Article: Games have a place in higher education, but where they are now isn’t working.

greentooth
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beccatherose greentooth
I just put up this piece on Medium and thought you folks might appreciate it. I include explanations on where game development college programs are failing, suggestions on how to objectively improve them, and encouragement for students to make the most of their secondary education. Feel free to mention your opinions on the topic or your experiences with game dev college programs!

Edit: Thank you to all of the wonderful responses and for sharing your experiences! Feel free to ask questions on Twitter, too! I'm getting a lot of conversation about this over there, which has been awesome.

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  • Kyetja
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    Kyetja polygon
    Quite a fun article to scroll trough! I am currently in a Game Dev major and I agree with many of the flaws you are pointing out, some of them I have heard from students at other universities and others I have experienced first hand. Many of these points of course depend on what university you attend, for example at mine you are required to complete a year of Computer Sciences before you can start specializing in Gameplay Programming etc.

    In general I believe that attending education related to games can be very valuable, but as student you need to be critical about both your university and yourself. It's vital that you choose an education that has a great environment and teachers, a place were people will allow your skills to flourish using mentoring and critique. For example universities without project samples or short descriptions of the professors teaching is a no-go.

    Additionally it is also up to students to take advantage of their education, you have four years to work your bum off and collect knowledge, both in and outside of class. A mistake a lot of my classmates make is that they expect to land a job by just going to classes and doing the required work. That is a bad practice.

    Henning from Flipped Normals has some great suggestions and critique about this subject too, it's worth a read: 
    https://flippednormals.com/blog/creative-students-handbook-schools/
  • Vincent3d
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    Vincent3d polycounter lvl 2
  • Tidal Blast
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    Tidal Blast polycounter lvl 3
    The article is great, thank you. I do agree with some points. I definitely think that games have a place for high education, but there are several issues that prevent that from happening. The video games industry is fairly young compared to some other industries and most of the time, the programs aren`t very good. Here is a little preview of my background:

    • 1998-2005 | Played games intensively from 1998-2004 (SoF2, Halo, Quake, UT, etc.)
    • 2006-2007 | ACS - Game level design (graduated)
    • 2008-2012 | Worked for over 4 years as game/level designer
    • 2013-2014 | ACS - 3D modeling for games (graduated)
    • 2015-2016 | Worked for 2 years as QA Microsoft compliance & functionality tester
    • 2016-2018 | ACS - Programmer Analyst / Internet Solutions Developer (in progress)

    Because of my background as an ex-high level player, I didn`t learn much about level design during my ``ACS - Game level design`` program. Essentially, the program first thaught us during the first session the basics of level design, 3D modeling and 3D animation. During the second session it was mainly focused on level design and the third session was a final project. Cool thing, I did learn 3ds max, Hammer (Source Engine aka Half-Life 2 editor). But in my opinion, the program was too short. The third session should have been all about making maps and the final project should have been part of a fourth session. The ASC - 3D modeling for games program was really good, but it really taught us mainly the basics. We learned how to draw, do concept arts, model, texture, use Zbrush, but we didn`t learn PBR or how to do subd modeling. We didn`t have time. And we had to do stupid homeworks like spending 2-3 days to unwrap a vehicle. What a freaking waste of time that was. All the students agreed that the program should have been something like 2-3 years long instead of just 1 year and 2-3 months. However, because of politics (governments ,etc.), they couldn`t do it. That program was taught in a public school and to do a 2-3 years program, properly customized to the needs of the industry, it would require them to teach that in a private school, but that would be a hell lot more expensive.

    There is also a disconnection between what it takes to be a solid level designer or artists VS the reality of working on game production. You could be the greatest level designer on Earth and could work at a studio on a game for 1 year and a half and during that time the tools would only start to work properly 3 months before realeasing the game. Such situation would make it difficult for a level designer to master his craft. On top of that, the level designer might work with casual leads and producers and they will ask him to make changes to his level that to his eyes would essentially break the level. Etc. All that stuff prevents the level designer from getting better at his job and increase his value over time.

