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7:25pm on Wednesday, 10th June, 2015:

Old Boy


Jamie Stowe, Technical Creative at 22cans., is a former student of mine. He was among the first to graduate from our games course, and has done rather well from himself: he's one of 22Cans' two game designers (the other being Peter Molyneux, OBE). Today, Jamie visited the university to give a talk to the IGGI PhD studentsand interested academics on a subject of our choosing. The topic selected was level design, which was at a level rather more advanced than if he'd been talking to undergraduates and it contained a lot of meat. From what he was saying, level designers have more freedom these days than they did five or six years ago, so I'll have to amend one of my undergraduate lectures for next year. His talk was well-received, anyway — and not just because he was lead level designer for some of the Assassin's Creed games, either.

We spent a lot of time catching up over lunch. It's great when a former student has been successful and wants to "give something back" to the university. Obviously it would be greater if the present students wanted to have something given back to them, which too few of this year's final-year undergraduates did (I had to cancel an earlier talk Jamie had planned). Whenever I hear about what it takes to get into the games industry these days, though, my heart sinks. There are so many applicants for so few places that it's extremely difficult for a gifted student to reach the point at which their ability will be noticed by a studio and they'll be given a chance. 22Cans takes more interns each year than some studios ten times its size, but even then that's a drop in the ocean when there are maybe 10,000 graduates a year looking for a computer games industry job, 3,000 of whom have dedicated computer game degrees, in an industry that employs at most 25,000 people total in this country (including people working for companies servicing the games industry).

Rationally, I should be telling my students that they're wasting their time trying to get jobs in the games industry. Each year, though, several do get them. Rationally, I should be telling them that they won't be designing games, they'll be programming tools or working in QA. This is basically correct, but a few years down the line they could indeed be designing games (like Jamie). Rationally, I should be saying that they're not going to become millionaires setting up tiny development studios with one another, but each year some of them do set up such companies and some of those companies do have a paper value of over a million quid. Rationally, I should be telling them that they would get paid more programming practically anything other than computer games, and that should matter to them. I do, in fact, tell them this, but it makes no difference.

When they finish their degree, and go out into the big, wide world, they're in a position where they have the skills to make games but not the experience. Incredibly, this lack of experience is what makes it all somehow click. Because they don't have experience, they're idealistic; because they're idealistic, they'll do things they don't know they're not supposed to be able to do; because they try, they sometimes succeed — or they fail, but in so doing learn from their mistakes and bounce back.

This is what keeps me going as an academic: the knowledge that what I'm too cynical and jaded to do, some of the people I'm teaching will be over-optimistic and over-enthusiastic enough to attempt. In the end, we'll get better games.

That's all I ever wanted from the games industry: better games.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).