The Games Game August 2011
Each month, industry veteran Tom Sloper provides career guidance to game biz wannabes, newbies, and junior professionals with the goal of helping them break into the industry, and stay in. Submit a question to Tom for developer-oriented advice in this column (IGDA members only).
The High Cost of College
I understand that your advice is to get a college degree. But I've been looking at the cost of game schools' tuition, and holy cow, I would be in debt for a really long time! I checked out this year's salary survey (http://gamedeveloper.texterity.com/gamedeveloper/2010cg?pg=19#pg19) and no matter how I figure it, the debt load is a very heavy burden.
So don't you think it makes sense to teach myself instead, even if it takes twice as long?
--Short on money
I stand by my advice to get a college degree. Numerous reports have clearly shown that college grads have better earning potential than high school grads. You can find those reports easily using Google.
It's true that in the game industry you'll wind up earning a bit less than you would if you were working for a triple-A Silicon Valley company. But you can still manage to pay your college loan off in reasonable time, as long as you choose a college you can afford.
You stomped in here demanding that I justify the cost of game school, but I'm not the one who said you should go to "game school." Just the opposite; see my June and July 2009 columns about "The Whole Game School Thing" - http://www.igda.org/games-game-june-2009 and http://www.igda.org/games-game-july-2009. Numerous news reports recently have made it clear that for-profit schools are more of a risk for the student, since the schools have to make a profit, and they have to do it from tuitions. I highly recommend that you Google those articles, too.
Choosing a college means considering numerous factors, as I described in FAQ 25 on my website (http://www.sloperama.com/advice.html). There isn't one industry-required school you have to go to. There isn't one industry-required degree you have to get. You can go to any accredited college or university, study what interests you most, and get a perfectly suitable education for working in games. Then after graduation you have to build a portfolio and live in the right "location, location, location" (see my July 2010 column -- click Archives above). So when choosing a college, you want to find one that offers courses you're interested in, and is a manageable distance from your home, and is affordable.
"Affordable" doesn't mean "free" or "cheap." You still might have to take out a student loan, but go for one that you can reasonably pay back. Software development blogger Robert Walker agrees with me that you have to pick a school within your means (not just the school you think others require you to attend). See http://robwalkerdme.blogspot.com/2011/02/cost-of-education-or-computer-science.html.
And I do not recommend trying to teach yourself instead of going to college. Ask yourself: "am I trained as a university professor?" You aren't, so you aren't qualified to teach yourself. You need the organized, disciplined approach to education. You need the exposure to subjects you wouldn't bother to teach yourself. Yes, there are guys who've managed to become top game developers without the college degree. But they are the exception, and times have changed. You have to live in the present, and you can't count on being an exception to the rules. Pick a good school that you can pay for... and get a good education.
Please note that there is no guarantee that Tom will be able to respond to all the questions he receives. It is up to his discretion which questions he uses for this column. For further advice and resources, check out the IGDA's discussion forums, the Breaking In web site and the Students & Newbies Outreach section.
Tom Sloper's game biz career began over twenty years ago at Western Technologies, where he designed LCD games and the Vectrex games "Spike" and "Bedlam". There followed stints at Sega Enterprises, Rudell Design, Atari Corporation, and Activision. In 12 years at Activision, Tom produced 36 unique game titles (plus innumerable ports and localizations), designed four games, and won five awards. Tom worked for several months in Activision's Japan operation, in Tokyo. He is perhaps best known for designing, managing and producing Activision's "Shanghai" line. He is currently consulting, writing, speaking, teaching, and developing original games. Find out more at Sloperama.
© 2011 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.