Livingstone-Hope recommends sweeping changes to UK games education

New "golden age" of development could generate £1bn more sales - if industry can improve failing courses

The UK games business could generate £1 billion more sales by 2014 if it can overcome a failing educational system and reach out to students and teachers currently ignorant of the real opportunities in videogame creation.

That's the findings of the Livingstone Hope review, released today and backed by NESTA and Skillset, which finds a mismatch between potential growth and the awareness of the UK's previous excellence in videogame creation and production.

Further detailing the "worrying lack of awareness" revealed back in December amongst students, teachers and parents, today's report states that the education system is simply not equipping budding talent with the skills needed by the games industry.

Of the 1585 graduates from 141 specialist videogame courses in 2009, only 12 per cent secured a job within six months of leaving college or university. However, graduates of the nine industry-accredited courses were three times as likely to gain employment as those graduating from non-accredited courses.

According to the review, only 5 per cent of UK art, ICT, maths and sciences teachers think physics in one of the most important subjects for a career in videogames - a subject the report considers "vital".

Ian Livingstone, co-author of the report and life president of Eidos, said that now is the time for major changes to the educational system if the UK wants to be central to a new golden age of development driven by the digital games economy.

"Videogames production plays to the UK's twin strengths of creativity and high-technology and ticks all the boxes for the digital economy. But despite young people being passionate about videogames, they are unaware that games such as Grand Theft Auto and SingStar were developed in the UK and unaware of the career opportunities in the UK.

"We need to transform young people's passion to play videogames into a desire to make them, whilst equipping them with the right skills for the industry. In the brave new online world, a second 'golden age' for the UK games industry beckons. It's an opportunity which shouldn't be missed."

Three of the key findings of the report are:

  • "Computer science must be part of the school national curriculum. The current curriculum includes ICT, but the authors of the report argue that ICT, with its focus on every day applications such as word processing, does not teach the valuable computer programming knowledge that is vital to high-tech industries such as videogames and visual effects."
  • "Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should include industry-accredited specialist courses in videogames and visual effects in their list of 'Strategically Important and Vulnerable' subjects that merit targeted funding. With such a confusing range of courses and low-level awareness of the skills needed for careers in these industries, the authors argue that even the best courses need some targeted support, as long as it is matched by a commitment from industry, such as in the form of industrial scholarships to the very brightest students on these courses."
  • "Young people must be given more opportunity to study art and technology together."

The report calls for schools to promote and teach art and technology and for art and computer science to be included in the English Baccalaureate.

"The videogames and visual effects industries are a phenomenal success story for the UK, but in the face of increasing competition from overseas, we can't afford to fall asleep at the wheel," offered Hasan Bakhshi, director of creative industries for NESTA's Policy and Research Unit.

"The review has shown us that we must act now to equip young people with the technical and creative skills to continue this legacy and grow this multi-billion pound sector in the UK."

The 20 recommendations made by the report to transform the UK's videogame and digital effects industries follow:


  • Recommendation 1. Bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline.
  • Recommendation 2. Sign up the best teachers to teach computer science through Initial Teacher Training bursaries and 'Golden Hellos'.
  • Recommendation 3. Use videogames and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young people into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) and computer science.
  • Recommendation 4. Set up a one-stop online repository and community site for teachers for videogames and visual effects educational resources.
  • Recommendation 5. Include art and computer science in the English Baccalaureate.
  • Recommendation 6. Encourage art-tech crossover and work-based learning through school clubs.
  • Recommendation 7. Build a network of STEMNET and Teach First videogames and visual effects Ambassadors.
  • Recommendation 8. Introduce a new National Video Games Development and Animation Schools Competition.
  • Recommendation 9. Design and implement a Next Generation of Video Games and Visual Effects Talent Careers Strategy.
  • Recommendation 10. Provide online careers-related resources for teachers, careers advisers and young people.

