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Games education and training


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  1. December 16, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Education and training providers are often criticised by employers for not producing industry-ready graduates or attracting the ‘right’ students to their courses. As at 16 December, nine (9) people had responded to the survey question in the Worker Survey about the effectiveness of education and training institutions in producing graduates with the right skills and knowledge to work in the digital games industry. The results so far are:

    – 15.4% Highly ineffective

    – 23.1% Ineffective

    – 30.8% Neutral

    – 30.8% Somewhat effective

    – 0% Highly effective

    Note – the poll on this post is open to anyone whereas the above results are from the Worker Survey.

    Survey participants were asked to suggest ways to improve education and training courses to better equip graduates to work in the digital games industry. Here are their responses.

    1) Can we beat the Gen-Y out of them?

    2) It seems many people coming out of the school are producing graduates who are not getting employment, Again this is something I only hear from other companies and not something I’ve experienced myself.

    3) Not so many – a lot of people and an industry that can’t support that many jobs. Focus on developing high quality games.

    4) More practical experience in game design and artistic development.

    5) Not really. Basic skills can and are provided and a basic grasp of what is needed. Real understanding and experience cannot be obtained until working full time. Employers understand that they are looking for potential when hiring juniors. It should be impressed on students that hard work, thinking outside the square and personal projects will see them being noticed above their peers.

    6) More information on games careers early in courses to allow students to choose effective course units for the industry. More work/industrial experience in a games studio as part of a course. Strong industry collaboration on under/postgraduate projects.

    7) Graduates need to do more than show up to interviews with a nice piece of paper. If their training had more focus on the students creating work they can show to employers they would be in a much better position.

    8) More internships, apprenticeship-like schemes.

    9) As I still live in Aus on a temporary visa, education options are generally too expensive to consider. Doesn’t help we’re living rural (Mackay, 900km away from Bris).

    10) I think one of the most important things that should be included in games/related couorses is lots of practical work/project experience. Games companies need to collaborate more with educational institutions to allow undergraduate students to experience using their skills in a real-world context. This will make the students more employable as it seems most games companies are unwilling to hire new graduates and require a certain amount of practical experience. Collaboration with students will also allow the company to become familiar with potential employees and reduce the risks of hiring inexperienced graduates.

    Some of these comments call for industry to engage more closely with providers and offer greater opportunities for students to gain work experience. In terms of training opportunities for existing workers, our survey results so far show that over 50% of respondents have NOT undertaken any training in the last 12 months. We’ve got mixed responses to the statement “Games companies are committed to upskilling their workers” so we need to collect more data to make any calls on this one.

    At the GCAP conference in Melbourne in early December, I listened to an almost heated discussion between a presenter from industry and a delegate from a training provider. The industry presenter talked about employers preferring job applicants who have solid experience with industry-preferred packages and therefore can get to work straight away; whereas the delegate from the training provider talked about the importance of having transferable skills to shift between packages. There was no clear winner.

    As well as hearing from industry about their views of the education and training of workers, we’d love to hear from:

    1) people who teach games courses – what are the challenges they face in producing industry-ready graduates, what’s working, what isn’t working

    2) students who are enrolled in games courses or related courses – what are the highlights and issues with their courses.

  2. December 21, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    In July 2009, I interviewed a representative from a peak body. Part of the interview focused on education and training in relation to skills gaps. Here are key points from that part of the interview:

    1) Talking to people at some of the places who do the training, they say that some students get so far down the track they start to struggle and are not going to make it. There is an expectation that because they complete the course they will get a job.

    2) Industry-ready, that is probably the common thing as that is when the idea about gaps comes out. The high expectations is consistent across all employer sectors/industry sectors that when somebody comes to work that have to be ready to go. Everybody wants somebody to sit down and understand the culture, and there are probably some that are genuine in understanding that it is going to take some time to understand what is going on.

    3) Anyone can learn how to use animation software, while they are skilled, there are some that like drawing, have actual drawing skills beyond utilising software, which actually leads to them utilising their skills. So there are some places where part of the course is giving them life drawing skills. Get the Da Vinci skills, draw this, draw that, like the old thing with maths about using the calculator first rather than learning maths. Get the real basics down.

    4) In terms of gaps, I haven’t specifically heard what they are talking about. It might that the courses are not giving them the skills needed. 3D Max and Maya are there. I haven’t seen many places where they haven’t got them inbuilt. Whether they are using the equipment or particular software, whether they are using them at the particular company they are going to, maybe they are used to a kind of software instead of that one, they can cross over if they have the skills.

