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3 Reasons to not get a Video Gaming Degree

The Australian has published an article, expressing a concern at rush to study for degrees in computer games. You know there are problems when academics are “terrified” over the popularity of their own courses, which is just the case with Queensland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Games and Interactive Entertainment.

The head of the campus’s IT faculty fears students have been misled by a catchy course title.

“One of our terrible fears is that we’re going to have this cohort of students who imagine that they’re going to be allowed to play games 50 hours a week for three years and then be handed a degree,” the dean of information technology, Simon Kaplan, said.

There are quite a few reasons to not get a video gaming degree. (Some of the points are supplemented with comments from the Digg discussion of the article.)

1. You are not going to play games 50 hours a week.

It’s true. Video games at University are no more about playing games, than Mechanical Engineering is about riding a bike. 50 hours a week of gaming is a full-time QA job – the lowest entry point of the industry.

“If you dont understand what game design involves, you shouldn’t enroll for courses. Not saying you need to know the programming or anything, but just understanding that it does involve alot of hard work, programming, art work etc. (depending on what position you want to work on)”

2. Too much unnecessary competition.

More than 700 people applied for the 163 places on the QUT degree, which added to a growing list of computer games courses on offer from universities. This year recorded its highest growth in first preferences for a BA in games and interactivity, increasing by 128 per cent.

It is going to be artificially difficult and expensive. Make sure this is what you want to pursue.

“I got a Game Dev degree and I work in the industry. But I didn’t just jump into it, I spent a year and a half as a regular code monkey. You have to have a passion for the hard work that goes into creating a game. Its not just a walk in the park. Its just as hard as a regular Comp-Sci degree except you spend a lot of time working with more specific libraries and technologies. When I started my degree there were over 100 when I walked the stage there were only 5 left. People need to stop and research these careers before they go to school for them. That would definitely reduce the amount of time wasted in college trying to decide on a major.

3. Wrong direction.

It seems that the academics are a step behind the industry, and are now doing things backwards.

Companies have gone from employing five staff five years ago to employing up to 70 or 80 people.

Five years ago, a degree in “Games and Interactive Entertainment” would give you a broad skill set, making you the star of a five person team. You can program, you can draw, you can animate and write a compelling story. Amazing! The problem is that today, a 80 person team means that there are 20 specialists for each one of your four available skills. Suddently you’ll realize that a “games” degree doesn’t offer as much media experience as an Arts Degree, and you haven’t learned as much about computer programming as you would have in Computer Science.

This makes for a tricky situation: you will be the best suited candidate, until a project team is sufficiently large to have a dedicated position for each aspect of game development. Now the appeal of a video game degree is rapidly deteriorating. The critical point is somewhere just above the low-budget games.

“Here at UCSC, they introduced game design as a major this year. Comparing the requirements to a computer science degree shows some major flaws in the Game degree. The game degree requires many courses outside of the discipline such as theater and art, which is good. However, it does this at the cost of core classes in math and algorithms. Classes such as vector calculus and discreet math, as well as algorithms and hardware. The classes remain a part of the degree, but move to optional. With the courses required, one really doesn’t seem to be that qualified for a real programming job.”

Still interested?

A video game degree could actually place you in an excellent position if there is enough flexibility, you know exactly what you are doing, and with a bit of luck. The above mentioned 80 person team means that there are 80 highly specialized positions to fill – AI programmer, Physics engine programmer, Special effects, Animation, Art. It is a fine gradient of opportunities between technical and artistic fields. Taking the right courses and options during the video game education will land you in that sweet spot right in between. The key point to realize here is that you will be aiming for a very specialized position, with perhaps one opening per large, commercial project.

Personally, I would just go for Computer Science. Thoughts? Leave a comment!

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  1. Posted by cbright | January 31, 2007, 12:23 am

    Apparently Algoma U is offering a master’s in computer games, the first in North America.

    BTW: You might as well call it Tony’s drivel on programming and video games. >_>

    Reply to comment

  2. Posted by Tony | January 31, 2007, 2:57 am

    “You can graduate in 12 months from this program with a Masters degree, a strong programming portfolio and game prototype that will give you the edge when competing for the best jobs in the games industry.”

