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  • Bridge Building: Making the People That Make the Games

    [04.10.07]
    - Erik Pederson
  •  So, as post secondary educators, what are we really facing? Add to that we are teaching things that do the proverbial "180" on "formal" educational models, explore arenas that are little traveled by even the bravest of program directors, and all along deal with tightening budgets and constant cost cutting. Are you raising your hand yet? This paper will explore an educational model that can be used to build workers that will survive and flourish in the video game development industry. It will cover areas such as curriculum, faculty, consultants, and most importantly, the graduates.

    Our task is most daunting, and very difficult to even pick a good starting point. As all of us are intimately familiar with, schools teaching students how to be game developers are now found in almost every state. With the promise of teaching the skills that will get little Billy into the games industry, comes a seemingly endless flow of over eager and unskilled, hungry for the quick education to get them on their path to developing the next God of War.

    Develop this.

    Development of an educational plan and program that focuses on what the industry will require of the graduates is the key to any sort of long term success. To be successful, and not just a flash in the pan, interdepartmental communication is key. Most facilities begin by separating the key disciplines required to be in harmony for highly successful programs. The separation gives the school the ability to cut an unsuccessful program if not intertwined with other successful programs. Adding to this, interdepartmental goals for placement, retention, and enrollments are often very different, making it tougher to find a common ground to even begin the battle. Survival and growth depends upon an institution's ability to respond and adapt to what is demanded of its graduates.

    Career Services Departments

    Development of a communication thread between academics and the placement or career services departments is one of the most essential links that can be made for institutions based on raw results and numbers. This link is most desirable because without the knowledge of what and how things are being accomplished in the classrooms, how effective can the overall placement initives be for the graduates?

    This communication will need to take several forms to be effective. The first and most basic is to effectively communicate using a set of terminology that is understood by all. As an example, how will the specialist at the school that is responsible or the "placement" of the student discuss proper skill sets or talents if they are not familiar? In my experience, the typical AAA developer does not want to work with this department or office. Instead they seek the technical connection with the program director or faculty to gauge the graduate's talent level. In these cases, although all good intentions are present, the college will come off as not understanding the requirements of the video games industry, potentially driving the students and overall the program down to a standard of mediocrity that begs for more.

    Finding the common ground for terminology is the first step to putting everyone on the same page, reducing the concept of misinformation that typically plagues both internal and external relationships.

    In addition to the terminology, the placement people need to understand the basic workings of the program. Post secondary education is beginning to realize that the people who are exploring the job market need to understand the job market. Realistically, how many of us have got into the industry by simply reading about it? The overall goal of these departments quite literally needs to take a hard look into the functioning of the industry by sending people to major high level conferences and high powered presentations.

    Examples of these educational events include attending the career pavilion at the GDC Career Expo. At an event like this, career service personnel gain very valuable insight as to the inter workings of different game developers. The focus at these is networking by letting everyone and their friends know how "our" program is setting a higher bar. Or more importantly, what sets us apart from every other institution of higher learning? This is accomplished by impressing the developers by being able to communicate on a common level. This relationship, if properly controlled, between educational career services and human resources, is an excellent avenue for getting potential job leads... After the leads, the placement departments then must pass the lion's share of the burden (getting hired) upon the individual graduates. If the academic department has done a great job (remember the bar is incredibly high in this environment), the graduates could get hired.

    I have seen game development programs across the country that struggle with the connection all through the process. In every case it is because the links between departments at the educational facility do not understand the importance, or have resources to deal with the current trend. Designating someone to further community ties within the office gives the students, administration, and the faculty a "go-to" place for contacts and references. This is what the industry desires, someone who understands the skills needed, and finds appropriate candidates based upon the industry's expectations, not the expectations of the institution.

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