Education, Higher Education

Game Degrees, SkillSet and Accreditation

Everybody who has had even a cursory glance at game degrees, whether they are technical, artistic or design based, knows that they come in for some abuse. You hear what can only be described as horror stories, people who have spent 3 or 4 years of their lives, racked up a large amount of debt, only to come out at the end with a piece of paper that not only doesn’t give them the skills to get into the Games Industry, but doesn’t give them the skills to get into any other kind of industry either.

Fortunately, not all of them are of the same quality, but with the general attitude towards them, its very difficult and daunting to try and find one that is not only worthwhile, but one which will benefit you if you find out the games industry isn’t the right industry for you.

SkillSet (or the ‘Sector Skills Council for Creative Media’) is a body that (amongst other things) works with Universities to monitor, recommend and guide course content, pushing it in a direction (if it isn’t there already!) that will provide students with the right skills, and experience, to enter the games industry and provide them with the talents to move into other industries if that’s where life takes them.

And it doesn’t work alone.  Working with companies and individuals from the games industry and Universities it can constantly check and discuss what is being suggested, what is needed and how best to get the required skills to those that want them.

Accreditation is one of the main ways in which SkillSet is able to easily and clearly indicate that a University course is, for want of a better phrase, ‘fit for purpose’ and while it can be a hard process to get through it is something that really benefits the Universities in the short and long term.

Accreditation is a process in which Universities apply to SkillSet with a set of documentation that covers, amongst other things, the following.

  • Course Content – Are they teaching what the industry wants.  Advanced C++ and math, team work and development (source control tools, cross discipline development, leadership and teamwork skills) and console development spring to mind
  • Equipment – When joining an industry that uses technology not available in any other industry, it helps if you have already experienced what it’s like developing for them.  Platform holders are happy to work with Universities to provide equipment for their students to use, and they should have good exposure to it.
  • Industry Involvement – Do they have guest speakers or work with companies to form their course content?
  • Outcomes – How many of their students get roles in the industry when they graduate and what roles are they filling?  Are they able to get jobs in other industries if they want to?

The documents that applicants complete are freely available here if you want to have a more detailed look.

Representatives from the Games Industry then take part in the accreditation process, reviewing the application content, and feeding back to SkillSet and the University before, if successful, moving onto a more detailed phase of presentations, visits and interviews.

And it should be stressed that it is these industry representatives, always from a development background, that have the final say.

There are currently courses that are accredited (and I stress courses, as a University who’s Art track is accredited may not have it’s Tech track accredited) and you can easily find out the content of their courses to see why these have been given a big thumbs up from the Industry.  Obviously as the process continues, gets more streamlined and improves, more courses will be added to this list, hopefully sometime this year and on a yearly basis after that…

I was originally going to end this post with a ‘what to look for’ and a ‘what to avoid’ paragraph for future students, but I want this to be about the work that SkillSet is doing, and how their process is not only useful, but is driven by the industry that is being fed into.  There will always be discussions as to how to improve the process and it’s encouraging to see how many companies and individuals take part in these talks (on both the University and Industry side).

So if you are looking at going on a ‘Game Degree’ in the near future, make sure you check out the current list of accredited courses, and if you can’t get to one of those, examine the course content in detail to see how it compares or to see if they are in the process of being accredited.  If you still can’t find the information you need, request more information from the University.  They benefit from you being there to, so it needs to be a two way street before you even think of enrolling.

Thoughts?

6 thoughts on “Game Degrees, SkillSet and Accreditation”

  1. I went through the University of Lincolns Games Computing course several years ago and wish that it had been accredited – though such a thing didn’t seem to exist when I was applying for courses. I went on to work there for 2 more years and saw little movement towards gaining accreditation, though I’m hopeful, at least for the sake of the students that they are aiming for it.

    As it stands, I became unemployed in January and I know that the only reason I’ve been able to get the interviews I’ve had has been due to extra curricular study and five years spent creating an HL2 mod rather than the contents of my degree. I’ve got an interview next week at the University Campus Suffolk to lecture on their Computer Games Design course, if I’m successful I will certainly be looking at following some of the accreditation guidelines in course work I create.

    Accreditation is a reassurance not only for students, but also for future employers as to the (hopeful) quality of output from the course, so it’s not something that can just be ignored by universities running games courses for much longer.

  2. Wish I’d known about this a few years ago! Source control and cross discipline development are important areas that I feel universities probably skimp out on (certainly in my case, without naming and shaming).

