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UK Games Industry Over the Hill? 314

Posted by timothy
from the need-more-home-invasion-hooligan-games dept.
Tinkle writes "A games industry campaign group has warned the UK is falling behind on coding skills because university courses are not up to scratch. But this article includes an interview with an industry coding veteran who believes a lack of creative home computing hardware (think: Atari ST) is more likely to be at the root of the skills shortage, and explains why Britain's games coders are getting a bit long-in-the-tooth."
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UK Games Industry Over the Hill?

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  • BAD THINKING ;) (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Think Amiga of course, not Atari... :P :)

    • Re:BAD THINKING ;) (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dogtanian (588974) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:42AM (#23870829) Homepage
      The Atari ST *was* the leading 16-bit machine at one stage, probably peaking when they dropped the price to £300 circa late 1987. The Amiga was significantly more expensive at first, but did better and overtook the ST when the price came down a bit.
      • Re:BAD THINKING ;) (Score:4, Informative)

        by eulernet (1132389) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:35AM (#23871157)

        It was a 32-bit computer.

        A lot of games on the Atari ST came from well known english companies (The Bitmap Brothers, Psygnosis, etc...).
        The Amiga had more games coming from other countries (like the Turrican serie from Germany).

        • by Dogtanian (588974)

          It was a 32-bit computer.

          That depends how you define "32-bit". The 68000 was internally 32-bit, but its data bus was still only 16-bits. (Sinclair's QL, which was hyped by them as a "32 bit" computer was considered by others to be an 8-bit machine because its 68008 only had an *8* bit data bus).

          Supposedly "(Atari) ST" stands for "Sixteen/Thirty-two", contradicting the "Sam Tramiel" acronym.

          Anyway, I live in the UK, and I can assure you that the Amiga was definitely more popular here later on, because I made the mistake of buyi

          • Re:BAD THINKING ;) (Score:5, Informative)

            by fitten (521191) on Friday June 20, 2008 @08:09AM (#23871375)

            That depends how you define "32-bit". The 68000 was internally 32-bit, but its data bus was still only 16-bits. (Sinclair's QL, which was hyped by them as a "32 bit" computer was considered by others to be an 8-bit machine because its 68008 only had an *8* bit data bus).

            Yeah, but they'd be wrong ;) The 68k has 32-bit wide registers, 16-bit wide ALU, and 16-bit wide external data bus. Its ISA had instructions that would operate on 32-bit wide data (add.l, for example). The 68008 was the same processor (internally) as the 68000 except it only externalized an 8-bit wide data bus to save on pin count. You could actually build a machine around the 68k with 8-bit wide memory (the address/data buses allowed this) and it would have "looked" like a 68008.

            The people who would have classified the 68k according to its external data bus width would have classified the original Pentium as a 64-bit processor ;) and it was clearly a 32-bit processor (at least, I have never seen anyone try to assert that it was 64-bit). People did try to say the i386SX was a 16-bit processor because it externalized a 16-bit data bus while being, internally, an i386 (complete with 32-bit wide registersr and ALU).

            I owned an Atari 1040STf at one point and really liked the machine. My friends all had mixes of Atari STs and Amigas and the Amiga was a bit neater but the ST was still pretty neat.

      • Think ZX Spectrum... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Gordonjcp (186804) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:36AM (#23871165) Homepage

        In the early-to-mid 1980s *everyone* in Dundee owned a ZX Spectrum. Why was this? Because Timex had their UK manufacturing base there, and they build computers for Sinclair Research. This meant that everyone knew someone whose Dad knew a man in the pub who could "get them cheap".

        The practical upshot of this is that everyone who was in any way interested in programming had a simple, powerful and well-documented (I remember John Menzies in the Overgate Shopping Centre having several feet of shelf-space of copies of The ZX Spectrum ROM Disassembly, and I still have my copy) home computer to go and play on.

        Look at where the UK's computer game industry is mostly based now...

        • by damburger (981828) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:41AM (#23871205)

          It could be that modern computer systems are simply too complex for such treatment. I recall having a complete memory map and assembly language tutorial in the manual that came with my Acorn Electron - such a thing would be preposterous for my MacBook Pro. Its inner workings described to the same level as that 1980s manual would probably occupy a shelf.

