As we’ve covered before on the blog, college and education in general is important for any career, gaming or otherwise. It can open doors, give you a foundation for a new job, and maybe even an edge over the competition.
But again, as we’ve stated before, getting a degree doesn’t exactly guarantee success either. There are too many variables, like your location, for instance. Some states are known for having fewer job openings than others. And just because there are a lot of jobs, it doesn’t mean your chosen career path is prevalent.
So, it’s no surprise that when opting for advanced degrees in gaming, you second guess it. If there really are no guarantees, even with an Associates or Bachelors, then isn’t it hardcore gambling to strive for a pricey Masters or PhD?
Advanced Degrees vs. Experience
Our talented editor, Dorian Karahalios is the perfect person to consider first. He has an MFA in Creative Writing, which he considers was worth the investment, because he spent the whole of the program doing what he loved most: editing, writing, teaching, graphic design, etc.. Unlike others who consider an MFA a goal in and of itself, Dorian saw it as a path meant to assist you in achieving a big goal, or simply put, he examined how his degree would help him along his actual career goals.
However, despite his overall satisfaction with his degree, he did clarify that it was one part of the picture:
“Any sort of degree is going to give you as much as you put into it, and that’s especially true with how you spend your time outside of the classroom. My situation is a bit unique in that my day job is basically a culmination of everything I’ve studied (graphic design, video editing, filming, writing, editing, memes [yes that too!], blog work—being a Jack of All Trades finally paid off), so I think it’s safe to say that having the degree on my resume got me the interview but the culmination of my experience is what got me the job.
In other words, landing a job that you can be happy with is difficult, and involves making yourself as hireable as possible. A good resume and portfolio is essential. And a degree and experience certainly can’t hurt. Someone with a college degree is going to fair better than someone without it, but in the end, they will always lose the job to the person with the most experience.
Advanced Degrees in Gaming vs. Other Subjects
Notice, Dorian has an MFA in Creative Writing, so it’s not specifically in gaming. He also doesn’t work on games full-time, he has a normal day job. But easily, he could apply his knowledge to everything from journalism, to authoring books, creating games full-time, or doing regular corporate work. He’s not locked into a niche or industry with his degree: he’s flexible and capable of excellent communication skills, something every company needs.
This begs the question of whether advanced degrees specifically in gaming would be better for someone pursuing it as their full-fledged career. But to answer that question, we need to dig a little deeper.
First off, the industry was essentially founded by hobbyists. Back in the day, game development wasn’t a serious career path, it was a bunch of guys in a basement working on codes and renders for the fun of it. With the boom of the industry, the sales, the commercialism, came a . . . shift. Colleges began offering programs for gaming careers, because, well, they knew they could make money by doing so. At the end of the day, that’s what colleges want: money.
This means, most classic games were created by people without degrees in gaming. And they were perfectly fine.
These days, so many students enroll in gaming programs only to find that it wasn’t actually necessary. They learned a lot, they have a fancy degree, but they didn’t learn in the trenches and therefore, have no hands-on experience working on launched projects.
And to add salt to the wound, they might find that it was a waste of time, effort and money because, as Oli Christie, founder of Neon Play studios, described:
“The reality is that there aren’t as many jobs out there are there are students taking these courses . . . We need to see what a candidate can do. Ultimately I look more at their portfolio of work than their CV.”
The industry is small, the job openings are limited, and the influx of interest to break into the industry has soared. That means you face competition and need to stand out from the crowd, but an advanced degree isn’t the ideal way to go about it. At the end of the day, being a student of the world, and proving you have the experience necessary to get the job done, matters the most.
But What About College Portfolios?
Of course, now that we’ve established that going to college is smart, but that experience reigns king over any advanced degree in gaming, let’s consider portfolios.
Paul Harris, Senior Producer at Firefly Studios in London finds college portfolios to be rather lacking:
“Work created at university is okay, but it’s often quite dry or lacking in imagination. Work created in your spare time will more often than not show more flair, features, and skills not learnt on a course, and will be a lot more interesting for us to look at.”
This means you could have a BA and 5 completed games that you made in your spare time while working a regular day job and you’d be better off than someone with a Masters or PhD in games. This also means that advanced degrees that are not highly specialized in video games offer more of a return on investment, such as Dorian’s MFA in Creative Writing.
(Editor’s Note: I don’t consider studying writing, as opposed to game writing, a special case when it comes to game development. From coding to music to art, a more general degree provides you the tools and foundation to apply yourself to what you want to do. I think the biggest mistake anyone can make is “get degree = job,” especially in the games industry.
In the end, it comes down to how you choose to apply and hone your skills rather than what skills you have. SanctuaryRPG was made by a group of volunteers with diverse backgrounds, none of whom formally studied in a game design program.)
Never Stop Learning
There’s this preconceived notion in society that to be well-educated, you need to have a Bachelors or higher. While certainly true to an extent, there are several people who do not have degrees and prove to be much smarter than those who do.
Consider Steve Jobs as an example. He attended Reed College in 1972 before dropping out and traveling through India in 1974. He sought enlightenment and studied Buddhism. It was actually during an LSD trip that Jobs got the notion for co-founding Apple. After years of trying and failing with it, he achieved enormous success . . . and not without mistreating coworkers along the way.
Look at us all now, most of us have iPhones. All thanks to a man who dropped out of college and saught to learn what truly mattered to him, from unexpected places.
In order to be well-educated, you can certainly go to college. It’s encouraged! But it shouldn’t be your only resource for knowledge. That quest should continue, even past an advanced degree. We should strive to learn from books, from forums, from other people.
Or as Dorian explained:
“Editing for the BSM blog has taught me an absurd amount about both AAA and indie gaming, and that’s where the bulk of my gaming knowledge has come from . . . I read literally every article that goes up on the blog. I think there’s hope for people who want to advance their education without spending a lot of money on school: the main difference is that you’re trailblazing rather than following a beaten path.”
Should I Get an Advanced Degree?
At the end of the day, a Bachelor’s can be enough to build a career in games, or other industries. It is through experience and completed projects that people hone their skills and prove themselves valuable in the work force. That being said, advanced degrees can help to advance careers, depending on the industry.
But gaming is not one of them.
No one cares if you have a fancy gaming degree in the industry if you don’t have the projects to back them up. And if you can’t get a gaming job with one, you might find it that much more difficult to branch out into other industries because it’s a highly specialized subject that won’t prove useful in most other lines of work.
But advanced degrees that can help you achieve success in other fields should be considered, especially if your company is willing to foot the bill.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. It can’t hurt to have more education. Just make sure that you have evaluated everything, taken into account the difficulty of landing work you can be proud of, and established a plan B.
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