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A question on education: IT or Game Course?

Hi guys, I received this email today from a parent, and I'm hoping to get some good answers for the person enquiring as we can understand it's a very important decision for anyone thinking about a career in game development. I'll be pointing this thread to them so they can follow up on any responses.

All feedback would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.

Hi, thought you might be able to help. My son is going to be starting a uni degree next year and is wants to have a career in the gaming industry.

He is particulary keen on the Batchelor of Games and Interactive Entertainment at QUT. I was wondering though if he would be better off doing a more broader general IT course rather. Can you please advise whether you prefer your graduates to have the specific Gaming degree or a more general IT degree. Any assistance you can give us would be appreciated.

Submitted by designerwatts on Fri, 17/07/09 - 2:27 PM Permalink

A question that's been floating around for many years. Please keep in mind my statements are purely opinionated and represent no one else's point of view.

There is no simple answer to this. And it's ultimately up to personal taste and to what speed in which you wish to get into the industry. It also depends on what avenue of game development he/she wishes to get into, whether it be design, art or programming.

Courses that are focused around game development pitch to teach you skills and knowledge that is the most direct and relevant to our industry. If this industry is the only industry that the student wants to consider then it would make sense to approach one of these institutions, whether it be Quantem, AIE or somewhere else. Some of these institutions are privately owned so check out their fees and payment options before making a final decision.

The big plus of these institutions is student placement. If the student is passionate about games and shows it through their work then there's a chance a studio will see that and pick them up.

Then there are more broader University courses like a computer science bachelors. These courses are more generalised but that doesn't mean they are any worse off then direct courses. It does however mean that the student will have to put in extra time in their own projects and self promotion directed at the game industry. But in the end they leave with a more broader knowledge of that discipline and similar disciplines.

The big plus of Uni courses like these is their broadness. If the student ends up not liking the game industry. They'll have some accreditation that could help them in similar industries.

Generally a bachelors is looked upon best. Especially later on in life if the person wishes to travel abroad. Most immigration centres for America, Canada and Europe assume a accredited bachelors is required to pass as a skilled worker, unless the candidate is of a lead position of their industry. which is around 6+ years of experience in the workplace.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/07/09 - 5:12 PM Permalink

Before choosing any course make sure that you know what you are in for.
A degree with IT is aways a programming course occasionally with some art in it.

You will need to have developed skills in programming already if you want to succeed in a degree in programming.

If you want to make cool looking 3D models of Creatures,cars what ever do not what ever you do enroll in a programming course. Do a course that is more focused on 3d art related content.

You will be picked up in this industry as a junior artist or junior programmer.

Know which one you are before you start your course of study.

I know this is very black and white description of the roles in the games industry and yes there are shades of gray in this industry and that where the education comes into it. Hope this helps

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/07/09 - 3:32 PM Permalink

The first thing he needs to do is pick a discipline. There are many areas - programming, art, animation, design, QA, production - each requiring their own specific skill sets. And the best way to get a job in the industry is pick one of those and stick to it. Don't become a "jack of all trades". Employers want exceptional talent in one area, not someone who has average talent in multiple areas. Whatever education he chooses, he needs to keep that in mind. If he wants to be a programmer, do a programming course. If he wants to be an animator, do an animation course etc...

Personally, I don't think much of those game specific courses at all, but I do know a few guys that have gone through courses at QANTUM and AIE and have managed to land jobs. I think the major factor is excelling in your showing field, and showing something that really makes you stand out from the crowd.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/07/09 - 6:19 PM Permalink

As somebody who is directly involved in hiring here at Infinite Interactive, I answer emails like this from both students and parents on a semi-regular basis.


While it's true that Infinite hires as many people from Games Courses as from regular Uni Bachelor Degrees, the B.Sc. guys have the following advantages:
1. If they change their mind about their future career mid-course, then their degree is more flexible
2. They can more easily move industries if they burn out on games, and this industry DOES burn people
3. Their degree is more flexible if they are working overseas
4. A regular Uni degree gives broader experience and better Software Engineering skills. I find that the most important subjects they ever cover in any tertiary degree are the Software Engineering ones - they are certainly the ones we quiz juniors about the most in an interview.

In my experience, *nobody* is really prepared to make a commercial game whatever course they come from. We tend to give preference to Uni graduates for our hardcore programming positions, while Game-course people tend to land in the more creative gameplay roles.


Steve Fawkner
Infinite Interactive

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/07/09 - 8:39 PM Permalink

Plus with all the local Computer Science/Software Engineering degrees starting to have a games stream or gaming subjects it makes more sense now to those degrees. Sure not every subject etc is going to orientated towards games 24/7 but your going to get better well rounded skills at the end of the degree, and "non-gaming" subjects such as algorithms and data structures are actually some of the most fundamental parts of game development (at least from the engine perspective -- this anonymous poster background).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/07/09 - 1:01 PM Permalink

This matches exactly my experience hiring programmers at Blue Tongue. I always advise anyone thinking of a career in games to get a regular bachelor degree from a good university!

A CS or SE degree is advantageous to the student for all the reasons Steve listed. There is only so much a university course can do to prepare you for the real world of commercial game development, so it's better to have a solid general grounding in the principles of software engineering.

If you choose your electives to suit (eg. graphics, operating systems, maths, embedded systems, etc), you will get most of the benefits that a game course might offer, while receiving a broad and rigorous education that will grant you far more options in the future. Graduates who combine strong academic results with an impressive home developed demo will find themselves on the short list at Blue Tongue.

