UK devs unite in call for higher education

Veteran developers blame "media studies courses" masquerading as computer science degrees and "dull as ditchwater" secondary classes for Britain's declining industry.


The UK game industry is facing a crisis, according to a number of its most prominent developers. But the blame isn't being assigned just to a slumping economy, government regulation, or a lack of tax incentives to entice local development. During a policy forum at Westminster this morning, there was an abundance of concern about declining educational standards.

Dramatization of a UK computer science course or screenshot from Bully?
Dramatization of a UK computer science course or screenshot from Bully?

David Braben of Lost Winds developer Frontier Games painted a particularly bleak picture for the future. Game development, Braben said, "is going to be gone from the UK unless something is done." Universities have been forced to "dumb down" courses in an effort to get more students through the door, he said.

This complaint was echoed at the forum by Ian Livingstone, Eidos life president, who railed against the way funding was "paid out in a bums-on-seats basis" and also suggested that outcry in the mainstream media should not be about the content of games but about "the lack of skills" being developed to make more of them.

Braben attacked universities offering courses purporting to help students get into the industry but actually having no practical use. The developer described such classes as "media studies courses masquerading as computer studies."

Braben accepted that courses on the cultural implication of games had their place, as they do for film and other media, but added that they are no replacement for training in maths, engineering, and the sciences. This complaint was again echoed by Eidos' Livingstone, suggesting that courses that claim to be about development should focus on the skills needed to make games, rather than the "philosophy" surrounding development.

Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of UK development industry body Tiga, also held forth on the problems with UK educational funding. He said tuition fees on the whole would have to rise to deliver the funding universities needed to deliver quality courses, though he also suggested that courses in the sciences and mathematics have their fees subsidised by the government to increase the number of graduates in those subjects.

The number of applicants for computer science courses has dropped by 50 percent since its peak in 2001, according to figures produced by Braben. One explanation that he offered was that the drop-off coincides with the mass introduction of ICT (information and communication technology) classes in secondary schools. Braben said his discussions with students and his work with schools have shown him that such courses at the secondary level are "dull as ditchwater," focusing on the use of applications and "how to find the power switch on your machine." Such an introduction to computer science simply serves to put the able off the subject, Braben said.

Ed Vaizey, the shadow minister for culture and the creative industries, acknowledged the problems. He said that were the Conservative party to win power, it would engage "at every single level across the country" to address these skill shortages which affect not only the games industry but the future of the British economy as a whole.

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Avatar image for maverick_76

I have always felt that schools should allow kids based on tests and grades, plus intangibles such as the ability to think out of the box. I know here in America what is hurting the transition from high school to college is the fact that it is terribly easy to get a diploma with no more science or math knowledge than when that person learned that electricity can kill and 2+2=4.

Avatar image for ultimo8

@ Vishant I think you are missing the point man. It is just talking about the cookie cutter classes meant to get money that are actually teaching you useless things. Just because you did not grow up with money doesn't mean you are dumb. Dumb people are dumb people, period.

Avatar image for Vishant

The main issue is the universities now can't push to be elite (elitism is wrong you see ;)). They have to take students from a broader social range, so that leads to dumbing down entry requirements and courses to ensure enough students get in so that the universities are still funded. Think about it fees this year for home/EU students were £3225. I study Pharmacy, non-EU students are paying approximately £12,000. So that £9,000 difference comes from the government and only if the university meets their social engineering quotas. Labour is trying to force schools and universities to accept those who may not be able to do the course simply because they come from a 'disadvantaged background'.

Avatar image for FeelinLuckyPUNK

I'm tempted to do a couple of courses to learn how to program and make my own games. Surely that's how it should be for everyone? You cannot just walk into a job without showing your capable of meeting requirements. Just make your own games and let them do the talking.

Avatar image for k0r3aN_pR1d3

The UK needs to expand its course offerings if they want to keep competitive. Quid's taken a beating and the country has alot more pressing matters (like radical homegrown terrorists).

