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JamesHoward

Value of a master's degree?

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I've been reading the FAQs over at sloperama.com about how to achieve a career in game design. One of the points the writer makes repeatedly is that game design is not an entry-level career, and that you don't get a design position directly after getting your degree. From what I can tell, though, that FAQ was written about 6 years ago, before master's programs in game design at major universities existed. With institutions like NYU's Tisch School of the Arts offering MFAs in Interactive Telecommunications and University of Southern California offering MFAs in Game Design, I wonder if some of the common wisdom may have changed. So, what value do developers place on these master's degrees? If I got an MFA from USC, would that position me to get directly into design right out of the gate? Or is getting a traditional bachelor's degree and working your way up the ladder still the preferred route?

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You need to read more of the FAQs. No degree will "get you directly into the job right out of the gate".

Think carefully.

How many writers does a game need? One? Two? Zero, if the designers can write reasonably well? Then consider that those few writers can be spread across multiple projects at a studio. Job openings for writers in the game industry are extremely rare. There are probably around one hundred or so total dedicated game writers across the entire industry.

Writers are generally designers first and foremost. Their job title and main duties will be designing. It is rather rare to have a dedicated writer with a job title reflecting that. Both positions are hired from within, since anyone can come up with ideas but it generally takes a veteran to navigate the road from idea to finished product.

If you want a masters degree for your own personal reasons then go for it. Do not do it because you think some future employer demands that and it will get you in the industry.

Your odds of being a game industry writer are much greater if you went into reporting, working for a trade journal or web site. They hire many game writers.

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In the game industry, people are infinitely more concerned with what you can do than what piece of paper you paid a lot of money for (and this is coming from someone that has one of those expensive pieces of paper). You need to be able to show that you can do whatever the job you're applying for will require of you.

Is the guidance and structure that the master's program provides going to enhance your skills/abilities more than spending the same amount of time working on your own? If so, is that amount of enhancement worth the cost?

If you can answer yes to both, then great! Go for the degree. Just don't go for it thinking that anyone in the game industry will care about your having it or not.

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Rob,
The problem (that a raw grad won't be hired as a "game designer" right out of college) still exists. Even after six years.
That applies not only to bachelor degrees but also masters degrees.
The matter of masters degrees has also been further addressed by that same author, in a column on IGDA.org: http://www.igda.org/games-game-june-2011

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I don't know why so many people prefer to do a master degree. I mean for jobs like this, its all based on talent. If you know how to make game, don't waste your time doing a degree. Its only gonna make matters worse. Then if you want to suddenly do PHD? Just motivate them to hire you by using whatever creativity you have. Sheesh

I hate this B.sc and I want to do BA but I can't. The degree is useless because It only provides jobs around my country and I hate my country. I want to make games for a wider audience. I can't believe I have to spend another two years just to get a powerful degree.

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[quote name='Cap'n VG' timestamp='1318951137' post='4873942']
I don't know why so many people prefer to do a master degree. I mean for jobs like this, its all based on talent. If you know how to make game, don't waste your time doing a degree. Its only gonna make matters worse. Then if you want to suddenly do PHD? Just motivate them to hire you by using whatever creativity you have. Sheesh

I hate this B.sc and I want to do BA but I can't. The degree is useless because It only provides jobs around my country and I hate my country. I want to make games for a wider audience. I can't believe I have to spend another two years just to get a powerful degree.
[/quote]

Many people enjoy school. It doesn't look like you are one of them.

Earning a master's degree allows a person to cover topics in depth. It can (if the student worked at it) mean the person has a much deeper understanding of the theory and therefore can provide better insights. It also allows the person to specialize in what they enjoy.

Getting a bachelor's degree in this industry is a basic qualification. Having a master's degree will help but still be a relatively small thing when first breaking in (unless you specialized in something the studio really needs, like networking). Over the course of your entire career it can be a very valuable asset. It will help when negotiating salary, it will help when looking for new jobs. As you become more senior it can help with promotions and lateral job transitions.

You should not go for a master's degree if you don't want it. However, if you do want it, then go for it.

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[quote name='frob' timestamp='1318955115' post='4873969']
[quote name='Cap'n VG' timestamp='1318951137' post='4873942']
I don't know why so many people prefer to do a master degree. I mean for jobs like this, its all based on talent. If you know how to make game, don't waste your time doing a degree. Its only gonna make matters worse. Then if you want to suddenly do PHD? Just motivate them to hire you by using whatever creativity you have. Sheesh

I hate this B.sc and I want to do BA but I can't. The degree is useless because It only provides jobs around my country and I hate my country. I want to make games for a wider audience. I can't believe I have to spend another two years just to get a powerful degree.
[/quote]

Many people enjoy school. It doesn't look like you are one of them.[quote][/quote]

[/quote]

Really? You mean school as in grade school or high school?