    A solid 3D artist might be able to create some freaking amazing highly detailed environments, maybe that is what he/she likes to do the most or was taught to do, but then that same artist is going to work on games and create environments at a much lower level of quality. And to me that`s similar to a fighter who instead trains like a weight lifter; wrong training program. There is a big difference between being a solid 3D artist and being a solid game artist or production artist. Game studios also are changing, mindsets are changing, etc. It`s a bit of a mess.

    Also, students aren't really taught soft skills in school. And I think 3d artists too should be forced in school to learn how to program, how to create custom scripts in Modo, Max or Maya. Break that barrier of "but I don't know how to code". Programming us so useful, it should become a basic skill. Not something almost exclusive to programmers or tech artists.

    I`m sure we`ll get there at some point, but it`s going to take time before we get some decent school programs. Meanwhile, it`s maybe better to be self-taught and learn from the internet. It`s all there. But I can understand that some people have to deal with family members, make plans and that some people absolutely believe in the old school concept ''you need the get the paper''.
  • tsabszy
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    tsabszy polycounter lvl 6
    really great read! 
  • TudorMorris
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    TudorMorris keyframe
    Great article here, I couldn't agree more. I think this is actually a problem in the wider creative fields as well (not just in game courses).

    My undergrad is in Illustration (which is another story we'll not get into now), and I left that believing that my work was up to a good standard. I was living in that vacuum that you refer to. How wrong I was!

    I took the decision in April last year to really knuckle down and concentrate on building myself up as an artist. I had been out of uni for long enough to have enough 'world wariness' about the industry. Rather paradoxically it would seem, I actually made choice to go back into formal education (I'm currently on an MA in Games Art), however, I am in this time with a *very* clear view of what I want out of it, and what work needs to be done to get there. I am now very aware of the high standards the industry sets, something I was ignorant of when doing my BA.

    In my view there is a huge gap when it comes to getting a traditional art education and doing the fundamentals properly. These facilities (such as life drawing) are optional, and seen as such by the students. In my view it should be mandatory. The fundamentals of drawing weren't even taught on my BA in Illustration (how on earth that makes sense I have no idea), and were instead passed over in favour of wishy washy critiques about the 'feeling' of an image. I understand that conveying emotive messages in Illustration is a big part of the job, but I think you should have the tools (perspective, anatomy etc) to be able to use them if you need to.

    I suspect that @almighty_gir might like this article as well...
  • kaiceps
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    kaiceps vertex
    Nice read! I also agree with the points on the article and in this thread.   

    My course taught a lot of on using the software but very few on the fundamentals.  Learning the fundamentals should be the number one priority since it is a core skill for being an artist. Super important for portfolio pieces. Some students did study the fundamentals in their own free time and that made their work stand out against all the others.

    During my course we had a lot of free time. I chose a lot of that time to study and improve myself. The teachers did tell us to keep improving and doing personal work but the vast majority of students have no idea how much self study outside the course is needed to to get a dream job. Everyone just assumes they will break into the industry with no work outside the course.



  • beccatherose
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    beccatherose greentooth
    I don't currently have the time respond to all of you, but thank you to all for sharing your stories and perspectives. I really appreciate folks being a part of this conversation!
    The majority of responses that I've heard (here and otherwise) certainly affirm the seemingly nationwide systemic issues within game design college programs. So many issues are dealt with in the vast majority of colleges, but with some resources and time, I think a lot of them can have solutions. As a few quick responses:
    Kyetja said:
    ...but as student you need to be critical about both your university and yourself. It's vital that you choose an education that has a great environment and teachers, a place were people will allow your skills to flourish using mentoring and critique. For example universities without project samples or short descriptions of the professors teaching is a no-go.
    Heck yes, I think a quick way for students that are looking at a college can get a bit of a grasp on the quality of it is to visit and see what's on the walls. Schools that have content to show off will do so because it works. If you can't find quality work coming out of the program, that's a major red flag.
    There is also a disconnection between what it takes to be a solid level designer or artists VS the reality of working on game production. 
    ...
    Also, students aren't really taught soft skills in school. And I think 3d artists too should be forced in school to learn how to program, how to create custom scripts in Modo, Max or Maya. Break that barrier of "but I don't know how to code". Programming us so useful, it should become a basic skill. Not something almost exclusive to programmers or tech artists.

