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Students Flock To GMU For a Degree In Video Game Design 225

Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that officials at George Mason University are quickly finding out that they have vastly underestimated interest in the school's new bachelor's degree in video game design. 'We've been overwhelmed,' says Scott M. Martin, assistant dean for technology, research, and advancement at GMU. 'Our anticipated enrollment for the fall is 500 percent higher than we expected.' George Mason first offered the program last fall, when officials anticipated that it would enroll about 30 full-time students, but currently 200 students are enrolled and that number is increasing. Course titles under the program include 'History of Computer Game Design,' while other courses focus on computer programming, digital arts, and graphics and motion capture. Although many colleges offer courses and degrees in computer gaming in the United States, GMU offers the only four-year program in the DC area, an important market for gaming because serious games — those used to train military and special operations, doctors, and others who use simulators — are becoming a market force in the region because of the proximity to federal government centers."
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Students Flock To GMU For a Degree In Video Game Design

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  • Tell me about it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:40PM (#32034636)

    My university's new "Cannabis Horticulture" degree has quadrupled university enrollment. Who would have thought that offering a degree in something that every teenager enjoys would drastically increase enrollment?

    Not to worry though, George Mason. Within about a year they'll come to the harsh realization that *designing* videogames is a helluva lot different than *playing* videogames. Shortly after your first C++ midterm, your numbers should stabilize a bit.

    On a related note, am I the only one who went into a programming degree realizing that C++ and Java programming are nothing like playing Halo 3? I mean come on, not even on Legendary.

  • by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:42PM (#32034684)

    The job market will be flooded with applicants in a few years. If you're going to college soon and want a job afterward, for love of god, pick a different path. It'll be just like CS was in the early 00's.

    Or follow your dreams, or whatever. You can always work at Starbucks after you graduate.

  • by hemlock00 ( 1499033 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:45PM (#32034740)

    If the people are interested, and have the ability to create video games, they may find doing a normal computer science degree much much more rewarding. If you major in computer science, you then have the ability to produce video games, but you also have the rest of the software world to look for potenial jobs. I would most likely discourage a friend looking into this for those reasons. You may not have super video game specifics, but you have more than the foundation to get there.

  • won't take long... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <ememalb@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:45PM (#32034758) Homepage Journal

    for these kids to realize that the "glamorous" lifestyle of the video game designer is a lie. More like death marches galore, low pay, and shady companies.

    Research this stuff first kids!

  • by castironpigeon ( 1056188 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:48PM (#32034804)
    Between applications from recent grads that can't find jobs, ex-grads currently working at Starbucks, and those folks laid off to increase CEO paychecks, EVERY job market is already flooded. Might as well do something you enjoy for 4 years. You're going to be fucked after that no matter what field you go into.
  • by Pro777 ( 90089 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:50PM (#32034828)

    I'm disappointed to see an institution with as good a reputation as GMU creating what is ostensibly a vocational training program. Programs such as this prepare students for one and only one role in a specialized industry, instead of preparing them with a more well rounded education. Mores the pity too. I guess GMU wants to compete head to head with schools that advertise on G4.

  • by sonnejw0 ( 1114901 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:52PM (#32034868)
    I know a ton of people that would love to think they're getting an education by being taught "video game design". Just because they've taken a few tests doesn't mean they can create a good video game, and no employer is going to take a degree in the place of experience and results to show for it.

    If you owned a video game studio, who would you publish? Some guy who sat on his ass and got a degree in "video game design" from some no-name school? Or some guy that programmed and released for free an innovative game over the internet? I'd take the guy that has results. The degree is not going to help you, showing an employer you know what you're doing through a tangible product will get you hired. Bring a disc or web address to an interview, not a piece of paper.
  • by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:58PM (#32034974)

    Or perhaps start working at Starbucks now and skip wasting your money on college.

    It's funny that we've promoted college for so long that we forget that its economic value isn't infinite. If a degree doesn't open doors for a career it becomes a luxury some people can't afford.

  • by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:06PM (#32035072)

    Because you can't both be taking classes for this degree program and do video game design and programming on the side?

  • by zero_out ( 1705074 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:07PM (#32035086)
    I studied CS with concentrations in AI and HCI, specifically to do game development. After a couple of years of beta testing games, I came to realize that I wanted to have a family, and working on a game for 4 years, with a 6-12 month crunch period entailing 80 hour work weeks, I decided that the two were not compatible. At least, the career path wasn't compatible with the kind of husband/father I wanted to be. Thankfully, I loved programming. Unfortunately, I hate documentation (Requirements, design, test plans, etc), and I seem to spend more time on that than coding. C'est le vie.
  • by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:10PM (#32035126)

    I couldn't have said it better if I read it off the university brochure.