    4) Gaps might be not demonstrating the skill. I have gotten through a course doing the minimal amount that I need to actually pass and it might be decent artwork but it may not be to a standard that the company would say this is really good/suitable.

    5) It might take students 6 to 8 months to do a project in a course, industry wants it done in three weeks. That is where they think it is a deficiency of skills. We have set timeframes, we have milestones, we have teams. You should be able to get what you are doing to a degree that is acceptable in that period of time. Some employers will turn around and say here is a task, kind of like a little test, we love you, we love your art. They can see that it good but in the back of their minds they are saying did it take 6 to 12 months to do this and develop this. Let’s put them to the test and see whether they can do it in a more realistic timeframe. Get it back to use in a few weeks and if they can’t may be that is part of the skills gap. They are not ready to work within design timeframes. However, they might not come back with exactly what they are looking for but they can see there is something decent there.

    6) Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you do the course or what the course is, if you have a passion, drive and love for games for whatever reason and you want to pursue a career, that will be on top of/beyond what you can already do and that is the kind of drive they are looking for.

    7) I get emails, I have done this. I can’t get a job. I ask, so what do you give them? I gave them a resume. Where is your showreel? It is really the difference between somebody really taking an interest. The ones that are really interested they are playing, they are online, they are seeing what people are talking about, they ask questions. Because of that self-knowledge they are gaining, they know that you don’t put a resume in without a showreel.

    8) University graduates give you a resume and if they are a computer science person they know what they are doing if they have distinctions/honours. That probably says enough. Whereas with arts and design, aesthetics is important. I am an artist. I draw. Use 3D. Show us. You have to see what they do. Here is my resume, my portfolio, my showreel. They concentrate on that kind of stuff.

    9) All the multimedia, 3D animation, all the arts, all the kinds of programs, all the other skills gained in a course fit into other cross-sectoral areas such as advertising and design. And to train at the levels they did, they probably come out better trained than some of those trained in advertising. The ones that don’t make it in games, probably have higher skills. Hasn’t been explored. Standards must be high to get people into the industry. The ones that don’t make it now, may make it later.

  3. January 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    As at late afternoon on 4th January, 69% of respondents indicated that games courses were “highly ineffective”. This is a major concern, and we really need to explore the reasons behind this dissatisfaction.

    Another project we are running in our Centre is looking at the education-to-work transitions in Australia’s Creative Digital Industries. I believe findings from this project are relevant to the games project:

    1) Almost 50% of employers surveyed hired people for their creative talent rather than for their qualifications.

    2) Over 80% of employers indicated that new entrants (i.e. graduates/workers with less than 2 years industry experience) only accounted for between 0% to 20% of all workers.

    3) Employers were most likely to indicate that it was ‘difficult’ to recruit new entrants with the ‘right’ skills and attributes.

    4) Employers indicated the capabilities of new entrants for all 16 skills and attributes listed in the survey were below their expectations.

    In our research travels, we came across a good article by Jung, Misko, Lee, Dawe, Hong, and Lee (2004) on particular strategies for successful education-to-work transitions. Although we haven’t done any research on whether industry supports these strategies or whether training providers generally implement these strategies, they should help to improve the employability of graduates from games courses:

    1) Students spend an adequate amount of time in industry to acquire appropriate industry-specific skills and experience as well as an understanding of work habits and culture, which requires flexibility in timetables.

    2) Students access teachers with appropriate expertise and industry experience.

    3) Students access adequate and up-to-date facilities, materials and equipment to enable the practical application of their skills.

    4) Institutions provide adequate information on the skill needs of local industries obtained by undertaking their own formal industry needs analyses, developing partnerships with industry bodies, providing regular industry visits, and ensuring dialogue with employers and teaching staff.

  4. January 5, 2010 at 7:31 am

    A Senior Sound Designer from Austin Texas who emailed us via LinkedIn, responded to the above comment as follows:

    This is very very interesting to me. 🙂

    In the first four points (employer survey) – I believe what you are seeing is a reflection of the difference between “general qualification” and “specific skills required”. When we post a job rec, 90% of the time it is to feel a very specific need within the team or studio. So the person with the creative talent, or specific skill set will get hired over someone with more or better “qualifications”.

    Since there is no “standard” way to make a “game” ( and no standard model for “game” for that matter ), general “games programs” tend to be too broad in their approach. Each developer is looking for the specific skills they need to make the game they are making in the way they are making it – and finding that magic combination of skills is always a challenge.