    I`m sure we`ll get there at some point, but it`s going to take time before we get some decent school programs. Meanwhile, it`s maybe better to be self-taught and learn from the internet. It`s all there. But I can understand that some people have to deal with family members, make plans and that some people absolutely believe in the old school concept ''you need the get the paper''.
    Absolutely to all of this. And for that last point, honestly, it's true. You can learn all of these skills online for sure...but being in a school setting provides valuable networking and soft skill-learning opportunities. There are pros and cons for all options.

    My undergrad is in Illustration (which is another story we'll not get into now), and I left that believing that my work was up to a good standard. I was living in that vacuum that you refer to. How wrong I was!
    ...
    In my view there is a huge gap when it comes to getting a traditional art education and doing the fundamentals properly. These facilities (such as life drawing) are optional, and seen as such by the students. In my view it should be mandatory. 
    Props for pushing through and continuing to work on your craft. It's REALLY hard to leave that vacuum and then deal with that emotional fallout, so I feel you. And heck yes to it being mandatory, and also to have it early-on in the program. It creates a base for students to build off of.
    kaiceps said:
    My course taught a lot of on using the software but very few on the fundamentals.  Learning the fundamentals should be the number one priority since it is a core skill for being an artist. Super important for portfolio pieces. Some students did study the fundamentals in their own free time and that made their work stand out against all the others.

    During my course we had a lot of free time. I chose a lot of that time to study and improve myself. The teachers did tell us to keep improving and doing personal work but the vast majority of students have no idea how much self study outside the course is needed to to get a dream job. Everyone just assumes they will break into the industry with no work outside the course.
    It's so nice to hear more people calling for fundamentals...always. ALWAYS MORE FUNDAMENTALS.
    And for sure- it takes SO much outside and personal work in order to be good enough for just entry level jobs. It can't be stressed enough.
  • Tidal Blast
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    Tidal Blast polycounter lvl 3
    I`d like to add that ``networking`` and being ``the best at doing something`` are a bit overrated. To work in a game studio or in the video games industry isn`t too different from high school. You`ll find groups of friend or long time colleagues, etc. I`ve seen people who went to college together and they more or less helped each other to promote each others to director, assistant director or else. You`ll see a new guy who never did any overtime for the company, the producer will like him and 6 months later he`ll be promoted to lead for god knows why when 10 other employees deserved the spot a hell lot more. There is a lot of that in the video games industry, it`s not just about how good or professional you are. And yes, that might prevent many from being promoted to higher positions even if they are far more qualified to do the work.

    Is it a good thing, is it a bad thing? Well, I`ll let you be the judge of that. Just stay cool, stay friendly and don't burn bridges.
    And even if you do everything right, you might still end up burning bridges anyway. Shit happens.
  • littleclaude
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    littleclaude polycounter lvl 8

    Really interesting reading, thanks for taking the time to write it. 

    This website has lots of resources for a starting point for students on games related courses.

    Real life stories

    About the games industry

    Ways into the games industry

    Job roles

    Useful links

  • Amsterdam Hilton Hotel
    Couldn't agree more with the article. The placement rates for some of these programs are shockingly low. Charging what they do for them is degenerate. 
  • Ruflse
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    Ruflse triangle
    I don't know first hand that kind of college degrees, but after assisting to a 3D and game development vocational training course of two years (I think that would be the equivalent in english) for month and a half, I can really agree that there's a lot of disconection between most of these places and videogames as a medium, and if it's not teached by a big institution or in some big city it's probably worse.

