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Secondary Education for successful Game Developer

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Hello, I am a High School junior, and have a big question about what my future of education should be if I want to become a successful GameDeveloper. I live in Florida, and want to go to school here. If you aren''t familiar with "FullSail - Real World Entertainment", it is a school focusing on media. It has an Associate of Science degree specifically for Game Development and Design. I am considering this course, but I don''t know whether to suppliment that with something else. I am also considering majoring in "Computer Engineering - focusing on Software Engineering" at the University of Central Florida. Would that be the right major for a prospective Game Developer? Also, would it be wise to go to FullSail, then UCF? Or vice vera? On a side note, what is the average income of a Game Developer? And what career options are available for a "Software Engineer"? Can Game Development stem from a software engineering Degree? Thanks! Justin

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In my opinion the private game development schools like FullSail and DigiPen (here in Redmond WA) cost way too much. If you have the money (rich parents?) then, sure, it would be fun to hang out with other game developers for 4 years. I got a perfectly good education from the UW and in that time I learned most of what you would learn at a school like Digipen on my own. There are a ton of books out these days so learning game development is much easier then it used to be.

What it takes to succeed as a game developer is the ability to go out and learn new things on your own without someone spoon feeding it to you (like in a classroom). You also must have the ambition and maturity to work on your own projects when no one is telling you to do them. Neither Digipen, Fullsail, or your local state university are going to teach you that. It''s something you have to work out on your own.

For me it worked out that while I was taking classes at my local University I was teaching myself game programming, experimenting with different libraries like DirectX and OpenGL and generally trying to apply the things I was learning in class to my game development projects. In the end I''m very happy I didn''t go to DigiPen like I had first planned too. I''d hate to be paying off all that debt right now, and while I’m still learning new things in game development all the time, I think I know most of what I would have learned if I had went to one of those schools.

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I''m a student at U of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign, and I''m in my 2nd year of computer engineering, although all my electives are in Computer Science ''cause that''s really more of what I want to do!

I''ve spent a lot of time looking at schools like DigiPen and Full sail, to get an idea of what they''re like and also what I need to do as a student at a "regular" university to make up for all the stuff I''m missing by not going there. I''ve also read a lot and talked to a couple of people in the industry about what employers are looking for.

So here''s my take on things... What you really need to know- regardless of where you go- is a solid understanding of math, computer science, software engineering, and other secondary subjects such as communication skills, business savvy, perhaps some creative subjects which will broaden you...

You''ll get a nice fat dose of all that stuff if you go to a university. You''ll get some of it at Full Sail and places like that, but frankly I don''t think the program there will be as rigorous.

But all that stuff is only half of the picture. The rest of it is just whether or not you can code a game. So what does that mean? To me, it means that you have to know at least fundamentals of game design, you have to be extremely good on the technical side because if you can''t code well you''re simply not going to do well as a programmer!

A university will NOT teach you how to be a good programmer. They''ll teach you theory and give you a really strong background in some specific areas, but for the most part, you''ll spend your time with your nose in a book rather than at the keyboard coding away, reading technical articles, and basically learning all kinds of new things like you should be (and need to be) if you want to get into the game industry.

In addition to all of that, it''s 100% crucial that you''ve actually MADE games prior to seeking a job in the industry. There are actually companies that say- flat out- that they won''t hire newbies. So even though only about 40% of programmers in the industry hold a CS degree, don''t expect a college education to make miracles happen. People care more about what you can do than where you went to school.

So there''s really quite a bit of stuff you need to do and learn, but how to get it all? Personally I think that taking the university route is a better way to go. There are several reasons for this:
1. You get a really solid understanding of math, etc.
2. It broadens you and gives you life experiences that really help you grow and develop as a person.
3. Yes, you do have to take those "stupid gen-eds" but if you pick ones that interest you, it might really be beneficial to you. Also, sometimes you might simply need to recharge your brain after all that coding.
4. You can do projects in your spare time to learn more about game development, read lots of articles, books and things like that. (That''s what I''m doing). Also, don''t forget that even if you go to a university, it doesn''t preclude you from going to something like Full Sail later on.
5. A university teaches you how to learn. This skill will be invaluable to you all your life.
6. If you ever decide to leave the game industry, or just take a break from it, you already have a strong education which will allow you flexibility you wouldn''t have by going to a specialized school like Full Sail.