    Fortunately I have learned these particular skills in my own time during my studies and since then in some real world development scenarios. Source control is especially useful for students working on their dissertations, I used Git to check-in my project progress daily to a remote server. Not only did is serve as a useful backup, but was highly rewarding to review my commit messages at the end and to see the my progress over the months.

    At my institution there was a worrying lack of team work and general enthusiasm towards making games. In my first year I had dreamed of working on games with fellow students, but I was left feeling disappointed to the point that I considered giving up on the game industry all together.

    Fortunately the enthusiasm of the industry professionals that I have met in person on contacted through other means resurrected my passion to work in the industry and from that point on I did everything in my power to fill in the blanks that my degree left.

    Anyway that’s a very brief summary of my 3 years at a non-accredited university. The course itself was not too bad but suffered from a turbulent department (constantly changing staff) and disappointing levels of enthusiasm from course-mates – perhaps I just had bad luck 🙂

    Thanks for the interesting post, I’m sure potential students will find it useful.

  3. This is excellent advice, especially to judge content (rather than just look at the currently accredited institutions) bu the article falls down as many others do. It propagates the myth that students are
    all leaving games courses “unfit for purpose”. O course, there may have been (and possibly still are) a few courses that are too generic, but this was always the minority. Secondly, Skillset has far more Industry influence than from Education. If courses were mere training this would be fine, but HE (and the reported associated costs) should be wider and deeper than this. For this reason even accredited courses should be scrutinised very carefully! Some academics refuse to travel the Skillset line, others take the more
    cautious sceptic’s path. Skillset has an important part to play, but it represents Industry and Government and other agendas are just as important.

  4. Thanks for the comments Mike, I really do agree that the main point should be that whatever your expectations, you should be checking out the content of courses that take your interest, whether they are accredited or not.

    There are some excellent courses out there that don’t have accreditation, as I’m sure you’d agree, but hopefully they will do soon enough.

    Could of things I wanted to reply to though.

    “It propagates the myth that students are all leaving games courses “unfit for purpose””

    I tried to avoid that – of course many students are leaving with a range of skills that are adequate or above what is required, but I don’t think it is a minority of courses that still don’t go as far as they could. The evidence of this is from the CV’s that land on my desk from graduates that don’t have the skills to fill a junior role.

    But I certainly agree with you that the number of ‘generic’ courses have decreased and this is an excellent move and this needs to continue.

    “HE (and the reported associated costs) should be wider and deeper than this”

    Absolutely. I remember the content of my degree course, and the type and content of the modules had such a wide range, and enough depth to keep me interested, that I had the skills available to enter a number of industries.

    But this is what SkillSet is pushing. It’s not a case the Games Industry expects HE to be a ‘training ground’ for them, to the point where we actively stress that these courses should prepare graduates for industries other than our own, in case their path takes them in a direction they didn’t expect.

  5. @Ging
    Good luck with the interview (I’m not being notified of comments so I only just saw your post). I hope if you do become involved with a University course you look at accreditation, as the more we have accreditation, and the more Universities are involved in the process, the better it can be.

    @James Munro
    Sometimes it is bad luck, but it speaks volumes about how a student deals with that. Regarding a volatile department, this must be one of the most difficult things for Universities to cope with, especially with newer courses where experienced staff are hard to find, let alone experienced lecturers.

    A lack lustre cohort probably says more about the pressure on Universities and their application requirements that it does about anything else.

    I’m impressed that you are using Git 😉

  6. @Ging
    Wow its a small world! You won’t remember me because I kept a fairly low profile in workshops, but I remember you teaching some of them (I’m from Lincoln too, no point hiding now ;)). I’m not sure if we had the same syllabus, but I’ve just graduated from the Games Computing course myself. I played your HL2 mod before attending the university and hoped that it would be a kind of project that students would work on.

    @Lee Winder
    I guess I’m a bit of a Git advocate! I chose it over SVN because the network operations of SVN didn’t inspire me. Also, it is nice to have the entire history in your local working copy. Do you see games companies using anything other than SVN/Perforce in the near future?

    With that said, I use SVN on a daily basis as part of my development work for a small independent games company and it does the job.

    My trip to Blitz was a real kick in the butt for me. I know that my technical skills are quite strong but the degree doesn’t go far to demonstrate this. Ever since attending the open day I’ve been pimping up my portfolio and hopefully the strengths of this will be the deciding factor in job applications.

    I guess what I’m saying is the degree, accredited or not, will get you so far, but the extra curricular activities that you use to support the qualification will differentiate you from the crowd.

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