          What is really called for is a programmable games machine. Put keyboards back on consoles, include a good BASIC interpreter and watch the whizz kids develop.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The XGameStation is a good example of a programable console a person could learn inside out.

            http://www.xgamestation.com/

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pjt33 (739471)

          Look at where the UK's computer game industry is mostly based now...

          Cambridge? Frontier, Sony, Jagex, plus I'm not sure how many smaller players. Who are the big names in Dundee?

          Of course, Cambridge is also the base of ARM and Acorn, so may have similar hardware factors at play, and has the university and science/technology parks.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Joe Jay Bee (1151309) *

            You forget one of the real biggies: Rockstar North (nee DMA Design) who created the Grand Theft Auto series.

  • by damburger (981828) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:16AM (#23870681)

    The UK IT industry is notoriously tight fisted. They expect high standards from their employees but often pay barely above school-leaver wages for graduate positions.

    There is no skills shortage in the UK. There is a shortage of decent employees, so all the skills are fucking off to the US and Canada where they can support themselves in the game industry without being a bartender in their spare time.

    • by IAR80 (598046) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:20AM (#23870705) Homepage
      I am continually spammed by UK recruiting agencies that request high qualifications and pay you 20K pounds and 50 hour week, but there is a plus to it. The uniform is provided.
    • I think your comment is a little mixed up.

      When you say:

      There is no skills shortage in the UK. There is a shortage of decent employees, so all the skills are fucking off to the US and Canada where they can support themselves in the game industry without being a bartender in their spare time.

      do you mean

      There is a skills shortage in the UK, and a shortage of decent employees, as all the skills are fucking off to the US and Canada where they can support themselves in the game industry without being a bartender in their spare time.

      ?

      • by damburger (981828)
        I mean the universities are churning out a perfectly good number of coding whizzes, so there is no shortage at the source - however as soon as they come out of university they look at the opportunities available in the UK and promptly leave. So there is no skills shortage, just a continuous skills flight due to low pay which makes it look like a skills shortage.
        • It's been true for a *long* time and it's not just gaming it's across the industry.

          Basically employers only want the perfect employee - someone who knows their systems intimately has decades of experience.. and will work for about £15k.

          Years ago the IT press were bleating on about their 'skills shortage'. At the time I was looking for work myself and knew over a dozen skilled programmers in the same boat. It wasn't that we didn't have skills - it was that we didn't have the *exact* skills that the employers wanted (even down to exact compiler versions and wanting insane number of years of experience of new applications.. I'm sure there's a job out there now that insists on '10 years JDK 2.1.1a' and the manager is bitching about how there's this skills shortage as nobody qualifies...).

          • by damburger (981828) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:36AM (#23871161)

            I used to worry that I was some kind of malcontent, but every time I post my complaints about the UK IT industry on any vaguely techy forum I get a chorus of agreement.

            But if there is a supply of skilled IT graduates waiting for a decent employer why has no one jumped on the opportunity to run a business with top notch talent, and seemingly have very little competition for them?

            • by Tony Hoyle (11698)

              Some do, but of course they fill their vacancies real quick. There are a few companies around here that only hire on recommendation now because they've got far too many people want to work there.

            • by Escogido (884359)

              Well the profits in the IT industry may be too low so they have to struggle. Off the top of my head:

              1. The IT company owners are too greedy
              2. The revenues in IT are too low
              3. The costs of running an IT company are too high (taxes, infrastructure...)
              4. The country may have no problem hiring techies, but there's a lack of qualified producers/project managers
              5. (I'm sure there's something else...)

              Sometimes you just can't make good profit in an industry, no matter what. Merely stating no one offers enough compe

            • by n3tcat (664243)
              I'm sure you already know the answer to your own question, but just in case: Nobody jumped on the opportunity because... First you have to come up with the great idea. You know the one. It involves a 4 step process and number 3 is ???. After you come up with your four step business model, you secure capital. After that you hire talented programmers. This can go in one of two directions. One direction is to hire fewer programmers and have them learn all the tools needed for the job on your dime. This als
      • by carou (88501) on Friday June 20, 2008 @09:05AM (#23871841) Homepage Journal

        No, I think he meant "There is no skills shortage in the UK. There is a shortage of decent employers, so all the skills are fucking off to the US and Canada where they can support themselves in the game industry without being a bartender in their spare time."

