Hiring Freeze

British developers are struggling to fill skilled positions - but the blame can't be laid entirely on external factors

This week's report from e-skills UK on the concerns of the nation's technology industries has focused attention once more on the recruitment challenges facing British game development studios. Uniquely among tech sector industries, it seems, game companies are finding it incredibly difficult to fill positions on their teams - a situation created by the tough requirements of working in game creation, compounded by brain drain to Canada and other such territories (where the tax breaks are greener, even if the grass isn't necessarily so) and finally rammed home by the failure of UK universities to produce the graduates the business actually needs.

That's the theory, at least. It's certainly the perspective of most people involved in recruiting for their studios, who will generally embark on a passionate rant about one, several or all of those factors at the slightest provocation. It's a bleak picture - the experienced staff leaving the country, the graduates not up to scratch and empty desks abounding at hard-pressed studios with deadlines to hit.

It's not, however, the only perspective on offer, and it's far from being the entirety of the truth. Talk to graduates, to recruiters or to experienced staff presently job-hunting, and a different picture emerges in each case. Graduates express intense frustration at the industry's insistence on having several years' experience for even junior roles. Recruiters bemoan the unrealistic expectations of graduates - and often, more quietly, suggest that their game studio clients' expectations aren't entirely grounded in reality either. Experienced staff, meanwhile, tend to hint that it's not really the lure of Canada that's most appealing, but rather the appeal of a job that will allow for a family life.

A combination of factors including pay and working conditions are conspiring to drive a great many experienced developers out of the business completely

The problem is clearly a lot more complex than it looks on the surface, and while it's easy to point the finger at external culprits - unscrupulous universities running game courses that don't give students anything remotely like the required skills to create games, or a government whose resistance to tax breaks is making it easier for overseas studios to hire experienced staff away from the UK - it's obvious that the industry needs to look to massive internal problems as well.

Two primary problems have been highlighted repeatedly over the past few years, and neither, it seems, are much closer to being solved. The first is the industry's failure to hold on to its staff, with a combination of factors including pay and working conditions conspiring to drive a great many experienced developers out of the business completely and into the more welcoming arms of other creative or technical sectors. The second is a further failure to engage with graduates - one which is compounded by the unrealistic expectations which are so commonly held by the graduates themselves.

The former of those two issues has been explored at great length by a great many commentators, but sadly, we're not a lot closer to a solution than we were a decade ago. It's a polarising debate, in which one camp argues that crunch-style working conditions are a completely normal part of any creative industry, and the other insists that crunch is simply unacceptable in a large, profitable, modern industry which pays so much lip-service to its desire to hold on to talented, experienced staff.

The problem is that both sides have a point, and the ultimate solution lies somewhere in the middle - as it usually does. Everyone can agree that the kind of ongoing, month-upon-month of crunch working which we saw at the now defunct Team Bondi was absolutely unacceptable, to the point of being exploitative and immoral - to the point, indeed, that I would be extremely wary of any publisher or developer which showed itself willing to hire the managers responsible for those disgraceful practices in future. Beyond that, though, a middle ground seems elusive.

The reality of course is that crunch is indeed a part of most creative industries; it's simply a natural part of the process which involves creating something new (which is extremely hard to fit into strict timescales) to a fixed deadline. The problem, however, is that there are still far too many publishers and developers who treat crunch working hours as their due - using employees' nights and weekends as a cushion for terrible project planning or, even worse, actually building work schedules around the expectation of weeks or months of crunch.

This is incredibly disruptive to any kind of family or personal life - and as employees hit their early to mid thirties, those things start to take on a priority that often outweighs the desire to wake up each morning and build videogames. Combine that with the attractions (for programmers in particular, but to a certain extent also for artists and other development staff) of other industries which potentially offer higher salaries and better job security, and the games business starts to seem very poor indeed at holding on to its most valuable asset - experienced staff.

Most technical industries face a gigantic gap between the material taught at university and the skills required to work at a specific company - and that's exactly how it should be, since the purpose of university is to provide a broad education

The other end of the funnel, however, isn't in much better shape. There's absolutely a huge problem with the quality of graduates who are trying to get into game development - of that, there's simply no doubt. All too many university courses purporting to qualify young people to work in the games business have been hastily thrown together by colleges eager to get bums on seats, and bear shockingly little relevance to the reality of game creation. Developers bemoan seeing job ads for junior positions being inundated with applications from programmers who don't know any C++, the de facto language of most game development, or artists who have never spent any quality time in 3DS Max or any of the other relevant packages.

Worse again is the situation with the ever-rising number of 'Game Design' degrees, most of which are little more than exercises in writing essays about landmark games and creating simple, experimental titles in Flash. There's a basic dishonesty about a Game Design degree from the outset, since they ignore the fact that although "Game Designer" sounds like a dream job, there aren't actually very many jobs available in that field and there's almost zero demand for graduates, since they often tend to be filled internally by people moving up from QA or sideways from other disciplines. (Even then, the university courses tend to rather understate the fact that the key skill required for a game designer isn't the ability to imagine a cool new weapon or feature - it's the ability to then plug the variables which that will affect into a complex spreadsheet, tinker with endless columns of numbers for balance purposes, and work competently in a scripting language to implement your ideas.)

Yet the reality is that the games business is hardly alone in this situation. Most very technical industries face a gigantic gap between the material taught at university and the skills required to work at a specific company - and that's exactly how it should be, since the purpose of university is to provide a broad education in the core principles and skills required for a specific sector, not to give vocational education for a small set of specific employers.

That, after all, is the employer's job. It's fully understood in most other sectors that you don't just hire graduates - you invest in them. You take in raw graduates with potential, with a portfolio and good enough grades to catch your eye, and then you run them through a training programme that makes them useful to you. At the end of that (although on the job training should never really end, a factor most game companies miserably forget), you treat your newly minted skilled employee well so that he sticks with you and you make back your investment.