    I don’t have extensive knowledge of all of the CV’s of games instructors, but I do know that academia is very insular – so it’s unlikely that the advisors and teachers are working game dev professionals. Some development program instructors that I have met have a very brief experience in games. This , coupled with a perceived need for high-level, generalized programs, makes the game development program far less effective.

    As you point out in your points on the Jung, et al., paper – crafting your program to specifically meet the needs of specific developers is a far better way of ensuring work-employment transitions. All of these points could be addressed by an actual “intern” or “apprentice” system. However, this is difficult, since any kind of apprentice system that relies on working professionals will have to compete with the value of that professional to that dev team. Apprentice’s will be seen in may cases as a distraction to the task at hand. Unless some kind of ROI can be found in taking the apprentice or intern, this will always be the problem.

    One solution would be to have actual projects, with professional expert advisors for each specialty area to make sure that all the bases are covered and that the students are introduced to real world concepts in a way that makes sense. Telling the students ” go build a game ” is good, but without guidance and a set of real-world guidelines and expectations, it may be less useful than it seems.

  5. January 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I came across an interesting 2009 article by Chris Swain, Improving Academic-Industry Collaboration for Game Research and Education (you can find through a Google search), which discusses how to improve collaboration between academia and industry in the games industry. His article focuses on collaboration in two categories: 1) Research-oriented and 2) Education-oriented. Swain identified the barriers to collaboration and strategies to improve collaborations for both of these categories. I’ve broken these comment into two comments (by category).

    Barriers to research-oriented academic-industry collaboration/funded external research:

    1) Games companies have the ability to pursue concepts internally with complete control and with a history of success, employing world-class programmers and designers.

    2) Culturally, the games industry has little understanding of academia or academic research. Many games developers did not attend college, working their way up from the bottom.

    3) Academic deadlines are disjointed from the commercial deadline-oriented industry.

    4) Different departments and schools within universities do not coordinate well.

    Strategies to improve research collaboration:

    1) Developing a meta-organisation for games that is a single face for games representing, potentially, a diversity of game-related programs and researchers.

    2) Tool-based academic-industry collaboration, in particular open source software that provides a technical collaboration but does not come with prohibitive transition costs between participants.

    3) Industry is not funding research but benefiting from the fruits of the established research community and the publishing process.

    4) Undirected games research in universities via innovative student games projects coming out of games programs, without the pressure to get a financial return.

  6. January 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Chris Swain article continued: Education-oriented academic-university collaboration

    The results of our poll are alarming, given 50 out of the 66 respondents or 76% of respondents (as at 22 January) voted that games education and training is “HIGHLY INEFFECTIVE”

    Chris Swain found that the games industry is open to education-oriented creative collaborations with academia, especially those involving advice and mentoring as opposed to funding. However, he identified a couple of key barriers:

    1) Universities puts the needs of the student first and typically take a long term view towards curriculum – university culture sometimes clashes with industry culture, for example, when a university program can’t immediately insert a new class or tool into the curriculum.

    2) Students from academic game programs who go to industry, either as interns or full-time hires, need to be humble and enthusiastic about all tasks assigned, given they are stereotyped as acting “entitled” and this can cause tension in the workplace.

    Swain identified several models of best practice and lessons learned, all of which have a common theme of the development of a relationship between industry and academia, including faculty and students from academia and recruiters, developers, marketers, and executive from industry. These models are as follows:

    1) Student showcases via university demo days, game festivals, and digital distribution.

    2) Sponsored contents, particularly contests that are can be structured as class assignments, which involve quite a bit of lead time because of the time taken for universities to adapt curriculum to fit with contest requirements.

    3) Mentoring by self-selected professional games developers who are generous with their time when it comes to helping students, have a natural calling for mentoring, and natural teaching personalities.

    4) Guest speakers and speaker series, particularly in game classes in person or via video-over-IP programs such as Skype. Students can read about guest speaker online the week before and submit questions to him or her. Students with the best projects (selected via a contest) will win the opportunity to demo the game to the guest speaker.

    5) Offering adjunct professorships for people from industry; and paring adjuncts together or pairing one with a full-time professor to jointly teach a class to deal with travel obligations and unexpected deadlines.

    6) Collaborative classes taught in partnership with a company from industry, with students learning about industry game development problems and doing assignments that are similar to what industry teams do. These classes should provide regular access to at least one technical person at the company, and the use of online wikis for efficient communication between the students, faculty and industry mentors.