Universities, Colleges and Vocational education

  • Recommendation 11. Develop kitemarking schemes, building on Skillset accreditation, which allow the best specialist HE courses to differentiate themselves from less industry-relevant courses.
  • Recommendation 12. HEFCE should include industry-accredited specialist courses in their list of 'Strategically Important and Vulnerable' subjects that merit targeted funding. Industry commits to these courses through industrial scholarships and support for CPD for lecturers.
  • Recommendation 13. Raise awareness of the videogames and visual effects industries in the eyes of STEM and arts graduates.
  • Recommendation 14. Give prospective university applicants access to meaningful information about employment prospects for different courses.
  • Recommendation 15. Develop a template for introducing workplace simulation into industry-accredited videogames and visual effects courses, based on Abertay University's Dare to be Digital competition.
  • Recommendation 16. Leading universities and FE colleges sponsor a high-tech creative industries University Technical College (UTC), with clear progression routes into HE.
  • Recommendation 17. Kitemark FE courses that offer students the best foundation in skills and knowledge to progress into Higher Education.

Training and continuous professional development

  • Recommendation 18. Skillset Creative Media Academies and e-skills UK's National Skills Academy for IT to work with industry to develop specialist CPD training for videogames and visual effects industries.
  • Recommendation 19. Support better research-oriented university-industry collaborations in videogames and visual effects.
  • Recommendation 20. Continue to treat the 18 visual effects occupations on the Government's shortages list as shortage occupations.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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Latest comments (30)

Michael Rawlinson Director General, UKIE10 years ago
This report provides the beacon that the whole industry should unite behind, that will drive action and focus attention on delivering real change that will ensure the UK maintains its leading position in video games production. I for one pledge my full support to making these recommendations a reality. Well done to Ian, Alex and all at NESTA and SkillSet for making this report happen. Now for the delivery!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Michael Rawlinson on 1st February 2011 12:58am

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Rob Homewood Game Designer, Unity Programmer & Producer 10 years ago
I think these guys are dead on the money. I recently attended a lecture by Mr Livingston at the Neon festival and he's definitely onto something with all this..

The world is in flux, yet in the last 5 years the industry as a whole has achieved it's most rapid expansion, infiltrating into the everyday lives of people who 10 years ago would have scoffed videogames as mere toys.
We have here a potentially massive (not to mention natural resource free) export for the UK (especially as digital downloads continue to grow). All that is required is education, infrastructure and a sound attitude of win.

Richard Branson has stated that a recession is a time when fortunes are made through diverse expansion and ingenuity.. Maybe thats what the videogames market can act as for this flailing UK economy.

Educate. Support. Produce. Expand.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 10 years ago
The ideas are cool but it's making the guys in suits listen. :s
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Show all comments (30)
Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
I'm a little confused about the focus on computing science. While there's certainly a need for some serious computing science work in the games industry, it's restricted to a rather small number of jobs, as a look at the credits for any video game will make clear very quickly; for every graphics programmer and physics simulation guy (which need is really supplied by, e.g., PhD computer graphics programmes) there are dozens of artists, level designers, writers, and so on. I think the whole industry has moved much closer to the film world than the IT world.
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Matt Martin Editor, GamesIndustry.biz10 years ago
Just added a link to download the full 88-page report.
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Antony Cain Lecturer, Teesside University10 years ago
Interesting read, let's hope it catches on.

There definitely needs to be more competitions for students to enter and, from an FE position, I think they should be built into the course specification (which we have very little control over) to provide some real experience. Students work much better when it's for a real purpose, rather than "for teacher".

Surely, though, it needs acknowledging that there just aren't as many jobs as there are graduates? I know if I suddenly wanted a development job I'd really struggle to get in, so it's a little misleading to push students along saying all will be fine. It'd also be irresponsible to gear them up purely for making games when there just isn't anywhere for them all to go.

Finally, as always, we need input from you guys :) Anyone going to Animex next week? Our students are there Monday/Tuesday and it'd be the perfect chance to press these points on them in person.
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Chris Kay Senior Level Designer, Crytek10 years ago
What Curt said, I don't have time to read an 88 page document but I hope these proposals are equally spread throughout the many different skills required to make a game.