    • With the new Anti-Immigration laws being passed in the EU, could this be a US type of shrill from the UK gaming industry to try increase the amount of H1B type visa's (not sure how this works in the UK)? I mean, if you cannot import cheap labor, than you are going to have to actually start paying people decent salaries... and that means less yachts and new cars for your little Johnny...

    • This seems to be true. I remember a few days back on Slashdot reading a story comparing Apple employees salaries to Google salaries in Silicon Valley. Well, believe me, all the salaries in that article are very high for UK programmers. Especially when you consider the high level of tax we have to pay over here.

      starts to rant....
      But I think it's all part of a general pattern of undervaluing technical, academic skills in Britain generally. In my first job working for a university, is was very noticeable

      • by damburger (981828)

        Well, I did.

        I got my Comp Sci degree 98-02, graduating just in time to see the tech boom vanish over the horizon. I bounced between various jobs on the same salary level as people fresh out of school, then I decided to move on.

        I'm now on a Physics course, using my IT skills purely to support me rather than as a career. I am so sick of playing the labour market game that I decided to go back into academia and may well stay here. That, or get some ridiculously specialised science morlock job in a neutrino

    • by Fred_A (10934)

      There is a shortage of decent employees, so all the skills are fucking off to the US and Canada where they can support themselves in the game industry without being a bartender in their spare time.
      What is this "spare time" you speak of ? This thing is undefined in the gaming industry.
  • by fdobbie (226067) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:22AM (#23870717) Homepage

    There are people with the necessary skills and intellect coming out of UK universities. I'd wager the real problem is that they're ending up working in finance, which has far larger salaries than the games industry.

    Despite the games companies constantly bleating about how much money they make and how games are now a bigger contributor to the British economy than films, they seem unwilling or unable to compensate leading engineering talent. Is it little surprise that graduates go elsewhere?

    • by IAR80 (598046) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:26AM (#23870739) Homepage

      T

      Despite the games companies constantly bleating about how much money they make and how games are now a bigger contributor to the British economy than films, they seem unwilling or unable to compensate leading engineering talent.

      I still remember when UK software industry was boasting that it makes more money than the car industry, but I think this is because the state their car industry is in.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by xtracto (837672) *

      There are people with the necessary skills and intellect coming out of UK universities. I'd wager the real problem is that they're ending up working in finance, which has far larger salaries than the games industry.

      Haha, I just read your post... this is true at least from my position [slashdot.org].

      Recently my father visited me and we went to see an old friend of him. In the middle of a discussion of why the UK is importing slate from Brazil rather than mining it, we thought that the main reason was because of the employm

    • by DCFC (933633)

      You are right.
      A respectable C++ QD is on around £80K base.
      The distribution includes developers on £400K including bonus (OK, not *this* year, but still not poor). 200 K is above average, but not unusual.
      Entry level is 'merely' twice what a games programmer gets.

      I headhunt these people, so the numbers I cite are real.
      The skills are remarkably similar. High end investment banking/hedge fund S/w is written in C++, with bits of maths/physics thrown in.

      The working environment is wholly be

  • by Toreo asesino (951231) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:23AM (#23870719) Journal

    Having done a degree in London (I say, wot wot?!), I know when I was looking into CS degrees around various institutions, almost none offered anything even close to gaming programming.
    This, I presumed was largely because a "Computer games" degree would be regarded by paying parents of the cretins in question as a dent on the quality and seriousness of the university in question. Of course, I don't know that for fact, but that was my feeling.

    Parents want to know their offspring are programming serious applications; high-availability databases for blue-chip companies and so forth; certainly not running round a virtual environment blowing friends to kingdom-come with an RPG launcher.

    So, with a small launchpad for gaming developers, is it such a wonder that game developers in the UK are going the way of the dodo? We're serious people us English people don't you know.

    That's my thoughts on the matter anyhow. Please add yours.

