The Games Game June 2009
The Whole Game School Thing (June 2009)
I'm confused about the whole game school thing. I've seen new game degree programs open up all over the place, and I've heard stories about graduates making cool games that win awards and get them jobs, yet you and other veteran developers keep advising young people like me to get non-game degrees. I've even heard a rumor that there are game companies that immediately discard applications with game degrees on them. I see that you yourself teach game courses, so none of this is making sense. Care to clarify?
Soon to matriculate
There most certainly are some good game degree programs out there (including, of course, those at the school where I teach). Someone who takes one of those programs should be in good stead to get a job at a game company after graduation. Maybe not immediately after graduation, though, and maybe not in the graduate's desired position, with the graduate's desired job title. Regardless of what school one goes to, or what degree one gets, it's important to have realistic expectations.
Game degrees are not all created equal. Some programs are better than others. The ones with obnoxious TV commercials give a bad image to all of them. Degrees that are misleadingly named also add to the overall image problem. Some employers may have had experiences with graduates of game schools that led to their having a bad opinion of game schools in general. In my opinion, it's wrong to mark the whole barrel bad after finding one bad apple.
In general, I believe that if one wants to be a programmer, a computer science degree is the very best place to start. Some schools that offer game-specific computer science degrees may not supplement the degree with other important mainstream topics like English and psychology - it's important that the education be well-rounded. After getting that degree, the person could get additional education at a game school (if he can afford it), or he can jump right into mods or indie projects.
A lot of game schools rush their students through in just two or three years. Short degrees don't look as good on the résumé. I like to see a four-year degree; it shows that the applicant can stick it out through a long effort. That goes for artists, too. There's nothing wrong with starting out with a couple years of low-cost community college to get through required courses, before transferring to another school to get the specialized degree.
One of the common arguments against game degrees is that they aren't applicable outside the game industry. Depending on which game degree you get, that might be true. Those wham-bam two-year degrees, for instance. But if it's a well-rounded four-year degree, then it's as applicable as any other. In life, it almost doesn't matter what degree you get, as long as you study something you're interested in. The world is full of people who've studied one thing and then wound up in a field completely unrelated to what they studied. It can happen both ways, as regards to games -- people with non-game degrees get game jobs all the time. People with game degrees may well find themselves working in a non-game industry ultimately.
Some young people think the only ticket into the game industry is through a game school. It's only one option, and it isn't the best one for everybody.
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.
© 2009 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.