An Op-Ed about school and the games industry

I found this Op-Ed over at Game Career Guide interesting. It certainly speaks to some of my concerns and personal feelings about school as the path to the games industry. The author also makes some very valid points about the industry needing to break out of the “private club for members only” mentality (my words) and work towards more of a guild/apprentice type system.

Check it out:

Op-ed: From the Outside Looking In

By Brian Nathanson

Ok, dude. Stop reading about this shit and actually go write some code now.

Your homework assignment is to write a simple, original little game, and come back and share it with us. It doesn’t even need graphics.

Start with this:

I will admit, openly and publicly, that I probably don’t have a very competitive portfolio.

Good luck getting hired out of nowhere in any field with a mediocre portfolio.

The game industry is probably the most difficult industry to break into.

It’s not, and how would this whining idiot know anyway. He’s tried to break into how many industries other than gaming?

The rest of the article essentially applies to any field where small start-up companies are trying to get a piece of the action. Yes, it’s an arguably smaller sum of total action than some things, but not really.

Nathanson’s basic complaint, it seems, is that the school he went to sucked and didn’t really prepare him the way that a better program like the Guildhall one might. He even calls for a university centered approach to teaching game programming/design.

Having more game education schools at more recognizable public universities would attract more people into the field and would go a long way toward getting more women involved in the industry.

He is definitely not saying that he should be able to do this without proper training. But he is bitter that he invested in training and no one seems to be taking his work seriously.


It’s a competitive job market out there, he may have a passion for making videogame, but so does about a million other people. For my personal experience, I see new people just like me looking and getting job in the game industry.

though I got to admit, I bet his writing skill is better than me.

I think his problem is that thinking Degree = Job, which isn’t really true in game industry. It’s Experience + Networking + small amount of Luck.

I’m reading as I work…I have a day job too ya know. Sorry, but I cannot code while working my day job; I can read websites though.

I’ll take on an assignment like that when I learn enough programming to do so. If you’re talking about a paper, board, dice, card or other non-computer game, I’ve already got a few spinning around in my head. When I can find time between all of my normal duties and learning to program, I’ll flesh them out more and report back once I’ve worked on out.

go play Crimsonland and make me a remake of that game with cooler weapons :).

I don’t think he meant right this exact moment. Rather, come back in a week or two with a simple game. Heck, in a week or so (or sooner), you should be able to start programming text adventures at least.

That is the wrong attitude. Write a little text based game like those text based missions in Space Rangers 2 or something. Hell, write Mastermind.

As long as you can accept some form of user input, write a few if statements and output the results you can make a game. You could even do it in your lunch hour. I’m sure your boss would rather see you coding something than web surfing.

Stop talking about it and do something, no matter how silly and simple it seems. It’s the only way to get somewhere.

I wouldn’t quit it.

Actually, my boss doesn’t see me as I work from home, and he could care less what I do as long as my job gets done. I don’t have the time to focus on something like coding during work; reading, on the other hand, I could almost do in my sleep.

I’m not just talk, fyi. I’m working on learning to program in C++. That’s my focus right now. I’ll get to game design later (my goal is game programmer, not game designer).

Really? Two weeks is all it takes someone without any significant programming experience to slam together a text adventure? I guess I should quit now then, cause there’s no way I’ll be able to code that in two weeks based on where I am today. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Thanks for the useful comment. I’ll file that one away.

make an hello world program that loops and print out hello world in 10 different language…
you got 5 hours :)

Well maybe I’m overstating it, putting text to the screen and getting input from the keyboard are the first things you learn. You need that to output data so you can check your work when you’re learning things like loops, conditional statements, etc, etc. It’d have to be a short game, unless you wanted to start getting into reading and putting out to a file or designed it with key codes in mind (and gave it a very linear progression).

A simple ascii tic tac toe game might be a good goal too. I didn’t mean to discourage you.

20 GOTO 10

It’s interesting that he says:

I was told that over the course of my studies, a powerful portfolio would be created and my degree would confer confidence to game developers because the school was known and accredited.

You notice he doesn’t say he would create the portfolio? Just that, if he went through the course, this portfolio would magically appear.

There’s a difference between passing and excelling. I see it in my own students. We tell them that we give support and opportunities, but they make their program. So when you’re told that upon graduation you should have a portfolio of your work, and then you decide to play Halo instead of really polishing your animation project, well… when did you think this portfolio was going to happen?

You know what they call the guy who graduated last in his class from med school?


Teaching him bad habits already eh?

Related to the OP article, it seems that undergraduate education in general is pretty spotty.

Also, the OP article says:

Allowing those with the heart and mind to work with great commitment to make up for their inexperience can be a huge step toward stabilizing and expanding the industry and ensuring that fresh and creative talent is always on hand.

It actually seems to me that the games industry is pretty darn open to passionate, talented newbies/outsiders. It’s pretty common for community members and modders to be plucked up into employment. There are lots of game developers active around the web, so rubbing elbows (figuratively) with these people can’t be THAT hard.

Seriously. Everyone knows that your first infinite print loop should be about boobs.