Computer science is only needed by a small percentage of developers ... I remember being in a cinema watching some adverts, on comes (I think) a government advert claiming that learning computer science can get you a job as a game designer ... I understand that adding an exciting job description will get allot of peoples attention but it's kind of misleading for the majority.

Nevertheless, this seems to be a giant step in the right direction.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Chris Kay on 1st February 2011 8:53am

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany10 years ago

Can't agree more. Seeing the past golden days of videogame development in UK this changes could bring back some fresh and creative ideas to the industry. I think we need that today more than ever before.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 10 years ago
I agree with Curt, in fact I'd go so far as to say that this report is a little confusing as to which jobs it is trying to focus in on.

On top of this (and I do realise that these suggestions are the ideal) but have these guys actually talked to anyone in a school about this? I think that in a situation where we still have massive issues with literacy and numeracy in this country, the idea of asking schools to change and create these new type of courses is absolutely ridiculous. There is no money to allow this to happen and if there were schools would do the smart thing and funnel it into upgrading their usually substandard IT equipment or employ more TA as most schools have just had to release most of theirs.

And some quick feedback on some of the recommendations:
Points 1 and 2 already exist: IT is an essential discipline that must be laced through all parts of the curriculum; IT is a priority subject already so they already should qualify for grants and golden hellos.
Point 5 - I think that is a very dangerous thing to suggest. Students take English to develop certain skills and by including other elements in that course would simply be watering that down.
Point 4, 8, 9 and 10 - Sound like good suggestions but unfortunately that money must come from somewhere.

I'd be interested to read the full report but from this condensed version the report seems to be quite training focused instead of skill focused. And in that respect I don't mean in terms of of skills that the Industry holds as a priority but the other jobs out there. Frankly there are many more jobs and careers that are well catered for with the current set up.

"We need to transform young people's passion to play videogames into a desire to make them" also speaks volumes. I think of the authors talked to the top grade students and those that regularly played video games I think that they would find a massive correlation to show that high achieving students do not make games a priority in their lives. Most of students who are "passionate" about games would have little interest in putting in the hard work it takes to make them.
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Antony Cain Lecturer, Teesside University10 years ago

"Most of students who are "passionate" about games would have little interest in putting in the hard work it takes to make them."

VERY true
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 10 years ago
Actually I think this is one of the bigger problems. Why would high achieving students in Maths and IT want to get a job in an industry which from the outside looks both unstable and frequently unprofitable?
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Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College10 years ago
To echo some of the comments above...

The gaming industry contribution is severely lacking in terms of input to FE and HE, in my experience, FE gets more support from HE as this is seen as the progression route. I know that a few of the elite Universities have links with industry bodies and software houses which is great but maybe that should filter down to hopefully eventually school level which would do wonders to advertise the gaming sector as a possible career choice – would also help address certain issues with stereotypes and stigmas associated.

The focus on moving away from ICT to more computer science isn’t necessarily the answer, the 12% or so that graduated from games courses that went on to work in the industry would have been the crème de la crème and it is only natural that the best studios want the best possible candidates...passionate, skilled and dedicated.

Finally, I have never heard such a call to arms, which URGENTLY needs to be addressed: "We need to transform young people's passion to play videogames into a desire to make them". This is something we have real trouble getting across to our learners, it’s one thing being great at Halo, CoD, WoW or whatever but being responsible for an actual gaming aspect of one of those games would be a much greater achievement, its just a shame that they don’t see it like that...yet!
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Sam Van Tilburgh Chief Discovery Officer, 22 Cans10 years ago
Well done Ian, Alex and everyone involved!!!
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Finlay Thewlis Studying Game Design & Production Management, University of Abertay Dundee10 years ago
"Most of students who are "passionate" about games would have little interest in putting in the hard work it takes to make them."

That is quite likely but then surely you have to look at the universities/colleges and ask if they are taking on a student based on their pure enthusiasm for games, or if they genuinely believe they have the potential to complete the course to a good degree.

My biggest worry is even if this was to stimulate growth and add extra graduates - where do they go for their jobs? We need more frameworks where start-ups can get funding like the IP prototype fund

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Finlay Thewlis on 1st February 2011 4:26pm

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This was a good report and panel this morning.

