Game over for gaming study?

September 21, 2007

The head recruiter for a major international computer and video games developer in the UK has cast doubt on the worth of gaming degrees, urging students to study traditional subjects instead.

Matthew Jeffery, head of European recruitment at Electronic Arts, said the company tested potential recruits in maths and programming. "Overwhelmingly, graduates from core degrees such as computer science, maths and physics perform to a higher standard than those from games degrees," he said.

He suggested "a rapid proliferation of hastily set-up games degree courses" could lead to unemployed graduates. "There are over 170 games courses in the UK, leading to a big mismatch between demand and supply. Games degrees are not readily transferable to other industries," he said. "We never want to witness graduates unable to compete for jobs in other industries, but that's what we are facing."

Many degree courses focus on games design, but Mr Jeffery said: "There are very few opportunities for entry-level game designers anywhere in the industry."

In the past two years, EA UK has hired 350 staff, of whom a third were graduates, but only two were entry-level designers and none had games design degrees.

David Dorrington, lecturer in computer games design at the University of East London, said his graduates' skills were transferable. Some found jobs in the games industry while others went into in web development, administration, technical support and teaching.

Matthew Holton, assistant dean at Teesside University's School of Computing, said there was "some truth" in Mr Jeffery's claims.

The popularity of courses such as Abertay's and Teesside's, developed more than a decade ago, led many universities to "jump on to the bandwagon... In many cases courses were thinly resourced and did not provide good quality to their students," he said.

Matt Southern, Evolution Studios product manager, said the idea that not all gaming degrees were fit for purpose was a myth, "albeit one in widespread circulation". Abertay, Bournemouth, Bolton, Teesside, Hull and Liverpool John Moores universities provided excellent graduates, he said.

Industry wanted "a production line of sweatshop staff" and academia had to resist this by telling businesses what they need rather than supplying what they want, he added.

But Mr Southern, a former course co-ordinator at Liverpool John Moores University, said there was some truth in the accusation that "universities will do anything to get the numbers in".

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