Instead, the games business has developed a rather more unfortunate approach. For the most part, it tries not to hire graduates at all; those it does hire often end up burning out rapidly in their junior positions, with only those with remarkable ability to learn on-the-job in a difficult and rather unforgiving environment actually moving forward (sadly, moving forward to a point where ten years down the line they'll probably bail out anyway, as mentioned above).

There are exceptions to these situations, of course. There are universities which are offering brilliant courses and driving home the importance of portfolios and side-projects to their students. There are employers doing great work with their local educational institutions and investing enormous amounts of time and effort into graduate training programmes, paid internships and so on. Yet these remain the minority, despite the fact that other industries offer those things as standard - and I've even heard some development bosses opine perfectly openly that they're happy for their rivals to train up new graduates, because "we can just poach them later when they have some experience".

It's not a healthy state of affairs - not for employees, not for businesses and not for the future of the game development sector in the UK. It's not, either, a problem that's entirely unique to the UK - but at a time when the threat of a brain drain looms larger than ever, a renewed focus on how we encourage, develop, nurture and ultimately hold on to our home-grown talent pool is absolutely essential.

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Latest comments (40)

Antony Cain Lecturer in Computer Games Design, Sunderland College6 years ago
Nice article Rob, it echos the thoughts from careers video being posted on the site too.

I've been reading/posting here for what must be over 4 years by now, so I've mentioned this before but still seen no change in the situation; we need help from studios. I know we're a level below university, so companies are not going to be recruiting directly from us and don't see an instant benefit from helping - but some guidance at this stage would surely make the students more suited to games jobs in years to come.

When I started I must've emailed maybe 30-40 different places for a visit/visitng speaker. I got 2 polite declines and the rest were ignored. Slightly dejected, I emailed maybe 20-30 the 2nd year - I heard nothing (I'd sooner have rude responses than that). 3rd/4th years of the course maybe 10 or so... nothing. This year, I've sent out one very specific email to a company that do exactly what we're looking to do, they're new (company, not new staff), they're local and awesome (*hint hint!*). I'm at a loss to be honest.

The only contact we get with industry is at the Animex festival in Teesside - which, by the way, is great - but that's very much a watch and listen setting, rather than straight up advice on development. We're doing what we think is best; students here take their own games from paper to final game in its entirety, and this year, for the first time, hopefully publishing to the app store (I'm not sure how many 16-18 colleges actually do that?). Now, to me, that seems sensible and I'm even hoping it will help with their "published" titles when they get to the job application stage - but without a company/individual actually coming in and telling us what they think of everything, we're stumped. We literally haven't been able to pay people to help.

I guess, waffle aside, my point is: If people don't help us shape students, they have no right to criticise the results.

Oh, if anyone reading this wants to visit (PLEEEEASE!), drop me an email!

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Antony Cain on 7th October 2011 9:48am

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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts6 years ago
Great Article Rob.

Very interesting for me as I currently reaching out to many of the universities and asking many of the questions about course content so we can identify who we will work with into the future.

One of my colleagues is already doing this and is at the point where we contribute to course content which is specifically relevant to the Industry, I believe we have now hired 3-4 candiates form that course as Graduates hires in the last 18 months. I think this is the partnership approach that needs to occur for things to actually improve.

It won't change overnight though and requires a great deal of effort from all parties.

Thanks Lewis

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Russell Watson Senior Designer, Born Ready Games6 years ago
Several years experience for a junior role? Honestly that sounds like a gross exaggeration.

Theres a few other points to consider, firstly if you look at Game Developer's Salary Survery in North America there is a notable difference in employment packages here and abroad. Such as: Medical/Dental/Eye cover; pensions; bonuses; company shares; most of which you wont find offered from UK companies. It's not just higher salaries drawing people abroad.

Another comparison, the industry in North America appears far more visible and involved academically than here. This has improved in recent years here and with careers fairs on the rise creating more forums for grads to approach industry. When I started out im not sure there were any but they were doing them in North America for years.

But graduate expectations are a bit of a problem which is not entirely their fault, through my own experience of going through a game design related degree (not in the uk). The Unis/Colleges tend to perpetuate misconceptions students have rather paint the reality, as if they did I would wager a significant % of their tuitition fees would dry up.

Which then leads on to why there are so many game design courses/graudates. Shouldnt really need explaining?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Russell Watson on 7th October 2011 10:52am

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Show all comments (40)
@ anthony - i reckon durin a uni course, one needs to produce at least two mini games and 1 full blown playable game/ demo to be able to show to a potential employer their future potential and scope

About graduates, there is actually a good demand for graduates with the right potential and basic skillset of experience. They certainly do not need years of industry experience. And lastly, the beauty of hiring a graduate is that you get to mould your graduate into your future investment vs the risk they get itchy feet/disloyalty

Graduates just need to be totaly realistic about expectations in Terms of scope of work, type of work involved and salary. Maybe a one day in a established studio visit may help with liason between unis and game studios.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D6 years ago
Well written, Rob.

I think part of the problem - and it's a problem generally in this country, not just in games - is the focus on going to university. Like I said on the other thread yesterday, having a degree no longer really means much anymore. Like it or not, that's the unfortunate truth. And, with the rise of iOS and other platforms, studios themselves are realising again that self taught can often be better than university taught - though, obviously, you could argue that the best outcome would be a mixture of the two (and universities themselves, to be fair, would say that they only seek to provide a grounding for their students, it's up to the students themselves to do more in their spare time).

