people into the gaming industry similar to what they did with IT. Video Games are primarily a form of art, where creativity is the key element. You cannot teach creativity, if too many people are enticed into the industry for the sake of making money (like what was told to so many before choosing to study IT), the standard of fantastic games will decline.

Educating children on the core subjects is essential to this country sustaining itself in the future, so we will be able to make advancement's in such fields as: medicine, finance, business and law.

Look at how many people studied an IT related subject in University, and are now either; unemployed, a data entry clerk, an IT technician or in a completely different industry (ignoring the movers & shakers of the IT industry). The rate of IT graduates can no longer be met by the supply of IT jobs, where many graduates have no back-up plans.
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Jamie Watson Studying Bachelor of Games & Interactive Entertainment, Queensland University of Technology7 years ago
well this is quite a interesting report i must say.

but considering that i am not good at maths and still got into a games degree at TAFE/uni is pretty good.

but as my teachers have said - pick a area and focus on that! and thats what im doing (animation)

but this report does bring up quite a few worring aspects (such as only needing ICT knowledge)
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JJ Studying Digital Media & Multimedia Technology, London Metropolitan University7 years ago
I agree with what your teachers have said to you Jamie, I have studied 'Digital Media' coming from an IT background and now my goal is to get into Video Game Production (the Project Management side). I have since been networking, and over the the past 4 years have done extensive research into my chosen career. Understanding the essential PM qualifications to help propel myself into a higher tier of the field later on (when I can afford to sit such exams), just waiting for that break.

All I continue to do is further my knowledge on video game culture, and work towards achieving my goals. We all find our calling eventually, I'm glad at 26 I've found mine.

I hope others find theirs soon.
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Tony Johns7 years ago
I have done IT and Information Communication Technologies as units in so many of my schools and TAFE's and even in my first year of University, knowing that they never really lead me into anything game related....I have known about this problem for a long time.

I have been able to go well in Maths with Algebra but I was never good with Algorithms but I know it is important that I work up on my maths if I am expected to work with any game programming in the future.

Well, at least I know that other people know about this so I am not alone here.
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Tony Johns7 years ago
At least it also shows that many teachers and parents are ignorant that the videogame industry teaches allot more than just games.

I remember that there was a employment person who was hired to try and help me find employment and she told me that teachers don't want to teach kids about making games all because they fear that they may become addicted to making games.

There is allot of missconceptions out there, and allot of them have been spreed by news media and politicians from the past spreading those miss-conceptions.

At least we now have got a few UK politicians wanting to change that.

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Reed N Studying Computer Science, Dakota State University7 years ago
I have been programing with C++ and scripting on programs like Unity3D and the differences are very distinct. Programing requires many math skills and problem solving skills while scripting requires only a basic level of math knowledge and time. Someone needs to inform people of these differences as most people looking to program games will go into scripting, not actual programming.

just my 2 cents on the subject
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Eric Barwell Curriculum Manager ICT & Computing 7 years ago
The lack of challenging skills development in ICT is caused by the lack of progress with the curriculum development; it is the same problem with A level Computing. The exam boards are stuck in an eighties view of computing and havenít changed the specifications to reflect modern computing, still describing program development using PASCAL.

The other problem is that there are not enough programmers teaching, I teach and run both Applied ICT and Computing courses and try to focus as much as possible on programming where possible, but managing 50 programming projects across multiple platforms and languages is not something most ICT/Computing teachers could cope with Ė itís not easy when you have students with very wide ability and motivation ranges.
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Antony Cain Lecturer in Computer Games Design, Sunderland College7 years ago

"I think the term Game Development is misleading. In Game Development programs, yes Math and Programming are the most important concepts. Kids that want to do Art/Music for a game do not go into a gaming program(at least I hope not)."

The BTEC (at least the one we do) is mostly visual, so much so that I'm actually in the Art & Design school, not the ICT/Computing one. Out of the 70+ units our students could opt to do there's maybe 3 with any form of programming requirement and 0 with a maths requirement - well, apart from the C at GCSE to get on the course in the first place.

