You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘skills’ tag.

A lack of work experience is a major challenge to anyone wanting to get into the games industry right now. Most employers want people with a few years prior experience and, quite often, a number of published titles to their credit.

That is a big problem for a raw graduate or college finisher. The cream of the crop (the top 5%) will always land roles on the strength of their grades, the quality of their portfolio and their ability sell themselves but what about the other 95%? I know people that sent out over a hundred CVs/enquiries but hardly got any responses back. I have to ask, however, to what extent does a lack of experience hinder someone from fulfilling a productive role within the games industry? Should we not attempt to bring more of these passionate and committed young people into our industry rather then turning them away?

I have, over the last decade or so, probably employed 50+ people in various technical and creative roles in the five games and digital media businesses I’ve been involved in. Those roles were a mix of full-time, part-time, temporary, freelance and lengthy paid placements.

The vast majority of these people had little or no prior paid employment history in the industry. This was mainly a result of me being a start-up addict and nearly always attempting to get stuff done with little or no resources. I’d be lying if I claimed that better things couldn’t have been achieved and in a more timely manner with more experienced team members, but nonetheless, as a four times company founder, I am quite satisfied and in some cases very proud with what was achieved.

In an age when every start-up is being told to ‘bootstrap’, to get minimum viable product (MVP) to market and customer/market validation before taking in any funding, the supply of inexperienced, yet highly motivated, talent is, I believe, being wrongly over-looked. More than this, from an industry-level and societal standpoint, we’re being grossly unfair to a large number of people who we’re enticing to undertake expensive degree courses, then failing to provide them a chance to show what they can do.

The paradox is this; if one looks at the output that student and graduate teams are achieving through initiatives such as GamerCamp, DareToBeDigital, Digipen, the many degree courses and numerous game jams, it is clear that these inexperienced individuals are actually quite capable of achieving some  pretty impressive things. I attended a mobile games ‘meet em up’ at Birmingham Science Park Aston last year and was, quite frankly, blown away by a series of presentations from students and recent graduates. I’m certain that this is happening all ten time up and down the country.

Yet still, when it comes to building up internal teams, established studios usually take a conscious decision to filter out these people. This is, to a certain extent, a product of it being an employers’ market right now when it comes to graduate and junior roles. Yet almost every games studio has open positions for mid-level and senior roles and the industry is growing – albeit painfully – very quickly. Those more senior roles won’t find candidates if the conveyor belt of talent is restricted because no studios hire raw graduates. Those dejected graduates that get turned away from the games sector will find roles in marketing, web and other creative or technical roles. That is our loss.

I know how hard it is for a small/young games studio to carry inexperienced team members or to find resources (people, cash or time) to develop them, but I believe if the willingness is there from employers (it is from employees!) then it can be both practical and beneficial to bring raw graduates into a team.

When we needed to build a MVP of MusicFestivals Game at SoshiGames in 2011 without any meaningful cash, we turned to ‘free-sourcing’ the game. The proposition was this; if graduates were willing to commit some time, we would commit to providing them with an environment in which they can learn and gain useful industry experience. We had, I would estimate, something like forty people involved in the project over the course of 18months. Some gave one day a week. Some gave 40 hours a week for six months or more. I won’t pretend it was easy and that there were not challenges, however SoshiGames got it’s MVP and the volunteers got their much needed experience. Several of the volunteers were given full time employment once funding was secured and many others got jobs within a short time of leaving us.

Recruiting the ‘free-sourced’ team was done in an extremely ad-hoc manner. There was no single route to finding potential candidates. We approached colleges, universities, alumni groups, placed adverts, plastered info all over the internet and social networks, put up posters and mentioned it in conference sessions and TV/radio adverts. It was hard work but it proved worthwhile for everyone concerned.

I’d like to see an attitudinal change amongst games studios with regards to hiring more juniors. I’d also like to see some services designed to better connect graduates with studios. If this happened it would only be a good thing for the UK games industry.

Advertisements

It was refreshing to see the Daily Mail taking a constructive stance on the game industry over the weekend, even if the issue at hand was not a positive one.

The article – in The Mail on Sunday – highlighted the fact there are now several dozen ‘video game’ degrees being offered by UK universities (over 80 I believe) but that only four of these are accredited by the industry sector skills council, SkillSet, resulting in a host of, as the Mail put it; “Mickey Mouse degrees with little job relevance.”

Having written about this subject previously and as some one who was involved in a small way in the SKillset initiative and as an external industry reviewer of one institution’s curriculum I find this depressing. The UK is poised to be churning out several thousand ‘game degree graduates’ each year for a UK industry that currently employs less than ten thousand people in all capacities. There are far too many universities which are mashing together existing computer science and creative modules together and marketing them as being relevant to the games industry. At the same time companies are crying out for talented, motivated and well-trained people and cannot fill key position…at least not without paying ridiculous salaries.