    • by IAR80 (598046) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:34AM (#23870775) Homepage
      On the other hand most of the CS degrees around have physics courses attached to them, numerical methods, system simulation, image processing, advanced algorithms and do forth. No serious CS degree I know officially includes "blowing friends to kingdom-come with an RPG launcher"
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Toreo asesino (951231)

        No, but CS courses relating to gaming specifically, are separate from the usual "CS IT systems" courses on offer; despite the fact, as you say, there is a often a cross-over. So for parents to pick between the two, in their eyes, the "serious" option would always be the more favourable.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by TheSeer2 (949925)
          Ummmm, wouldn't the fact the parents are choosing the university degree be a bigger problem?
    • by fdobbie (226067)

      I don't know about that. Certainly at Imperial College London (where I happen to study), the courses run by the Department of Computing are varied enough that a lot of the skills necessary of a games programmer can be gained (graphics, AI, computer architecture, etc).

      Although it might fair to say Imperial has an unusually strong link with the games industry, e.g. the Games and Media Event [ic.ac.uk] and EA has run an event on campus in the past.

  • Liverpool (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kamineko (851857) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:28AM (#23870749)
    Liverpool John Moores University courses are rubbish. Rubbish. Please remember this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:29AM (#23870755)

    Do any other countries really have game coding lectures resulting in seriously skilled coders?
    I am working for more than twelve years in the gaming industry (in Germany) and I never came across one person who didn't learn his skills all by himself, including gfx-artists and musicians. (cue jokes about the quality of German games.)

    Of course, if you intend to code low-level stuff like a game engine, then it helps alot to pay attention to your mathematics teacher on subjects like vectors and matrices but you learn these neccessary basics before university.
    There are some coders who studied CS though but it mainly helped them to organize large projects and code more readable.

    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      I think Game Programming / Game Design programs are fairly new. But a computer science degree puts you in as good a spot as any to be in the industry. You've got the necessary skills (programming) as well as some helpful support areas (science) and probably spent many a night actually playing them (study?!? whatever).

      There are some programs in the US now (CMU has a good one, DigiPen/FullSail not sure of quality). It will grow.

      Layne

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:37AM (#23870789)

    Its just a cynical way for universities to make money and it does a disservice to the people who take it. Any good CS course should equip someone with the knowledge (if not ability) to work on games programming - theres nothing special about it apart from perhaps a slightly greater emphasis on physics and thats only if you work on a physics engine anyway.

    There're no special accountancy programming degrees or degrees in insurance or banking programming so why games programming? Its just a cynical cash cow.

    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      There're no special accountancy programming degrees or degrees in insurance or banking programming so why games programming? Its just a cynical cash cow.

      Actually, there are. It's called MIS. To me CS is the broad degree that can apply to any programming career. MIS is focused on business apps. Both degrees can produce good or bad coders, but the classes you focus on in MIS make you better suited to write business apps. That being said, my degree is in CS and for my entire career, I've written business apps -- it just happens to be the most stable and generally highest paying programming position. I've actually taken classes at Austin Community Colleg

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Any good CS course should equip someone with the knowledge (if not ability) to work on games programming - theres nothing special about it apart from perhaps a slightly greater emphasis on physics and thats only if you work on a physics engine anyway.

      Sure, you're going to learn the science, but not necessarily the application. If you know the science, you should be able to learn the application, but CS does not prepare you for real-world coding.

      It's like the difference between getting a degree in physics

  • by cliffski (65094) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:38AM (#23870799) Homepage

    It's a staff retention issue. I blogged in some depth about it here:

    http://positech.co.uk/cliffsblog/?p=16 [positech.co.uk]

    basically people run games companies on the system of getting cheap graduates, treating them badly, and then replenishing them the minute they wise up and leave. This isn't a new thing at all.
    Of my msn contacts from when I was in retail AAA dev, 70% of my ex colleagues now work in other industries or for themselves. That's the problem.

    • by NocturnHimtatagon (1116487) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:01AM (#23870941)
      From the IDGA website [igda.org]

      * 34.3% of developers expect to leave the industry within 5 years, and 51.2% within 10 years.
      * Only 3.4% said that their coworkers averaged 10 or more years of experience.
      * Crunch time is omnipresent, during which respondents work 65 to 80 hours a week (35.2%). The average crunch work week exceeds 80 hours (13%). Overtime is often uncompensated (46.8%).
      * 44% of developers claim they could use more people or special skills on their projects.
      * Spouses are likely to respond that "You work too much..." (61.5%); "You are always stressed out." (43.5%); "You don't make enough money." (35.6%).
      * Contrary to expectations, more people said that games were only one of many career options for them (34%) than said games were their only choice (32%).

