It seems to be (unfortunately) rare that you come across a game design studio that willingly hires academic graduates straight out of university. A great article that I came across on Gamasutra meditates on the importance of hiring graduates right out of university in the gaming industry. Nick Burton, senior developer at Rare argues,
"Historically, the company I work for, Rare, has always targeted new graduates rather than experienced hires, and our current ratio of 90% graduates to 10% experienced staff is proof of this."
And then, one of my favourite quotes from this piece,
"Rare has always aimed recruitment activities towards graduates as they are often more accepting of new ideas and able to think outside the box more easily; this is not always the case with experienced hires. It’s true that lack of experience can lead to problems with graduates pursuing crazy development ideas, which is why they have to be managed carefully and mentored by more experienced staff to ensure things go smoothly."
This open-minded statement gives me hope that perhaps there are studios out there who actually value education, particularly at post-graduate level and don’t just feel that it’s your portfolio that matters above all else. Whilst I don’t disagree with this argument that portfolio is incredibly important, I feel that the ability to "think outside the box" is grossly under-estimated. The prevailing attitude from most developers seems to be the fact that if you don’t have experience, then it’s very difficult to get a job. The alternative of course is that inexperienced, but highly qualified graduates get jobs but they are paid next to nothing.
An unfortunate comparison is the rather underpaid animation industry in South Africa, where many students come out of animation courses or degrees and when they do get jobs in studios they are paid such low salaries that they can barely afford to cover their costs. Whilst I understand the problems of hiring graduates without any experience, is it really fair to argue that a person who has studied for at least 5 years to get where they are (undergraduate, honours, then masters) shouldn’t get a salary that reflects their qualifications? Similarly, people who have been working in the studios for long periods of time (graduates and those self-taught individuals who started before there were qualifications in this area) should likewise get salaries that actually reflect the ridiculous amount of overtime and the skill involved? I am not targeting with these comments the good studios out there that try to pay their workers competitive salaries – I am meditating more on the studios that abuse their workers, offering internships and learnerships, but paying those people peanuts for their work. Just because somebody is an intern, doesn’t give you the right to pay them nothing and work them to the bone when you should be teaching them and expanding their skills above all else.
Additionally, whilst it’s very flattering for us, I find it frustrating that so many companies send me an email at the end of the year asking for the names of our graduates, when there has been almost no contact throughout the year. They want our names, but they aren’t always prepared to engage with us when it comes to input into the courses, and then complain when graduates (from many institutions – this applies across the board) don’t have all the skills they feel are necessary.
"So fresh graduates are good, but some recruiters in our industry take the very cynical view that they are cheap labor — and you can quote me on this one, graduates are NOT cheap labor and should NEVER be treated as such or we risk hemorrhaging talent while it is still embryonic. Consider this, you employ Mr. X. He’s the greatest graphics programmer you’ve ever seen, but he’s a bit green and so you get to pay him peanuts and work him to the bone. Eventually he will wise up and leave, and when he does he’ll probably move out of the industry that burned him. The industry has then lost him forever — not just your studio…
Giving undergraduates something tangible to aim for that also seems attainable helps lecturers so much, by generating enthusiasm in their class, and it’s well known that when someone is enthusiastic they apply themselves and usually achieve better results."
It makes me feel great to read articles like this, to know that there are people out there that value academic input into courses and who feel that the ability for independent thought is a good thing. An argument that I have had with many people, especially since I am an academic at heart, is that so many animators in the industry don’t feel that academic theory is of any importance in the industry. I have always felt that theory informs practice: the more comprehensive your grasp of theory is, and the more you are prepared to research and engage intellectually with your field, the more exciting and independent your work will be.
A good example of this is the game Poesysteme, recently reviewed on AtJoburg as part of an Upgrade! event that was hosted at Wits University. Poesysteme has won one competition and has been selected as a student finalist for the Independent Gamed Festival student entries, a remarkable achievement. I came across a review of a number of the IGF games on a couple of websites and was highly irritated to read a comment describing it as an interactive boring screensaver. Whilst I don’t deny that Poesysteme’s interface is not the most sophisticated I’ve ever come across, I felt that the author was missing the point entirely. Rather than retyping or hyperlinking to the page and making you scroll down to read my comment amongst the others commenting on different games, I’ve simply cut and pasted it here and I will end with this comment:
"Whilst to some people it might appear to be a boring, interactive ’screensaver’ I think the real premise that many people miss is that this game is designed to be performative. Whilst many art games, for this is indeed what I think this game should be classified as (see www.selectparks.net if more explanation is required along these lines), are not designed to stand up to hours of gameplay, this is no way negates the fact that they explore issues other than quest based missions.
This game is about the exploration of language and the way we attach meaning to words, even when they logically mean nothing. The poetry that is generated from the interaction between words should be read aloud to an audience, performed in a public space, where people place emphasis on certain syllables and the performer moderates their rhythm etc.
This is not to say that I think this game is without fault. Granted, the interface is reasonably simplistic and there are some other problems that could indeed be ironed out to make the game seem slicker, but as an artwork, the designer’s exploration of language and interaction is reasonably sophisticated, drawing inspiration from OuLiPo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oulipo loosely translated into English as Workshop of Potential Literature.
Do not be too quick to dismiss this game based on it’s appearance – engaging for long periods of time? Perhaps not… Intellectual and well thought out? Definitely….