Cream always rises to the top, and if someone wants it badly enough, they'll get there eventually. Everyone sees the success stories, but they don't see the literally hundreds or thousands of unpaid hours that have gone into getting to that point.

Like I said, studios themselves are definitely beginning to engage more with juniors, and talking more about wanting people for their potential than their actual skills - I've had that happen a few times in the last couple of months.

As for packages abroad being better than here, on the whole there's probably not much argument about that - especially in the territories where tax breaks are offered. That's a whole other issue, I suppose.
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In addition, the cream at the top get a job offer because often they would have had a strong investment in their specialty PRIOR/during the course of the University. Their extra curricular activities would show they already have strong ties via freelance game jobs or mods or developing pieces of code and their own games, than once they graduate they have enough of the basics to be ready to train/teach in a game studio.
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Tommy Thompson Studying Artificial Intelligence (PhD), University of Strathclyde6 years ago
One of the concerns I've heard from UG students is the unwillingness to commit to video game courses given the poor returns from the industry. I have met several bright and intelligent students who began in video game courses who later opted to change institution with a more established, and reputable computer science degree. The reason being, that the skills they acquire in a good CS degree provides a lot more options. A good CS student doesn't need to know a language/tool, but understand how to design/program/test software.

The idea of nurturing and investing in graduates is important, and the company I work for thankfully recognise this. People who seem sharp, intelligent, have a decent level of core programming knowledge - be it in Java, C, C++ etc. - and have an ability to adapt and learn are taken on board. They don't know C++ or C#? We coach them. Never coded in HTML5, Flex, Silverlight? - teach them. If they have the capacity to learn then given them the opportunity and they will reward you.

This I feel is one of the things the games industry does wrong. Of those students I mention who were gaming inclined, only one or two ever made it into the industry. The rest became frustrated, looked further afield and were snapped up by investment banks who recognised their potential and invested in them.

... and now they make more than I do. :-S
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Money isnt everything. In UK, the more you earn the more you pay the taxman, and the less you take home.
And do you really want to be the richest stiff in the grave? (or words to that effect - or do you want to make something amaaaazing? to paraphrase Jobs)

Lastly, investment banking in this current day and age is on a fast descent into a big fat hellhole, whilst gaming is on a crazy ascendancy/bubble.
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David Allen Gamer Camp Comms. Officer, Birmingham City University6 years ago
Nice article Rob. Gamer Camp ( was set up at Birmingham City University to help solve some of these issues, so we hear a lot about these issues from studios and students who wish to apply for the Masters course.

We're don't currently run an undergrad course on Gamer Camp, but I understand undergraduate courses can be put in an awkward position. Some courses could definitely be doing more to teach languages actually used in gaming (i.e. C++), but many course leaders also understand that they're not just preparing students for a career in games, but providing them with the skills to work in a broad range of industries.

Having said that, although the numbers on Gamer Camp each year are comparatively small compared to a degree course (we have 15 on Gamer Camp: Pro at the moment) the games industry employment rate for Gamer Camp graduates is far higher, as they're actually given the experience studios ask for.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Allen on 7th October 2011 1:14pm

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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship6 years ago
Good article. The problems are manifold, but I do think can be boiled down thus:

1. The UK industry, if it isn't shrinking, is at the very least fragmenting. We have more smaller studios and fewer larger ones.

2. Only large devs have the capability of incubating junior talent from nothing - other studios rely on people hitting the ground running. Also, there isn't exactly a shortage of skilled candidates around.

3. Most game courses are poor.

And here's an important point:

4. Even if most game courses were of the highest standards, the majority of students would still not get jobs in existing UK studios, because there are far too many graduates for the size of the industry as a whole. This makes much of the argument over student quality besides the point. There are far too many. There is a massive oversupply.

5. For existing industry folk, salaries are on the low-ish side (certainly for programmers, where there is easy comparison with other industries). Again, this should be the strongest hint that studio claims of of a shallow talent pool are bunk - if it were true, salaries would be far more competitive than they are.
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Tony Johns6 years ago
All the problems for western game development and their practices, make me wonder how is it that Japan, especilly Nintendo, get it right almost every time when so many other companies in the west get it so wrong?
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Tony Johns6 years ago
As for me, when I had to spend 5 years looking for a university from 2005 to 2009, I was looking for a few major things.

Yes Flash games but ones where you could make side scroll platforms and characters that can jump.

3D Moddeling using 3D Studio Max.

Game Engines like the Unreal Development Kit.

Programming with C++ that relates to making a game and not just making a command line code that just says hello world or gives you solutions to winning a sedoku puzzle.

and a university in Country Victoria in Australia because my parents didn't want me to live too far away from home or in a large city like Melbourne all because they often listened to the bad news on TV of someone being stabbed in Melbourne, which rarely happened but that was their fear.

Only 1 university I found filled those requirements, but the first year was a silly waste of my time and money because of all these core IT units that had nothing to do with even making a game.

Finally the second year that I am almost a month away from completing, is allot more better.

I can finally make a platform side scroll game using Flash, even made a shooting one...

I can also use the 3D models to manipulate and create my own models in 3D Studio Max.

I can import those models into UDK and also make my own levels in UDK and make games that are more than just First Person Shooters with the Unreal Engine.

The only thing I have not done is do game programming in C++, all because I failed in my programming unit that had nothing to do with game programming but I have to repeat it and pass it before I get to the good stuff.


Sometimes I feel like they want to increase my higher education loan payment (HELP) debt just for them to get more money from me after I graduate.

I should have just did a course in Melbourne that didn't have all those core IT units, well after I finish uni I will look at those in Melbourne and see if they are better after I pass the country victorian uni that I am at now.