      And this was also my experience when I was working as a game developer.

  • Coding in the UK (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pond823 (643768) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:41AM (#23870821)
    A couple of thoughts...

    1. Wages in the computer games programming market are very far behind what you can get doing a 9-6 mainstream programming job.

    2. Younger programmers in the UK have very different aspirations to those of my youth, they are looking for a decent 'middle-class' career, not working in entertainment industry or being scientists.

    3. Who the hell wants to work in the middle of freakin' nowhere. Tons of games companies moved out of the big cities to rural backwaters to get there costs down, but now the employees that had to move with them have left nobody wants in.

    4. Games designers don't have to be programmers. It used to be that you had a great idea, wrote the code and $$$ profit. But now designers come through the level designer route and so don't fill out the junior programming positions.

    I'd love to work back in the games industry but I have a life to support.

  • If they think there's a lack of creative home computing platforms they haven't looked very far. Here's a system dedicated to learning games programming and comes with a good book that teaches it. The system has an 8 core microcontroller, and to program it, you get down to the bare metal, even writing your own video drivers to create a NTSC or PAL signal. I wish they'd had this back in the days when I was learning.

    http://www.parallax.com/Store/Microcontrollers/PropellerProgrammingKits/tabid/144/CategoryID [parallax.com]

  • Nahhh.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by comm2k (961394) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:51AM (#23870871)
    Nahhh not at all - with new talent like Majestic Studios, the UK is making a full swing attack at all the cheap-ass clones made by EA-Borg collective.
  • Who the hell... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Friday June 20, 2008 @06:54AM (#23870897) Homepage
    ...would want to work in the games industry anyway?

    It's generally reckoned to have some of the worst pay and the longest hours.

    From what I've heard, the actual coding in commercial games is (contrary to what people expect) tedious and unrewarding minutae.

    Couple that with the volatile and flaky nature of the games business that can (and does) see formerly successful companies go under very quickly after their latest game doesn't do quite as well as they'd hoped.

    Anyone getting into the business is competing against naive entrants in their late-teens/early-twenties; the type who are willing (and able) to work for peanuts to do what (they think) they love, until they get burnt out and are replaced by more newbies.

    I'm glad that I've never had any desire to work in computer games, because unless you're truly passionate about it and have your eyes wide open as to what it involves, it sounds like a no-brainer to avoid it.
    • by IAR80 (598046)

      . Anyone getting into the business is competing against naive entrants in their late-teens/early-twenties; the type who are willing (and able) to work for peanuts to do what (they think) they love, until they get burnt out and are replaced by more newbies.
      I was wondering why all the games seems so puerile.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dogtanian (588974)

        I was wondering why all the games seems so puerile.
        Actually, I doubt they get much input into the design (hence the working on the minutae comment)- that's probably done by the higher-ups and largely driven by the marketing people who sell stuff that's more likely to sell.
    • Re:Who the hell... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RogueyWon (735973) * on Friday June 20, 2008 @08:49AM (#23871687) Journal

      Exactly...

      Too many people decide in their teens that the path to future job satisfaction must be to take one of their hobbies and make a job out of it. The inevitable result, 10-15 years later, is that they find themselves exploited, abused and burned out on both their job and their hobby.

      I remember when I was 15 and deciding which A-levels I wanted to take. For non-UK readers, A-levels used to be (and in a modified form still are) taken at 17 or 18. Most students would sit between 3 and 5 of them and your grade predictions (and eventual grades) were the major factor in determining which university you got into. I was doing a fairly mixed spread of GCSEs (taken at 15-16), that left me with the option of going down either the arts or the sciences route. Being a huge gamer at the time (and involved in the fledgling Doom mod scene), there was a massive temptation to pick two Maths courses along with Physics and Chemistry, with a mind to an computer science or maths degree and a career writing games. Many of my friends did this. However, at the last moment, I got cold feet. I took Latin, Ancient Greek, English Language and English Literature instead, then went on to do a Classics degree.

      Best decision I ever made.