    I've already made (and deleted due to shame) a post telling some of my experience, but if it helps I can say that among twenty three - twenty four students in the class I don't think more than one person apart from me had touched any 3D or videogame related software before entering the course, and that person was someone that already worked as a modeller. The person teaching modelling was some woman with the skills of a 3-4 month user that read Maya starter's guide and showing that her knowing about videogames was practically zero, but almost no one even knew what a render was, so yeah. When she opened a standard character model she downloaded everyone was amazed and started to exclaim how good you have to be to create something like that, like discharging themselves from any kind of responsability to improve like saying "nah, that's too professional; mediocrity it's all I can achieve".

    I think right now there are a lot of problems with any videogame related studies, but the biggest one is that acceptance of mediocrity due to the ignorance of a lot of students and teachers and the appreciation for empty words that could be used to teach something, because it sounds more beatiful repeating again and again "we are going to make a videogame" that actually trying to do it right now and asking something out of it. In my course texturing and ilumination wasn't supossed to be touched until the second year, so you can imagine how much is asked of any student.

    Also, why is there so much preocupation about finding a job related to videogames? That's the first thing I've heard from every class and every person in my school: "I want to be a modeller, I want to be animator"... but almost every person that says that hasn't made any move before entering a college or any school, and they could have. That mentality about landing a career I also think is a problem, because it makes you more centered about finding that dream job than making that thing you supposedly want to do. I personally wouldn't even care that much working as a pizza deliver guy if I have enough time and money to improve myself in what I want to and can stand the work. Blinding people with a big "there's job here" poster I don't think will really help to improve any skills.

    And I wouldn't join a degree to get another student's feedback related to modelling, animation or videogames. Between a classroom of 30 people that maybe joined that class because they had to study something and "they like videogames, so let's study videogames" and a whole world behind a screen where you can find professionals pasionated about what they do and eager to help others to improve (which I love PC for; reading some random thread where you see someone letting his ass off to help another user is amazing), I prefer the second option. Also, you wont probably like or talk to all your schoolfellows, and in the end the only critique about your work that matters is yours, and there's a lot of ways of improving that.

    I'll be joining an online master degree in some months, so I'm not saying that having any kind of guide is bad, but this is probably one of the best mediums if you want to get self-teached before getting taked by some, more or less, linear path, and I don't think that will ever change.
  • AtticusMars
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    AtticusMars greentooth
    Nothing to add, just thought I should point out that your twitter link in the first post doesn't work
  • beccatherose
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    beccatherose greentooth
    Nothing to add, just thought I should point out that your twitter link in the first post doesn't work
    Thanks for pointing that out, it should be fixed now :)
  • Elithenia
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    Elithenia greentooth
    Great article highlighting a lot of good points!
    Thank you for sharing!

    I've gone through a computing degree first, with a buildup of a Master in Games Art. Having felt that I missed out on a few of these in both of the degrees, I'm seeking to remedy that on my own now after uni..
  • trezzinator
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    trezzinator polycounter lvl 4
    Yeah, absolutely, this is all bang-on!
    I'm the game student that the game design college programs want you to hear about-- I graduated from my program on the Dean's List, started an internship at an AAA 2 months after that (NetherRealm too!), then got a full-time offer from another AAA 3 months after it ended. However, like you, I had almost a decade of corporate graphic design experience, and during school I worked so f****ing hard i bled out my eyesockets. Notably, out of my graduating class of 60 people, I think 2 of us have full-time positions in the industry currently.
    I personally would like to see game design programs be more rigorous about expectations, including screening applicants, appropriately disciplining underperformers, and establishing that "my only real interest in life is playing video games" is not a qualification to become a developer, just a way to put yourself in five figures of student loan debt. 
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