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Paul Shirley Programmers 6 years ago
@Nick McCrea:
"4. Even if most game courses were of the highest standards, the majority of students would still not get jobs in existing UK studios"

...and it would be wrong to train them with skills that don't transfer well to any other job, especially when so many will leave the industry quickly anyway. If anything we should be encouraging more general qualifications with games just a optional specialisation within the course than specific gaming qualifications.

I want people applying for jobs because they genuinely want to work in games, not because they made the wrong decision 1,2 or 3 years ago and have too few choices. And I certainly don't want the good ones discouraged from even applying because they didn't take a gaming course, which could happen if the industry starts taking these courses more seriously!

Until more folk feel comfortable just walking away from our shitty working practices nothing will change, today's crop of gaming courses just perpetuate the employment trap that prevents change. It's not fair on them or us.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters6 years ago
I view these games specific degrees as a bit pointless, myself. Surely all they do is limit your options after university without really giving an advantage? No games company is ever going to reject a candidate because they have a Computer Science degree rather than a Game Programming degree. I know a few people involved in recruitment who actively prefer general Computer Science, or even Maths, from a well respected university. All your degree really says is roughly how intelligent and committed you are, it's your spare time projects that hammer home the suitability for the games industry.

After you graduate, if you find yourself struggling to find a games industry position, with a Computer Science degree you can at least get a good programming job at a non-games company, as a stop-gap until you find a good opportunity to get into games, as well as pick up good software engineering experience along the way. I'm sure "2 years experience as a software engineer at a bank" sounds better than "2 years stacking shelves in Tesco". With a Games Programming degree, I would imagine it'd immediately raise eyebrows: "We aren't a games company, why are you applying to us?". In their position I'd be thinking "this guy doesn't really want this job, he'll jump ship as soon as he can", and other negative considerations.

Your degree won't get you a job, it just proves you're intelligent. It tells nothing about your enthusiasm, your team working ability, etc. Working on a spare time project with a bunch of other people does.
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Michael Endres Art Production Manager, Crytek6 years ago
+1 on Dave Herod's comment.

Get a general degree: Math, Physics, Computer Science (one which has math as a gatekeeper throughout the course) or a solid graphic Design/ Visual Art degree.
if you want to get into the industry, adapting your problem solving skills or bas skills you learned about art will be an easy thing.
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Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto6 years ago
With regard to training graduates in C++ on the job, I don't think it's very realistic. No programming role (except maybe tools at a push), will turn you away because you know C++, but don't know C#, because pretty much anyone that can program in C++ can hit the ground running learn to program in C# very quickly.

The same is not true in reverse. To be a good C++ programmer requires a lot more low-level knowledge that takes a lot of time to pick up, and some people just never manage to grasp. There are a lot of people, even people who can program in languages like Java and C#, that just hit a brick wall when it comes to concepts like pointers.

With regard to graduates getting hired straight from game-related courses, it's worth pointing out that the vast majority of game-specific courses are not worth the paper that they're printed on, and don't teach graduates the skills they need to get into the games industry. Abertay is really good, and well respected, due to its close ties with local industry, a fact attested to by the number of Abertay alumni that can now be found in games industry roles all over the world. There are other good courses out there (but I don't know enough about the other ones to comment), but they are few and far between.
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Chris Goodswen Studying MProf in Games Development, University of Abertay Dundee6 years ago
Really nice article, I graduated over a year ago from Abertay and I am still in the hunt for work as an artist in a studio.

I personally know several developers working in studios so I know what expectations are required as I continue to develop my portfolio, even though I continue to apply for roles I often get feedback that my work is of professional quality but unfortunately they don't have any positions available.

For me the biggest trouble is that I see my position as a waiting game, I have to continue to grow until someone sees the potential and gives me the opportunity to show what I can do but it does at times get highly demoralising when little opportunities appear here in the UK whilst in the advertisements more vacancies seem available in Canada and overseas.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 6 years ago
Bryan is quite right about C++: it (and C, and assembler) are quite a different world from languages with managed environments where you don't need to do your own memory management. Moving from Java to C++ is a huge step compared to moving from Java to Ruby, ActionScript, C#, or what-have-you.

As a software developer for many years myself who's worked on some rather complex systems (e.g., high frequency automated trading), it seems to me the height of foolishness for someone who wants to get into games programming to do a "games" degree rather than a computing science degree with a concentration in graphics. Not only do you reduce your chances of working outside of the games field (which you may want to do if you either can't get a job in games at the moment or if you realize that's not where you wanted to be after all), but you're getting a less broad education, and wide knowledge is incredibly useful in any programming field. I'd almost invariably hire breadth with some depth than depth with little breadth.

Tony, it sounds to me that you don't want to be going to a university, you want to be going to a trade school. That said, while a trade school might satisfy your wish to work only on things directly and obviously related to games, it will not make you a good programmer. You simply don't realize how that C++ course really does have everything to do with game programming, as well as any other kind of programming, and if you maintain that attitude, you may well see the job you're going for taken by a good programmer with less interest in games than you have.
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Timothy Hotston Graduate 6 years ago
I agree, on my course (which I have only just started) we have begun a unit called - Visual Literacy which is in my opinion completely irrelevant to games. Here is the official description of the aim of the unit -
"To introduce the concept of visual literacy and visual languages as a form of creative expression. To introduce a range of visual techniques (photography, life drawing, collage and montage and digital imaging). To provide students with an introduction to the fundamental technologies used within digital imaging."

Basically I have to take photos/cut out pictures from magazines then stick them into a 'visual journal/diary' and write about the images and what they mean to me. I don't understand the reason for this unit at all; my alarm bells rang when the lecturer for this unit said he teaches photography. I don't imagine this ever coming useful to working in the games industry at all.