      A decade and a bit on from there, I'm earning the equivalent of just under $100,000 for a varied and enjoyable non-technical job with a good work-life balance. I come home in the evenings and, if I'm feeling stressed, I fire up a game and blast some aliens. Meanwhile, the friends I stayed in touch with who actually made it into games development are earning less than $50,000, living in some of the least desirable areas of the UK, working 60+ hour weeks and have little to no prospects of advancement, despite high-scoring degrees in maths and computer science from some of the UK's top universities. Worse still, two of them now openly confess to loathing and detesting games. Having spent their working day crawling around in the back-end of one under development, the last thing they feel like doing when they get home in the evening is loading up a different one.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad (for obvious, selfish reasons), that lots of clever people do want to work in games development. However, if anybody I knew or cared about, curently going through education, gave any kind of indication that they were considering a career there, I would beg and plead with them to think again.

      The greatest secret I have found for career satisfaction is to keep your work and home lives separate. Certainly, you should try to find a job you enjoy; but this doesn't mean it has to be connected to an existing hobby. I've worked in some strange fields that I went into with very little previous knowledge (eg. maritime environmental regulation - although I've moved on from that now) and have found them fascinating. If you have an active mind, you should be able to find subjects that grab your interest in almost any field. Look for a career that will broaden your horizons, not confine them to what you already know and enjoy.

  • by Ice Tiger (10883) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:07AM (#23870967)

    From an article linked by the one of those above:

    'MacKinnon warned: "Without significant intervention higher education cannot meet growth targets [for the IT industry]." He called on the government to provide tax breaks and partner-with-industry to encourage internships and graduate entry schemes to get young talent into IT and help others transfer across from different industries.

    The offshoring of entry level IT jobs has exacerbated the skills shortage by making it increasingly difficult for IT workers to gain the necessary experience to boost their skill level, he added. "Because we are not employing at entry level offshoring will kill our industry stone dead," he warned.'

    and from the article itself:

    "Because the US economy is depressed it's cheaper to develop there and people are looking at other places - everyone's setting up studios in Shanghai and Eastern Europe at the moment."

    Even in the company I work for we don't have any entry level jobs any more in house and in the UK. I don't agree with it as it's causing problems such as lack of knowledge retention and the wool being pulled over managements eyes. But the IT director came in singing the offshoring song and so we'll continue despite indications it's actually more expensive than say agile onshore methods.

    In the past I'd have recommended IT as a career but now I'd say go into building trades as at least your competition has to come here to the UK and you've got the same cost of living.

    Basically we're turning ourselves into Eloi.

  • ZX Spectrum (Score:3, Informative)

    by Half a dent (952274) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:07AM (#23870969)
    The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was perhaps the machine that really started home programming in the UK. There were various magazines with basic programs printed in them in the early 80s.
  • completely agree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QX-Mat (460729) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:12AM (#23871009)

    The problem is when choosing the general science route at A-Level, you do Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths, later dropping one at A2. If you don't much like either chemistry or biology, it's not a problem if you're interested in the gaming community. The problem lies with the fact that you can rarely timetable Maths with anything other than the 3 sciences. I didn't do A-Level maths, and I'm very annoyed that I didn't. My problem was 2 fold - the upper sets were full (we had 2 x 3 tiers since our year was divided into 2). I plodded along learning nothing in the middle set. I felt like I was a paper calculator! The interesting and applicable stuff was only introduced in the higher tiers - throughout my time at Uni I've been constantly annoyed that I don't understand introductory proof to things I've never been introduced to.

    The second problem is the type of candidate the course wanted to attract. I did Computer Games Systems Masters at an ex-polytech. The course had a math element that largely went beyond me (however, I now have an appreciation for the fundamentals at a system level), having only a working knowledge of integration, and unable to show proof. How do you still cater for students that don't respond well at math? Give them system programming, internet programming, windows programming and hotsex programming modules! I enjoyed these because I didn't have to think about the work - I could program long before my Computer Systems undergraduate degree... finally however, I was using what I knew in fairly productive ways (and getting it right the first time).

    So admittedly I am the type of candidate my course attracts - but that's not the whole story. There are other modules I had to do for my MSc that weren't related to Systems: Games Prototyping was a module where we took an idea, and prototyped a design: generally some kind of working model such as level. Here my course (as there were only 3 of us on it!) mixed with the Computer Games Design idiots.