I'm actually concerned that universities are doing students a disservice by offering these game courses. While Blue Tongue hires people from both game courses and regular bachelor degrees, in my long experience I have seen no evidence to suggest that game course graduates have a better chance of landing a job in the industry. Students, do yourself a favour and get a regular bachelor degree.


Graeme Webb
Technical Director
Blue Tongue - THQ

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/07/09 - 3:41 PM Permalink

I should add that, while I strongly believe that a game course is no substitute for a regular bachelor degree, it can serve as a useful supplement. For example, we have hired people who, having obtained their B.Sc and with it a solid general grounding in software engineering, went on to do a one year certificate course at a specialist school like the AIE. This is one one way you can hone your practical game programming skills, and work on your demo, before securing a position in the games industry.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/07/09 - 3:20 PM Permalink

I interview a lot of people for a good sized games studio and totally agree with the Bachelor Degree comment.

Most people can get through a uni course, the more important thing for me is that they can show they are genuinely interested in making games. That usually means I want to see a demo or some other work done outside a uni course.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/09/10 - 12:49 PM Permalink

Great to see common sense from industry figures.

I would be embarrassed to have Bachelor/Diploma of Games to my name, but not a B IT in CompSci. It makes me much more credible and professional looking for my post-games career where I worked in scientific/robotics software. So think of getting a BIT or BEng as an insurance policy to help you in case the games industry turns to shit.

Realistically, think about the amount of "games" courses on offer in Australia and how many entry level/graduate jobs will be available for these students when they graduate. A lot are going to miss out and be disappointed, much like those doing trendy forensic science courses only to find out what a small specialist niche it is with very limited amount of options.

Sadly some young naive people think that having the "games" course gives them an edge over more regular Bachelor's graduates and the colleges/universities know this and happily exploit it.

Also, a Bachelor's from a recognised Australian university can be handy to tick the boxes on a form when applying for an overseas visa/work permit.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/07/09 - 3:45 PM Permalink

Another thing people rarely consider is teaching yourself. I can only speak from my perspective as an artist and biz guy, but I never went to university or studied art/business outside of reading books, trawling the internet, talking to people who have been there, and practicing. I understand university has its place and in many cases probably gets people hired where if they had no degree they would have no chance, still, I have a thing against uni. You spend 3-4 years and rack up a massive debt, and I know so many people who change their mind half way through or talk about how useless their degree was in their chosen field. I often think how much they could have gotten done on their own in those 4 years without spending all that money.

I got a job from my portfolio, which I worked on through highschool. I would personally hire anyone regardless of their education if they have a great folio.

Thinking even further outside the traditional box, consider that you don't have to go looking for a job, you can work for yourself. Contracting or starting your own business. Flash games are a great way to get into developing games, and are simple enough that you can see whether you have a preference for art or code, or you may like both.

Jobs are not very secure, especially in games, and especially with the GFC. When Ratbag closed I was pretty happy I had spent 3-4 years on Hyperfocal Design, and was much more secure with that income.

I realise this wasn't really the question, but I suppose I felt like ranting, since people never seem to consider these options :)

Jay Weston

Submitted by designerwatts on Mon, 20/07/09 - 4:08 PM Permalink

Self education is also an option.

This is also a route I took. My family didn't have the finances to support an education after high school and my casual job at Coles only did so much.

So at the time I choose to teach myself the things I needed to know. I brought books online and got myself some software. Worked my ass off learning the software and design principles. Made a few levels and demos over the period of 12 months and eventually got a job at Bluetongue to work on de Blob for a good 2 and a bit years.

Even now I'm doing the same thing only in a grander capacity as i'm now leading a team of almost a dozen people to create a non-profit game prototype demo.

However, I must stress that self teaching is not for everyone and it's not desirable for a lot of specialises.

For level design and Art I think you can still get away with self-education. Provided your willing to run on your own motivation for months or even years, which is something even the best of us have trouble doing.

Programming I'm not so sure. A lot of programmers i've worked with attribute a lot of their knowledge and skills to the all important computer science bachelors. I don't think that should be ignored.

Also why you may be able to obtain the skills and knowledge through self-education that many schools may offer. That doesn't amend the fact that when a HR manager is sifting through resumes and cover letters he may simply dump yours in the bin for not having any noticeable education listed.

Furthermore immigration bodies for other countries consider you an uneducated hick unless you have a 4 year bachelors to prove them otherwise, or a LOT of Australian professional development experience.

The video game industry is still an industry where innovating thinking and determination can land you a job. But as every year passes that's getting harder to do so. I've noticed in the last 3 years the requirements for some studios for junior art/design positions they now ask for someone to have not only self created demos and folio samples but a 4-year education in a creative subject.

Not something I agree with. But it is the requirement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/07/09 - 9:04 AM Permalink

Ironically I went through all the self education route to become a engine programmer. Most people are surprised when I tell them that I haven't been to Uni, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

I am actually returning to Uni to combat what designerwatts mentioned, the uneducated hick syndrome. The companies will look at you if you got a ton of Australian dev experience, but the immigration departments wont.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/07/09 - 4:44 PM Permalink

Another consideration is that it can be hard to get into the Games Industry. I worked a regular programming job for about a year and a half before I was able to make the change.

Having a solid, well rounded education and a respected, general degree will help either ensuring a decent job while he waits for his big break to come or even providing new opportunities if he later decides that the games industry isn't where he wants to be work the rest of his life (yes, it really does happen, even to people who've spent their whole lives wanting to work on games).