The one aspect that needs addressing is the Higher Education quality of the Visual Arts courses. Besides the Abertay and Bournemouth courses, the simple fact is traditional basic drawing skills, coupled with real game simulated production pipeline skills are reduced or lacking, such that on graduation the quality of candidates requires extensive in house training or not fit for purpose.

Whereas there are also some fantastically strong models of Higher education & specialist game courses in Europe that we can look to, to borrow as a template to boost our local universities.

Lastly, I find it deplorable that with multiple London Universities, and relatively easy access to the Creative and VIsual effect industries in Soho, our region is not yet a world leader.
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Tommy Thompson Studying Artificial Intelligence (PhD), University of Strathclyde10 years ago
A great report and some very important points being addressed here. Though, like many, for me the key phrase was:

"Most of students who are "passionate" about games would have little interest in putting in the hard work it takes to make them."

Yes I believe that is correct. However, have we considered the ability of these students? I have had the pleasure of teaching many top CS grads in the last 3-4 years who were passionate about games, but could not find an inlet to get into the industry. Having investigated this myself, it's difficult for even a top 'pure' CS student to make a move in the industry, given there are so many aspects of gaming development and design that come up as important prerequisites. Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, they move onto working in the likes of the investment banking industry, since the money is there and they are happy to snap up top talent as soon as possible.

Oh, and a very important note: Academia has trying to push recommendation 19 for a couple of years now. Specifically, the EPSRC AI Games Network, which is trying to bridge the gap between AI approaches typically used in academia to those found in commercial games.
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What they need to promote is the great cross platform applications of Research tech for games/commercial industry, military and manufacturing processes. This is perticularly strong in German instituitions & research /robotics facilities.
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John Donnelly Quality Assurance 10 years ago
I have a pure CS degree, but back when I came out of school I had to choose CS, software engineering or business and computing.

There are many cross over points from CS that apply to the game industry, I am currently working in the investment banking industry and I have been able to take the skills learnt in my various game industry roles and applying them here so the reverse can be true as well.

What I think is more important is making sure we have a wide range of people who have the skills needed to work in all the roles needed to make a sucessful game and to be able to keep up with technology.

At the end of the day, there will be people who think they can make a game but when they realize its actually hard work will balk at the idea.
But you will have others who then see why the subjects you are required to take are important for real world jobs and the 'cool' jobs like a video game designer.

This report is basically saying we need to be ensuring that the school system keeps up to date with changes in technology and the types of jobs out there.
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David Bachowski VP Business Development, Babaroga10 years ago
I don't see why schools can't put together a curriculum that merges the art, computer, and english departments together to create games! Put students in 3-6 person teams (1-2 from each discipline) and teach them how to make a game by doing it.
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John McGrath Student - Computer Games Development BSc 10 years ago
I think the fault lies with the education system not being able/aloud to distinguish and support individual students based on their talents and passions, at least not at the compulsory education level.
The points raised in the report can be argued by any professional industry, not just the Games Industry. What our educational system in the UK lacks is training in ALL non-core subjects.
In an ideal World students would be able to progress through the education system at their own pace, choosing whatever specialist subjects they feel passionate about, without financial restrictions. In reality, students all advance at the same rate and can only study the core subjects that the over-stretched education system can provide.

I speak largely of my own experience of that system; I showed great enthusiasm and talent for computer programming at the age of 10, only because an enlightened teacher provided the extra-curricular support that exposed us students to the world of computing. Sadly that support disappeared as soon as I moved up to secondary school.
At college I enrolled on a 'Computer Studies' course, only to come to the realisation that it was really a business studies course and not relevant to the Games Industry, at least not the creative side.
Later I completed an evening course in C++ (GNVQ lvl 3) only to be rejected several years in a row from the Lvl 4/5 courses due to lack of student numbers.

Personally I have been failed by the educational system at every level, despite showing talent and passion for computing and programming. I'm hoping the OU Computing and ITC Degree I just enrolled for will prove different.