Either way I won't agree with it. If anyone was interested in school, then they would get high grades which irritates me often. Cause every school has a student who holds the high scores. What is so fun in learning the basics? It is only the basics that determine a person what he would want to be.

Still like you said even after a master's degree, you still won't get a career as a game designer. But that makes me wonder why bother doing a degree even after knowing that you still won't get game career.

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[quote name='Cap'n VG' timestamp='1318958213' post='4873977']
Really? You mean school as in grade school or high school?

Either way I won't agree with it. If anyone was interested in school, then they would get high grades which irritates me often. Cause every school has a student who holds the high scores. What is so fun in learning the basics? It is only the basics that determine a person what he would want to be.

Still like you said even after a master's degree, you still won't get a career as a game designer. But that makes me wonder why bother doing a degree even after knowing that you still won't get game career.
[/quote]

No, not an interest in grade school. The thread is a discussion of bachelors degrees and masters degrees.

Your irritation toward other students or their grades is irrelevant.

Most people don't want an advanced degree. That is not their path. And that is just fine.



Having a specific degree will obviously not guarantee you a specific job.

However...

Some people want an advanced degree. That is a step in following their passion. They should follow their passions.

Having an advanced degree CAN jumpstart your career by giving you specialized knowledge in your field. It also can open career paths that would otherwise be closed, and can help dramatically improve your knowledge and skills far beyond your peers without the degree.

Having an advanced degree WILL improve both your employability and the quality of your entire career, no matter what profession you choose.

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I think educational requirements is another feature that the industry failed.

You don't need a degree to write games.

You don't need a degree to draw game art.

You don't need a degree to program software.

if you can't teach yourself, then what can you do? There comes a point in time when you can say for yourself that you are what you are.
People did not believe in me, but I think its because they fail in tasks I claim to have completed.


So why do so many industries trust less educated people ... I remember reading that the ex-prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, did not finish his degree in Law (Oxford or Cambridge).
There are many successful people who did not complete education, why should it be the same for games?
Its not like structural engineering, brain surgery or aircraft design - the only type of career that *should* require a proven educational level.


So for employers who are critical of applicants ...
1) if you don't trust person A (who has a degree) without a degree then a) consider that you are racist.
2) if you trust person B (who does not have a degree) if they had a degree but not otherwise then consider that you have your wires crossed.
3) Ask yourself if you trust yourself in the situations then realize that you assume your own superiority (they cannot believe others can do what they cannot).

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[quote name='Access_Denied' timestamp='1319061739' post='4874466']
1) if you don't trust person A (who has a degree) without a degree then a) consider that you are racist.
[/quote]
The word "racist" is not applicable. A better word for expressing your point of view on this would be "elitist."

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If you get, let's say, 200 resumes a month, and you can only interview 20, how do you choose who to interview?

Degrees say "the applicant has a higher probability of being successful on the job". That's pretty useful to hiring folks who are swamped with applications.

If you don't have a degree, make yourself stand out in other ways. Finish some game, present a paper, dress up as some game character, ...

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First, this is a discussion about the difference between a master's degree and bachelor's degree.

Please don't derail it too far.
[quote name='Access_Denied' timestamp='1319061739' post='4874466']
I think educational requirements is another feature that the industry failed.

You don't need a degree to write games.
You don't need a degree to draw game art.
You don't need a degree to program software.
[/quote]


Correct. You do not strictly need a degree.

Instead, you need certain levels of skill and education.

A motivated individual can certainly teach themselves what they need instead of going through a bachelor's program. Unfortunately, most teens have no clue of what they actually need until they have gained a few more decades of life experience. Will you pick up all those difficult concepts of linear algebra, discrete mathematics, and calculus that are the mainstay of excellent programmers? Will you study the theory topics that will let you reduce an unknown or very difficult problem into one you know how to solve quickly?

There is much to learn, and it takes dedication to learn the important subjects that you are not inclined to study on your own.



Further, when it comes to employment, you are not in a vacuum. You must compete against others.

A degree does not say that you can do the job. But a degree provides a standard measuring stick that says you have a certain minimum amount of knowledge. Hence the term "graduate". For an employer, it is MUCH easier to require a degree, which is evidence of a particular skill set, than to trust your luck.


Yes, there are people in the industry who do not have degrees. Most of the notable entries started programming games professionally in the 1970s, and 1980s. That was a time when there were few CS programs out there so few people needed the degrees. Games were a lot simpler, often hacked together by one or two or rarely three people. These days CS programs are commonplace. Games are collaborations of large teams that can reach into the hundreds.

