For most geeks, there's no greater career aspiration than being a professional in the gaming industry - unless you count getting rich off stock options and living off interest for the rest of your life (but who doesn't have that dream?). Who can blame them? Professional conferences are like Disneyland for adults, meetings with vendors brings T-shirts that you'd actually like to wear, and we all get to make true the Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon from 20 or so years ago, the one with the parents dreaming of all the money their son would make in computer games.
Tell people game design is a regular job, with the usual problems on the corporate level, and they'll scoff. Remind them that "playing games all day" consists of playing a broken game over and over again to find and replicate bugs, and they'll call you a killjoy. Fact is, and we all know it, a videogame career is pretty damn cool.
One of the most popular questions gaming industry professionals receive is, "How can I get into the gaming industry?" And in the last few decades, some institutions have come forward to answer that question.
Many people simply don't know what skills you need to get into the industry. What do the engineers need? Artists? What if you just want to design, or produce? Until recently, traditional colleges didn't typically focus their degrees toward videogames, so it can be confusing. And heck, when perusing the job postings for the industry, college degrees are often mentioned as "preferred" instead of "required," if they're mentioned at all. Several industry veterans have no degree at all. And so, academic institutions have been established in recent decades to address this need.
These programs look to be answers to everyone's prayers. First, you have professors who will tell you exactly what skills you need to pursue your desired career. Second, you'll be among peers who have the same ambitions you do. What's more, some schools offer degrees in two years, allowing you to save the time - and expense - you would normally spend at a traditional four-year college.
Industry veterans see the value in such programs. Having someone enter a company with experience in how a game gets put together is important; most job listings require some sort of experience. Richard Dansky, Design Manager at Red Storm Entertainment as well as Central Clancy Writer for UbiSoft, thinks degrees are a positive thing. "It gives [students] context and an understanding of what some of the expectations are. They've been through a form of game development process and have a better idea of what it actually takes to make a game as a result," he said. "It's a great thing there are programs developing. It's a young field and there's a lot of making it up as we go along, and training people in what is expected and needed is a real positive in terms of integrating new developers into the workforce smoothly."
Jim Van Verth, Senior Engineer at Red Storm, echoes the pros. "If [game design programs] are designed properly, they give you lots of good experience in working on game projects and working on a team, which is not always something you get in a normal academic course. So you definitely get a good sense of what it's like to work in that sort of environment. And of course, [students] are going to work on skills that are going to be useful in that environment."