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Educators: Careers Advice

Whether you are an educator or a careers adviser, this section is aiming to give you an understanding of some of the key issues that surround adequately training people to work in the industry. We have also included here a section of downloadable support material that we hope to continuously expand.

Does your heart sink when one of your students says: "I'd like to work in games"...?

Do you wonder what to say to them - whether there are jobs or even viable careers, in the games industry?

Fear not! Read on for a clear, concise introduction to the mysteries of game development, along with some quick answers for your students.

The first thing to know is that we're talking here about making the sort of games that are bought in mainstream retail shops (or, increasingly, downloaded from publishers' websites); not the small-scale free games you can find on the web or that come bundled with a mobile phone. We're dealing with large projects, taking on average between a year and three years to complete, and involving teams of between thirty-five and two hundred people.

Games are now big business and no longer a hobbyist pursuit written in back bedrooms by teenage boys (although that is how Blitz's founders started out!). The 'Ask About Games' website has some useful and interesting statistics (http://www.askaboutgames.com/?c=/pages/factsFigures.jsp) and there's more at the Skillset site (http://www.skillset.org/games/industry). Skillset is the Sector Skills Council for creative media and covers games as well as TV, film, radio, animation and other interactive media industries.

Making modern computer games is complex and difficult; it requires a combination of technical and artistic skills along with excellent soft skills such as communication and team working. There is much more detail elsewhere on this site about all the different aspects of creating a game, including the skills required for each job and how people interested in working in games should structure their education and qualifications.

The two most essential things for educators at all levels to know are the diversity of potential careers and the level of skill required.

Diversity of job titles

Game Team Structure

Diagram: Game Team Structure

This image shows the sheer number of different jobs involved in creating a game. On any given game team, making a typical game for Sony's PlayStation 3, the PC, the Nintendo Wii or Microsoft's Xbox 360, all of these roles will be represented. Some will be covered by only one person (it's comparatively rare to have more than one Audio Programmer, for example), but many of them will be multiples (five or more Animators, six or more 3D Character Artists and so on).

The important point here is that we need people who are good at, for example, programming OR 3D modeling OR animation: we really don't want people with a bit of programming knowledge and some art experience and a bit of game design theory. Ten years ago, things were very different but these days we need good specialists. This must be heavily emphasised to students thinking about working in games, because we simply will not employ 'Jacks of all trades'. The reason for this is skill levels (see below).

However, it should be stressed that students should not specialise too early. Ask them what part of a game they are interested in making, and encourage them to investigate further. If they say: "I want to work in games because I just like playing them", then please let them know, kindly but firmly, that they stand absolutely no chance of getting a job in the games industry with that attitude!

School-age students should be encouraged to find out as much as they can about the different job roles, using this site, Skillset etc, and then compare their best subjects with the core skills required for the main disciplines of art, animation, audio, programming and game design. (There are also many different management roles, of course, but these are not entry-level positions.)

So if someone is good at art and interested in games, they could consider a career as a concept artist, a 3D modeler and texturer or an animator. But at this stage they should concentrate first and foremost on their traditional artistic skills - draughtsmanship, life drawing if possible, colour theory, composition and so on.

Potential Programmers should focus on their Maths and Physics and learn to program if they possibly can. Game Designers should be trying to make their own games using not only the world editors which come with many retail games, but also using programs like Flash - or even pen and paper!

There are some cool sites which support learning more about programming, such as MIT Media Lab's Scratch program (http://scratch.mit.edu) or Microsoft's XNA Creators Club (http://creators.xna.com/en-GB).

Skill levels

Having hopefully whetted your and your students' appetites by telling you how many wonderful jobs there are in games, now comes the less good news. It is not easy to get a job in the games industry, mainly because we now require very high levels of skill in all of the roles.

The reasons for this are simple: when games were developed for older PCs or consoles, the quality levels, particularly the graphical quality, didn't have to be that great because the machines weren't capable of displaying high levels of detail. As this is no longer the case, our audience require beautiful-looking games as well as ones with great gameplay, smooth and convincing animations, audio quality and so on.

There are a frightening number of courses out there claiming to teach 'game development' but many will not teach any student enough for them to get a job at the end of it: harsh but true. Encourage your students to research their courses very thoroughly (the Skillset website is useful for this) and ensure that any course they want to attend is fit for purpose: that is, it teaches the right skills, to the right quality level, and has sufficient input from game developers to ensure that it is up-to-date and relevant. Above all, steer them away from the 'taster' courses which teach a little bit of everything, unless they can afford to do one of these before doing a degree course in their chosen discipline.

Do you need a degree to work in the games industry? Well, no - but 80% of the development staff at Blitz do have an Honours degree. It is possible, but extremely difficult, to teach yourself to the skill level required. Generally though, students will find it easier to learn from a good course.

So make sure your students know that only the best of them, and those prepared to put in extra work to really polish their demos and portfolios, will get jobs. It really isn't an easy choice; but for those who are hardworking, creative and talented, the satisfaction of working in a good team to create a great game is very hard to beat...