    A masters degree, but you don’t even have to finish making a game? I doubt that competitive edge

    Heh, I promise to write about something other than video games next ;)

    Reply to comment

  3. Posted by Doug | February 6, 2007, 9:22 am

    I agree that most students probably go into these game dev programs not really understanding the tremendous amount of work involved.

    But it does prepare you for developing games better than a traditional CS degree. And there are and always will be smaller game development companies and teams.

    The larger problem is that colleges don’t know how to teach in a way that is effective and engaging. Most people drop out or else pass courses without any real understanding. Things like offering media computation courses, game dev degrees and so forth are in reaction to how unsuccessful CS degree instruction has been.

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  4. Posted by Bryan | February 6, 2007, 12:24 pm

    I teach a software development course to High School students here in Texas and the one thing I hear every year is just how much work it takes to build even a poor video game. Most of my students start out with dreams of making the next Halo or WoW and by the end of 5 months work they can’t get away from game programming fast enough. I do get a lot of interest in data base, networking, graphic design, AI, and none game projects for the 3rd year students though. This reality slapping them in the head – “Games are Hard and Work”, has helped more then a few decided a degree in Comp Sci or EE is what they really what to do.

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  5. Posted by Tony | February 6, 2007, 2:33 pm

    @Doug – yes, a game development degree does have some advantages over a traditional Computer Science, but once again – in select cases. Yes, there will always be many smaller companies, teams, and the entire indy games movement. Though as Bryan points out – students start out with dreams of making the next Halo or World of Warcraft, massive projects. With such aspirations, I think a CS degree with a minor or an option in game programming would be a better fit.

    @Bryan – this snap back into reality is good. Going into CS or EE, knowing they are interested in data base, networking, graphic design, or AI has got to make for a better student than “so I’ve made a pong in highschool… I guess it was pretty good” idea that a few seem to have. I congratulate you for letting some of your students discover their interests.

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  6. Posted by Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson | February 6, 2007, 3:52 pm

    Do you REALLY want a degree in Game Development?…

    Now I love programming games. I think that game deveopment is fun, interesting and a great learning experience….

  7. Posted by Jackson | February 6, 2007, 10:44 pm

    “More than 700 people applied for the 163 places on the QUT degree, which added to a growing list of computer games courses on offer from universities. This year recorded its highest growth in first preferences for a BA in games and interactivity, increasing by 128 per cent. ”

    I’m one of those 163 people, and I thought that there would only be 100 people applying for it. Looks like I’ll have to do good otherwise they might kick me out lol.

    Reply to comment

  8. Posted by John N Sutherland | March 22, 2007, 3:58 am

    Time to fess up … I wrote the world’s first named video games degrees back in the mid ’90’s. As I myself have two degrees in Computing Science from the mediaeval universities of Glasgow and St Andrews (actually, the St Andrews degree is in Computational Science), I’d like to correct a misunderstanding. Games programming degrees are *not* Computing Science degrees; they are Software Engineering degrees.

    I’m sure ‘Tony’ understand the difference, but for other readers CS is about the fundemantal principles of the discipline, while SE is about creating working products, over long timescales, with large teams, significant budgets, and creating complex products. CS is, let’s be honest, all too often about bubble sorts, dining philosophers and Hanoi’s legendary three towers. I even remember a CS textbook that had just one example in it of a linked list: it was a single entry list which pointed at itself!

    It is no surprise that in a field as rapidly evolving as Computing, students are opting, in the UK anyway, no longer to study the esoterics of CS but insetad are taking SE type degrees in such as video games creation.

    Why is there such a thing as a video games degree? Well, its a long story, but hold on and I’ll tell you. I come from a background as a virtual researcher at Gifu University in Japan. We did VR on PC’s in the mid ’90’s. My former students included one Dave Jones, designer of Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto. His company and industry hit a problem: games went 3D. Put quite simply: CS graduates lacked enough understanding and skills to create 3D games. This remains the case of CS graduates.

    The video games industry in the UK validates degrees as producing graduates who are skilled to create these complex pseudo-physics-VR-with-fun-added products. The one here at The University of Paisley is one of only two in the UK that they say has the right content. No CS degrees even come close, even from ‘top’ UK universities.

