"None of the designers at Valve have any formal training in game design that I'm aware of," says Casali. "Most have honed their skills through experience and rabid dedication to their craft. Valve considers education as a primary gauge of aptitude, but it's the experience and performance on the day of the interview that are the most important criteria when we decide to hire or not."
IT'S A BIT TECHNICAL
Why then have games courses at all? Well, until recent years techy whizzkids had more of an opportunity to get a grounding in game technologies from the comfort of their homes, but today's development scene is mind-bogglingly complicated. "Graduates need to emerge from university with top-notch C++ skills, being aware of programming, physics, AI, rendering problems, and so on," says Greg Keegan, Climax's developer for games like Sudeki.
A cynic might argue that the insane amount of game courses springing up across the UK is because of money-hungry colleges who know that a popular subject guarantees mucho government funding. We would never suggest such a thing, mind. Oh no, not us, but when you're faced with a college that actually teaches David Beckham Studies, there's definitely something fishy going on. "It staggers me that some of the lecturers behind these courses will admit that they don't know much about game development," continues Blitz's Philip Oliver. "The point is, we're here, come and ask us. If somebody phoned
me and asked for advice or a review of the prospectus, we would be happy to do so, but they rarely ask." Keen to nurture young geniuses with a gift for developing, Blitz holds an annual amateur games competition through its site blitzgames.com.
COURSES FOR HORSES
Remember then, don't bother with a college that has no industry ties. Abertay has a constant stream of guest lecturers and work placement programmes, while a new BSc in Computer Games Development at Carlow IT in Ireland was created with a helping hand from physics boffins Havok, Microsoft, and Team 17 (Worms). Logitech is also clinging on to Carlow's coat-tails, hoping for a horde of graduates who can programme controllers.
A new computer game accreditation programme (www.skillset.org) should weed out traditional computer science degrees that masquerade as game development courses, reckons Climax's Greg Keegan. "Because we have an input into the accreditation process - we visit the colleges, talk to students and staff - Skillset will give the industry confidence that these courses are reaching certain standards. Hopefully after a year or two we'll see an improvement in the quality of graduates."
Without talent, cojones and a passion for programming, you can forget about a career in the games industry, degree or no degree. "The formula for success is to find what you're most interested in doing, be it art, design, writing, coding, animating, because it's a love for what you do that will propel you beyond most other job applicants," concludes Valve's Dario Casali. Of course, if you're set on a college qualification, a love for cheap ale and traffic cone hats helps too.