Education and the Industry | The Future of Games | SAE Blog

Gaming at SAE

Nathan Flannery is a lecturer in Games Programming at SAE Institute Leamington with 10+ Years of experience as a lecturer and teacher of Games Programming, Games Development, Games Design, and Interactive Media. Nathan has also worked alongside numerous games industry organisations, professionals, and personalities, managing high-profile games and app projects. 

Nathan recently spoke at The Games Development Group conference, a forward-thinking conference providing an informal space for game developers to reflect on their industry and learn from one another.

Nathan’s talk focussed on the growing need for collaboration between education and industry to ensure talent is nurtured and used. This also promotes the need for increased diversity and representation across the game design and development world.  

Below is a transcript from this insightful talk. You can watch the entire session here.

The Future of the Games industry

Nathan Flannery: I want to talk to you today about, how education can collaborate with the industry in terms of the future of games because there are many hot topics in games at the moment. This is an area where I think education is an untapped resource for the industry to help alleviate some of the difficulties and problems that are currently arising. 

It’s clearly evident that there are numerous problems in the games sector, and I will share some solutions that emphasise the importance of working together and collaborating to improve not only the industry but also games education. 

If you read the report published in August by UK Games about jobs in the industry, it’s clear to  see that the job market has been shrinking more and more each year. The August report highlights an all-time low, which sounds disparaging. However, when analysts looked at it, it’s really due to the fact the games industry is returning to pre-pandemic ways of working. 

As a result of this, some UK studios have recently opted to downsize. Creative Assembly, Team 17, Media Tonic… they have all recently trimmed their teams. But what stands out as an educator, was the shrinking of the junior and graduate roles. Out of 1,324 roles, only 33 were for juniors, which is a very low number. 

During the first six months of 2022 there were 19,458 jobs and the smallest percentage (5%) of those jobs were people with zero to one year experience. So, if you’re thinking of someone who is a true graduate, someone who has not no experience working on a game, and the percentage will be lower than that, we’re talking like maybe 2%, 3% of jobs are for people with no skills whatsoever, which is a very small market and creates lots of competition for graduates. 

How can we increase graduate opportunities?

So, it poses the question, why aren’t there as many graduate opportunities and what can be done about it? One problem is a lack of confidence in juniors. This doesn’t necessarily reflect on their skills, this is more to do with a lack of confidence in juniors and general working practises. Employers real concerns are that they’re not going to fit into a studio environment and are not going to be able to cope with the workload in different working methodologies and systems that are in place in studios. 

To quote Elena, founder of Pod Games, she says the games industry is full of fierce competition for talent, but we have a lack of developers. There are some job openings being left unfulfilled for long periods of time, around about six months. Technical artists are sitting there for six months, whilst recruiters are really struggling to fill that role. 

At the same time, they don’t invest in the upbringing of young talent that could grow to fit those shoes with a bit of time and nurturing. There is this outdated idea of looking for someone who can slot straight into a team, unfortunately the pool of people who can do that is shrinking. 

Liz Anika from a US recruitment consultatnt, recently mentioned that someone with either no work experience, or who’s experience lies outside of games, like in the tech industry, may not make it through the selection process. Or, may not even apply for a role in the first place, because they don’t feel they’re qualified. They might consider their skills to qualify, for example they’ve got C++ programming and a very robust degree, but because they’ve never worked on a game before, they feel they’re likely to be automatically excluded, and therefore don’t apply. 

So if the industry can look for skills, rather than experience, it would help widen the talent pipeline and we would start to fill some of these gaps. 

The Need For Diversity 

The UK Games industry is predominantly 66% White British, this has been an issue that has been at the forefront of recent industry recruitment and studios are now actively looking to diversify. But again, the problem is, is that without new junior or graduate roles, we are just hiring the same people and diversity within the industry remains an issue.

Where does SAE come in? 

