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Postgrads are skilling up to get a foothold in the ever-growing gaming industry

The Guardian

Every day we play some 55m hours of games in the United Kingdom. In fact, gaming is the most extraordinary storytelling medium of modern times, says Dr Jo Twist, chief executive officer at the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie). As a growing sector, it attracts some of the UK’s most talented artists, musicians and designers. And the best way to break into this young, competitive and growing sector is to design and produce a game, she says. “It’s a huge learning experience.”

Real-life simulation

That’s just what courses such as the professional master’s in games development at Abertay University in Dundee encourage. Each year, the industry-respected course attracts some 50 postgraduates from game related backgrounds as diverse as computer science, music and digital art. Over 12 months, students work in small teams to build three games.

“We simulate life in a development studio,” says Prof Louis Natanson, who leads computer games education at Abertay University. “Companies such as Microsoft and Sony come in to offer mentoring and support and to take part in important ‘pitch and crit’ sessions where ideas and projects are presented to a panel of experts.” In fact, this year around 50 companies are involved in mentoring postgraduates including independent games studios Crytek and Rockstar North.

Although the fiercely competitive nature of the games industry put off computer arts graduate Ceren Gunes from entering the sector upon graduation, he’s gone on instead to hone his skills on Abertay’s professional master’s, and wants eventually to work as an artist within the games business.

“The talent in the creative industries is stunning,” says Gunes. “There’s a huge step between [undergraduate] education and the workplace.” While his skills lie in two-dimensional concept design, he’s been happy during the course to “dabble” in diverse, games-related areas and team projects have given him a real taste of the workplace.

“Weirdly, I don’t feel like a student anymore,” he says. “This master’s is really fine tuning yourself to be the best you can for jobs in the games industry.” Many universities offer gaming related master’s – including Bournemouth University, Sheffield Hallam University, Glasgow School of Art and Birmingham City University among many more, with differing focus on software or design.

A few, Abertay University included, are approved by sector skills council Creative Skillset as best preparing postgraduates for employers’ needs.

Incubating talent

It’s with this employer-led focus that Falmouth University plans to incubate entrepreneurial talent locally with a pilot project beginning in May. With a focus on digital game design, some 16 graduates will be put into teams of four and supported for a year to set up businesses and be mentored in areas such as finance, creative writing and project management. Ideally, the funded postgraduate programme aims to create a new generation of Cornwall-based companies in the digital games sector.

And it’s now much easier to set up as an independent studio. Mobile technology and social media have provided a platform for smaller companies to launch games without the need for a large distributor, and several Abertay alumni have gone on to form their own companies. “A year on the professional master’s – to make mistakes in a safe supportive environment – goes a very long way to preparing them for professional success,” says Natanson.

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