Deep Dive: Game Education
A brief overview of game education in Europe.
In Northern and Central Europe (Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia) there are more than 100 programmes that focus on or emphasise games in higher education. In addition to these, about 40 programmes offer the option for students to enrol in elective game-related courses.
Students in the region have the opportunity of specialising in a number of different fields. E.g. level design, game programming, game writing, game animation, game design, 3D game art, digital art, sound design and production, game quality assurance (QA) and business analytics.
The various game programmes and game-related studies are available at different levels of the educational systems.
In vocational training programmes, the emphasis is on practical skills. In higher education, i.e. Bachelor- and Master-level programmes, tend to focus on theoretical aspects of game development in e.g. the fields of computer science and game design.
Some lower-level institutions such as upper secondary and vocational schools allow very young students to start specialising at a quite an early age. For graduates from vocational programmes this often leads to an early start in the industry. Those who attended upper secondary schools with game-related tracks often continue in the educational system. They seek a higher level education specialising in game development.
The vocational programmes can take place at post-primary, post-secondary, training and at higher education institutions. They are often tied to singular skills such as animation, programming, audio production, etc.
An example of a higher vocational programme focusing on game development is The Game Assembly1The Game Assembly: https://www.thegameassembly.com/ in Malmö, Sweden that offers 5 programmes that train students for specific roles in a game production (game animator, technical artist, level designer, game programmer and graphic artist). Finland is the country in Northern Europe with the largest number of vocational colleges at upper secondary level that prepare their students for an early entry into the country’s large game industry.
Several gymnasiums at upper secondary level in e.g. Denmark incorporate either game development or e-sport in their curriculum. These schools strive to include e.g. game analysis, mechanics-dynamics- aesthetics (MDA), game physics and so forth in the mandatory courses. They introduce both projects and practical skills such as programming and design in elective courses. As previously mentioned, most of the students finishing the upper secondary level will continue on to either a university or another higher educational institution.
Programmes from academic institutions such as universities with game-focused programmes at bachelor (3 years) and / or master level (5+ years) are more geared towards scientific research and development. Here, the students produce reports, papers and theses. The acquisition of practical skills is more up to the individual student. Many universities include game projects where game production is imitated. Universities with multiple game-focused programmes such as Swedish and Finnish universities strive to have students from the various programmes working together. They want to imitate the interdisciplinary setting of the industry.
Under different names such as polytechnic, University of Applied Science, the Swedish ‘högskola’, etc. are various higher-level educational institutions that include game programmes that focus on both the practical skills and the corresponding theory. Programmes offered by these institutions are usually 2-4 years long. Just like the upper vocational programmes they are geared towards specific positions in the industry.
The focus of vocational programmes is more or less solely on skills. Applied science programmes emphasise the need for a theoretical base as well. They aim for their students to fully understand and independently continue studies in their field. E.g. programming courses at universities of applied science will educate students to not only know how to code. They will also support knowledge of system development, QA, software architecture and a deeper understanding of e.g. game relevant mathematics. These students will, however, unlike Master-level students, typically not be able to create their own compiler or lead mathematical proofs.
Most educational institutions, regardless of their level, incorporate game production at least at one point during the programme. The approach to student-driven game productions vary much from institution to institution. Some work with the industry, some let the students’ creativity rule, some dictate constraints and some focus on one large production. Others foster smaller but frequent productions. Some educational institutions have even taken it one step further. They have formed a cooperative with existing game incubators. This gives student-based teams the opportunity to start their own game development companies.
Game education often plays a central role when it comes to setting up a game incubation programme. Incubators are typically relevant at an early stage of a company’s lifecycle. By working closely with educational institutions, incubators are able to approach new start-ups at a very early stage. Sometimes they are able to approach start-ups even when the founders are still enrolled in a game education programme.
This type of collaboration (as seen and proven at e.g. Game Hub Denmark2Game Hub Denmark: https://gamehubdenmark.com/, The Game Incubator3The Game Incubator: https://www.thegameincubator.se/ and Dutch Game Garden4Dutch Game Garden: https://www.dutchgamegarden.nl/) can help smoothen the transition from the relatively secure and structured university environment, to running a game start-up. For this transition to work best, entrepreneurship and business topics should play a key role in the game education. This is to get the students interested in establishing their own studios, either while still enrolled at a game education, or immediately after.
Combining this approach with the technical sides of game development will often be a very good way to get young talents to consider developing their own products for a living, rather than continuing game-development in a hobby-like fashion or as a one-off project.
A formal game education is not a requirement for entering the game industry. Many developers have a background in other fields such as business, computer science, sound, and art. When topped up with game development specific competences, these have proved to be good starting points for many founders and / or members of start-ups in the game industry.