During my course I have the option to take a year out and get work experience, I've even looked already to try to make a list of the studios that have internships; even though I know that I most likely won't be able to get one unless it is only for a short period of time say 2-6 months. Someone said above that the large studios are decreasing and more indies are starting up therefore meaning, less studios less chances of any internships - which is the truth, so few studios offer interns and some state on their websites that they are considering starting them.

Part of my research I did before going to uni was reading job advertisements on company websites to see what they were looking for, alot of them do require at least 1-2 years experience minimum and at least one released AAA game. I choose my uni because I have the option to go and have work experience for a year Ė ticking one box off the list. Also because most the tutors/lecturers come from and industry back ground and finally I get to make at least one game while attending for an actual company; students before have made games for charityís or sold them on XBLA. So I think have a ever so slightly better chance at getting a job than other students when compared to people I know who are studying at universityís without former games industry staff and no modules on making games.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters6 years ago
I have to agree with Curt. When I was at uni, I remember getting frustrated that so few of my courses had any relevance to games (I did straight Computer Science, as far as I'm aware games courses were almost non-existant, and even if there were some, I still would have gone for CS). Now that I've been doing this job for years, I've realised that a lot of the courses I did turned out surprisingly relevant. Parallel processing? Recently all platforms are going more and more multi-core. SQL/Databases? Suddenly I find myself working on back end servers that use this. Computer Vision? Now there's Kinect. Don't underestimate the value of a broad range of knowledge, even if you can't see their relevance right at this moment, the industry can surprise you.
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Mike Wuetherick Lead Designer, Super Mega Awesome Games6 years ago
There's no irony at all that this article came out on the same day that the article about Team Bondi employee's being owed over a million dollars in back pay.

We wonder why we can't attract (and more importantly KEEP) qualified people in this industry, but then have horrific work practices, ridiculously low pay (in comparison to other industries) and very little hope of having any kind of long-ish term position.

From the perspective of someone that has a family, looking to get a position at a company for longer than 6 months, this industry is a disaster. It seems that few jobs last longer than a single game development's duration (and most are specifically contracts for that length) and the ones that do still have little guarantee of any kind of reasonable employment duration.

Add in the risk of relocating to a new country / location in order to get employment, and there's no wonder why people are fleeing the game industry en masse.

In Vancouver alone, there must be 2-3000+ developers that have been laid off in the last 2-3 years, with next to no hiring going on, and the positions that ARE available are either short-term contracts or studios looking for the top 1% of people for the senior fulltime positions.

Add in the half-dozen or more 'game schools' that are shamelessly churning out new graduates every month and you have a recipe for disaster.

The Grass isn't much greener on this side, frankly.
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Steve Bilton AI Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto6 years ago
I'm going to be an oddball and disagree with Bry and Curt - I think principles are more important that language. Sure, C++ unmanaged memory is a bit of heartache for someone with a background in C#, but it's not that difficult to pick up if you understand basic principles.

Indeed, that's how they teach at Imperial College (or did a about 6 years ago...) - teaching principles on languages of least resistance depending on what it is (Haskell for recursion, Java for OOP, PROLOG for logic etc). I recall getting a 2 week crash course in C and C++ and a bit of lab work to get up to speed, which was fine with a background in core programming principles.
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Robert Aiking Product Manager, InnoGames6 years ago
<em>"I agree, on my course (which I have only just started) we have begun a unit called - Visual Literacy which is in my opinion completely irrelevant to games. Here is the official description of the aim of the unit -
"To introduce the concept of visual literacy and visual languages as a form of creative expression. To introduce a range of visual techniques (photography, life drawing, collage and montage and digital imaging). To provide students with an introduction to the fundamental technologies used within digital imaging."

Basically I have to take photos/cut out pictures from magazines then stick them into a 'visual journal/diary' and write about the images and what they mean to me. I don't understand the reason for this unit at all; my alarm bells rang when the lecturer for this unit said he teaches photography. I don't imagine this ever coming useful to working in the games industry at all."</em>

Sounds like it is vaguely relevant to Screen Design, which I assure you is a highly useful side-skill for just about anyone in much of the gaming industry. Anyone saying otherwise is going to have a really hard time arguing that cross-disciplinary competency is a bad thing.

EDIT: Er, I just realised that you are studying Game Design which begs the question... how is Screen Design not relevant?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Robert Aiking on 7th October 2011 7:59pm

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Julian Cram Producer 6 years ago
50 years ago, when the UK mines/steel works closed down, cities like Newcastle and Elizabeth in Australia co-operated with manufacturers like Holdens, with the assistance of the Australian Federal Government, attracted UK miners with relocation packages, accommodation, and jobs.

How about a bit of reciprocation?

There is massive contraction of the industry in Australia at the moment, and if the UK industry wanted talent, they'd work with the government to get these skilled developers over to the UK. They'd ask for an easing of VISA restrictions, and offer relocation deals.

I'd happily live on the so-called lower wages UK developers get - they're still higher than what is paid in Australia.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Julian Cram on 7th October 2011 10:18pm

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Mike Rusby 3d character modeller 6 years ago
I can't actually believe that the industry is complaining about not being able to find good quality people when there seem to be hardly any jobs out there in the uk, whether you are a senior or not.
There are loads of game artists out there, but perhaps this relates more to programmers.
I have ten years experience and have often found that companies will get back to you then suddenly break off all contact.
A simple polite no would help. It's a question of attitutude really, some games companies still have this weird mentality as if they don't know how to treat people or get the best out of them.
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Andy Cowe Mobile developer, Moonjump6 years ago
A good article, but there is another reason adding to the difficulty companies have in finding new staff: their incredibly poor recruitment processes. You will not get the good staff if you ignore their job applications.

