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Rory Cellan-Jones

Good at games?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 18 Jun 08, 15:24 GMT

Is the UK good at games - by which I mean the likes of Grand Theft Auto rather than the 100 metres? The answer is definitely yes - this has been the birthplace of some of the great games franchises including GTA.

So why then are games firms in such a grumpy mood about the challenge of doing business in the UK? What's their beef? Too little government support and too few smart people who want to work in the industry.

Well I've yet to meet an industry that isn't holding out its hat for a government bung - but surely the games business can't have a recruitment problem?

The trouble, as I found out on a visit to the Ubisoft Reflections studio in Newcastle, is that there is a mismatch between the demands of the games industry and the skills of the eager hordes of aspiring employees now emerging from university games courses.

At Ubisoft's studio atop a funky office building overlooking the Tyne Bridge I found just what I'd expected - a roomful of young almost exclusively male staff (one woman in a team of 107) who looked as though they spent just a little too much time on the Xbox or PS3.

Ubisoft work their magic on RoryBut when I talked to them I found that advanced computing and mathematical skills, rather than just a love of games were the key to a job here. True, those who worked in games design and animation (they set to work turning me into a character in their new Driver game) were more likely to come from an arts background, rather than being programmers.

But the engineers who actually make new games work on ever more advanced consoles now need high-level programming skills. Craig Braithwaite, who interrupted his work on programming the movement of characters inside a car to talk to me, was one of the lucky few to emerge from a university course and get a job in the industry. But he said his course had been tough, full of maths, and anyone who wanted to make the grade had to knuckle down.

The industry's Games Up? campaign believes most games courses just aren't fit for purpose. The campaign doesn't use the term "Mickey Mouse" to describe the 80 odd computer games degree courses at British universities - but it's clear most are regarded with contempt. "They're designed just to get bums on seats," according to Ian Livingstone, the creative director of Eidos.

At Northumbria University they do run a serious computer games engineering course and require aspiring students to have an A-level in maths. Dan Hodgson, who runs the course, told me that puts many off - and the decline in the study of maths and physics at A-level is a headache when it comes to finding suitable applicants.

There is good news in all this. For years, young people who have been lectured about the importance of studying maths and physics have responded with some justification that the decline of British industry means there are no decent job prospects for graduates in those subjects. Now there is a thriving and exciting industry crying out for their skills. As the Americans say, just do the math.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I've just graduated from a Computer Science degree and about to look for a job in the games industry. Luckily my course has been quite maths based - probably half the course was abstract maths rather than practical aspects. I can't say I've found the mathematics my favourite part of my degree, but hopefully it'll put me in a good position for the future.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm a software engineer who graduated from a Computer Science degree last year and have been a massive gamer since a very young age.

    Why didn't I go into the gaming industry? My fellow graduate friends who have joined gaming companies have informed me that you are expected to constantly work insane hours which escalates to unhealthy hours coming up to a release.

    This would be ok if the pay was comparable with the rest of the software industry but generally it is insultingly low.

    Maybe those reasons are why they are struggling with recruitment...

  • Comment number 3.

    @mikearthur

    I will quote you below:

    "My fellow graduate friends who have joined gaming companies have informed me that you are expected to constantly work insane hours which escalates to unhealthy hours coming up to a release."

    "This would be ok if the pay was comparable with the rest of the software industry but generally it is insultingly low."

    Having worked in the games industry, I can confirm that you have hit the nail on the head with your comment.

    Software engineers are taken for granted in many industries but in the gaming industry they are expected to be slaves.

    The prime argument of employers are "but we are not in it for the money we love what we do, thus are willing to put in the hours for it". Sorry but thats lame. Playing games is fun. Programming them not so.

    Futhermore a lot of overtime is due to mismanagement, as well as game producers / designers who are unable to come up with proper specs. Who tanks the damage for such sloppiness? Us programmers of course!

  • Comment number 4.

    There is a mismatch between the demands of the games industry and the skills of the eager hordes of aspiring employees now emerging from university games courses.


    -------------


    That is true of EVERY industry, the gaming industry has it no worse than any other and needs to realise that it must spend time raining it's own employees. Do they really thin that Universities churn out ready to deply metallurgists, network specialists, hydraulicists, mechanical engineers or doctors?

    Stop whinging, start training.

  • Comment number 5.

    It isn't just the gaming industry that doesn't pay, its the entire IT industry that doesn't pay.

    When I was in college we would always here about wages in excess of £60,000 a year... well I have neer met anyone on the IT industry who earned £60,000 a year if they didn't have one of the Executive Director roles.

    The gaming industry is just the start, soon it will spread everywhere to services, networks etc.

    Increase the pay, and the skills will come. Carry on as it is, and the entire industry will grind to a halt!

  • Comment number 6.

    I've been developing 3D systems for over 20 years and have a PhD in developing cutting edge high performance graphics engines. However, because pay is so low, like the majority of my colleagues, I've chosen to never work in games until that changes.

    Its just not attractive. Why earn £50k with strenuous hours (no house, no future) in an immature, abusive industry full of cowboys when you can work in the city (up to £500k say for a quant analyst, if you've got what it takes). The best proper scientists and engineers just know game development is a dead end and are going elsewhere. In fact the city is increasingly trying to lure programmers out of games and into investment banking etc. because of their advanced real-time coding and math skills.

    Game development now requires very high calibre software developers, generally the ones who grew up writing assembly since the C64/Spectrum and went through accademia to attain higher level coding and maths abilities. I find it hard to imagine there are many graduating today who stand much chance of competing or meeting the standards required. To be frank, there never were that many. As an accademic insider in one of our top tier universities, I know the quality of computer science graduates has plummeted over the last decade, mostly due to the lack of initial skills, attitudes and work ethics of students.

    Until it pays far better and treats you fairly, I'd advise anyone to steer clear of the games industry. I really hope it will learn its lessons and improve, but I'm not so sure.


 

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