Mad about the game, boys?

11th April 2008 at 01:00
Passionate video-gamers from around Europe hoping to work in the industry are hedging their bets at a gaming fair in Dundee

It's a bit different from your usual recruitment fair - the employers look about 25, and playing pool and computer games seem to rate highly among company fringe benefits.

Fifteen-year-old twins Robbie and Adam McDicken are passionate about video games and have come to this Dundee nightclub to find out more about working in the industry. They're joining around 500 young people who have come from all over the UK and Europe to "Game in Scotland: the Scottish Games Recruitment Fair" in Fat Sams nightclub. Some have come from Italy and Germany to hear more about what this growing industry has to offer prospective employees.

The twins are in fourth year at Harris Academy in Dundee: "I'm interested in programming and I'm looking into the audio in games. I'm quite interested in music and how that applies to games," says Robbie, as he waits in the auditorium for the first presentation.

"I think it's a very exciting industry to get into and it would be quite a good choice for someone with my interests," says the teenager, who plans to take Highers in English, maths, chemistry, physics and computing science. His brother Adam shares his enthusiasm and interest in the programming side.

Girls are in the minority at this event and they're also outnumbered in the industry. Former Kirkcaldy High pupil Rachel Cooper is about to leave university and wants to work as an animator. "I was speaking to one of the guys from Cohort Studios and he was saying for a studio that's maybe got 60 employees, there will be places for three or four women. But I haven't had enough experience to see it for myself yet," says Rachel, 21, a final-year student in animation at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

Scottish Enterprise is the main sponsor of the event with stands and presentations from Scotland's leading industry players. Game in Scotland project manager Carri Cusick, from Scottish Enterprise, is delighted they've drawn visitors from so far afield. "This event is unique, because it's free for companies and for delegates and it's the only event of its kind in Scotland," she says.

"Because the industry is quite new, there are only a limited number of people who can offer five or 10 years' commercial experience. There's a skills shortage issue throughout the industry across the world, so people are competing globally for staff. This is one of the reasons why we have Game in Scotland, to raise the profile of the Scottish sector and make people aware there are so many opportunities in Scotland, because people don't always recognise that."

Students will sometimes come to Scotland because of the quality of the games degree courses on offer: "But they don't necessarily recognise there are a number of opportunities here and they think they have to move to America or Korea or anywhere else in Asia."

In this constantly changing industry, employment opportunities are extending to encompass a huge range of skills. "Games are like movies, they require script writers, character builders, artists, fine artists and animators, as well as traditional programmers associated with the games industry. The industry is looking for people with project management experience and people management skills, so as the industry is growing, so the variety of roles is growing too."

Among the companies represented at the event is Realtime Worlds, the team behind some of the world's best-selling video games, including Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown, a freeform action driving game released last year, which reached number one in the United States and the UK. The company employs 200 people in Dundee and almost 50 more between its bases in South Korea and Boulder, Colorado.

Studio manager Colin Macdonald came into the industry in the early days with a degree in computing from Abertay University. "A degree always helps but we've got a lot of people here who haven't been through college or university. They'll learn programming, start making up little games, they'll get together with other people on the internet and do little modifications to existing games, trying to improve and enhance them," he says.

"They'll send that to us as a portfolio and that tells us 'here's someone that's passionate about games, talented and willing to put their own time into something'. That differentiates them from 99 per cent of the applicants you can get, so they are in with a much better chance."

Colin estimates there are about 40 universities around the UK offering games specific courses. "You can do a degree in games programming or games art, and obviously that does help in terms of getting into the games industry.

"But you don't have to do these. We get a lot of people who do a general programming degree or a general computing degree and at the end of the day if they're really good, they're really passionate, we still snap them up."

The four main disciplines in games are programming, art, audio and design and within these divisions are further specialisms. Abertay University was the first in the world to offer games-specific courses.

"I think it's still the one that offers the most and it's the one we probably view with the highest regard, probably because they've got the most experience and have been doing it the longest," says Colin.

At Dundee College there's an introductory course to animation and digital media and an HNCD in 3D-computer animation at its recently restructured department of animation and creative media.

"Many of our students will go into higher education at local universities and colleges of art. Some go straight into employment, we have a few people working in story-boarding and things like that now," says Jim McAra, Dundee College lecturer.

The college launched its first games-related course 10 years ago with 10 students and now has around 100: "While there's a world-wide shortage of very good animators, you have to be very good to get a job."

Another key event to give an edge to the CV is Dare to be Digital, the UK's premier video games design competition for students and recent graduates, which is held over 10 weeks each summer.

Applicants go through a rigorous selection procedure to take part in the team event, and 80 per cent of those are later hired by high-profile companies in the video-games industry.

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