Surely IT is more than just a game?

Surely IT is more than just a game?

Summary: The first video-gaming degrees have finally received government approval in New Zealand.


The first video-gaming degrees have finally received government approval in New Zealand.

Auckland's Media Design School will be running two degrees, aimed at supplying New Zealand's emerging games industry.

However, I cannot help being somewhat sceptical. Just how useful are they?

When other countries began offering such courses, a few years back, there was some debate about their effectiveness.

The Australian reported, back in 2007, that there were three main reasons not to get a gaming degree: you would not be gaming 50 hours a week; there is too much competition for the courses; and, the information you would learn would be too specialised for everyday work life.

Reports from the UK gave other reasons, such as that these gaming degrees are not teaching students enough to get a job and claiming that a traditional computer science degree would be much more useful.

Then, we hear from Canada that such courses are simply poor-quality training from 'degree mills' that are keen to make a fast buck.

However, other overseas reports, during the same era, noted that companies were happy to take on recipients of gaming degrees — so, they may be worthwhile after all.

Yet, I remain sceptical. I, too, cannot help but think that a more traditional and wider reaching computer science degree obtained at one of New Zealand's "better" tertiary centres, would be best for employability.

Yes, the New Zealand gaming industry is healthy and expanding. There are jobs available; at least, at the moment.

But, as I blogged last week, Kiwi employers are a picky lot. They, too, might want, or expect, the wider skills of a traditional computer science degree.

And, though I wouldn't cast aspersions upon the Auckland Media Design School, but I certainly wouldn't put it up there with the University of Auckland, University of Otago, Auckland University of Technology, and so on.

The design school says it has looked at what is happening overseas and assessed what local gaming companies seek. The gaming industry, in response, has given its support, noting such gaming degrees are still of use in other IT sectors.

Hopefully, as a late entrant to the scene, it will have learnt from developments overseas and can give its students the best of the best of courses that will lead to good jobs.

Topics: Government, Government AU, New Zealand, IT Employment

Darren Greenwood

About Darren Greenwood

Darren Greenwood has been in journalism, not all of it IT, since the days of typewriters and long before the web spun its way around the world.

Coming from Yorkshire, he can be blunt, and though having resided in New Zealand, as well as Australia, for quite some time, he insists he is not one of the 'sheeple!'

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  • As one of the founders of an 18 person game developer in NZ, I can tell you that your fears are not justified.

    We hire graduates from the Media Design School, and we are looking for more. We have a serious shortage of game developers in New Zealand, and the Media Design School specifically approach us asking what our needs are, unlike other tertiary education providers.

    As someone who is also a graduate of Computer Science at Auckland University, I can also tell you that the programming courses at the Media Design School are significantly more relevant than what are offered at AU.
  • Learning only matters if it helps you cross the bridge between where you are & where you want to be. In this respect, if where you want to be is a career in the growing games industry then MDS's track record in finding a ready market for their trained students is proof in itself that what they offer is of value.

    Secondly, as an employer in the industry I would definitely look more closely at candidates who had untaken specialised training. It speaks to not only more directly relevant skills, but also to greater passion for the work itself.

    And third of all, increasingly I see that the best employees are those that have both sides of their brain developed - left & right. Even in a left-side-oriented role such as software engineering, creative thinking skills are essential, and training in a degree such as those offered by MDS is more likely to help nuture that capacity.
  • I'm the Chair of the NZ Game Developers Association, and have also consulted or worked for the Universities of Auckland, Otago and Waikato. I'm a former member of the Senior Management Team of a University and have sat on a University Academic Programmes Committee approving degrees.

    While some of your scepticism based on international experiences is justified, in this case the Media Design School programmes (they've done similar Graduate Diplomas for over 8 years) have been a real asset for the NZ games industry. While many NZ universities have computer graphics papers, they don't have comprehensive coverage.

    Games is a serious and fast-growing business. Students certainly won't be playing games 50 hours a week. In fact, a games degree is probably one of the few places left where you can still learn C++.
  • If getting a degree was only about getting *any* job, then I would agree that a more specialised program might limit opportunities. However, anybody approaching higher education solely to maximise their chance of getting a job is "doing it wrong" in my opinion.

    Media Design School is offering an opportunity for passionate individuals to pursue a career in something they care about. We have a wealth of young creative talent coming through that has the potential to join one of the fastest growing local and international industries. Our studio has hired many MDS graduates from their diploma programs, and these degrees will only produce even more qualified candidates.

    NZ has a number of growing game studios that are similarly hungry for talent. But outisde of that, MDS graduates have gone on to form their own game studios who have had success delivering NZ gaming content to the world. Graduates don't even *need* a job opening at an existing company in this industry when they can tap into an international audience via the web, creating and delivering content themselves.

    On top of that, these new degrees do offer broad enough skillsets for graduates to move into film/TV, web development, interactive training, or indeed any kind of generalised application or media development. And indeed those industries would benefit from some of the game specific methods and philosophies which graduates would bring to the table.

    As for MDS somehow not being considered in the same class as other tertiary institutions who are "better"? I wish more traditional tertiary entities engaged with industry and were able to evolve their curriculum as quickly in a way which stayed as relevant as MDS has been able to over the years.

    There are plenty of legitimately narrow or dead dend tertiary programs running in NZ that should make for more concern.

    Mario Wynands
    Managing Director
    Mario Wynands