    I suppose I’ll leave the lasty word to an old CS professor buddy of mine, nameless but perhaps Scotland’s leading CS person. he said, ‘that games degree of yours is just an old fashioned sofwtare engineering degree: full of programming and mathematics’. he also said, ‘You’re stealing all my best students.’

    Perhaps this last comment is the real reason for CS people griping about the new, popular, tough and employment-driven software engineering degrees in video games creation?

    Reply to comment

  9. Posted by Tony | March 22, 2007, 1:59 pm

    Thank you for your insight John. And you are right, computer game programming is not computer science. I would think that specialized software engineering would be a much closer match.

    The entire computer education is a gradient of disciplines. Computer Science and Software Engineering are closely related, but there’s also Math Theory on one side (closer to CS) and Computer Engineering on the other (SE). Even further we get Electrical Engineering, but that comes in play only for gaming hardware design ;) Being able to major in one discipline, while minoring in another makes for a smooth transition between options.

    Yes, Computer Science is on the theoretical side of things, and Software Engineering has more practical application. I suppose the rapid growth of available hardware power deteriorates the importance of optimized “bubble sorts”… though I would think efficient code is still nice to have.

    For the bottom line: would I complain about best students choosing to go for a game development degree? Absolutely not. Though I do have a problem with mediocre students signing up for those tough programs, with demands beyond that of computer science, expecting an easy pass playing games. Those 5% graduation rates are a harsh reality.

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  10. Posted by Tosh | April 17, 2007, 12:06 am

    I am taking a gaming degree @ Full Sail right now in Florida and holy shit I did not think it’d be this hard, I do love it a lot though and I am adapting but it ain’t easy…I am working on Game Designing I came up with this wicked idea, my teachers loved it. Any you guys know anyone going or went to Fullsail?

    Reply to comment

    maria patricia replied on: October 20th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    my son wants to study at full sail but this is too expensive for me.
    by any chance do you know a public university that he can study video game designer?
    thank you

    Reply to comment

  11. Posted by Ry | May 1, 2007, 3:54 pm

    Well i have just decided to take a gaming course here in Toronto Canada. I will be starting it in July. My main reason for getting into it is because i want to work on the sound aspect of the games, i want to do the sound effects and music parts of the game, Am i making the right choice taking this course? I have some knowledge already in sound engineering and i did not want to take that course because i’ve had friends who have takin that and said it was a waste of money, most of the stuff they already knew and i’m about on the same level as them, so what do you guys recommend doing? I really want to make a carrer out of this but it seems like i wont be able to get a job with a developing company unless i have a degree in one of these subjects, i decided to go with the gaming degree so i could learn more about the other aspects of gaming development but my math is pretty bad so i dont think i would be that good at programming.

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  12. Posted by John N Sutherland | May 2, 2007, 6:37 am

    Sound is a complex and obscure corner of games programming. Games programming degrees are primarily concerned with teaching you to create 3D graphics environments with ‘fun’ added. They teach you programme very well, that is true, but not specifically sound programming. On the other hand, if you wanted to create sound and music for games then its much the same as doing so for other creative industries: TV, movies, animations, etc. There are lots of technical audio and music degree studies out there.

    So, the degree will only suit you if you are clear what you want to learn, and that’s what it will teach you.

    John S.

    Reply to comment

  13. Posted by Tony | May 2, 2007, 8:17 am

    Thank you for replying to Ry, John. I don’t have much to say about the sound. Your point is well made – video game degrees are about game projects as a whole, with lots of math, programming, and graphics. Sound and music, while vital to good presentation, are a minor part.

    I can’t really think of a “game specific” sounds or music that can be studied about, unique from that of other industries as John has mentioned.

    Reply to comment

  14. Posted by Matt | August 11, 2007, 7:05 pm

    My question is, why would one want such a job? Perhaps it is just that I wouldn’t…

    Reply to comment

  15. Posted by Tony | August 11, 2007, 7:59 pm

    Matt – some are simply really into video games and video game development. It’s just important to get into this field for the right reasons, not the wrong assumption that it’s all fun and games. So yeah, it’s not for everyone ;)

    Reply to comment

  16. Posted by Chino yray | September 11, 2007, 9:49 am

    I would just prefer designing the characters in the game than coding the game.

