EDUCATION WEEK: Northumbria Universityâ??s Dan Hodgson on why academia must engage with studios

OPINION: Dear industry, we need to talk

"I run two games degrees, one in games programming, one in games design and production. I put together the curricula, I create some of the content, I advise applicants and yes, I play games and call it “research”.

The Livingstone-Hope Review identifies that my courses are two amongst over 140 games development degrees on offer, and that only 12% of the graduates from these courses land a job in the industry within six months. Why do I bother?

Because like Livingstone & Hope, I believe that education is the silver bullet, the key to ensuring that the UK games industry continues to innovate and sparkle and be the hotbed of creativity we are used to.

Confidence in games degrees is low in the industry, and with some good reason.

Games development is not well understood by large parts of academia, and some of these courses are weak, unfocussed, out-of-date or just multimedia courses rebadged.

There are things that we as educators can do to make our degrees better, and there are things that the industry can do to help us.

Number 1 tip, for both sides – talk to each other. As educators we need to know what the industry is about, what they need, what the issues are. It’s a no-brainer.

This ranges from getting your curriculum right at the outset, to updating materials and moving on when needed, to keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry. Right now you should be talking about alternative monetisation strategies, crowdfunding, tax breaks, PEGI, Minecraft, the Humble Indie Bundle, 3DS and the Livingstone-Hope review.

The same is true the other way around though, sometimes the industry makes unrealistic assumptions or demands on university education.

We are not necessarily going to target the precise API, toolset, middleware, engine and scripting language you are using this year.

We take seriously the need for developers to be able to adapt to new tools as time goes by, and so we need to spend time on the principles, and just on teaching graduates how to teach themselves.

Also, we move very slowly compared to you guys and have lots of hoops to jump through for any changes. Money and workloads are controlled elsewhere and so if you suggest we get into Unity in a big way, then we might, or we might wait a little to see if it beds first.

Number 2 tip, for both sides – be prepared for relationships to take time. Build trust and understanding between individuals, go for an occasional coffee, lunch, even a beer.

Get to know each other, build trust. Academics, please don’t expect industry people to give you exactly what you want from a cold call or email.

No 3 tip, this one for academics: teach the right stuff. Programmers need C++ and maths, preferably VS, console experience if you can get it and some 3D work, and the linguistics of programming.

Designers need games design not generic games development or games art, and if you don’t know the difference find out. There are too many “games design” degrees that don’t have any games design in them.

Artists – I’m not going to pretend I know, I don’t have a games art course. IGDA have a curriculum framework, Skillset have freely available criteria. They are getting a little old now but are really worth reading.

I could rant forever, I am after all a lecturer. I’ll leave it with a problem we all face: a skills gap. There are some excellent games programming courses around, and I like to think ours is one of the best, but it’s a tough course, and we have a maths entry requirement.

We are desperately short of applicants who can do maths, or physics, or computer science. Livingstone is right, things need fixing at high school level."

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