Yes, a few people still write their own games and prove that they have the skills necessary to perform well in the modern world, but it is rare. It is non-traditional, and it is extremely difficult. In the early days it was probably close to 1:10 not having a degree in something; most people had degrees in math or computer engineering or electrical engineering or related topics. Today you are looking at 1:100 or even 1:1000 ratio these days.

You can break in to this industry without a degree. But it will be incredibly difficult. You need to come up with some extremely powerful evidence that actually proves you can do the job.

[quote]There comes a point in time when you can say for yourself that you are what you are. People did not believe in me, but I think its because they fail in tasks I claim to have completed.[/quote]
Yes. That time generally comes after a decade or so of real work.

[quote]I remember reading that the ex-prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, did not finish his degree in Law (Oxford or Cambridge). There are many successful people who did not complete education, why should it be the same for games? [/quote]
Tony Blair graduated from Oxford, so not sure where you got that from.

As for those who are successful without school, they are the exceptions.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg both dropped out of Harvard and became successes a few years later.

So [b]after[/b] you get accepted to Harvard, and have taken classes for a year or so, and realized that even the standards of Harvard are too little for you, then feel free to drop out and start your own venture.


John Carmack is an oft-cited game person who didn't have a degree. He had a perfect GPA through school (what is yours?) self-taught himself advanced mathematics and CS topics. He went to two semesters at his state University, and left. He floundered for a while with jobs at apple and other places, and struggled to find a job due to a lack of degree. Eventually he landed a job that let him wrote games. Even today many of his algorithms require graduate-level maths to understand.

I suppose the moral is that if you have self-taught yourself calculus and linear algebra, and have tinkered enough with hardware to be able to push the hardware to its limits for a decade with heavily-optimized code, and you have the knowledge in CS that you can create your own multitasking operating system from scratch (that was the biggest technical feat of the original DOOM engine)... In that case, then sure, you can be like Carmack and skip the degree.

[quote]
So for employers who are critical of applicants ...
1) if you don't trust person A (who has a degree) without a degree then a) consider that you are racist.
2) if you trust person B (who does not have a degree) if they had a degree but not otherwise then consider that you have your wires crossed.
3) Ask yourself if you trust yourself in the situations then realize that you assume your own superiority (they cannot believe others can do what they cannot).
[/quote]

1) It isn't a matter of trust or racism. One person has an unknown background, the other has a known background. Businesses are risk averse, and will prefer the known.
2) It isn't a matter of trust. It is a simple matter of risk. One person has a known minimum standard of education, the other is unknown.
3) It isn't a matter of superiority. It is a simple matter of risk.

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[quote name='frob' timestamp='1319068206' post='4874500']
So [b]after[/b] you get accepted to Harvard, and have taken classes for a year or so, and realized that even the standards of Harvard are too little for you, then feel free to drop out and start your own venture.[/quote]

Yes, that's what I tell degree-deniers too. "Yes, those guys dropped out of Harvard and became hugely successful. So, first, you have to go to Harvard. Then you can drop out."

I also tell those guys about another famous person who went to Harvard: Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber).

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By the way, are there any Brits reading this? I had a huge argument on another forum with a guy who insisted that British game companies don't care about degrees. That this whole thing [about degrees being tantamount to a requirement for game jobs (above QA)] is entirely an American phenomenon. Any Brits want to chime in?

I took that thread and turned it into a column:
http://www.igda.org/games-game-september-2011

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[quote name='Tom Sloper' timestamp='1319067229' post='4874495'][quote name='Access_Denied' timestamp='1319061739' post='4874466']
1) if you don't trust person A (who has a degree) without a degree then a) consider that you are racist.
[/quote]
The word "racist" is not applicable. A better word for expressing your point of view on this would be "elitist."
[/quote]



ok so they just have the same haircut?

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[quote name='Tom Sloper' timestamp='1319077456' post='4874529']
By the way, are there any Brits reading this? I had a huge argument on another forum with a guy who insisted that British game companies don't care about degrees. That this whole thing [about degrees being tantamount to a requirement for game jobs (above QA)] is entirely an American phenomenon. Any Brits want to chime in?

I took that thread and turned it into a column:
[url="http://www.igda.org/games-game-september-2011"]http://www.igda.org/...-september-2011[/url]
[/quote]

I'm British and I applied for jobs for the position of programmer in the games industry via an agency. The interviews were hard, they asked very technical questions while not seeming to understand what I talked about ... i.e. so you either have to be able to answer technical questions very seriously without batting an eyelid when they do not seem to understand or you have to answer technical questions while making sure they understand.