Employers need graduates with specialisms e.g in 3D modelling, mathematics, physics or script-writing. Universities are providing courses that cover practically every job function in the industry meaning that whilst graduates may have an appreciation of all the different roles, they are equipped for non of them and thus place a heavy responsibility on companies to provide a huge amount of training for new hires.

Whilst the remit of educational institutions is to ‘educate’ not to train (e.g. in specific software packages) – and we must not ignore this – it is painfully apparent that there is a gross mismatch in courses which are supposed to equip graduates with the skills they need to gain employment and the real world needs of employers in this sector.

Until this matter is resolved, thousands of motivated and talented young people face having their dreams dashed and many companies will struggle to be competitive. When you consider that the cost of undertaking a degree can be calculated at £100,000 through loss of income, fees and living costs and that employers will increasingly need to offshore work in order to deliver then clearly this situation is failing UK Plc and needs to be tackled urgently.

My postings on this blog (and most of the talks I do) have a core theme of commercial pragmatism running through them. As the CEO and founder of such a company, one very practical issue that I and my colleagues frequently need to grapple with is project resourcing which is, in the main, about finding appropriately skilled people when you need them.

Most serious games (and I use that phrase loosely to include virtual world and immersive simulation developers as well) companies will be mostly or, indeed, totally based upon a work for hire model right now. Whilst many that I know are looking to develop internal IP (e.g. content, tools or technology) the reality is that most companies in this space are under capitalized and the market (customers) are still very much in a commissioning mode still.

Serious games/immersive sims (as opposed to simplistic edutainment or small mini games) are an order of magnitude more complex than your average eLearning project. They are very much software applications rather than online/multimedia content with a huge array of art assets (3D models, characters, audio, music etc), contain complex logic to cater for providing a variety of user choices/actions and meaningful effects (the interactivity) and will most probably be processing large quantities of data (think how much data an advanced business simulation deals with).

Working in this environment requires game, simulation, technical, instructional, narrative, graphic and multimedia skills and at an advanced level. It also requires strong subject matter/domain expertise, in-depth project management and a high level of client/partner liaison.

Projects tend to have long lead times (6 months is very typical) but when they fall into place my experience is that the developer is expected to be able to gear up in as little as two weeks and invariably all but the largest projects are expected to be completed in 3 to 4 months. That includes in-depth needs analysis, materials gathering, detailed game design, simulation modelling, technical design, UI design, content creation, art/asset generation, external systems integration, client approval/compliance reviews, QA, testing and deployment.

With all of this in mind, consider how easy (hint: or not!) it is for a small developer to rapidly hire/engage a team of, say, 15 people with the right skills, experience, team fit and crucially…availability.

In the Western world we have huge skills shortages particularly in IT. You can hire people quickly but at a price (e.g. £40,000 plus for a reasonably experienced Flash Programmer), use freelance talent (£300 plus per day for an Instructional Designer) or use agency staff (£500/day for programmers). These rates are unsustainable for a projects-based company as they kill the profit margins and hammer cashflow.

Our approach to date has been thus:

  1. Maintain a core internal team at our main office in Coventry that has a blend of all of the key high level skills (essentially the instructional, game, technical and creative conceptual design roles).
  2. Supplement this with niche skills with UK freelancers (e.g. 3D character artists)
  3. Utilise freelance Project Managers and Instructional Designers on a project by project basis
  4. Utilize offshore resources for the ‘nuts & bolts’ creative and development work

This ‘burstable’ model requires a high degree of internal discipline, multi-channel communication and rigorous project management as well as an anal level of internal systems and processes but if set up well is, in my opinion, the best way of tackling serious game resourcing at this stage of the market’s development.

I intend to look in more depth at the challenges around offshoring/outsourcing in another post shortly but I’d be intrigued to learn how others approach this challenge.

Jude Ower of Digital 2.0 ( www.digital2point0.com) sent me a link to a good article on the BBC site about the UK game industries skills needs. One issue it covers is around the apparent overabundance of game degree courses and the disparity between the course programmes (and focus areas) and the actual day to day needs of employers in the game industry.

I found this particularly interesting as we are involved with several universities in the UK, EU and US such as Coventry University, Warwick University, Huddersfield University and The University Of Michigan and, as CEO of PIXELearning, I am frequently asked to validate proposed courses, find placements for students or to partake in skills surveys.

There are very many games degrees courses in the UK but my perception is that most are simply nebulous amalgamations of existing course modules which are hastly thrown togther under the banner of ‘Computer Games Degree’ in a cynical attempt to attract students to the university in question.

Article link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7460870.stm

twitter me

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share
%d bloggers like this: