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Education

Video game degrees need to require Math

BBC News UK has recently published an article — Skills shortage hits games firms, on which I wanted to reflect. The premise is simple — the video game industry is struggling to find the type of talent they desire.

xbox 360 wireless controller buttons
Original image by louder

The games developers say that they are struggling to find in the UK the kind of high-powered mathematicians and computer scientists that they need to build increasingly sophisticated products.

The statement comes along the fact that there are 81 video game degree courses available in the UK. This increasingly popular field is not without setbacks though.

At Northumbria University, which offers a degree course in Computer Games Engineering, staff say that prospective students are often put off by the requirement for Maths A-Level.

Clayton has already written an introduction to the importance of Math in video game development, though it seems that many might be trying to capitalize on the trend by opening up programs that are more available (read “dropping the badly needed requirements”). The result is that only 4 of the 81 courses are accredited by the Skillset, the industry and government joined effort to monitor the quality of creative media in the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, the article also states that:

The games industry claims that Canadian government support has allowed it to flourish, and thousands of jobs are moving from Britain to Canada.

That is good for us, here in Canada, but as I see a growing trend of “video game degrees” starting to pop up locally, I can’t help but to think that we might be heading towards the same fate. That’s not to say that some of the programs are not good, but the overall educational system is still a potential minefield. Make sure you are learning what you need to learn.

minesweeper

That is to say, you need strong Math. More so for development than design or testing, so make sure to research the programs. Though until Canada gets its own group to set the baseline and accredit the video game education programs, one is likely just better offer pursuing a classical Computer Science degree with strategically chosen electives.

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Discussion

  1. Posted by Lee Winder | June 23, 2008, 9:51 am

    It’s not just maths that these courses need to contain, but other (what we would see as basic) skills such as programming in C++ and the larger scale issues of developing complex projects in a team based environment.

    People should be wary not only of the entrance requirements that these degrees ask for, but what they give you when you leave and how that relates to the industry they want to work in.

    I wrote an article titled “C# and XNA – Are Universities Teaching The Wrong Things?” on what I see to be one of the main problems a majority of these game degree courses have, especially in the UK, when faced with what the industry actually requires of new graduates.

    Reply to comment

  2. Posted by Tony | June 23, 2008, 11:03 am

    @Lee — you are absolutely right, there are a lot of the basics being cut out. Though I’d think that most of those basics rely on Math, at least to some degree. Even if C was used as the language of instruction, it’s still just the syntax. One needs algorithms, design, data-structures, etc. All of that is still required, regardless of the language and development framework… It’s just that things like XNA allow one to get away with crappier code resulting in a “better looking” (at least graphically) demo.

    Though I know that you know all of that already. Your article is quite spot on, on what XNA might be doing in schools.

    Reply to comment

  3. Posted by Mark | June 23, 2008, 9:02 pm

    That’s very interesting information. It makes sense though. Programming requires at least some math.

    Reply to comment

  4. Posted by Matthew | June 25, 2008, 1:41 am

    I’m very interested in getting a job as a programmer for a games company. I’m doing my best to teach myself things, but once I get to college I’ll be doing a ‘games programming’ concentration inside of computer science – and I hope that will be adequate. I’ll have to work hard though.

    Reply to comment

  5. Posted by Chris | June 25, 2008, 6:19 pm

    I live in the UK and when I went into 6th form I chose Maths as an A-Level because I wanted to keep my options open and maybe go into the gaming industry. But then I looked into it and found that there are so many students failing to get work in the industry because there are so many people wanting the same jobs. I think it would have been a great industry to go into but I just wasn’t good enough at Maths and quit after the first year.

    Reply to comment

  6. Posted by VFMF | June 26, 2008, 4:36 am

    The problem with mathematics is that it has a bad name. People fear maths. We will need to change that image if we want to attract more qualified game designers, computer scientists, etc.

    Reply to comment

  7. Posted by Tony | June 26, 2008, 7:13 pm

    People in Computer Science like Math. Well, they have to, in a way that it’s rigorously required.

    A distinction must be made between people who fear Math because it’s difficult for them; and people who are capable of Math, yet are turned away for one reason or another. We need to attract the latter, capable students, but make it clear that it’s tough work for the former group. There’s no point in painting an attractive picture, leading students to failure.

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  8. Posted by Michel Rosinski | June 27, 2008, 4:31 am

    Sure Programming requires at least some math but much more Importent is the way of Thinking and this way is near the the way of thinking you need for math…

    Reply to comment

  9. Posted by syntax_error | June 27, 2008, 10:53 am

    @VFMF: mathematics, has a bad name only to those who are horrible at it, the same goes for any other subject, as wiktionary puts it ” Extreme veneration or awe, as toward a supreme being or deity” that “supreme being” [per se] is a personal choice to make it what you wish; if you really must math math into the popular image stunts like this wont really work: http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=P9dpTTpjymE You will only get those type of workers, from sheer choice of the person, and will power to reach the level he/she feels is enough. Its a more person choice then making the artificial attraction to achieve.

    Reply to comment

  10. Posted by Keyd | June 30, 2008, 6:26 am

    Of course, you need math!
    It is the basis of every development project! You need it in a planning, in a development, in sales. You can do nothing without it…

    Reply to comment

  11. Posted by GiFight | July 1, 2008, 6:16 pm

    if you don’t know mathematics you can’t do anything , not only programing.

    Reply to comment

  12. Posted by Bradley Moore | July 2, 2008, 10:01 am

    It makes sense, game programmers need good math skills! Really, any form of programming requires math, complex algorithms are everywhere. Also if you are good at figuring out math problems then there is a change you will be able to figure out situations in game development, therefor speeding up the process.

    Reply to comment

  13. Posted by MIke Johnston | July 2, 2008, 10:13 am

    If there are so many jobs out there that require these skills why are they so hard to find is my question.. I’m very solid at math and would love to work for a video game developer..

    Reply to comment

  14. Posted by Tony | July 3, 2008, 1:35 am

    It is very hard to find the right skill because not everyone is willing to put in the effort to acquire the right skills. Math is difficult. Computer Science is difficult. Some people welcome the challenge, but many just want the reward, without really earning it. That’s one of the main points in the article.

    Reply to comment

  15. Posted by Daniel | July 12, 2008, 9:16 am

    I think one of the main problems is math isn’t being taught in the schools. If you don’t have the foundation, the rest will be weak.

    I think many people have misconceptions about what computer science really is. Someone who is good at web design or computer hardware might be encouraged to pursue a degree in programming, for instance, but lack the math and logical thinking skills.

    Reply to comment

  16. Posted by Ben | July 13, 2008, 10:33 am

    I do agree with you, it’s one of the thing my friends and I have been complaining a lot: The lack of math in our computer engineering degree. Even if you don’t like math, it’s just something really necessary when you get into complex computer problems/algorithms.

    Reply to comment

  17. Posted by qubic | August 19, 2008, 1:35 pm

    Have to agree. The ‘fun’ subjects like video game studies should be balanced with good academics anyway in my opinion.

    Reply to comment

  18. Posted by Ricky | October 20, 2008, 10:31 am

    Hello everyone!

    I am one of those that really sucks at maths. But I really want to study a degree in computer game design. Would anyone know if that is possible? I mean to be successful at this without maths? Also if so, what universities are good within the UK?

    If not I might just have to go for web design.

    Thank you!

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: October 24th, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Well design is design — web, games, it’s all just different mediums. That is to say that designing the story or the art is not the same as taking the specs and figuring out the technology to make it move.

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