    Let me break for a paragraph there, because a break is required. Having done a systems engineering degree, systems programming for 4 years, and a genuine interest in technology, I had modules with CADers and Photoshopers who's only interests were in PLAYING games and hacking skins. They did NOT program, they did NOT care about the technology. For my group work in the prototyping module I actively ignored my lecturer since it turned out that he wasn't even a PhD candidate and had actually graduated through that University (one renowned for being poor at Science in the first place - albeit one with a fantastic employment track). I ignored the CAD stuff he was teaching me, I ignored the game design crap I could read about myself (his lectures consisted of photocopied material from a book!) and I ignore the fact that I was probably more qualified to teach when he questioned my analysis on throughput, net code, and the fact you couldn't realistically expect to host a 5v5 on a home broadband connection (he said he could do it on his XBox - so that made him right: if he reads this - f u c k o f f, and go study signalling).

    I made the most out of that lecturers modelling by delving into the Hammer engine and coding some actually game aspects.

    So what do I have to show for my masters in computer games systems? Not a lot. When people are getting degrees and masters in computer games design, and putting themselves out to games companies as great programmers having only studied a single module on C++ (not even covering allocation and collection let alone dependency garbage collection!), compared to the real engineers who were doing assembly on an ARM7TDMI in their sleep, they are destroying the reputation of the graduate industry as a whole.

    As someone who drank myself stupid in my final year at undergrad, and came out with the worst possible grade given my ability, finding myself so much more technically able than those who got a first class in undergraduate computer games degree is a disgrace to any gaming graduate.

    If I hired a

    • by Jellybob (597204) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:45AM (#23871229) Journal

      I'm a fast-track law student now.

      Excellent, with a personality like that, you should get on just fine.

      Seriously, stop acting like you're the only person in the world who knows what they're doing. Games design *isn't* about programming, that's not a weakness of the course, it's a weakness of your perception. Design is where you decide what you want to do, not when you sit down and hack out the first thing that comes into your head.

      The "CADers" and "Photoshoppers" you talk about are in fact skilled professionals. It may not be your profession, but it does have a name. It's called an "Artist". You'd be pissed off if someone called you a "C++er" I'd guess, so have a bit of respect for other people as well. No, they're not interested in programming or how the engine works (beyond what the limits are), because that's what the developers are there for.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by QX-Mat (460729)

        That's the point tho isn't it - game designers are overshadowing the game programmers. Games companies don't care how skilled their CADers or Photoshopers are when they're likely to outsource most of that anyway, and since there's no shortage of them its not a massive problem. The problem lies with the fact CADers and Photoshopers and graduates who *think* they are not when they are, however skilled they maybe (terrific skills indeed - i submit!) wanting to get into the programming side because of the finan

  • by jonnyj (1011131) on Friday June 20, 2008 @07:38AM (#23871177)

    There is a problem with the British education system with respect to IT skills.

    In 1979 when I was 12, my maths teacher taught the entire class to program in BASIC using pen, paper and a single teletype terminal with a 110 baud connection to the mainframe in City Hall. 1000 pupils shared the computer, but, if you were in the top maths class, you were expected to learn to program. Shortly after we learned FORTRAN and an educational pseudo-assembly language called CESIL. We loved it, and when the ZX81, BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum were launched, many of my peers bought them to continue to program - not to play games. The emphasis on coding continued throughout school and university - mathematicians, engineers and scientists were all expected to be able to cut code.

    I'm an accountant now, but when I have some complex data to process I often write a program (much to the distaste of our IT team who don't think that I should be allowed to intrude on their domain). And, as a result, I invariably wipe the floor with colleagues who only know how to use Excel and MS Access.

    My son is now 12, and his school has literally hundreds of computers. But programming has been removed from the curriculum and been replaced by lessons in Word, Powerpoint and the Windows GUI. Coding is deemed to be too difficult for the masses and is restricted to a few older puplis who show particular interest. But all my children enjoy programming at home - even my 9-year-old has a go at it.

    Perhaps worse, very few PCs now come equipped with the tools needed to write some code. Even Ubuntu, a geek's operating system by any normal measure, has no obvious desktop coding environment - if you don't know that python's hiding away on the command line, you won't find it and even GCC's not installed by default. As for Windows or OS X...

    So kids aren't being taught to program in school, and they don't know what they can do with the equipment that they have at home. Is there any surprise that there's a skills shortage?