    Reply to comment

  17. Posted by Joel | October 23, 2007, 12:16 pm

    I’ve been playing games now for going on 23 years. (yes, my first computer was a Timex Sinclair 1000, beat that) And in all those years i’ve always wished for better ideas, certain twists, gaps to be filled in the game genre’s that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve dabbled with game development on my own over these years, side projects while I’ve worked in a regular high-tech computer/electronics career field. DirectX, Torque, Game Design Studio, DarkBASIC, I’ve even drooled over CryEngine 2. When I looked into finishing my B.S. in computer science, someone peaked my interested into how I felt about game or simulation design and I was all ears. I’m starting Devry University’s Game and Simulation Design B.S. program the end of this month now, and I’m very excited. I’m anxious for the hard work and long hours of tearing deep into my brain to finally make all these ideas and concepts work, and certainly sell. All the years of casual experience I’ve gained just from the interest of wanting to find the games I could never quiet find that I’ve always wanted; I can now put down on paper, formulate, and focus on to final projects. I’m anxious for the math and the science know-how to design the engine’s that run these record breaking sales products that rival Hollywood. If I don’t get hired on with some software developing company right away, I’ll publish my own products and still make money while enjoying what I’ve enjoyed practically my entire life; finding those games I’ve never quiet found on the shelf. And I know for a fact I’m not alone. If the game or simulation industry fizzels on my way in in a couple of years (transfering past credits into a 4 year B.S., I should finish in 2.8 years doing 12 hour semesters) then I’ll just apply these credits to a traditional Computer Science of Software Engineering degree and get back into regular technical fields. There’s around a 20 hour difference between the degree’s, and I can take that extra year and become even more well-rounded if the market demands. But I will pursue what I enjoy to do the most first.

    Hope this helps someone.

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  18. Posted by John Moss | November 5, 2007, 7:11 pm

    It’s all how you design the courses. Our Degrees have been running for five years and we have been able to get the mix right. But then its the main degree we offer – unlike universites that try to offer everything. These days you need a specialist degree not a general degree – or a general degree trying to look like a specialist degree.

    Our students perform very well in the industry and even though the industry can be quite tough and competitive – for those people who have a passion for games – it is the only place to be!

    Reply to comment

  19. Posted by Steve | September 13, 2008, 8:06 pm

    I am very curious if anyone knows where a 10 year old without programming experience but lots of computer skills and addiction to sim-type games that involve some creative-aspects might find a course for an introduction into game creation? In silicon valley there are 2-5 day camps for kids with just this end to end aspect.

    If you dont know a course – how about suggesting tools, books or other approaches?

    Thanks -

    Reply to comment

  20. Posted by koby | March 4, 2009, 5:47 pm

    i would like to be able to make my own games entirely my own. i don’t really wan to make other peoples games. i jut want to get my creative ideas out there and maybe even get to have one of my games make it big. whats your take on this. do you have any insight.

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: March 19th, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Do it.

    Look around the indie game dev scene, and get started; there are plenty of tools out there to get you off the ground. XNA is the first that comes to mind.

    Concentrate on telling your story, and making the game the way you want to. If it’s any good, people will play it.

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  21. Posted by Braxton Jerrell | December 8, 2009, 1:53 pm

    Ive been playin video games since I was 7 starting with the original nintendo. Im 19 now and in college working towards the gaming industry. I love writing and I enjoy making the story of some fantastic place or setting and going through it. Im not very good at math but I love playing vdeo games, its a HUGE passion of mine but im not sure what exactly I can do in the industry if I was ever able to get in. Im good at writing and coming up with fantasy ideas but I have poor math skills at best. Do you have any insight you can give me to help or advice? It would be greatly appreciated. Thanx

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: December 10th, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    There are a lot of different positions involved in making a video game happen. Someone has to write a story, draw the concept art, create all the media used in a game. There’s more than just writing code. Pick out a few large game dev studios, and keep an eye out for the kind of people that work there, and what kind of job postings go up on their websites.

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