Collaboration, Not Castigation

27 06 2008

The Games Up? campaign has been on the warpath for the past few weeks, with plenty of angles emerging other than the “trade body moans at government” one that was getting so repetitive. This is a good thing for the UK games industry, but provocative statements don’t always have a place.

The Games Up campaign today claimed that a ‘shocking 95 per cent’ of UK games development degrees were not creating capable graduates talented enough to enter the games industry.

Said MacKinnon: “The argument that British universities are failing to equip graduates with the rights skills for industry cannot be applied across the board because there are universities that are getting it right.

“What we need is better collaboration between industry and universities.

“The model that exists at Abertay University is one of very strong industry involvement, focussed on producing graduates that can work and have the requisite skills to do so, but are still broadly educated to university graduate level.

“The need is not to generally castigate universities for failing to meet industry needs, but for industries to work with the universities to identify appropriate graduate outcomes that reflect these industry needs

Lachlan MacKinnon is absolutely right – there are even non-Skillset accredited unversities out there who are producing high quality graduates. Games Up? are also correct in saying that most degrees are not up to scratch, but the way to rectify this is discussion and collaboration, not a stern telling off for universities.

(CC image of graduates by Tim O’Brien)

Timeline of Games and Dundee

17 06 2008

Timeline of Dundee and Games

Gregor White, from the University of Abertay, Dundee, spoke for us recently at Games:EDU North about White Space, a centre for interdisciplinary practice there. You can see his slides on the centre at the Games:EDU site, but another thing he sent us was this timeline of Dundee paralleling famous games and hardware for the past 40 years or so. Apparently there’s a large version on the wall at White Space. There’s no way to squeeze it in legibly here, but you can see the full size image on Flickr.

There are a number of relationships and bits of game history in there that I didn’t realise were connected to Dundee.

Games:EDU North

30 04 2008


Games:EDU North was yesterday, and I’ve posted a few talk summaries on the main website.

There are also photos on Flickr.

The overall dialogue of the day continued the process of settling conflicts between theoretical and vocational content in courses. We’ll be continuing this in Brighton on July the 29th.

Industry and Academia

24 04 2008


I linked the first part of an interview with new TIGA CEO David Wilson before, and the second part is now up at Develop. The whole thing is worth reading, but in this segment, he basically talks about some work Pixel-Lab has been doing for quite a while:

In terms of the skills and education issue, it’s another priority – partly because it’s key to encourage developers to have ties with universities. I know that there a large number of universities which offer some elements of video games – and I know a lot of them are criticised by the games industry. It’s worth saying that most sectors complain about the quality of graduates – that’s just a general complaint, but also there is some truth in that. The key is not to grumble, but work out how we can improve qualifications, and pass on best practices to the universities themselves.

Everyone says that the industry moves so fast – and it does – but that makes it vital that we have a dialogue with universities so they know what skills are needed.

And I suppose every game developer should be aware that people at universities aren’t preparing for one industry or another – we shouldn’t be expecting students to graduate and be ‘industry ready’. I think they should be capable of being employed in the industry – but we’ve got to bear in mind that anyone who comes out of a course requires additional training to get them up to par. That’s something we just have to accept.

So I suppose another great part of our working with Government means we can help tackle that perceived downfall in those studying maths and sciences in addition to making sure the quality of computer science degrees are up to scratch.

This is exactly what we’re doing, for the third year running, with GAMES:EDU:08, and we’ve noticed a marked improvement in the dialogue there. The first year, academics and developers griped at each other a lot about CS, Maths, and development skills, but in the second year we ran it, things had really changed. Many of those in attendance had a good understanding of those in the other camp and were beginning to work together. The climate is changing with more studios holding open days for academics and lecturers, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how things develop in Manchester and Brighton this year.

Game Design: Scottish Curriculum

16 04 2008

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An interesting move in Scotland: Game design skills are to be taught as part of the national curriculum there.

A drop in enrolment for university computing courses has resulted in a lack of qualified computer experts when the government wants Scotland to be at the forefront of a knowledge economy. Academics believe the fall is a result of the rise and fall of the industries.

Maureen Watt, Minister for Schools and Skills, said: “There is huge confidence that Scotland will continue to play an important part in the future of video games and interactive entertainment and we are focusing on establishing firm foundations for lifelong learning and, for some, specialised study and careers.

This seems ideal. Too many courses in the UK are crap, rebranded media courses with games tacked on to sex them up and boost enrollment. Somewhere near the end of their degree, it dawns on the third year students that they have no decent CS training and will probably not be able to get a job working in the industry.

It’s not in the interests of rubbish media courses to expose the nature of game development to prospective students, but “Oooh! Games!” really shouldn’t be such a big part of the decision making process for something as important as a university. Bad games courses are irresponsible with regard to student’s futures and the reputations of institutions.

A bad games degree can be rescued by a disciplined master’s degree, but few students follow that path. Given the age at which most of the UK’s bedroom programmers started to learn to code, it seems a very good idea to expose game development to people much earlier, thus letting kids either get it out of their system at an early age, or learn that they love games and will put in what they need to to become developers.

(Image from Wear Science!)

Geomerics Funded by Tech Strategy Board

13 03 2008


We posted about the Technology Strategy Board’s funding for games industry projects a while ago, and Geomerics are among the first companies to make use of it. Not only that, but it’s in collaboration with UCL: The industry is gradually becoming more intelligent and open to collaboration. Via Gamasutra:

UK-based graphics and lighting technology company Geomerics has announced a new research collaboration with University College London, funded by an investment of £525,000 from the Technology Strategy Board’s Collaborative Research and Development program.

Following the launch of its first lighting technology product, Enlighten, Geomerics and UCL will work together to further develop the technology over the three-year project. Geomerics will receive £330,000 and UCL £195,000 of the total investment.

GDC08: Three Highlights

6 03 2008


A part of our session strategy at GDC was to avoid some of the ones we knew would get lots of press coverage, and catch smaller ones instead. We did make sure to see plenty of Jonathan Blow though. Here he spoke about understanding games:

he offered ten different perspectives by which to interpret a game: A consumer product, as escapism or fun, as exercise, as communication, as artistic expression, teaching, training, a challenge, exploration or practice. Blow admitted these categories are “messy,” not orthagonal and even overlapping. Ultimately, however, he suggested that we haven’t yet defined game design sufficiently as a science to be so analytical about it.

Also, Jane McGonigal, Ian Bogost and Mia Consalvo on recent research findings:

10. The best content understands exactly how the player likes to play — and makes it slightly harder.
Takeaway: Custom procedural variation in a limited environment can be more fun than big environments and open worlds.
Question for game designers: How can your next game use player-inspired procedural variation?

(This meshes with some of my current thinking on what makes any experience more compelling: relevance is a key ingredient, and in future I suspect it will start to look less like genres and more like contextual advertising).

Finally, Ernest W. Adams giving a Ten Commandments of Game Design Education:

0. Thou shalt not take an existing computer science, art, animation, media studies, English, or other program, add a game course or two to it, and call it a game program, for that is an abomination unto the Lord.

CC image of escalators in the Moscone Center via, er, me 🙂