    7) Salons where students pick an interesting game; play it all the way through; create in-depth, comparative literature-style presentations of the game that include a demonstration of all game play features as well as critical commentary; and deliver the presentation to interested developers.

    8) Internships programs and other – Faculty members learn about the character and abilities of individual students, beyond resumes and portfolios, in order for industry to recruit and screen students.

  7. January 28, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Continuing on with the above theme of improving the education and training of games workers, I came across a 2008 report by the UK’s leading trade association representing the country’s games industry, Education and Skills in the Video Games Development Sector: Challenges and Solutions. Unfortunately, the report isn’t free but I did find a press release on the MCVUK website (dated 23 October 2008) that nicely summarises the TIGA’s recommendations.

    In SCHOOLS, the UK Government should:

    • provide more generous bursaries to trainee teachers in mathematics and in computer science and more generous‘golden hellos’ to teachers in mathematics and computer science with a good degree in these subjects, to encourage them to teach in schools

    • give schools greater financial freedom so that they can pay higher salaries to attract the best teachers in, for example, mathematics or computer science

    • make the national curriculum more flexible in order to give schools the freedom to teach subjects such as computer programming

    • promote the video games industry as a career option at school, not least to encourage more young people to stick with science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

    In HIGHER EDUCATION, the UK Government should:

    • introduce a pilot programme whereby the tuition fees for students studying mathematics and computer science are reduced to give students a greater incentive to study these subjects

    • reverse the cuts that have taken place in computer science course funding

    • aim over time to increase higher education funding from the current 1.1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in order to enhance the quality of UK universities (the USA and China spend 2.9% and 1.3% respectively of GDP on higher education)

    Tiga also recommended the establishment of a Tiga-managed GAMES EDUCATION FUND to:

    • promote industrial secondments by funding the placement of lecturers in games businesses

    • fund research fellowships by enabling lecturers to concentrate on research activities rather than administrative and teaching responsibilities for between a term and an academic year

    • enable more games businesses to engage in education outreach and knowledge transfer with universities

    • award individual lecturers and their universities for excellence in teaching, judged by their commitment to teaching, building industry-university links and other actions which ensure the output of first class quality graduates for the games industry.

  8. February 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

    A Sound Designer/Composer from Perth, Australia emailed us via LinkedIn:

    There’s always room for more specific training and more targeted learning for the games industry. Aside from the programmers, so many people tend to be jack of all trades, or have adapted their skills from parallel or peripheral industries (myself included).

  9. March 9, 2010 at 9:46 am

    In June 2009, SkillsSet in the UK released the National Occupational Standards for Interactive Media and Computer Games (http://www.skillset.org/standards/standards/IM/). Industry practitioners, employers and other key stakeholders developed the standards to show exactly what is required of professionals in the industry. The standards present expectations in terms of knowledge and understanding, awareness, and performance standards for a range of occupations. I’ve pulled out the performance standards for games designers, games programmer, and Tester/QA Technician:

    Game Designer – ability to:
    1. Analyse, deconstruct and learn from existing game designs
    2. Devise and document game rules
    3. Specify the characteristics of the game world in sufficient detail for realisation by others
    4. Specify the attributes and behaviours of objects and characters in the game world in sufficient detail for realisation by others
    5. Liaise with other colleagues involved in the creative or quality assurance process to ensure the game design can be realised effectively
    6. Prototype design ideas and develop proofs of concept
    7. Effectively present games to appropriate stakeholders

    Game Programmer – ability to:
    1. Use the specified development environment or coding tool effectively
    2. Code programs or program components to provide specified functionality
    3. Produce modular code
    4. Clearly document and comment your code so that others can understand it
    5. Create efficient code that is easy to read and maintain
    6. Liaise with colleagues to ensure designs and specifications are correctly implemented
    7. Respond positively to requests for changes to work schedules, timescales and product features
    8. Use version control and asset management systems to ensure full back-up of your work.

    Tester/QA Technician – ability to:
    1. Follow the test brief or other provided instructions accurately
    2. Identify and communicate clearly and constructively any problems with specific aspects of the product, as per the evaluation criteria
    3. Report any bugs that you encounter in the software in a clear, concise and logical manner
    4. Report bugs using the appropriate method and procedure
    5. Respond constructively to written or verbal communications regarding submitted bug reports from other members of the development team
    6. Follow any specified bug reporting process
    7. Be patient, persistent, professional and systematic.

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