    • by Alioth (221270)

      If you want your kids to be able to have programming, get a Speccy off ebay. I'm serious. Get a +3 with a disc drive. You just turn it on and it's ready to program and it's still absolutely fine for learning the foundations. (Or even get an emulator, but it's not the same!)

      Get into assembler and you can learn the principles that still underlie today's PCs. You very quickly learn why buffer overflows are bad when you see your assembly program write too much data and stomp all over its return address.

  • Symptomatic of UK iT (Score:2, Informative)

    by Fuzzypig (631915)
    IT courses in this country simply consist of teaching kids how to use MS Office and calling it IT/Business skills! I remember learning my GCSE computing was all about BASIC and how range checks are performed, random access is performed in database. No wonder the rest of the world is beating us in IT skills and how we have an IT skills shortage in the UK, we have to hire people from outside the UK to come and work here.
  • A games industry campaign group has warned the UK is falling behind on coding skills because university courses are not up to scratch.
    Falling behind who? The US? I personally don't think the stuff being taught at US schools is not "up to scratch".
  • The problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by ledow (319597) on Friday June 20, 2008 @08:39AM (#23871611) Homepage

    It's partly the universities, mainly the schools but in the end it also comes down to the coders and their equipment at home.

    1) Most people who go in for CS degrees know bugger-all about computers. It's sad but true. These people will probably NEVER program again once they leave, they will end up either typing in data all day, fixing computers or (in very rare instances) coding trivialities. I can name five top ICT teachers who programmed in COBOL and all sorts of exotic languages and who NEVER did it again for any reason. I can name twenty of the same who now specialise in English or Science or some other non-related subject.

    Student's knowledge of algorithms is purely a memory aspect in order to pass the exams. This is because they are taught in school that "computers are the future" and "you should learn computers", so they fiddle on a machine and install iTunes and think they could be the next ID Software. Most teaching staff in schools have absolutely no idea what's involved in CS and just recommend those who "are good at computer stuff" to get a CS degree if nothing else beckons. Many of these people hate mathematics and drop out quite quickly. Most of the rest of the students just think it's cool to get better access to the computers and mess about on them for three years.

    2) Of those that *do* end up programming, there are two types: those who probably started programming long before anybody "taught" them how to do it. Those types (we'll call them the hobbyists) probably know more languages, constructs and algorithms before they start a CS course than everybody else does *after* the course. The other type are those that find they can knock up a program "good enough". These types of people are rarely interested in coding as a hobby and will usually go on to make business apps, if anything. The hobbyists would *love* to code games all day long.

    3) You don't get many of these "hobbyist" programmers at all because most of them code for years before being taught, by which time they "think they know better", or they have something missing: Access to hardware, languages, artistic teams, etc. There is no hobbyist programming platform anymore (like the ZX Spectrum, etc.) - to get started on programming for a simple device you either have to use extremely high-level "games-creators", or you're into setting up development environments on "hacked" or "chipped" hardware, or buying expensive development suites. Most of these things you end up paying money for, one way or another. There is no "pick up and program" system any more where back in the days of Codemasters, etc. it was ALL that was available. Every computer you found could be easily programmed without having to do ANYTHING to it. They came with languages BUILT-IN. The IBM PS/2 - turn it on, you're in BASIC. Programming tools just don't come with computers anymore - it's all development kits, seperate programs, etc.

    4) The fun of programming was in fun languages, with crappy interfaces, horrible programming principles, and low-level techniques that required you to use your brains in order to squeeze the most out of a pittance of cpu-cycles - misuse goto and save yourself twenty cycles. You found most things out by accident or experiment and you would program a game just for the hell of it.

    Nowadays, anyone can knock up a program in minutes but they don't know how/why it works, or how to make it better - it's all just libraries and "magic boxes". Take away their development environment and they wouldn't be able to write a batch file, let alone a program in C (and in fact most kids, even the computer-geeks, know bugger-all that isn't available in a GUI anymore, for instance. Tell them to write a progam and they go looking for the "Write a program" icon - DOS is a mystical thing to them that they won't bother to learn). These kids just don't care - they don't see how the games are written, they have no patience to write their own and they have no help.

    Killing the command-line, BASIC and similar languag

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