Avatar image for KojiAce

I plan on taking computer science later this year :P But where I want to end up is not entirely clear to me.

Avatar image for Morf_uni

A good way to get better at making games and also filling up your portfolio is starting working on games in your free time with an indie group or a mod team. Get stuff done and find a team that have a high standard and good management and you'll have a lot in your "bag" once you're ready to search for a job in the industry. The best way to get better at making games is making games funny enough :) So yeah... that's my advice, find a team of people with the same goals as you and start making a game (and finish it!). It's hard, time consuming work you don't get paid for, but it gives you so much, specially if you're just sitting dreaming about making it into the industry anyways. My 2 cents..... (there's LOTS of teams going at it right now, and teams starting every day, surely there's one where you'll fit).

Avatar image for FFJunkies

HA! I remember going to my career advisor when it was the last year of year 11. She was so negative towards me trying to do this, she said that it is a hard industry to get into and that i wouldnt make it so at that i never bothered going for my dream. =(

Avatar image for thingta42

I never did manage to complete school cos of those damn bullys, Ohh well least im trying to make up for it by doing learndirect every week.

Avatar image for jjoy85

Don't give up! I graduated from a games design course and I got a job in the games industry, after putting tons of work in, I got a job as a junior designer. It is possible. You just have to put in the extra work. The course I did wasn't very good but it did allow me to focus and improve my skills, though it was off my own back. The best advice I can give is to apply EVERYWHERE! hedge your bets. Try to make contact with people in the industry as it is usually one of the only ways your CV will get seen in the smaller studios. Adobe Flash is a great way of building up a portfolio of playable games. I did this and most employers were impressed. If your a good programmer you won't have a problem but the designers and sometimes artists have a hard time without experience. Good Luck

Avatar image for Sepewrath

Yeah the education system in a whole has a number of issue's. They under prepare students for life outside the classroom. There is a huge focus on test taking because it presents undeniable numbers, instead of focusing on application. When its time to perform a biological assay, open heart surgery or develop a game. All the philosophy, and perfect test scores in the world have not prepared you.

Avatar image for darklight4

@gamedude2020 Yeah your right about that, creative writing courses are a waste of time. Media courses were my thing. only thing I have trouble with is getting pointed in the right direction thanks for response tho.

Avatar image for rholding2000

As a teacher of ICT in a secondary school i agree 100%. I used to program and still write music for games and its my only gambit in the class. Ive taught about 2 people out of over 900 to properly program, most give up after a few lessons as they want quick results. They want to be playing a game in seconds. They wont put in the graft to learn how to program. Problem is, we dont have time and with behaviour becoming a massive issue its more like day care than it is teaching. I however wont go back into the industry as thinking about debugging one more line of code makes me want to mib style the games industry off the face of the planet

Avatar image for Altiar25

I just got accepted into collage for a games designing course :|

Avatar image for grasshopper6

yep getting a job in the game industry is like winning the lottery, good luck to ya'll

Avatar image for gamedude2020

@darklight4 you dont need to do creative writing to become a screenplay writer. You don't even need to do English. I think the head writer at the Simpsons studied Finance. A Creative Writing degree is a complete waste of time, IMO.

Avatar image for games100

Doing a creative media course next year, want to break into the games industry after. Not looking good though.....why can't things in life just be easy lol

Avatar image for darklight4

I wanted to be a writer for the games and film industry but the lack of any decent creative writing courses has held me back. To begin with they are incredibly short I would rather be writing scripts than bloody poetry and no one reads books as much so they could change the courses to include more movie and game writing content. I have so many ideas for great stories and dialogue for the games industry but the lack of options and education to realise my full potential is disheartening.

Avatar image for Obi_Tom_Kenobi

I have a degree in Games Design and have had no luck at all finding a job since I graduated in Summer 2008. If I could go back 5 years I wouldn't have done it, simple as. The chance of getting a job in the games industry, particularly in the UK, is minimal, as the professionals will tell you themselves.

