An (indeterminate number) of reasons NOT to go into teaching Game Development

In response to 7 Reasons You Don’t Want To Work in the Video Game Industry and Ten Reasons *Not* to Become an Indie Game Developer, here are selected reasons why you should never jump ship and become a game dev lecturer, or have the audacity to think you could ever teach it, having never been “in” the Industry.
NOTE: Satire mode is definitely turned on, even though many sentiments expressed here have been observed if not endorsed by the author. I’ll write a companion piece on why you SHOULD be a game dev lecturer when I…er…can think of arguments in favour. 🙂

  1. It’s a Sisyphean Task
  2. In that it’s an “endless and unavailing” labour, primarily because of the moving goal posts of technology. Industry legends, like David Braben, report universities “five years out of date” with old technology and too slow changes in curricula. Not true, of course, but if expectations are set ridiculously high, you’ll never meet them. Hardware is often not cutting-edge, but even developers have budgets. Access to Industry relevant hardware and software is often restricted by the manufacturer anyway: don’t even think about Nintendo hardware; the 360 is 6+ years old and we’re still restricted to cut down software; only Sony offers proper hardcore access to Industry-level PS3/PSP SDKs if you can afford them. So, universities can hardly be criticised for not having the latest kit.

  3. If you left you failed
  4. It still comes something of a shock to many academics when made aware that the life-expectancy of a career in games is 5-6 years – two triple A titles if you’re lucky – with a majority high burn out rate balancing a few people who’s careers span decades. So, if you left the Industry to teach, seen as possibly the best preparation for game dev lecturers by the Industry, you MUST have left because you couldn’t cut it, wanted more (or some?) time with your family, weren’t able to produce 29 hours of work a day; basically you’re a wuss! As soon as you leave active development your skills will quickly date, your Industry contacts will dry up – quit themselves, get promoted and be too busy, or emigrate to Canada – leaving you wondering where they all went. Oh, and new colleagues, fellow lecturers, will eye you suspiciously from their ivory towers, condemning you for dirtying your hands and consorting with Mammon.

  5. Who the Hell do you think you are?
  6. Lecturers who are not Industry washouts are either game dev wannabes, who never made it, but would clearly have been Will Wrights if they’d just gotten that break, or didn’t risk their illusions by actually trying to make games for public scrutiny. Failing this, you’re a cynical “bums on seats” sell out, just trying to save your own job by mis-selling courses to gullible school leavers. Hell, games are just programs with sound, art and shit anyway, so any competent IT professional can teach it, right? And the department/school/faculty is at risk, with applications for Computer Science and even the watered down IT and Computing degrees massively down, despite a huge and increasing gap in recruitment for IT professionals. For 80% of graduates, who don’t get kicked out or leave due to poverty or disgust, or their own unrealistic expectations of you or their own ability, there will be loads of IT jobs as they will never get a career in game development anyway, while the Industry fights off better paid, family friendly, if less glamorous alternatives, to cream off the best graduates.

  7. So, you play games all day…?
  8. Even more misunderstood than QA testers, lecturers don’t get much time to play, let alone make games themselves. Teaching takes a lot of time, energy and personal resources. Contrary to the time-worn adage “if you can’t do, teach”, competence in educating even enthusiastic students is not implied by knowledge of the field. However,

  9. Slow but Sure
  10. Although David Braben’s criticism of slownessis an exaggeration HE is cautious by nature.

  11. Punished by Success
  12. Class sizes and lack of resources

  13. The Baby who cries loudest gets the Milk
  14. Resources

  15. It’s a Secure Job with a Pension
  16. Given layoffs, course cuts, and a cynical attack on pensions and working conditions in the UK’s Education sector, that crunch-laden dev job doesn’t look so bad now.

  17. Shit from all sides
  18. Industry will hate you for not preparing students for realistic working conditions, students will hate you if you try.

Plagiarism is just what we do!

Subscribers to this blog may know that while I teach Computer Game Programming, I’ve had a long involvement in plagiarism in Academia, mostly through sitting on various national committees as well as actively campaigning for understanding why it occurs, rather than just blindly penalising it. Plagiarism is more of a hobby* than an actual research area for me, but through accident as much as design I have been in a position to influence the attitude of fellow teachers throughout the World. So, this article by @dantheduck, “Plagiarism as a moral choice”, which looks at the real world pressure to “clone” the work of others, is the collision of two normally separate worlds:
A Servant of Two Masters
The allusion to copying prior to it being considered a “crime” was/is refreshing. It brings home to me the value of working with creative “clay” rather than descriptive “pen” for assessment:

A) it’s hard to plagiarise an assignment when you are building rather than writing, and easy to spot copying when under the process of creation is missing.
B) it’s impossible in the medium to not encode traditional interactions, so novelty stands out, but competent copying is itself an achievement.**
C) on a vocational course – increasingly en vogue with this Government – competence is preferable to creativity for employers at least.

In the game industry, copying is difficult and is financially, if not morally, superior. There have been few legal battles over stolen content, ideas, techniques, compared to Art, Film and Literature. Creativity seems to be when copying produces better results than the original. The question is not whether but how much to copy.

It’s not theft it’s reuse

There is far more “recycling” in this industry than many others. Partly this is perceived as market-driven – as The Jam lyrics claim, “The Public wants what the Public gets!” – and in part is technical; film companies don’t tend to need to re-implement cinemas each time they make a movie. However, code reuse, if not level design, should be encouraged. And predictable user expectations for interaction – WASD anyone? – make game play straight-forward; there isn’t a BookFAQs web site explaining how to proceed with Lord of the Rings P1 by “turning the page and starting at the top of page 2” as far as I know.

Or is there?

Is the 90/10 copied to new ratio an extreme example of “standing on the shoulders of giants” ?

* I’ve tried to keep away from becoming a mainstream plagiarism researcher because I didn’t want to sink into depression.

** I tell my students each year that copying – i.e. reproducing in their own code – Miamoto’s 6502 assembler implementation of Mario’s jump in Super Mario Brothers is the ultimate challenge.