All too often I have applied for a job, not heard anything for a couple of months, then a recruiter contacts me about the same job and gets me an interview. One company even had the cheek to say in the interview that I should have applied directly as they could have given me a better salary. It seemed to reflect badly on me when I said I had applied directly, not the HR department that ignored my initial contact and chase up email.
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Andrew Ray Studying Computer Games Design and Programming, Staffordshire University6 years ago
Good article but I think one important thing is missing, no one is willing to give on the job training any more. I believe this is partly to do with the lack of mid level market and studios.

Look at the current games market, it's all either low paying and risky app development or AAA development, there's very little money floating about for games in between those markets. Any mid level companies just seem to get bought up and dissolved after a project or two. AAA studios need top staff and don't hire graduates, app studios often can't afford to even do their own projects, let alone hire trainees.

I also donít like the fact that companies expect extensive demo work in C++, programmers should know the fundamentals, yes, but expecting lots of work in C++ is a bit optimistic. After leaving uni last year I had to make a choice of which language to focus on. 2 months of C++ gave me a better insight about low level programming but got me nowhere nearer making money and no demo worthy work. Switching to Java for Android enabled me to build a library of work I could show employers, a language desirable in the business market and a source to publish my own work with the potential to make money. Iíve even had some freelance work through it. Graduates would either have to be extremely optimistic or extremely dumb to ignore more versatile, profitable and employable languages to focus on C++ in the hopes of chasing the pipe dream.

Universities do seem to fail both the industry and graduates though. I've heard lots of horror stories of students not even having tutors for whole years of their course. On a visit to one uni and speaking to the final year students it turned out they were learning from the internet for their final year and didn't even have access to max or maya they had to use free software in uni instead. I saw a lot of people graduate who weren't of industry standard into an industry who simply don't want to train people.

I can echo the tales told by other graduates, although my situation is getting better.

I got a First in Computer Games Design and Programming and was hoping for something offering on the job training, sadly such jobs simply donít exist nowadays. For most graduates itís either stack shelves in Tesco or focus on proving youíre good at what you want to do. For me I took the latter option and got immense stick for doing so, to the point of my dad charging me 80% of my dole in rent to encourage me to do any old job instead of spending 8-12 hours a day programming at home.

I was lucky to get a 3 month marketing placement in a small (3 man) studio through a graduate programme, although I had to be persistent to talk them into getting me in and had to pay to work there for free (I bumped into you there Andy). With that on my CV and my Android work on my blog (Shameless self promotion here if anyone needs a junior programmer) I have been getting more interviews and I landed a temp job doing QA. All the QA staff I work with either have a degree or experience in the industry or both, thereís no problem getting quality graduates. Even though the jobs are temp it gives a lot of graduates experience and a break they desperately need in an industry that seems opposed to new talent.

One thing that really did surprise me is how many employers seemed impressed that Iíd done my own work at home when I showed them the project Iíd been working on, often saying that very few graduates do work at home.

To summarise my opinions, thereís no lack of talent but the kind of companies that can invest in graduate talent seem to have all but disappeared. The economy is screwed, the industry is changing and everyone is struggling to make enough money to keep the employees theyíve got happy let alone invest in new potential. If they do invest they only want the cream of the enormous supply of crop. There's too many graduates, universities fail both graduates and the industry, this makes degrees mean less. Many graduates need to realise they don't have a right to a job and that they need to work for it, but both the industry and universities need to stop letting them down.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Ray on 9th October 2011 2:51pm

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Andrew Wilson Studying BSc Computer Games Technology, Birmingham City University6 years ago
A very interesting article. Just as an additional comment to Dave Allenís Birmingham City University runs both undergraduate course in computer games technology and animation for game design. Both were built in consultation with industry and skillset guidelines.

The games tech has only been running a few years and is continually evolving because of advice and direct input from industry. Where we originally focused on the requirements of larger studios (e.g. C++) over time we have modified aspects of the course due to the increasing number of indie companies and start-ups that required slightly different technical skills from our students.

However apart from the academic side we do emphasize to our students that the degree on itís own is not enough and that their portfolio is of equal importance. This is often an alien concept to computing and technology students, whilst a very good idea, it is not something that all our technical course stress.

We work closely with industry to offer extra-curricular activities so the students can develop their portfolio. Where as some courses may be fortunate to have industry speakers or mentors from industry providing training we encourage students to work with the industry on live projects and should consider industrial placement years. For example we have two students who are currently helping a start-up game company that appeared on Dragonís Den earlier this week. We are overwhelmed by the help all of the games companies have provided and their desire to encourage our students to work with them. We are very lucky indeed.

We also have a range of schools and faculties within the University that can collaborate on games development e.g. engineers (automotive CAD), architectural technologies, sound and audio composers, as well as artists and animators. These collaborations give the students valuable insight into the complexities of working in cross disciplinary teams. We also provide assistance and mentoring for any of our students who may wish to set up their own companies as part of our entrepreneurial programme.

One of the main issues we face is the lack of exposure of new students to some form of programming before they enter the course. There is also a poor understanding of what is expected from them in terms of what a career in the games industry involves and reflects the findings of the Livingstone & Hope report. So there is certainly a need for closer links with schools and colleges to help educate them about this. Something that several of the companies we work with are also actively involved with.

So there are positives from these discussions. Much involves stronger collaborations between industry and education. It is easy to criticise if something isnít right but weíd say to industry if weíre doing something wrong help us make it right and they are.

