Games Design Courses – Are they worth it?

(Note: This is a repost from 2011)

Disclaimer: Everything here is of my own opinion and do not necessarily represent any other party’s views.

Note: When I refer to game developers, this means I am referring to everyone involved in the development of the game such as programmers, artists, producers, designers, etc.

There has been increasingly more enquires about becoming a games developer in forums related to games careers such as the ones on IGDA and GameCareerGuide. As much as I am happy that more and more people are interested in entering the games industry, the majority of these are asking on how they become a games designer and which games design course should they choose because they naturally see it as the best way to get into the industry. After all, if you want to be a plumber, you do a plumbing course. So if you want to be games designer, you do a games design course, right?

If only it was that simple.

There are a number of reasons why I don’t recommend doing a games design course and to be honest, they have more to do with the industry then actual courses themselves.

Games design is hugely unspecific in industry compared to other roles available, what a designer does can differ from company to company or even on a team to team basis. While I tend to find that they agree in principle of their responsibilities, the actual specifics of what they actually do and the skills needed are often disputed. This in turn makes it extremely difficult to create a list of skills needed for the games designers compared to programmers or artists where the role is well defined which in turn makes it difficult to create a course curriculum.

To compensate for this, design courses will teach a bit of every discipline which is usually programming, modelling, animation and level design or a subset of these. While I agree that some knowledge in a number of these disciplines is useful for any games developer and works well for a designer where the role is not well defined, the level of that knowledge is usually relatively low compared to studying an entire course in one of those disciplines which leads to the next problem.

Games design is a narrow field and the skills you learn on these courses and not easily transferable to other industries or professions. Additionally, game designers only make up a small number on each team and in my experience it usually 1 designer to every 10-15 developers. This means that there are comparatively very few roles available already before we even start looking at junior or graduate roles for design and the skills learned in the other disciplines isn’t at a high enough level for the jobs in those disciplines unless you did a lot of self study.

In short, if you can’t find a game design job after the course, what can you do instead with what the course has taught you that you couldn’t have done yourself without it? Ultimately, that is the question of any education you plan to undertake to ensure that it is worth the time and money.

The flipside of this is although I recommend not during a game design course, I actually don’t know what to recommend instead that is relevant and also teaches transferable skills. I am still researching into this and was wondering if there was something that the industry could do to help and funnily enough, Skillset have just announced a Games Design Accreditation Initiative so it will be interesting what comes out of this.

If you are looking at doing game design as a career, be sure to research into the role and the methods of getting into it. Useful links:

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