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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.

My company, PIXELearning, is running further half day hands-on workshops on experiential learning. Each one with a different focus, all are free to attend but with a small and limited capacity. It’s a chance to see how immersive learning can be effective as an alternative to classroom training whilst saving on training budgets.

“Chalk Talk 101” is aimed at anybody interested in learning more about Immersive Learning Simulations (ILS) aka “serious games”. What is, and how do I implement a successful game?

http://chalktalk.eventbrite.com October 23rd

“Chalking up your skills” covers personal skills development such as Leadership, and Diversity and Inclusion

http://chalkingup.eventbrite.com October 30th

“Calling a Serious Solution” will focus on the areas where role play works particularly well such as Customer Service, Call Centre and Sales Training.

http://callingaserioussolution.eventbrite.com November 6th

Venue: The Serious Games Institute in the centre of Coventry, West Midlands.

VNU’s ‘Tech Talk’ (www.trainingmagevents.com) is one of the few email newsletters that I am subscribed to that I actually get around to reading these days. Today I broke my Tech Talk ‘virginity’ with an email response to the following post….

GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME

A reader is wondering what kind of games others are incorporating into their e-learning programs. “I’m looking for activities that break up the training a little bit, perhaps adding some levity where appropriate. But at the same time, these games should serve to reinforce the curriculum’s learning objectives. I’m looking for options that we could apply specifically to online delivery scenarios.”

Whilst this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask – especially if the poster is unfamiliar with what is happening in our cosily (still) niche serious virtual immersive games-based simulation worldsindustry (note: irony), I think this is the perfect example of where those of us that preach about the potential of serious games et al should be piping up to help move our learning and development colleagues forward.

Here is my response….

“The statement (e.g. “looking for activities that break up the training a little bit”) suggests that the assumption is that “the training” is, perhaps, somewhat tiresome to work through and that, therefore, a (fun) game element will serve as a refreshing interlude. Whilst this is by no means a bad thing, how about thinking about using ‘serious games’ (or immersive simulations) in a more central role within your learning strategy? “

“If your subject domain includes a describable environment, process, or system that can be simulated, and in which goal-orientated scenarios can be embedded, then games/sim are the missing bit of the training jigsaw for fostering true learner mastery. By all means use discreet, high-energy ‘frame games’ (e.g. the typical game show format) as motivational jolts, but don’t expect these alone to deliver a significant tangible impact.”

We can hold Serious Games and Virtual Worlds conferences and techfests for eternity, but it is genuine everyday needs like this that offer the best potential for establishing a sustainable beachhead in what is, lets face it, a skeptical and risk-averse mass audience still.

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