Lots of people want to work in games, it’s great to be able to work on your passion and getting to be part of the next evolution in games. But how should you go about it? Is a video game degree worth it, particularly in countries with high student fees? It’s a big life decision so let’s take a look at if it’s worth the money and time to invest in education.
I work in the industry as a Lead Artist and line manager and have been responsible for hiring new artists to our company as it has grown. I personally went to university and have a degree in Game Art and Animation and gained a lot from the experience, but now know the true value of having the degree on your resume.
Is a Game Degree Required?
The short answer is no, a game degree is absolutely not required to get a job in games. We have an article on different alternatives you can use to learn. However, it could help your cause when applying for a job. The most important part of applying for a job in creating video games is proving that you can do what you’re applying to do. As such, the most important thing to be able to show on your resume is job experience. Obviously, that’s easier said than done and doesn’t help you land your first job, so we need other ways to prove you can do it.
For jobs such as an Artist, you will need a strong portfolio, for a programmer, having completed and worked on personal projects will be important. Any proof of teamwork and working demos of games you have worked on will go a long way, this is one area where getting a formal education may help your chances as you will be working with like-minded people and will often have to complete some kind of group project to pass.
Ultimately, your potential employer will check your resume and will look at your education history, but it will generally be one of the more unimportant aspects. If you don’t have a degree to show, but have personal projects and portfolio pieces to show, they may want to dig deeper into your history or give you more tests to ensure you can do what you say you can do, but it will very rarely, if ever, be a limiting factor.
What Do You Gain From A Degree?
The most obvious thing you gain from doing a course is being able to put the degree in your experience, but we’ve already covered that this isn’t essential, so what other reasons might there be for taking one. Personally, for me, surrounding myself with driven and hard-working people completely changed my work ethic. I know that I couldn’t have self-taught myself to the level that I worked at university, I also got to learn alongside my peers who helped me a lot. If you are able to commit to working hard on your own, this might not be necessary for you.
Getting to work on group projects with people of roughly your own level is really useful for developing your skills and showing that you can work well as a team, even without much experience. The course should encourage big team projects and hopefully, this is something you can show in your portfolio. Again though, you don’t have to use a university course to do these things, it’s just much simpler that way.
How Useful Is What You Learn
A degree is great for teaching you the basics and getting you started on your journey, but one weakness of the games industry when it comes to education is that the industry is constantly evolving. Every year new tech comes out, new techniques are used, new platforms become available. This happens so fast that what you start learning in the first year is already redundant by the third. Couple that with the fact that most tutors will have been out of the industry for a while, and although they might try to keep up with the modern trends, they won’t know all of the cutting edge tech that is being worked on at the moment as they won’t have access to it.
That’s not to say that it isn’t useful at all. There is still a lot to be learned on a course, but from my experience, the degree does not prepare you particularly well for a real job. It’s true what they say, you will learn more in your first year on the job than you will in your entire educational career.
Alternatives To Getting A Degree
An alternative to getting a degree in games development would be to teach yourself. There is an incredible amount of tutorials online and tools you can use to get started. Ultimately though, you want to be looking at ways of getting experience or having finished products. A good example of this would be getting an app up and available to download on the app store. It doesn’t have to be a best-seller, but showing you have the know-how to get a project to that stage goes a long way. We even covered how you can make your own game without previous experience.
Something else you should focus on is networking. A good way to do this is to reach out to developers or attend game development conferences. Whilst it is daunting, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation and hand out some business cards. You’ll find a lot of game developers like to talk about what they do and help others who are starting out. We’ve all been there and we know the struggle. This is where a degree can come in useful, as you will most likely have made contacts along the way, through the university.
Even though I took the degree route, I still couldn’t get a job in the industry because of how competitive it was, the thing that landed me a role was doing some free artwork for someone I knew, who recommended me to the company they went on to work for. Then someone I knew in that job moved to work at another company, and I ended up joining there as well, without doing a test or even an interview, thanks to recommendations. Networking and building those contacts is absolutely one of the most important things you can do to find a job. And don’t burn any bridges, no matter how much you want to, because people have other game dev connections across the globe, and you’ll be surprised how news travels fast.
Which Way Works Best
Ultimately, there is no ‘right way’ to get a job in the games industry. Some people, like myself, will find the structured university course helped drive me to work hard and achieve much more than I could have done on my own. For others, the rigid workflow and arbitrary marking criteria can restrict and put off others who can do a much better job self-motivating. You will have to look at what each option offers you and which works best with your style to work out how to get where you want to get. For me, I don’t think I would be in this position without my degree, but at the same time, I can see weaknesses in what was taught and how, to the point where I could see someone doing just as well, or better, by themselves.