The first problem, this lack of confidence in juniors. At SAE, we welcome anyone who wants to come in from the industry to see what it is that we do.  We’re keen to quash the idea that institutions educate students by delivering a lecture and then the students go away to write a report, and then maybe they create a small prototype or similar. It’s not like that and it hasn’t been like that for quite a while now. 

At SAE what we are doing is emulating the industry practice and the working methodologies in the studio. This is where this lack of confidence comes from when employers don’t understand the skills that we teach and how they are put them into practise. At SAE, students will work in small studios, they will work agile, they will work in Confluence and will work in sprints.  

They communicate via Slack and they work hybrid. We try to emulate industry and replicate the working conditions of industry as closely as we can. As well as being surrounded by industry professionals, our spaces are part of the creative quarter, so we’re not just a university campus in the back of beyond. We are a part of a group of different organisations and buildings where our students are not isolated from professionals working on commercial projects, doing the jobs they aspire too. We have VFX artists coming in and working alongside them, but in the room doing their job. We also foster the idea of professionalism, the concept of working ‘as a studio’ from the outset of their education. 

We’re aware of how fast the industry moves, and we’re aware of current shifts within the industry. At SAE, we try to make sure that we’re not just teaching students, the current working models or what skills they need in different software, but also looking at where the industry is heading.

For instance, most of our students use Maya, and they will use Maya to do their poly modelling. They’ll use it to do rigging animation. But when talking to sort of people that I know in industry, I some studios are kind of pivoting away from that and into most of like blender, and especially like stuff like ZBrush, and moving away from ZBrush sculpting and into Blender. 

This year our students are learning skills more agnostically. So they’re learning skills of like extruding up, wrapping, rigging, etc. 

But not just in one piece of software, we’re trying to make sure that they know how to do this across both Maya and Blender, for instance. Same with engines, students have used Unreal Engine until recenlty, now they’re using Unity. But since Unity suffered some recent controversy, we’ve been looking at like other engines like Godot, and moving some development across into that as well. This is a considered move, as we prepare students for a potential industry pivot in one direction or another. 

We always relish additional input from the industry on current movements and updates on key skills shortages. 

If you’re saying that we need graduates that come in to us with X, Y, and Z, then we should know that and we can actually make that part of our courses. Onboarding processes should be the same across the board , if you’re someone who is a senior, or someone who’s a mid-level and you join a new studio, you’re going to be onboarded, you’re gonna be introduced to whatever software people use and whatever working practices they use. 

Because the curriculum is very broad, we cover a huge variety of different areas, and there are obviously specialisms, some students specialise in programming or in art, for instance, or games design. But if we know what training is required for a Junior, we can incorporate that into our programmes of study as a core element of our curriculum and ensure we output graduates with the skills you require.

INCREASING Diversity and gender representation in the Games industry

The last problem that I identified was the greater need for diversity. There’s been a huge drive in UK schools and colleges, in terms of STEM initiatives, to encourage more girls and young women into STEM subjects, so coding and technical art, and it is starting to pay off. 

If you come into any of our classrooms, you’ll see a wide diverse group of backgrounds, students from underprivileged backgrounds, through to middle-class backgrounds. You’ll see gender diversity and racial diversity. You’ll also see that we have many graduates who keen to enter into the games industry. Given the chance, these graduates would start to address the problems of diversity within the industry. 

Women in games have been marginalised for a long time, the girls often feel put off by seeing the kind of lack of gender representation and gender diversity across the industry. However, I believe this is starting to improve. We’re now seeing a lot of gender diversity and gender representation as protagonists in games. We’ve also seen greater representation and diversity in terms of voiced characters and stories. But the industry itself hasn’t reflected that quite as much. That’s where education can help to show that actually a lot of these games are made by a diverse range of people, not just those represented in the games.  

At SAE we take our own students into schools and colleges, right away down to lower schools,to start to demonstrate to young people that the gaming industry is inclusive for everybody and to pursue their dreams, if that’s what interests them.  


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