Edited 10 times. Last edit by Andrew Wilson on 12th October 2011 7:22pm

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Mike Reddy Course Tutor BSc Computer Game Development, University of South Wales6 years ago
I generally agree with the sentiment, and can forgive the oft repeated stereotype of game "design" - I.e. games studies lite - degrees, even if it is just a stereotype. However, core CS skills (non-games related?) and what I call Me++ (ability to learn new skills and work in large multi-disciplinary teams) is what the best degrees are pushing along with actually making, finishing and releasing games. However, we're seeing games programming courses cut - Newport - or under threat from UK Gov driven restructuring - Abertay - and key staff being driven away from Academia - Derby and others - as well as some of the poorer degrees closing because they are not fit for purpose. Skillset itself is in trauma, following funding changes. However, more importantly, this kind of story, grossly over simplifying the issue, just serves to further stress undergraduates, who are already under a great deal of pressure; financially and emotionally. There are some great, talented students I'm teaching, who put in amazing effort and extra-curricular activity, yet are scared they don't have what it takes to cut it! If you actually talked to lecturers you'd soon see success stories - for us, the Q.U.B.E. IndieCade funding; three dare2beDigital teams in 2 years, including a BAFTA winner and nomination, a Microsoft Games Studio contract, and numerous employed graduates, and that's just Newport. There are others out there proving your article is limited and blacker than the reality. Go talk to a few
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 6 years ago
Steve: I'm in total agreement with you that principles are more important than language. But the world you're talking about, where students are writing code in languages like Haskell and Prolog, is both unusual and quite different from the standard "give them four years of Java" that a most undergraduate courses offer. Clearly, if you're bringing students to the kind of level implied by the fact that you're teaching them Haskell, they're going to find picking up C++ (or anything else) considerably easier.

Timothy: I have to say, I'm shocked that you'd think visual literacy has nothing to do with games, and even more shocked that you'd look down on someone who teaches photography, which along with cinematography and drawing/painting/etc. are very closely related to the visual presentation of games, especially modern 3D AAA titles. I would guess you've probably sat in front of your screen and watched very expensive deliberate emulations of photographic techniques such as manipulation of depth of field and had no clue about what you were even seeing, much less why it was there. I find it hard to imagine you could ever get a job in the industry as much more than a tester if you don't have any interest in this sort of stuff.
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Jonathan Hau-Yoon Junior Game Artist, Luma Arcade6 years ago
If you've never worked in the game industry, then I believe you've got no business lecturing a game-related course. Yeah, schools complain that studios don't offer enough help with setting the syllabus and making course content relevant, but even if you've got your course content handed to you on a silver platter, it's worth nothing if the lecturer can only pretend to know what he's talking about. Heck, if you don't know what's relevant or not, then are you really qualified to lecture?

For the most part, people I see who're driven enough and talented enough to become valuable assets in a game dev studio have taught themselves so much before even stepping into a college, that the college courses are worth nothing but the piece of paper for foreign work visas. As mentioned above, straight comsci/math and art courses are far more valuable. Unless your game course lecturer's got solid industry experience. And what are the chances of that?
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Ken Addeh6 years ago
This is a great article, and highlights a few points raised in the previous news about the subject posted earlier last week.
I have read some of the comments but not all, so forgive me if i'm repeating stuff.

Now...I'll probably sound very controversial about what i'm going to say, but as an animation graduate with mocap, the Euphoria engine and senior animators above me potentially taking any work i may want, I've found that the best way in general of getting into the games to avoid it.

Before you go crazy, hear me out.

I believe that all those graduates that are having trouble should use more energy in getting themselves in an aside job in that general area. For example; As an animator, wanting to get into games, i realised in my third year that my uni was pretty bad, and didn't really teach me anything - however, i had also noticed I'd worked in after effects, maya and other softwares. I moved into motion graphics - for these following reasons:

1.Motion Graphics still uses a lot of animation
2.I can gain experience working in a business (or a few businesses if freelancing)
3.I was already a step up above some applicants because I had 3D animation experience
4.Any companies besides Film and Games are way more flexible in terms of hiring graduates, and people that want to gain to their portfolio.

So I can slowly start to work on side projects revolved around games while I rack up some GENERAL work experience in a creative field.

I may be wrong, but i feel that I'm gaining a lot of experience through this method rather than sitting at home and wondering why no games companies will respond to my applications for entry/junior level roles.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ken Addeh on 10th October 2011 2:16pm

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Mark Beynon-Clarke 3D Artist 6 years ago
The other problem of course, is that the industry has shrunk by a massive amount in the UK, but the number of courses has increased at the same time the industry has shrunk.
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Francois Roughol Senior Level Designer, Crytek6 years ago
Nice article. It doesn't address the practice that has taken place for many years now regarding junior people, of hiring them on a contract, just for one production, and letting them go until the next production kicks in and the studio needs to ramp up.

This has been the largest hiring practice in countries like France (Ubisoft mostly but everyone else too) for a number of years, for a number of very valid reasons related to low hiring costs relative to high firing costs with permanent workers.

This is certainly not helping people to grow in this industry, nor is it necessarily helping studios in the long run. However, in a country where one large publisher dominates the hiring field, they find that junior contractors are happy to come back 6 months down the road simply because they have nowhere else to go to.

Which brings me to this overall point. Any talk about how to retain talent in the UK, or in France, or how Montreal will keep up at this rate is simply missing the larger picture. Talent in this industry is extremely volatile, and follows both job opportunities AND PROJECTS. Projects drive talent in this industry. Every junior developer who dreams of joining the industry has no interest in working on half assed licensed products. They want to learn the ropes, and move up in the company if it's a good one, or move on to bigger projects and more successful studios if it isn't. Juniors dream of Valve, Epic, Naughty Dog, Crytek, id and projects like Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed, Deus Ex or Quake. They want to work on the games they love to play.

You want to retain those guys? Bring back those projects, bring back those powerhouse projects to the countries you want to see your guys stay in. And people will follow.

And sure, by the time these juniors start a family, they'll want to settle a bit and stay in one studio. But it'll be a lot easier to convince them that their current one is the one when you've got a proven track record of making those games they so love.

