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17 Dec 2013

Advantages and Disadvantages of Pursuing a Game Design Degree

Yesterday, I provided practical advice for those that are currently enrolled in a game design program at a university as well as those that are thinking about enrolling into such a program in the near future. These types of degree programs are becoming increasingly common at many universities around the world, giving aspiring game designers the chance to live their dreams. Gone are the days in which people that wanted to develop games for a living would have to first major in a certain skill that they could use to break into the industry (e.g. majoring in graphic design, programming, etc.). Nowadays, students can bypass all of the seemingly ‘extra work’ in order to put themselves on the path to becoming a game designer.

However, you do not need to pursue a game design degree to be a game designer. We all know this. The only skill you need to possess in order to become a game designer is to have a constant appetite to learn new things and evolve in an industry that is always changing. Yet, are there any advantages to pursuing a game design degree? Absolutely. Here are a few.

 

Surrounded by like-minded people

This is a perk to pursuing any type of degree, yet developing games is its own special type of niche. Let’s face it: when you tell people that you develop video games for a living or you were trying to develop a new game, you probably get a lot of the same responses, such as “yeah, that’s cool,” or “wow, you must be smart.” A lot of positive reactions to be sure and you probably get your fair share of negative reactions as well such as “okay, but what is your real job.” No matter what type of reaction you get, one thing is certain: none of these people understand what it means to develop games.

Thus, that is what is so great about working toward a game design degree. You have people around you at all times that are going to strive to help you become the best developer you can be before entering the real world of game development. The instructors and faculty members you will come into contact with realize that game development is serious business – it isn’t something you’re going to be doing on the weekend when you are away from your real job. They know game development is a real job, and you’re going to be around people daily that take this industry seriously.

They are also tuned into the latest trends in industry so they are going to be a will to help you over the years. Being around like-minded people that want to help you to obtain your goal is empowering. Thus, they can help you keep your morale high whenever you become frustrated.

 

Networking

I discussed networking in detail in yesterday’s post, but it begs repeating. Your peers are going to become your first networking group within the industry. As each of you find jobs after you graduate, you can all continue to keep in touch and remained updated on each peer’s professional status. Who knows, one day you may be looking for a job, and one of the peers you have remained in contact with over the years may be able to clue you in on a dream position waiting for you! It happens all the time, so take it from me: networking is vital – especially when you are  building a network from nothing.

However, there are some disadvantages to majoring in game design at a university.

 

It could limit your skill set

Many studios choose to hire someone that has a broad skill set. They would prefer to hire someone that has a wide range of skills instead of hiring someone fresh out of game development school. To many studios, game development schools typically teach the same types of skills to their students resulting in many students having the same skills as their peers. Studios prefer people that do not fit into a typical mold – again, people with a broad skill set.

Going to game development school is not a bad thing – especially if game development is certainly something you want to do for the rest of your life. Yet, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, you need to make college work for you. Do not solely think that just because you are a game design graduate that you will be able to get a job easily. That is the case for a game design agreeing nor any other type of degree. Instead, use your time while in college to be proactive and broaden your skill sets. Learn to program. Learn to draw. Get a few short stories published. Anything to make yourself stand out creatively from your peers because let’s face it – you are in competition with them whether you want to be or not.

 

Your other career paths are severely limited

This is the big one: optional career paths could be very limited if you decide to leave the industry. If you are reading this post and you want to develop games for a living, do not trick yourself into thinking that you will always want to be in this industry. Things change, situations change, and who knows? One day you may wake up 10 years from now and be sick of working in the games industry. Hard to believe I know, but it happens to people all the time in not only the games industry, but other industries as well.

The skills you learn may not be relevant to other industries if you decide to not only leave the industry, but tide yourself over until you find that first job. Sure, you may know the ins and outs of game design, but if you decide to leave the industry and try to become the manager of a bank for instance, do you think anyone is going to care? Who is going to be impressed that? More importantly, how is that going to help you to do your job?

Thus, that is why many developers opt to get their degree in an industry with a lot of crossover work such as graphic design, software development, and so on. One of the guests I had on a past episode of  Game Academy Radio, Tyler Owen, is such an individual. He earned a degree in graphic design and was able to get a job as a graphic designer before being a full-time indie developer. My point is this: you may position yourself better if you major in a skill that can benefit you across many different industries (including the games industry) as opposed to earning a degree specialized for only one industry. When you think about it from that perspective, you can make a much more informed decision.

At the end of the day, pursuing a game design degree isn’t a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to work hard and strive to work in the industry that you love. It definitely is not the only route you can take to break into the games industry, and because of this, you should think hard before deciding to pursue such a degree program. Do any of you have experience in attending a game design degree program? Share your thoughts and opinions with us on the experience in the comments below!

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