Scotland in the spotlight – The talent pipeline for the industry of tomorrow

In this second part of our spotlight on Scotland’s games industry, we look at education and the pipeline of new talent. And if you missed it check out the first part of our investigation, where we size up the industry and speak to some of its leaders.

Scortalnd undoubtedly has a healthy industry today, but what of tomorrow? Scotland has extensive resources for training the game workers of the future. The country has seven universities offering games-related degrees, and 11 colleges across the country offering games at HNC & HND level.

With such a range of courses available, it seems logical to assume that there’s a huge amount of interest in a career in the games industry. How eager are the young people of Scotland to join our industry?

Professor Gregor White, Dean of the School of Design and Informatics at Abertay University

“The definition of ‘games’ has expanded exponentially in recent years and the opportunities available to our graduates grow every year, be that based in Scotland or anywhere else in the world” says Professor Gregor White, dean of the School of Design and Informatics at Abertay University. “While many of our graduates go on to work with well-known studios like Rockstar or Ubisoft on large commercial entertainment releases, or with mobile game developers like Outplay or Ninja Kiwi, an increasing number are working in ‘Applied Games’ supporting sectors like education, healthcare, and many others.

“The advent of emerging technologies like AR and VR has been a game-changer over the last few years and a lot of industries are now beginning to realise the huge potential that games and gamification have to offer. Of course, a lot of our graduates will choose to go down their own path and we have a great history of start-up companies being formed here at Abertay as part of coursework projects or our Dare Academy competition, then going on to successfully trade as SMEs in Dundee or elsewhere after graduation. Abertay is Europe’s top-ranked institution for video games education, but that ‘games’ badge covers a wide variety of skills ranging from creative subjects like computer arts through to technical subjects like computing, meaning we produce graduates ready for a very broad spectrum of industries. 

“There’s a great quote from Frank Lantz, the Director of the NYU Game Center, which recognises that ‘making a game combines everything that’s hard about building a bridge with everything that’s hard about composing an opera’ and that’s always been an excellent way to describe the different types of skills that we teach within our School of Design and Informatics.”

WORK OPPORTUNITIES

With all that range of options available, how many opportunities do graduates have, as they look to make a start in their careers?

Dr Thomas Methven,
Napier University

“I think Scotland is a great place for graduates, especially recently,” says Edinburgh Napier University’s Dr. Thomas Methven. “We have the obvious big companies up here who are hiring, but there are loads of small indies and mid-size studios who are growing rapidly at the moment too. Due to COVID, the games industry is having a boon too, so lots of studios are starting new projects, or growing online offerings to meet demand. 

“We’ve also been getting lots of requests from data science and visualisation companies who are looking for people with expertise using 3D game engines and I suspect that will be a huge growth area too! As I work in data science as well as games, it’s really exciting to see these two worlds collide, and I’ll be interested to see what comes of it.”

“When considering graduates from games or game related courses, I believe that there are a vast number of opportunities’’ adds Ibrahim Daniel Buksh, of The Glasgow School of Art. “The skills learned for realtime application development are extremely transferrable and SimVis (School of Simulation and Visualisation) graduates have gone into games, but also areas like; medical visualisation, heritage visualisation, visual effects for feature film and small screen, VR/AR in construction industries. There are opportunities that go far beyond the games industry.”

That’s certainly encouraging for graduates, but what about current students? Work experience is a vital part of learning a new industry – coming from a former MCV intern, I can testify to that. How many opportunities are there for students?

Ibrahim Daniel Buksh, Glasgow School of Arts

“There are work experience opportunities with local companies however, there is a high number of applicants for the number of opportunities” says The Glasgow School of Art’s Buksh. ”It’s a highly competitive area, so there is a need for students to put the extra effort in.”

“Abertay’s ethos is incredibly work-focused, both within our games programmes and across the university as a whole” says Abertay University’s White. “We are fortunate to have international industry partners at a very high level and our students benefit from work experience and mentorship from multinationals like Disney, Sony and Microsoft, as well as projects with national, regional and local partners. 

“During their programmes, all of our students get a taste of what it’s like to work in a multi-disciplinary team on an industry brief, meaning our computer artists and programmers will work with sound engineers and production managers on real world projects driven by companies. The Scottish games industry tends to be very collaborative and welcoming and in my experience there’s always plenty of work experience opportunities on offer.”

STAYING LOCAL

Still, it’s certainly encouraging that Scotland is host to such a range of educational opportunities. But how many graduates stay within the Scottish games community, instead of leaving for elsewhere?

“Scotland has a really vibrant video games cluster and in Dundee, where Abertay is based, we have a particularly high concentration of SME studios, many of which have taken the leap of starting up as a business straight after graduating” says Abertay University’s White. 

“Students come to Abertay from all over the world and naturally we see many of our graduates go on to work in some of the global games hubs, for example Liam Wong, who went on to become the art director of Ubisoft in Montreal. But it’s fair to say that many do choose to remain in Scotland due to the strong job prospects and the rapid pace that our tech sector is moving forward at the moment.”

Credit: Abertay University

“I think for many it depends on what goals they had when they came to University,” adds Edinburgh Napier University’s Methven. “Some students have the dream of working for a specific company, and I’m always delighted for them when that happens. As games are so global, and the industry does seem to be embracing remote work, there are more opportunities for graduates than ever. Some certainly do stay in Scotland, however, as the country does have a habit of doing that to people – I came up to study here about 15 years ago and haven’t left yet, for example, and I know I’m certainly not alone in that!”

And those who stay get to experience a culture of collaboration and community within the Scottish games industry. Or, as Abertay University’s White puts it: 

“There’s a sense of collaboration and a common goal that exists in Scotland which I don’t think is quite so easily replicated elsewhere. This perhaps comes from the smaller geographical size and spread of our cluster, meaning there’s a close knit environment for communities to form, staff to easily move between companies, and partnership ventures to be fostered with minimal disruption. I know our graduates would say it is a fantastic and supportive place to forge a career in the games industry and, as all Scottish sectors would tell you, the significantly more affordable cost of living and easy access to city, rural and coastal locations for work and play is a real draw.”

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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