Regarding degrees....There are degrees worth getting. Those are the ones that teach you knowledge. Game design isn't so much about knowledge, it's about experience. It's not a degree worth getting. Computer Sciences yes, very much so.

As far as design is concerned, there is nothing a degree will teach someone that that someone cannot learn on his own at home. By experimenting. By building things. By prototyping. You can teach C++ because there are good ways and bad ways to code, you don't teach design because design is not a boolean variable.

Get yourself a good degree that actually gives you skills, and save the rest for your own free time.
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Aristotel Digenis Human 6 years ago
Great article... Spot on
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Timothy Hotston Graduate 6 years ago
@Curt Sampson

Iv'e numbered my response to you just to make it clear as after reading my first post I think I could have worded it better:

1) I don't look down at someone who teaches photography and I'm sorry if it appeared so. What I meant was that I found it bizarre that while on a games course I was being taught by a lecturer of photography.
2) I find it strange that I have to take photos/cut out pictures from magazines then stick them into a 'visual journal/diary' and write about the images and what they mean to me. - I just don't see how it relates to games.
3) I realise that some of this such as the framing a shot etc. can be linked to the visual presentation in games.
4) I do understand the use of depth of field and other techniques.

In my last lesson he explained it in more detail - I take photos/cut out pictures from magazines or draw them into the visual journal and then explain what it means to me, he also passed around examples of what he was looking for. These included a girl who had stuck a picture of a thin woman and a larger woman into her journal, written beside them she had written "Is it better to be thin or fat?" and then her opinion of the matter. Can you explain to me how that relates to games?

Or perhaps I'm wrong, not by my wrong doing but because I am ignorant of how it is relevant; in which I am more than happy to have it explained to me.
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Timothy Hotston Graduate 6 years ago
@Andreas Gschwari
Thank you, it's nice to know that someone who works in the line of work that I want to can tell me how this unit relates to the games industry (I was hoping for that with my initial post). With my very low knowledge of game design it was also nice of you to give me an insight into what you do on an average day; as most interviews with game designers are very bland when it comes to what they do. So again thank you for that. :)

Your example of how you'd do this unit is interesting however being at uni I'm very restricted into doing what they tell me to do, I have to create a collage to explain/convey my feelings over a subject (my roots, peer pressure, government etc.) - I think the closest to games I can go is by picking a subject such as stereotyping in games and then expressing my views on it via a collage/drawing etc.

Perhaps that can relate to games by trying to think about the targeted audiences approach/feelings to it?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Timothy Hotston on 11th October 2011 12:20pm

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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters6 years ago
I think Timothy may have highlighted a good point that lecturers should take note of, though. While the course he talks about IS valuable, what his lecturer/course organisers are failing to do is explain WHY it's relevant. It's no good telling a student "this is for your own good, believe me", show them the connection to their final goal and they'll be far more receptive to learning it. For some courses it's plainly obvious, but for more abstract ones like this, it's worth spending some time providing some examples (as people here have done) of how the skills are going to be employed later. To the students though, remember there usually is a point to the courses, even if you don't see it. If you don't, go and have a polite conversation with the lecturer asking what it is. They might not realise that it's not obvious, and if no one tells them, they can't fix it.

Games design isn't all about being the one having all the ideas. Communicating ideas and vision across to the rest of the team is a vital part. Photos and screenshots from movies/other games/pieces of art are a very fast and effective way of demonstrating mood/style/feel of a game without the need for the designer to have any great artistic ability or wasting lots of time and effort creating a masterpiece just to get a point across.
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Great debate. Just wanted to add some facts from the only specialist agency that really gets stuck into this area. Via Search for a Star ( ) and by holding careers talks at 40+ Uni's up and down the UK we invest a massive amount of resource and money into Grad recruitment - so I hope we're pretty well placed to have an opinion. We've taken in hundreds of 2011 Graduate CV's, polished them up and helped them market themselves. From the placements we've made and the follow up we've done with our database - we know that at least 50 have found their way into the industry this year. Feel I have to mention though that these are all Programmers - not Designers, not Artists...So the Uni's are poducing some talented coders and there's a market there - Plenty of advice on our site for those that want to visit. [link url=][/link] Studios - you all need to get involved but if you feel you can't dedicate much time - help us run Search for a Star like Relentless and Headstrong do - we're all trying to make a difference!
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Simon Tomlinson Programmer 6 years ago
A very good article. The hiring of graduates either as full employees or interns is always something I've tried to encourage at comapnies I have worked at, but I do agree that it has been difficult and seems to be getting worse. And I have worked at one company that plainly stated they would not consider graduates. I personally beleive there is a professional obligation to pass on training to those coming after us as most other industried do. But mots game companies in the UK do seem to be so tightly focussed on getting the next product out at all costs that they cannot invest even a little time in training graduates, or indeed more experienced staff. It's a great shame, and I suspect many poeple who have crossed swords with me in the past will be thinking I'm not living in the 'real' games world. But I think that if a medium to large company cannot sustain a staff development program for time or financial reasons then it must be on a serious knife edge and should perhaps take a deep hard look at themselves.

I'd also like to throw in another factor on recruitment of expedrienced staff. There is a bar to changing jobs that all industries face - the not insignificant cost of selling one house, buying another and physically moving. And in the current climate it is quite possible that you will not sell for many months and incur large additional rental costs. With pay rates in the UK relatively poor, and relocation expenses pretty much non existent, it can prove difficult to offset these costs oneself. I've have solved this by moving away from console and into social games, where rates can be higher and short term contracting allows a greater flexibility in terms of location hopping. But I think is something else comapnies should also consder. Indeed one would think that graduates would be in a much better position on this issue if comapnies would take a chance on them.
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