I’ve always wanted to make games when I was growing up, but I always got shot down. As long as I could remember I was always starting or joining game projects, but they never went far. I grew up with the notion that making games was a silly thing, and I never had much encouragement or support to pursue it beyond a hobby.
When I learnt about the idea of a “Game Degree”, it was quickly shot down by everyone I knew, and the general opinion I heard among industry professionals was that it was ridiculous and useless. That no professional would take it seriously, and it had zero value in academia or a CV.
So, with that in mind, I’m currently about halfway through my Game Degree at Qantm Brisbane.
There were generally two sentiments that I found among the industry veterans on why a game degree was a bad idea. The first was that a degree in “games” sounded incredibly general, and that specialising in computer science was the way to go. I still hear that now, actually. The second was that a degree would teach only the theoretical aspects; practical experience was what was really needed and the only way to do that was to do your own personal projects. They would never look at your game degree, and just ask for your specialisations or your portfolio.
Going through the degree itself, over time it became increasingly obvious that I wasn’t learning much, though I suspect that it’s due to my experience with so many dropped projects. A portion of the program indeed felt “general”, though this isn’t necessarily bad; some students complained and the teachers justified some areas, but in the end it was clear that a game degree is something that’s still quite new and still evolving. The structure of this program is probably still wildly different among schools. Having gone through it partway I started to wonder about the degree myself, but that not what I’m here to say.
Regardless of all these potential downsides I still went to Qantm. Despite all the negativity, I eventually decided to do it for my own reasons – something irrelevant from what I was told.
Putting the potential negatives aside, I tried to think of what someone could take away from a degree that wasn’t just “learning how to make games”. After all, the pros said that wasn’t enough, and I kind of already knew how, anyway. Eventually, I settled on the things that were incidental to just learning how to make games.
So, here are five reasons to do this “useless” degree:
To be in a positive environment
Let’s face it. A career in game development isn’t something that’s widely accepted yet. I didn’t exactly have any encouragement to do it when I was growing up, and by being in the course, the only people you will be surrounded by are the people who want the same thing as you: to make games, and get somewhere with it. A key thing to have to get by in this industry to to be self-motivated and have this great passion for it, but I don’t believe you can ever maintain that if you’re not among people who you can work with, or share your work with. I certainly didn’t manage to.
To learn the industry
Forget about making games, what about the industry environment? Actually entering the industry is hard, let alone learning what working in it would be like. A good school would have industry vets who would be able to share what working in it is like, with honesty. What can beat having a face-to-face talk with a professional?
To open doors and connections
Aside from knowing some industry veterans, the people who graduate alongside you will most likely be entering the industry with you at the same time, and there’s a lot of power behind having a pre-established network of people right when you finish the degree. Knowing a ton of graduates might not land you a job, but this plants a seed that will help grow your network when everyone starts spreading out. These were the people you worked alongside with for your first years, and there’s no stronger connection than having actually worked with them.
To build a team
If you decide to go indie and start your own thing, you’re not exactly going to be able to convince people to join you unless you have the aforementioned network and/or professional experience. Having spent years with them, the fellow graduates and friends you made would be a good start to try building a team of developers to break into the industry.
Being in a college also gives you the opportunity to try to stray away from the standards and experiment with a concept that would otherwise be dismissed on first glance, without it being a waste of time and money. Whether or not they would be marketable would still be in the air, but either way the games or prototypes would most assuredly be looked at and scrutinised. You can’t land on a good concept unless you have that peer review.
Overall, these points are mainly about who will be in the game degree with you, and the actual journey through the degree, rather than what you are learning. Even though the program structure is still being refined and improved, there aren’t many places where you can get a constant face-to-face time with both the industry vets, and spend time with the budding developers who you’ll eventually be working with (or against, for that matter.) That being said, I’m not going to dismiss the value in doing your own personal projects, both to bypass the questionable value of the degree (if it comes to that) and to build the portfolio that everyone looks at.
So, what about the degree itself? What about what, rather than who? If there were doubts, I’ve tried to give some alternative ways to think of a game degree, but I might tackle the question of its actual merits on another day. The curricula might still be changing, and it probably wildly differs between schools.