As with any industry, knowing the probable demands and expectations of future employers in the games industry is one of the keys to getting a worthwhile job. As someone looking to start work in the industry, there are undoubtedly a number of questions that spring to mind on this topic: would a qualification from a regular school, or a game specific school give me a better chance of landing a job with a top company? What are my chances of getting a job in the industry right after attaining a qualification? What qualifications will I need to work as an artist or programmer, and what is required more so in the industry right now? And what should I expect when applying for my first position, and what expectations will my prospective employers have of me?
This article aims to answer those questions, with the help of three people currently working in recruitment within the industry. Colleen McCreary is the Director of University Relations with EA, Angela Baker is in charge of staffing at Insomniac Games, and Heidi Lese - who answered our questions with help from senior recruiters Michael Nichols and Andrea Courtie - is Head of Recruitment at THQ, Inc.
Schooling and Qualifications
Though the majority of gaming-specific schools have only been relatively recently established - or, at least, only recently accredited to award degrees - there's no doubting their growing popularity. The Computer Research Association revealed in 2005 that intended enrolment into more "traditional" computer science degrees by incoming students had fallen by 60% from 2000 to 2004. While Computer Science isn't exactly a games-industry specific degree to begin with, and the statistics are far from an indication that the enrolment is transferring to game specific degrees, the organization did point to the growing popularity of other options for students looking to study in the field as a probable reason for this decline.
Additionally, of course, there are no figures stating exactly how many arts students are viewing their degree as an entry-point into the games industry. However, all gaming specific institutions offer courses in arts and design, which allows for a more focused learning outcome.
McCreary notes that she feels "not all students are suited for the traditional academic experience and it's nice for those students to have options," though adds that EA encourages students "to pursue more traditional academic degrees that allow for an emphasis on game development."
"Our concern with for-profit institutions is that students may not learn the fundamental the tools for understanding and solving complex issues," she says. "We are most likely to hire someone who has a BFA or MFA from a traditional art college and a BS, MS, or PhD in Computer Science for our entry level artist and software engineer positions."
On the other hand, Baker comments that although "the idea of ‘Game Schools' is still a relatively new aspect to the industry" which leaves the answer to whether they provide enough relevant experience a little "unclear" she feels that "schools like Guildhall [at SMU] and Full Sail have merit."
"I love the idea that a recent graduate of one of these programs would be so well equipped and ready to roll; that it would impact the learning curve that affects every new hire. We are certainly optimistic about all of these possibilities," she notes. "Guildhall and Full Sail have certainly exposed students to the concept of the production cycle, and offer applicable knowledge - for entry level positions. Schools like Gnomon also offer training for entry into the video game industry."
"It is also interesting to note that many ‘mainstream' educational institutions are adding game influenced courses into their academic programs," Baker adds. "It is not uncommon to hear of games courses being added to more traditional Computer Science or Art majors."
Lese believes that the level of relevant experience available from game-specific courses "will always be evolving," adding that "the more closely the game schools partner with industry companies, the more relevant the academic experience will be."