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My game university course experience

By on May 3, 2011
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This is a guest post by Cliff Harris, or Positech Games as he’s known, creator of Gratuitous Space Battles, Democracy and Kudos. It originally appeared on his blog.

Ok, so today I went along to Kingston university to be their guest at a games production course. It was pretty interesting, and fantastic that they thought to invite not one, but two indie devs (I was the second one) to go talk to students. I LOVE the idea that students on games courses aren’t automatically told ‘now go get a junior tester job at EA’ at the end. It seems that being an indie developer is considered a pretty reasonable career move now, which is awesome.

The students games were a mixed bag. Some had some really cool ideas. One of them had a really marketable, really clever, really original (I thought anyway…) character as the hero. Some of teams had obviously thought quite hard about business strategy for their game. Some had not…

What I tried to get across to them, and in retrospect I was *really* easy on them, with this point, is that the competition for game development jobs, sales, and success is HUGE. Assuming that people doing this course see themselves, eventually as being a lead programmer/artist/designer on some big budget cool game in a few years time, they massively need to up their game by a scary amount.

If you are doing a game design or production course right now, you need to not only be top of your class, you need to be sailing past that goalpost so it’s a distant memory. You need to be clearly, unambigously, demonstrably the very very best at what you are doing. Think of it like this:

  • You have no experience.
  • You have no reputation.
  • You have no contacts in the industry.

So you need to absolutely flipping blow people away with your skills and your portfolio. If you are a coder, that means having straight A’s in everything, and knock-out demos that prove you have serious mastery of your language(s). If you are an artist you need a BIG portfolio showing stuff that makes people go *wow*. If you are a designer, you need a large number of diverse, fully designed, fully described, game designs in different styles. You need to be able to critique a game design idea read out to you, on the spot. Can you do this?

If you don’t have that, the job will go to one of the 99 other applicants who have all of those. If you think I’m kidding, I’m not. I’m a humble one-man studio and I regularly get sent CV’s from people wanting a job. I suspect Bioware and Valve get quite a few more.

And that is to get a job at an existing studio. Running your own studio has a whole set of extra challenges and demands. This is an awesome job, and a great industry. It is, not surprisingly very difficult to get to do this.

About Cliff Harris

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  • I believe trying to achieve the best grades is the only true responsibility of students since they are paying £3000+/year (this September more than double) just to be on the course?

  • True, but I think it’s easier becoming fluent in a foreign language than becoming the very best in your class of gamedesign, which, as Cliffsky pointed out, is really the only other way of getting your foot into the door.

    That, or pulling your connection strings, but students rarely have these.

    The most heartening fact is that once you’re in Games, you’ll always be able to stick to Games. The industry is incredibly small, and takes care of it’s own – just be willing to network like you’ve never networked before once you’re past your entry-level position.

    But in case you’re reading this website and this comment, it’s most likely that you already know how important social/career networks are. 🙂

  • Interesting comment. I guess part of the problem is that Brits are rarely fluent in two languages.

  • And yet it’s ridiculously easy to get into the gaming industry – especially if you are willing to relocate, and speak two languages fluently.

    At least this is the case over here in Europe.

    I know that Nicholas is – with some justification – a huge proponent of self-publishing, but the bigger (and smaller) publishers in this world are still having a place. And these publishers have a huge need for entry-level people with language skills – localization, customer service, community management and quality assurance are all very valid entry level positions to get your first experiences.

    Apart from providing incredibly valuable insight into a typical game’s lifecycle, this allows you to build up your network. And quite a few publishers with in-house developers are regularly looking for design-ideas from trusted co-workers – after you’ve established yourself as a valuable member of your company.

    If you speak English + German and English + French and some knowledge of games WILL get you a job (and, based on your performance, a career) in the European gaming industry. Just not as a designer, sadly.

    Personally, I started as a hardcore gamer and ended up being Producer of two titles. Still dreaming of designing my own game, one day. 🙂