Friday, May 09, 2008

Choosing a School

At the DDAF this week, I saw a lot of high school and community college students who were interested in studying games. I was actually a bit disappointed with the Education panel; great representation from six schools that have game development programs, but it basically amounted to each school giving a 15-minute recruitment pitch, with no one actually commenting on what to look for in a school or how to find the program that's right for you.

In fairness, "how to choose a school" isn't necessarily what the panel was supposed to be. But it struck me that a lot of students in the audience were skipping a few steps in the process, and would benefit from some more basic information, like what criteria are important in school selection, and even how to know if they should be considering a game school in the first place.

So, I was inspired to start writing a series of questions that are worth asking. If you're a student, I hope these will help you in selecting the best academic program to fit your needs. If you're an educator, give some thought to how you'd answer these questions, and if your program would stack up favorably. If you're in the industry... well, this might not be of much use unless you're on an advisory board for some college or university, but if you ever get asked by a father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate about what's the best school to go to, you'll have at least one URL to send back.

To start things off:

Question: What degree do you offer, what classes do you offer in that degree, and what jobs will that qualify me for?

What to look for: You should see a lot of classes, not just a traditional Art or Computer Science curriculum with a couple of "game" courses tacked on (this is assuming you're looking for a game-focused curriculum). You should see at least one course where you're working with people outside your major -- if you're an artist, you should be working with programmers. Obviously, the courses should be in your area of interest.

What to do: Verify that the school is giving good information. Check out the IGDA Curriculum Framework and see if the school's curriculum is in the general ballpark. Read the IGDA Breaking In website, and see if the courses you'd take are related in any way to the job you'd be doing.

What to watch out for: Some schools call their course of study "game design" even though it is actually a programming or game art curriculum. If the school does not know the simple difference between the various fields of game development, how valid is your education really going to be? Also, a lot of students haven't yet discovered their area of interest; they equate game development with playing games, or at least they haven't figured out that there are many fields of study. Know your own passion before you go to school for it.

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