    Perhaps this "well rounded education" idea started back in the days when the wealthy young gentlemen who exclusively attended college had little knowledge of the real world since all of their basic needs were met by servants.

    Or perhaps I'm just full of shit.

  • by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:16PM (#32035218)

    With the possible exception of casual games; the game designer, programmer, and artist are likely to be different people. So I wouldn't be looking to hire someone with all of those skills, but instead, the best people I could find in each category.

  • by besalope ( 1186101 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:19PM (#32035276)

    Before I had any college experience though, there was an opening at Bioware, before they released Mass Effect - so pretty much just before they got as famous as they are now. I really wanted to apply but they stated they wanted some experience before taking someone on for the position (I believe it was lead level designer). Shucks.

    No offense dude, but Bioware was pretty well known long before Mass Effect. Yes Mass Effect got their name out to the console crowd and maybe some of the fringe gamers, but anyone that really enjoyed RPGs with quality story lines knew of Bioware long before Mass Effect.

    Bioware had worked with Black Isle on the Baldur's Gate saga, started the Neverwinter Nights saga, and did Knights of the Old Republic. All long before Mass Effect was likely even thought up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:25PM (#32035372)

    Depends on how much of your time supporting yourself and doing the degree work takes up. For most people I know, these two things take up 120% of their time.

  • by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:28PM (#32035408)

    The job market is flooded right NOW. What new college students forget is to think about the job market when they graduate. Fresh out of school, you have no experience to make you stand out from the rest of the applicants. Your GPA and any relevant projects/research will be all a potential employer has to base their decision on. To get a job in that kind of market you can't just be good, you have to be the best (or the best interviewee at least). So before you get a degree in game design because you:
    - Like games
    - Like art
    - Like computers
    - Think it will be fun
    - Think it will be easy
    Stop. Think it over. Are you THAT passionate about the field that you're willing to deal with potentially long stretches of job hunting and depressed wages from the glut of available workers? Are you good enough at it to even get that?

    I got my degree in Physics, but took a few CS classes along the way. I was always struck by how many of the other students in my classes didn't seem to particularly like programming and weren't particularly good at it. Many seemed to be there because "they liked computers" and/or "there's money in computers" failing to notice the hundreds of other students next to them doing the same thing, who would eventually be looking for the same jobs.

    After my first year in the program, I never saw that in my Physics classes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:36PM (#32035556)

    Unfortunately, this is part of the college experience itself. As an engineer, I will probably never need to know Python, but it's part of my degree requirements to demonstrate the object-oriented approach, as well as other basics of computer engineering and computer science. Those who feel the need to do more in-depth work with an object-oriented approach will have to learn C, as that's the language Mason uses for the higher-level classes.

    The degree isn't for specific fields in the industry, as I understand it, it's theoretically to expose students to the breadth of topics in video game design. If you're actually that interested in game design, theoretically you'd be doing work in all those on the side, or even in the specific class of engines you plan to work in. Theoretically.

  • by uniquegeek ( 981813 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:36PM (#32035570)

    "but in reality those bigger companies give the new guys the shit jobs while the senior guys do the fun stuff"

    This happens in any field. The first job might not be what you want. That's why it's your *first* job.

    I think a lot people come out of school expecting they're immediately get some rock star high-paying job in the field they just trained in (because they're so awesome and talented). That rarely happens. Newbies need to put in their time, then with a year or two of experience under their belts, they can move on to something better.

  • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:44PM (#32035696)

    My brother attended Full Sail in Florida and he enrolled in the Game Design and Development degree. Allot of people enrolled thinking they were going to make the next great game only to face a harsh reality. Game Design and Development does not mean you are going to sit there and dictate to a bunch of programmers what kind of game you want. Rather, you are going to learn how to program a game and how its design will influence your programming. MAny failed out or dropped out one they realized thery were in a grueling programming degree.

    After their second or third round of failings and drop outs the degree was renamed to to Game Development. That helped curb the starry eyed teens from thinking they are going to attend the course and become the next Sid Meier or Peter Molyneux. And those two were programmers first, they gained popularity as game developers after they worked hard programming a great game.

  • Re:No limits? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:05PM (#32036004)

    Are there no limits in the US? I mean, if they have 500% of the people they thought they would that's gonna be a bit of a pickle?

