On Breaking In, and Your Education

by Darius Kazemi on April 16, 2006

in Uncategorized

Robin has written a great post over at her blog in regards to game development majors at universities. She writes:

At GDC, several speakers coyly referred to the “top three game programs” here in the US – a list that was then gabbed and gossiped about precisely because it remained nameless. But I’m not afraid to say that the student I’m talking about is not from CMU, Georgia Tech, or USC. In fact, I’m kind of excited because they are different!

Why? I guess I see things through the eyes of a self-starter. I didn’t get to take classes with likeminded, aspiring designers. I didn’t do group game projects. Instead – I played games, read articles and wrote email. I got involved with the IGDA and GDC. Always watching, asking questions – in many ways, I educated myself. And now that I’m working – I find these skills *immeasurably* valuable.

I identify with this a whole lot. I was also a self-starter: I went to a great four-year university, and got my regular ol’ degree (B.S. in Electrical Engineering). But I made sure to be heavily involved with the Game Development Club while I was there, where I worked on game-related events, built small and large game projects, and even designed and taught a number of classes and workshops on game development and design. I learned leadership skills, management skills, and how to navigate a bureaucracy. I, too, became involved various industry organizations. But overall, it’s the meta skills that Robin talks about–watching and asking questions–that have served me extremely well as a professional game developer.

This is maybe why I get annoyed when people post on the IGDA Breaking In forums and ask:

  • Should I bother with college at all? [Short answer: yes.]
  • Should I go to a game school or a normal school?
  • If I go to a normal school, should I pick one with a game program?
  • If I’ve picked one with a game program, should I major in that?
  • und so weiter…

It’s great that these people are asking questions. And I usually do my best to give them my opinion on the matter. But a lot of the time it seems like a moot point. I think if you’re truly motivated and talented, you’ll get far no matter where you are. I probably wouldn’t have mattered where I went to college: I would’ve done really well had I gone to a trade school like Full Sail, or had I gone to a more prestigious school like CMU. Those schools would have given me different advantages and disadvantages than I ended up getting. But in the end, it’s the motivated individual that matters, and if you’ve got what it takes to be a successful game developer, you can de facto navigate successfully around most of what life throws your way.

Obviously, there’s limits to what I’m talking about. You really ought to go to college, and graduate. If nothing else, it shows game companies that you’re capable of sticking with something for several years to completion (a truly excellent trait in a game developer). And if you’re at a significant socio-economic disadvantage, or don’t live in a rich-industrialized-Western country, you’re going to need to be way more motivated than others. But I’m side-tracking here. Sorry.

It might sound like I’m knocking people who do a two-year games program at a trade school, or people who go to a four-year university and get a game development degree. But I’m not knocking those people. I work with very capable folks who have done both of those things. What I am knocking is the perception that those people are successful because they went to Full Sail, or Digipen, or CMU, or USC. They probably would have done just as well anywhere else because they are excellent people with great personality, talent, and a will to learn.

I guess I could have said all this in one sentence: it’s the person, not the degree, that counts in the end.

(Speaking of colleges, check out Tom Sloper’s “how to pick a college” article on his fantastic website. Also see his corollary: Regular School? Game School?)


Patrick Dugan April 17, 2006 at 12:24 am

Good post, makes me feel okay about going to a college completely devoid of any sort of game dev program. I figure, you gotta master the indie way no matter how you approach the industry, start thinking about doing something light and innovative while you can afford to, and when you get out into the “real world” you’ll be rolling.

Bradley Momberger April 18, 2006 at 9:13 pm

One thing I’d like to see this article expand to address is what should we do if we are not in any way “excellent.” I recognize that excellence is the remedy to all obstacles but sometimes it’s just not an available option. Is it different for a person who is motivated but not talented? What about those who are not well motivated but wouldn’t be happy taking any other path in life?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: