Having help set up both masters and undergraduate computer science focused games degrees I take a particular interest in the skills agenda in the games industry. The recent NESTA report was a launch event I made sure I went to, although it seemed to have a rather split personality when it came to schools and universities.
The coverage regarding schools would not be out of place with what has been said about failing IT education in schools; and the timely Royal Society study into this. The report reads like a plea for liberal educational values: to allow students from all backgrounds to combine arts and sciences and foster excellence.
There was clear support for this from teachers groups at the launch who wish to teach the good stuff and not office packages. So far, so good - this is the education system I want for our children.
The coverage of universities seems to then take an intensely instrumentalist turn. The language moves from the intellectual development of talented minds to skills training by tick-box and accreditation schemes (as if we don't have enough forms to fill in already).
This is despite one clear message I have received from more enlightened games companies: they seek excellence in the core (so computer science for programmers). I find the two viewpoints extremely hard to reconcile, especially as the compliance-driven approach has arguably underpinned the problems found in the school system.
On a practical note, one of the report's recommendations is a non-starter: the suggestion of a league table based on employment in the games industry. The reason is that such a table will largely reflect the universities' local employment markets. For example, the skill set to be a good games programmer (C++, vector maths, physics, etc) is very similar to that in demand in financial services. If you can program game physics, implementing derivative models is within your grasp.
The fact is in London, the City will pay top dollar for these skills. Granted, it is not as glamorous as games but a much higher starting salary and fewer long hours is persuasive. This is where the most talented output of universities in London and the South East currently end up.
It is the competition for talent that is the elephant in the room in this debate. Talented graduates are not mercenary, but they are obviously keen to secure a good package. If the games industry wishes to secure the talent it claims to need, this is the area in which it needs to formulate a creative response.
There is potentially a good story that games the industry can write for itself: technical challenge, work-life balance, varied work. It just needs to do so, and be seen to do so.
As with all industries, only they hold the keys to their own salvation: waiting for others, especially government, to act will not prove to be a viable option.
Post by Dr Andrew Tuson,
Dr Tuson is Senior Lecturer in Computing, Undergraduate Admissions Tutor, and the Course Director for the City University Master of Information Leadership: the UK's first open executive masters degree for aspiring CIOs.