    Colleges and universities can usually only take in so many people and will judge who gets in on various criteria. Test scores are a major one. Another is that if the school gets state funds, then they must give priorities to state residents. Letter of recommendation and other factors may play into things. Legacies where the students parent is alumni also matter. Still they can only take some many new students.

    However, most of those new students are new and will all be taking freshmen level courses that are basically the same for everybody. After you get accepted into a school, you have to sign up for classes. Classes are first come first serve, so if they fill up, a student may have to take less or different classes than they want.

    Many students will just sign up and get into the school as "undeclared" which means they haven't chosen their major yet. As the year goes on, they may declare a major as they see fit. It's probably possible to go about two or three years without ever declaring a major (but that's usually not the best for actually getting a degree unless you really have your shit together). As time goes on, a student may change degrees several times. So long as they don't change colleges which would change the base course they need to take, it's usually not an issue. I suspect what has happened is that the school let some many new students in, but then when they declared their major (which can happen at any time) they had five times as many students write down video game developer as expected.

    If all those students stick with it, the school probably still have a year or two to increase the classes needed. Otherwise, most schools aren't beyond just letting it go to Darwinistic fight over who gets into the available classes which might force some students to change majors or take longer to get through school.

  • by butterflysrage ( 1066514 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:31PM (#32036380)

    a bunch of maps put together in your free time, no matter how awesome, are not likely going to do well against another applicant who has paid experience. "Look at this cool map I made for X game" is not nearly as eye catching on a resume as "Worked on X game, Y game, Z game...." even minor jobs look better when you have been paid for it.

    go out, take the shit jobs, and earn your way in with a few titles under your belt... not hobby crafts.

  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:40PM (#32036548) Homepage

    Many seemed to be there because "they liked computers" and/or "there's money in computers"

    The first type is salvageable, but the 2nd type should be shot on sight. Going into a career path because "there's money there" is a great way to become terrible at whatever it is you chose to do. The greatest workers are those who truly enjoy what they do, and thrive on the challenge of always pushing farther. If your only goal in life is to amass imaginary currency, that belief system can only carry you so far...

  • by elnyka ( 803306 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:49PM (#32036690) Homepage

    No game designer should need to know C++. That's for programmers. You can design excellent games using existing engines without touching compiled code. Scripting in lua, python, SCUMM, whatever is all you really need.

    So what is the plan here then? To churn the video game equivalent of javascript/web designers? Equating video web design with simple game scripting is like equating enterprise computing with dynamic web page programming. A 4-year degree just for that, for designing on top of existing engines? No discussions on how to design one, on understanding what it takes to make a game (both vertically and horizontally programming, architecture and integration)?

    Unless a person is a natural when it comes to understanding programing (efficient programming that is), I highly doubt (based on what I've seen) the average programming student can get that type of understanding without getting closer to the metal. In particular, if this school is banking on being in the DC area and attract the heavy duty simulation market (in the military and medical fields), they need to provide a bit more than just teaching how to program on top of a engine with a scripting language.

  • by DrFalkyn ( 102068 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @05:49PM (#32037562)

    Between applications from recent grads that can't find jobs, ex-grads currently working at Starbucks, and those folks laid off to increase CEO paychecks, EVERY job market is already flooded. Might as well do something you enjoy for 4 years. You're going to be fucked after that no matter what field you go into.

    Actually no, they need tons of doctors and nurses.

  • by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @10:26PM (#32039986) Homepage

    Unfortunately, as a Mason student, I can tell you that they won't be taking C++ unless they voluntarily opt to take higher-level CS classes. Our introductory language here is Python, which while not necessarily an easy course, it's still not as challenging as C.

    Why does it matter how "challenging" a language is? Surely the important features of a language are execution speed, development speed, flexibility, expressiveness, and readability? Deliberately choosing a language because it's challenging is fine if you're doing it as an intellectual exercise, but is a terrible way to start a commercial development project.

    I do think there are underlying problems with this degree, though. Being the game designer is 'the fun bit' of game development. You wave your hand and the entire game world changes. You say 'it shall be so' and teams of peons toil to make it so. However, only a small percentage of game developers get to be designers - in the company I worked in, we had one lead designer and two or three assistant designers working on smaller details, out of a total staff of around 100. I'm sure students would flock to a course in professional surfing, too, if it were offered - and there are probably as many paid positions for surfers as there are for video game designers.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.