As members of the Games Industry our views tend to be biased, but we need to see the bigger picture; what we need is a system that is capable of recognising talent and/or passion for a subject as early as possible and providing specialist support to enable students to excel in their chosen field, whether it's Games Industry related or not.
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John McGrath Student - Computer Games Development BSc 10 years ago
"Most of students who are "passionate" about games would have little interest in putting in the hard work it takes to make them."

Not many film critics can make a decent movie.

Is there not a difference between 'a passion for games' to 'a passion for creating games'?
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@ David - They cant even do the combination of computers, arts, technology, maths and design well at a higher Education level, so at a school leve execution might not be unified but varied according to local budget, skillset and interest.
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David Bachowski VP Business Development, Babaroga10 years ago
@ Dr. Chee - You make a very good point. I doubt something like that would be able to be standardized and executed well on a broad scale. I guess the article just got me fired up and wanting to start a program like that myself :)

It could work if you had 3 dedicated teachers as well as a supportive administration. The teachers would have to write a pretty kick-arse curriculum to make it appealable as well as accessible to school-level students
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Stephen Goss Director of Design, Supermassive Games10 years ago
For far too long courses (specifically university and college) have failed to take on the vocational and skills aspect of preparing creative (whether engineering, art or design) students for the realities of the industry.

I have been lucky enough to work with several faculties over the last few years to both supply a potential employer's perspective and clear information about the skills we, as developers, need from well educated students (as well as lecture directly to those students). I have hired several students from the courses/faculties I have become close to - but it has been at times an uphill struggle to engage with educators.

I am glad to see Ian make these demands of the education system, we need someone with the public profile he has to make the system sit up and take notice....
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Dan Pearce10 years ago
I haven't started university yet so this interests me a great deal. I'm very wary of what course to go for, so far the only thing I've been able to be sure about is that I need a TIGA approved course. I'm visiting Abertay tomorrow so I'll hopefully be able to find out more when I'm there.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
Part of the issue here is that it sounds like the people promoting training for the "games industry" don't realize that the jobs there are not really "games" jobs, but just a bunch of different fields you need to combine to make good games. (By "games" here I'm thinking of your typical large-budget PC/console titles, as opposed to iPhone games or whatever.) Consider a few examples.

There are programmers, who generally are responsible for rendering the graphics, the physics engine, some of the more difficult AI bits, and that sort of thing. This is an extremely technical job for which you need "rocket scientist," i.e., people who are effectively at PhD level in computing science. It's highly unlikely that someone coming out of a two year "IT" programme is going to be in a position even to chose between forward and deferred rendering for a game, much less be writing his own shaders. The need for this is satisfied by university academic programs or people who take a similar track. If you see these people ending up in finance, well, that's because it can be a similarly challenging field. (I know this well, having written an automated high-frequency trading system myself.)

There are what I will losely term "artists," who are responsible for creating the assets for the game and animating them. The main requirement here is to be a good artist; people get fooled by this in the computer games industry because you also need what are effectively CAD skills to deal with the tools (typically 3D modeling and animation tools) you use to create the assets. But that's simply a technical skill that's not really any different from learning how to deal with oil points, or how to weld (for certain kinds of sculpture), or anything like that. While we need courses for that sort of thing, focusing on that is like focusing on training aspiring film script-writers to use a word processor.

There are the "story" guys, in which I include level design and things like that. There are no particular technical skills that are truly required here, though some can be helpful; that doesn't make it an easy job by any means. I can see a role for some courses here that formalize some of this, but it's akin to the role played by literary criticism. Writers do go to school, but you don't generally send someone to school to train to be a writer.

There is of course a need, as with any large project, for some managers who can figure out how to take sixty or a hundred people working together for a couple of years on a single project, make the right things happen, and keep the wrong things from happening. Experience is a lot more important than training for this sort of thing.

There will be marketing folks, accountants, HR guys, all that; I'm not sure if that really counts as something the report is talking about, since these positions are no different from the same ones in many other businesses.