I'm probably just playing into the negative image of the guys in the poll but I think maths is way overrated for programming. Most dev tools now do a lot of it for you and even if they don't the maths to jump into making games isn't hard enough to warrant an entire degree (unless you're a hardcore physics/engine programmer). It's logical thinking, not pure skill with numbers.
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T Lewis Senior Programmer, The Creative Assembly7 years ago
Eric: Nothing wrong with learning Pascal, it's a good stepping stone for other imperative languages, compiles lightning fast and links against Direct3D and OpenGL. Better that than learning basic or 'How to use Microsoft word'.
Frameworks and engines (like Unity3D) are great but if you have no understanding of what goes on under the bonnet you will be a slave to that engine and will be unable to optimize or innovate. Also, if the platform shifts, you'll be left out in the cold. Denigrating technical skills is self destructive - ignorance does not set you free.
Mathematics is and will always be vitally important; it's the language of science and the core of all computer games, whether you had a hand in the code or not.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by T Lewis on 14th December 2010 9:13am

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Eric Barwell Curriculum Manager ICT & Computing 7 years ago
T Lewis: I agree with you about the Pascal, its a tight language that doesn't let you be sloppy, but the main concern is the 30 year old mentality of the specifications we as teacher and managers have to work within. I try to pick specs that let me go off piste as much as possible so I can get into programming with the students, to at least enthuse and encourage them to take it further.

In terms of engines, I have written my own engines, so I can tailor it towards the needs of the students, letting them do stuff without having to get to deep into some of the more complex tech stuff that I and them don't have time to work on with them. This also allows me to modify it to work with their own project ideas.
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Stephen Page journalist 7 years ago
Eric said:

'In terms of engines, I have written my own engines, so I can tailor it towards the needs of the students, letting them do stuff without having to get to deep into some of the more complex tech stuff that I and them don't have time to work on with them. This also allows me to modify it to work with their own project ideas.'


Edited 5 times. Last edit by Stephen Page on 14th December 2010 1:14pm

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Kim Blake Senior Events & Education Co-ordinator, Blitz Games Studios7 years ago
What T Lewis said! Plus, if you want to develop for the 360, Wii or PS3, you need to know C++.

But, as Saint pointed out, this is a summary of one area of the review's findings. Finding out that awareness of actual game development skills is very low among both school students and teachers means that we can start to address that lack of knowledge, as Blitz Games Studios try to do here:
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Juan Mateos-Garcia Creative Industries Research Fellow, NESTA7 years ago
The results of this survey also show that only 9% of parents and young people think that Arts is the most important subject.

Our main concern with the emphasis on ICT is that this subject, as currently taught in most schools (with an emphasis on Powerpoint, Excel etc.), is close to irrelevant for games production. This is reflected on the lack of skills that most ICT teachers have- that is what that 22% refers to. It is clear to us that doing well in Maths is not necessarily the 'silver bullet' to get a job in the industry, but it is crucial for those who may want to go on to do the computer programming courses from which the industry recruits. We worry that those young people who want to join the video games industry may be making insufficiently informed choices about subjects early on at school which will impact negatively on their prospects down the line.

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Alex Loffstadt Community Manager, Outso Ltd7 years ago
Being brutally honest for a minute...the majority of Parente, teachers and pupils are "alarmingly" ignorant of games development in the UK.

I see lots of mentions of words like "centre of excellence" but we do need to crow more about the titles we actually make here in the UK. If people can't see and identify with what we are producing we can't begin to expect then to manage the even bigger hurdle of what's involved in actually making a game (especially when we throw around umbrella terms, which hideously over simplify things and just ads to the confusion).

One thing that I rarely see discussed is the fact that there are plenty of programmers and coders out there with the skills the industry needs, they just tend to prefer working in other commercial sectors where the work might be less interesting but the money is better, the hours are saner and you tend to have more job security than working for a game developer who could evaporate if the game flops or the venture capital funding gets cold feet.

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Hoo Jang Rong7 years ago
In my country, games development is one thing that seldon people talked about. Probabaly not much to be mentioned even as a career path. This results obtained here will be worse in my community.

Thus, can someone tell me what is important in game development?
Programming, creativity, drawing, designing or management?

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Kim Blake Senior Events & Education Co-ordinator, Blitz Games Studios7 years ago
@Hoo Jang Rong - it's important to specialise, so you need to aim at being a really good programmer OR a really artist OR a really good animator and so on. Creativity is important no matter what position you're in!

I wouldn't suggest management as an entry-level position; as an industry we tend to 'grow our own' managers from within our companies or sometimes recruit experienced managers from other industries.

Have a look at our careers advice website where there's a load of useful info about the different job roles in the industry and the skills that they require.

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Michael O'callaghan Studying MA Computer Games Art (Character), Teesside University7 years ago
I just finished an ma in games art, I was allways told through the course that the industry likes people to be very specialized so I focus on character art and have never considered programing to be specially relevant in my chances of succes in that field. I guess knowing programing could never hurt but it seems slightly missleading to imply that it's important for all members of a development studio. Then again I've been aplying for jobs for months and haven't even had an interview so what do I know...
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