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Skills Shortage

It's time for direct action against bad game-related degrees.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer a day after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

The debate over the quality of education in Britain is one which has raged for decades, and seems unlikely to end any time soon. For the games business, however, this week saw an interesting new twist in the saga - with the BBC's news broadcasts highlighting the game development sector as the latest industry to face a shortage of skilled workers in Britain.

This is despite the huge rise in the number of courses being offered by universities in the UK which claim to be focused on videogames - the vast majority of which, leading developers say, simply don't produce graduates that are ready to work in the industry.

Now, there's nothing unusual about an industry - especially a highly specialised industry like videogame development - having to provide some training and education to new recruits fresh out of university. That's simply to be expected, and it would be utterly unrealistic for any company, games-related or otherwise, to expect to hire graduates and simply have them start working on projects on day one.

That's not what's happening here, however. Yes, the game development sector could probably do a lot more with regard to on-the-job training and skills development for its staff - in this regard, many parts of the industry still act like the cottage industries they once were, and it's not uncommon for "skills development" to translate as a rather haphazard "learn it as you go along" approach. The industry could do better, and to their credit, many companies are actively trying to do better.

However, the problem here is vastly more severe - and blame doesn't lie with the developers. The harsh truth is that graduates being turned out by many "videogames degrees" simply aren't at the level where games companies can reasonably be expected to take over their training. Lacking in the kind of hard maths and sciences background required by game development, or focusing on the wrong creative tools (or worse, no creative tools at all), graduates from these degrees don't have any useful skills whatsoever to offer to a game development studio.

The universities offering these courses are not only failing the games industry - they are also, far more shamefully, wasting the time, money and effort of their students. The worst of these degrees (and the word "worst" covers a pretty wide range here) are pointless, useless exercises - leaving students no more qualified for any profession than they were when they finished secondary education. Not only are these degrees worthless to game developers, they are also likely to be looked upon very poorly by more traditional employers.

It's not, I should say, all bad. UK creative media industry body Skillset provides accreditation for game-related degrees, and those degrees which are actually accredited by the body generally provide a pretty solid grounding in key game development skills. However, out of over eighty degree courses being offered in the UK, only four have that accreditation.