Oh, and of course there are the tester jobs, which are pretty low-level, in terms of required training, to be frank. They just require a certain kind of person, and I don't even know that a love of games is a requirement. It's certainly not enough; I love playing games but I'd go nuts if I had to playtest them all day.

So with all of this, does it really make any sense to be talking about "game development training?" There's certainly room for arts departments or even entire colleges that focus on computer games, just as we have for film, but let's not confuse that with growing the industry, which is an entirely different thing. The vast majority of people working in the film industry are not graduates of film school, and I'd say the vast majority of people going to film school are there for the art, not technical job training.
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Tom Hammersley Principal Programmer, Codemasters10 years ago
Purely for the code side: I think it is a fallacy that the videogames industry requires such specialised degrees.

In a graduate, we are looking for a mixture of raw talent and good education in the fundamentals of programming and computer science. We can teach them the games-specific bit. We can improve their C++. We want diamonds in the rough we can polish up. Learning about the fundamentals of computer science is time better spent than learning about current industry techniques which change every few years.

Computer games isn't a variant or subset of computer science: it's a little bit of all of it, and a challenging, immature, quickly evolving field at that. A solid grounding in computer science is a much more useful background than anything particularly games specific which is almost certain to change.

Granted, other disciplines such as design don't have a particularly clear entry route and that is something that needs improving.

As it stands, many of the undergraduates who would be interested in working in the games industry are finding their way onto games degree courses that do not provide what the industry wants and needs, they consequently don't get an interview or job and it is killing the influx of new talent.

The best way to get a job is to do a very good computer science degree and supplement it with a good demo that is 100% your own work.
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Michael Rawlinson Director General, UKIE10 years ago
@ Dan

I would suggest you look at as they are the industry lead body for accredting courses. Also lots of infomation on jobs and routes to get intot he industry.
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David Chipp Games Development Lecturer, Kidderminster College10 years ago
To echo the comments of Kevin Clark-Patterson, we also encounter the same problem with students coming into our course who want to do a games course because they spend 30+ hours a week on Black Ops. The reality of the course not solely being about playing games is something we press home at interview and in the course specification but is still overlooked by close to 20% of our intake year on year.

This is something we have been trying to rectify with improving interviewing practice etc but unfortunately many of the students who want to attent our FE games development programme want to play, not create the next COD.

I don't think there is an easy way of solving this problem as there will always be the very appealing banner of Games flying above our course. The students who have stayed onto the 2nd year of the programme are very motivated and clearly from the success rates for university entry that we have produced we are teaching what the universities want. Whether that is what the industry wants is another matter.

Our BTEC specification has recently been overhauled by EdExcel but some of the changes that have been made are questionable at best. I am all in favour of the simplification of the awarding criteria as this has caused considerable confusion for students in the past. However the benefit to students of an additional unit requiring them to "use appropriate techniques to extract information from written sources" and "review reports to make changes with occasional beneficial effects" is papering over the cracks left by secondary schools and clogging up our programme. FE courses do not have the freedom to set their own units beyond a narrow specification set by an awarding body but I hope Universities take the findings of this report on board and start working much more closely with UK developers to resurrect an industry that is in danger of dying out.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Chipp on 2nd February 2011 10:56am

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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
Tom, I'm totally in agreement with you; the same is true in many other parts of the IT world, especially where you're doing something technically complex that needs good developers.

Sad to say, this problem is no more likely to be fixed in the programming part of the games industry than in any other part of IT. Looking at the testimonials for things such as an "MSc Games Programming" on, you simply need remove the references to games in particular to see the same generic (and wrong-headed) "I learned here rather than , and that's why it's good" statements.

It's not so shocking to me that recruiters don't seem to understand that whether or not someone has previously worked with the particular languages and technologies I'm using is not much of a concern. It is shocking to me that university-level educators can't understand that I'd rather have them teaching their students Lisp or ML (mostly for the things that go along with that) than Java or C++.

(And sheesh, "MSc Games Programming"? That just screams "trade school." When you need new welding techniques, you don't hire someone with a "degree" in welding; you hire a metallurgist.)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 4th February 2011 5:09am

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