These days, there are two basic ways to become a game developer. Higher education experts see it like this: an applicant enrolls in a university, receives training, graduates, finds work with a major company and starts earning money. However, to get such a job, a graduate would need to acquire the experience employers would expect from them. Students themselves see it a bit differently: they enroll in a university and suddenly get the brilliant idea to get into game development; so, they try to learn the necessary skills on their own – after all, they’re studying in an unrelated program just for the sake of getting a diploma. The student combines training with learning about game development, finding partners, making mistakes, etc.

The result is that, while the industry expects everything to unfold in the classic manner (enroll, study, graduate as a certified game developer), the actual people who want to be part of the industry prefer the path of hardship, martyrdom and success through self-made projects and self-training. The question is this: if the industry is expecting specialists to receive their training at universities, what sort of education should aspiring game developers get to avoid the “thorny path”?

Game developer training in Russia and the world

In Russia, game development has only recently gained recognition as a legitimate industry. For the past two or three years, it has been seen as a business and a place of employment for many. In that regard, the American gaming industry has long established itself on the market; there, it has long since been seen as just that – an industry, a source of jobs. Training is systematized there, too: universities and colleges have specialized Bachelor’s and Master’s programs. Some of them teach specific types of specialists, as the gaming industry has diverse needs: it needs artists, screenwriters, programmers, game designers, data science specialists. The American gamedev educational system is represented not only on the university level, but at supplementary schools, too, where people come to learn specific skills.

ITMO University's booth at Game Planet 2.0

In Europe, the best gamedev programs are in Finland and the UK – both are countries in which the industry is on the rise. Our close neighbor, Finland, is the homeland of the former mobile giant Nokia, which released one of the world’s first mobile gaming devices. It was because of that project that game studios first started popping up in Finland, which were then followed by educational programs (read more on this here). Approximately 20 Finnish universities currently offer programs to future game developers, while one university also trains top managers for game development companies. This is where some of the global gaming market’s leaders currently reside.

There was no such technological push in the United Kingdom that would have kickstarted the industry, but this country had already had a number of IT companies involved in game development. The UK’s educational system is a model for the rest of the world; it is constantly developing, expanding into new, promising fields of study. They also have TIGA (The Independent Game Developers’ Association), which represents the interests of the UK and Europe’s game developers. TIGA is an accredited association and has control over the level and quality of education provided to game developer specialists; it certifies educational programs and provides graduates with employment.

Game Planet 2.0

In Russia, the current situation with higher education in game development is less impressive. As of the spring of 2017, there are only four cities in the country where one has the opportunity to receive a diploma in this field. In Moscow, there are the Moscow Polytech (Bachelor’s program) and the Higher School of Economics (Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, courses); in St. Petersburg, there is ITMO University (Master’s program); in Kaliningrad, there is the Kant Baltic Federal University (Master’s program); and, finally, in Chelyabinsk there is the South Ural State University (Master’s program). The Far Eastern Federal University (Vladivostok) also plans to open a Master’s program in 2018. Overall, these cities are spread throughout the country, but most have their own specific focus; for instance, the Master’s program at Kant Baltic University trains game translators, not developers per se. The program at South Ural University trains information systems experts – game developers in a general sense. In addition, most universities train Master’s students, while Bachelor’s programs are only available in Moscow. This is yet another issue – after all, Bachelor’s students are at a point where their education isn’t focused on one specific topic. There are the exact kind of workers that game companies are actually looking for. Ever since the Soviet era, there is a gap between education and business in Russia. In the Soviet times, a system of state-guaranteed demand was in place, and thus universities trained graduates for the state industry, knowing which kinds of specialists are needed. Businesses, however, are focused on earning money and might not always have time to set up communications with universities. For this reason, universities have no clear objectives, no way of knowing exactly what sorts of specialists are needed in the industry. Which is why Bachelor’s students who have not yet picked a particular path are the perfect employees for it, believes Andrey Karsakov.

Besides higher education, industry-specific education is also available in Russia in the form of courses that train specialists in specific trades and skills. One such school is Moscow’s Scream School.

ITMO University's booth at Game Planet 2.0

In 2015, ITMO University launched the Game Crunch community, where aspiring game developers can find fellow enthusiasts to work together on creating games (be they videogames or board games), as well as the GameCore acceleration program, which welcomes students from any universities interested in developing games.

ITMO University’s High Performance Computing Department has also launched the “Technology of Game Development” Master’s program intended to train specialists capable of effectively applying the methods of mathematical modelling, computer graphics, human-machine interaction, as well as network and sound technologies in interdisciplinary environments for game development purposes.