Avatar image for Suicide-Panda

hmm i was looking at game design at university...

Avatar image for anotherone10

Universities are getting too expensive now in the UK, this can put people off or atleast make them think twice, so going to uni can be a big financial struggle for some even with grants. I plan to do computer engineering at university too.

Avatar image for flyingteddy

I agree with Rikuide_Furame, a joint degree in computing and maths would be good entry to games programming, I did CS at University and there is no focus towards games at all. You can go to specialist degrees but I think they are limiting. And from what I've heard there is not any high wages to chase that make it a popular career choice, you'd earn more being a regular application developer, with better hours too no doubt

Avatar image for Rikuide_Furame

With so many of these course around finding a legit one can be tough. If it's open to you the best option has always been a comp sci degree, perhaps a joint degree with maths or engineering.

Avatar image for geezer06uk

well i have joined a Game Developer course provided by T2G and backed by TIGA to help with the problem of UK Game Developers coming through into the industry...

Avatar image for jaredcrazy3232

this unfortunately is one of the many social problems Britons as a whole are facing, it almost seems like it will get worse before it gets better. and yes I am from Canada, but when ever I talk about Briton, my grandparents and best friends can only ever seem to talk about the problems. (they are all from England BTW) needless to say It is sad to hear.

Avatar image for Slagar


Avatar image for ArcAngel6903

Or it could be all the disgusting interest in shooters, unnecessary or not well planned sequels, and a general inability to understand what makes a good game..... but no I'm sure it's none of that.

Avatar image for endocrine

@XenoLair Just to let you know, every field where you have to learn higher level calculus has high drop out rates. In fact, I would bet engineering students have higher drop out rates at your school than CS majors. CS majors should have to take high level math. Well, atleast if you want to actually do anything meaningful in CS. Not only that, many of these classes are called "weed out classes" for a reason. They get rid of low quality students. This makes departments look better, as a higher percentage of their graduates are atleast moderately intelligent. Although, most shoftware engineers are likely to just be code monkeys anyways, so they need limited intelligence because as smolle said, dumb people are easier to control.

Avatar image for endocrine

Lets see here, the dot com bubble burst in 2001. Since then, global enrollment in CS has decreased. I think there is more causality in this than some dull computer classes. I remember having to take computer classes in middle school and that was what, 15ish years ago? Those classes were about as dull as can be back then as well. The reason why I think less people are going in to CS is because big companies abuse their employees with long overtime with dimishing pay. Not only that, the internet has lost most of its ability to make people rich quick. There are not too many fields where you here on a regular basis "Insert Every Company Name Here" has failed to pay overtime to their employees. "Insert Every Company Name Here" has cancelled employees time off. If you want the best example of this just listen to Activisions CEO. He thinks developers should not enjoy their jobs. If you want people to come back to CS, stop treating your employees like disposable trash.

Avatar image for smolle

Dumb people are easier to control and lie to aren't they, Uncle Sam.

Avatar image for VXLbeast

Probably better than the school system in the States.

Avatar image for XenoLair

Well if computer science would have mandatory math and discrete math more people would be educated in that field. I studied computer science but dropped out cause math and discrete math courses demanded too much from students. Where I studied about 60% of students fail right in those fields. Computer science courses should be completely remade if you ask me.

Avatar image for Elvis4576

to start with many students dont even want to go to school in the first place, the ones who do are in schools that are being ripped apart by budget cuts. Not to mention the high costs of college, unless this economy gets better the problem with schools and students wont get better eitheir.

Avatar image for Adam_the_Nerd

This is totally true. When the economy gets rough, the government cuts costs in education and healthcare first (two very necessary institutions). Lack of jobs/income, coupled with rising education costs and declining education quality definitely doesn't add up.

Avatar image for Stabby

Oh God, university media studies is pointless... I can see the benefit in sixth form per se in the sense that is explains the basics but to pay for 3 years helps not you or your chances.