Extra Credits: Too much “Game” in Game Design?

Extra Credits says Game Design courses are bad for learning to be a game developer, thoughts?

Much as I hate to admit it, they’re probably right. Not even like a half-and-half thing here as is typical with EC where they have the right idea but botched research and suggestions.

They’re probably wrong about a liberal arts degree being the best thing though, but they’re likely right about game design courses not actually being useful for producing working team members in game development. Game design isn’t a practical skill, like say drawing, modeling, animating, programming, writing. Only a small portion of the team far as I’m aware are really designers for games, and those are producers and directors, which isn’t something there’s a clear career path for. People in those roles entered the industry as other types of workers and became game designers by learning a lot of different parts of production. To become an entry level worker for the industry requires a practical skill set.

Disney had a similar hiring practice back in the day. They wouldn’t hire people trained in animation, they would hire from illustration departments, head hunt the best artists with the greatest skills in drawing realistically, because those skills were difficult to build and helped lay a lot of the ground work for animation. Illustrators could be taught animation rather easily, where animators cannot be taught illustration as easily. This has changed as animation courses have become better and more technical.

What I’ve generally heard is that game studios only actually hire based on demonstrations that prospective hires can do the type of work necessary to the company. More than a degree, a studio will look to see work that the prospect has done, their portfolio. Having a computer science degree is a much stronger bargaining chip than a specialized game design degree. Having a finished game, mod, map, or other assets is a demonstration that you can do the job. Engines frequently change, many places use specialized engines, but skills in UE4 are probably worth their weight in gold right now because it is absolutely going to be the dominant engine for the next 5-10 years. That and knowing an engine makes learning a new one easier.

As the video puts it, a generalized education is probably more practical than a game design focused education right now, and the reason for this is that there’s a lot of intersection between game design and other walks of life. Raph Koster gave a great talk that leads into this a little. http://www.raphkoster.com/games/presentations/teaching-to-fish/

The other thing that the talk above happens to go into is that there isn’t a lot known about game design, a lot of it is passed on through apprenticeship. What’s likely the case is that these game design courses and programs don’t have the material to teach their students in the first place, and the hard part is compiling all we know to make course material in the first place.

But on the flipside, even though game design isn’t a practical skill right now, even though it’s not something that we currently have the capacity to teach, because we don’t understand it well enough, it’s probably important to the ultimate success of the game. Among game enthusiasts, we do not have a high literacy in game design. Same among internet critics and professional critics. I can’t know if the same is true among industry professionals, I can only speculate from the games they make and the statements they put out on them (and these don’t seem to be promising).

However games must in part sell on the basis of their design. Sure, story and visuals may be attractive to consumers, but the game is what likely leads them to tell others about it and recommend it. A lot of it is ineffable to consumers, but they’re likely to still process it as good or bad even if they don’t know the principles that went into it. If developers don’t design well, then they’ll probably get set up for ultimate failure.

Then again, asscreed and bethesda games keep selling, so what do I know?


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