Now of course there are advantages to attending something like Full Sail:
1. You''ll be making games! That will give you a big boost for your portfolio.
2. You''ll concentrate on the technical issues that you''ll need to know for your job.
3. This is a place where they actually have courses in game development topics. Not a lot of universities do although some are starting to (such as Georgia Tech)
4. They''ll teach you things you might not have learned otherwise such as how to make a design document and do it properly, and how to work with a team of people.

Obviously each choice has some really attractive benefits. I do respect the programs at Full Sail and Digipen. The students do actually work, and it''s not like you''ll get a "bad" education. Also I''ve looked at their projects and while they''re not amazing, they''re fairly good. It''s pretty impressive to see how the people come together and work as a team to get things done.

So even though I don''t have anything against Full Sail, I just think that everything they learn in courses, you could easily teach yourself, if you have the motivation to do so. However, only at the uni will you get a strong, formal education in computer science which will help you a lot in the long run.

If you''re not sure, definitely keep looking into the options and see what feels right to you. And like I said, you can always go back to Full Sail or something like that later on if you''re having trouble breaking into the industry or simply think it would help you. In fact, a lot of the people who go there hold bachelor''s degrees.

Just remember that no matter where you go, it''s what you know and what you can do that will make a difference. Good luck!


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I just realized I forgot to address a couple of your questions so this is just an addition to my previous post...

As for salaries of game developers, they tend to be comparatively low. Something like $40,000 for an entry-level programmer, and then you can work your way up to maybe $70,000, and then more money if you go into management. The whole game industry as a whole is really competitive, and although some developers make tons of money, it''s fairly rare. I think there''s a figure that something around 5 percent of games actually make a profit.

Of course, if games aren''t profitable then why would publishers bother in the first place? Well, as I understand it, it''s like betting. They pick 10 projects and they guess that 8 will flop, maybe one will do okay, and hopefully one will be a giant success.

In general, it should be noted that the software industry is a very high-risk industry. Why? Well, consider that other engineering industries have a large amount of their costs being invested in materials for construction or things like that, while a lesser amount is being used for labor. In the software industry, the money is mostly going to the actual workers. For example, let''s say you had just 16 people, working for $40,000 a year, for two years. That''s $1.28 million right there alone! So what this means is that employees are a huge cost to a company, and so let''s say a game takes longer than it''s supposed to by a few months- that means tons and tons of financial losses because now the company has all these extra months of labor to pay for!

I think there are a lot of smart people in the game industry, and they probably *know* that they''re not going to get paid tons of money, but they do it any way because they enjoy it. If this sounds like you, then you''re in good shape. If not, then maybe consider if you''re really that devoted that you''d be willing to work for low pay and possibly experience the dreaded "crunch" period that often happens in games towards the end. In really bad cases, programmers have to work 16 hours a day to get everything finished, and it can really affect health and relationships. It''s usually not that bad, but I''m sure that any seasoned programmer in the industry knows exactly what it means to be in a crunch.

As for the whole software engineering stuff, yes you can be a game programmer even if you have a background in software engineering!! Of course, like I said, that doesn''t mean that you should expect to take a few CS classes and then go and get a job in the industry. Like I said in my other post, you should have at least a basic portfolio to show before trying to even *think* about getting a job anywhere.

By the way, if you''d like to discuss this stuff more, feel free to e-mail me at RajS20@aol.com. I''m no expert or anything- I''m trying to learn more about all this stuff myself since I''m also someone who wants to be a game programmer some day. So it would be cool to have someone to talk to about this kind of stuff


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