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[quote name='Access_Denied' timestamp='1319128696' post='4874742']
[quote name='Tom Sloper' timestamp='1319067229' post='4874495'][quote name='Access_Denied' timestamp='1319061739' post='4874466']
1) if you don't trust person A (who has a degree) without a degree then a) consider that you are racist.
[/quote]
The word "racist" is not applicable. A better word for expressing your point of view on this would be "elitist."
[/quote]
ok so they just have the same haircut?
[/quote]
:huh: Let's try that out, then. "consider that you both have the same haircut." Doesn't make sense, but it's less charged than "consider that you are racist," when "consider that you are elitist" would be more apt.

Note: this has gotten very silly, and I have contributed to the silliness. This thread has most likely outlived its usefulness. But as a contributor to the silliness, I guess it would be wrong of me to close the thread right here.

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[quote name='robopsych' timestamp='1318646937' post='4872742']
I've been reading the FAQs over at sloperama.com about how to achieve a career in game design. One of the points the writer makes repeatedly is that game design is not an entry-level career, and that you don't get a design position directly after getting your degree. From what I can tell, though, that FAQ was written about 6 years ago, before master's programs in game design at major universities existed. With institutions like NYU's Tisch School of the Arts offering MFAs in Interactive Telecommunications and University of Southern California offering MFAs in Game Design, I wonder if some of the common wisdom may have changed. So, what value do developers place on these master's degrees? If I got an MFA from USC, would that position me to get directly into design right out of the gate? Or is getting a traditional bachelor's degree and working your way up the ladder still the preferred route?
[/quote]

Tom's information on sloperama is not dated. The gist of Tom's message is that you are extremely unlikely to get a position in design without having proven that you can actually design a game. That is not going to change. From the employers point of view there are 2 or 3 questions they are trying answer for each candidate: (1) can this person do the job at the required level, (2) do I want to work with this person, and sometimes (3) is this person worth investing in. What you are asking touches on (1) and (3).

In evaluating a candidate for a design position, a degree in design is evidence that you might be able to do the job. But it is a single factor in the whole package. If that is all you have, it is probably not enough. If you have a degree, a portfolio of work illustrating what you can do, and you interview well, your chances are much better. A degree in design says that you are probably interested in design and have invested time and effort to learn about it. This is good, right? But that is the extent of it. It does not answer the question, "can this person do the job?" That is why a degree is almost never enough by itself.

The best way to become a game designer is to design games. Everything else is a buff.

-Josh

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[quote name='jjd' timestamp='1319308232' post='4875388']
In evaluating a candidate for a design position, a degree in design is evidence that you might be able to do the job. But it is a single factor in the whole package. If that is all you have, it is probably not enough. If you have a degree, a portfolio of work illustrating what you can do, and you interview well, your chances are much better. A degree in design says that you are probably interested in design and have invested time and effort to learn about it. This is good, right? But that is the extent of it. It does not answer the question, "can this person do the job?" That is why a degree is almost never enough by itself.

The best way to become a game designer is to design games. Everything else is a buff.
[/quote]

There is something to be said for the explosion of casual games though. It's a lower but still professional level in for new game designers. What Tom says still definitely applies to the majority of cases, and even more so for AAA developers, but with so many casual studios who are about quantity and qualify with short development cycles it's not impossible for a designer to be an entry level job. Of course without a portfolio you're still fairly doomed.

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I got a question.

Mt friend says that getting the master's degree is important in order to get promotion in the industry and that you can only get a job in a campus interview if you just get a degree. Is that true because if it is then there's no point in having this thread and it will almost be difficult to get a job at this rate.

The thing that I don't like about a master degree is that it acts more like a diploma and having already been on an institute and having been on college, I don't think a master's degree is best for me cause right now I'm thinking of working on small companies like Nicalis.

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Cap, you have three choices:
- Believe everything your friend tells you.
- Believe nothing your friend tells you.
- Make up your own mind what to believe when your friend tells you something.

At the present time, you take your friend's words much too seriously. You need to accept that not everything your friend tells you is the gospel truth.

Read [url="http://www.igda.org/games-game-june-2011"]this[/url].

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[quote name='Tom Sloper' timestamp='1321673360' post='4885509']
Cap, you have three choices:
- Believe everything your friend tells you.
- Believe nothing your friend tells you.
- Make up your own mind what to believe when your friend tells you something.

At the present time, you take your friend's words much too seriously. You need to accept that not everything your friend tells you is the gospel truth.

Read [url="http://www.igda.org/games-game-june-2011"]this[/url].
[/quote]

But you just said that a master's degree will move you forward. Have you done a master's degree? and Why?

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