Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 11:46 UK

Skills shortage hits games firms

By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News

Find out how a video game is created

The games industry says British universities are failing to equip graduates with the skills it needs.

The warning comes from the industry campaign group "Games Up?", which says games developers in Britain are facing a serious skills shortage.

The lobby group says there are now 81 video games degree courses at British universities.

But only four are accredited by Skillset, the government body which monitors such courses.

Demanding course

David Braben, chairman of Frontier Developments and a spokesman for "Games Up?", said: "95% of video gaming degrees are simply not fit for purpose. Without some sort of common standard, like Skillset accreditation, these degrees are a waste of time for all concerned."

Halo screenshot
The warning came as executives from across Europe's games industry gathered for the GameHorizon conference in Gateshead. The North East of England is one of the centres of a games industry whose activities are spread widely across the UK.

At Northumbria University, which offers a degree course in Computer Games Engineering, staff say that prospective students are often put off by the requirement for Maths A-Level. Dan Hodgson, who is the course leader, says the games industry is very demanding and the university makes that clear to aspiring students.

"We do have people who don't have the right mindset. We consistently tell them that this is one of the hardest courses we offer at this university. It's certainly not for the sort of people who want to laze around and play games for three years."

Death of maths

A calculator
Fewer people are taking maths degrees

The games developers say that they are struggling to find in the UK the kind of high-powered mathematicians and computer scientists that they need to build increasingly sophisticated products.

"We are facing a serious decline in the quality of graduates looking to enter the industry," said David Braben.

"The dearth of maths, physics and computer science graduates is hitting us hard."

Jamie Macdonald, of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, said there was a need for Centres of Excellence which would prepare graduates to compete for jobs in the industry.

"We want to work with government to help equip our graduates with the skills they need to thrive in one of the most dynamic and profitable industries in the world.

Britain has been one of the leading nations for games development but slipped from third to fourth position behind Canada in 2006.

The games industry claims that Canadian government support has allowed it to flourish, and thousands of jobs are moving from Britain to Canada.

Your comments:

As a lecturer I have been tasked by my bosses to set up a Games Deign Foundation degree. The problem is, it is very hard to find out what games firms want from graduates. Several do not reply to queries or are not interested in sharing their requirements. I would love to set up a course that was relevant and useful in the industry, as I have seen other courses that market themselves as game courses but are just not up to the task. I would like any curriculum I put my name to to have real utility, not to be just a vanity or marketing exercise.
N, Manchester

As a game developer I suggest that if the industry wants to attract top talent it needs to address the disparity between high demand for skilled workers and low wages. It seems the games industry has for years relied on the image of it being a 'fun place to work'. Relative to other industries where a similar skill set is required, it is poorly remunerated and often badly managed which in turn drives away many experienced developers. It would make me happy to see more graduates coming out with better computer science skills but the games industry is partly to blame for it's recruitment woes.
Anon, London

I'm a University student, and I plan on moving to Canada as soon as circumstances permit. The opportunities in IT and the government support the industry receives made it an easy choice to make.
S, South Wales

I will be beginning a Computer Games Design in September at Huddersfield University. I believe that the gaming industry is continually improving the standards of the digital age, however this industry is still not highly regarded. Gaming is constantly berated by the news because of it's ability to express very grey area ideologies and it's negative appeal to children and teenagers alike, this in turn affects educating others of this medium. The core aspects of gaming involves a mixture of both art and the understanding of how it works in relation to its environment; nation wide schools are under heavy observation by the government and its examinations are constantly questioned. So i ask you how can the government help equip the students of today with the necessary skills when they constantly suggest education itself needs to be improved?
Anon, Leeds

Writing computer games is one of the most demanding types of programming around. Optimisation of code and algorithms is very important in order for the game to run fast enough. I understand completely the need for A Level Maths. The problem is that kids who play video games are not necessarily the right people to program the games. The industry needs to attract good programmers, even those who do not play video games. The industry needs to let these kids know that what counts is there programming skill and not what level they can reach on Doom. Enticing a programmer by showing them flashy graphics and sound is not going to do it. In order to attract the programmers they want they need to emphasise the "geeky" stuff such as algorithms and programming challenges. I do not want someone who enjoys making a spinning triangle look 3D, I want someone who enjoys making that triangle interact with other triangles in an intelligent way.
I, Rockford, IL, USA

I used to be in the games industry for over 8 years. Started as a game tester and made my way to the position of designer. 3 years ago i left the industry to take up a position at West Cheshire College teaching on a game development course at National Diploma level. We have a wide range of students and teach them basic techniques that will get them ready for university or a job in the industry. Most recently we had one of our students finish the course and was then offered a job at Travellers Tales working on Lego Batman. I've found that like with all industries, if the individuals focus and really start to develop their skills and understanding of the industry they wish to enter. A basic grasp of game mechanics and more importantly from a design point of view, discovering the origins of games in general would stand anyone in understanding how to make a solid game in today's market.
PaulB, UK

The cost of entry is very valid here. A development kit for a PSP runs into the tens of thousands of dollars plus requiring access to middleware like Renderman. Universities and lone hackers can't put together that sort of cash so they work on things they can afford. This is why you'll see an upsurge in games for mobile phones with iPhone and Android. The development kits are free.
Matt, Northern Ireland

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