While happy to label themselves as game fans, these students and others like them are realistic about how competitive the industry is, and know they need every advantage they can get. Aged 18, Purple (the reason for his name becomes obvious when you meet him - purple hair, purple clothes, purple contact lenses) wants the industry to be more open and transparent, especially for people willing to invest time and money in studying games. "The only way we'll get used to industry standards is if we sample the industry. Really get to understand the hierarchy of each part of the development team. Get in there and do unpaid work experience, just to get a feel for it." he observed. 19-year-old Richard agrees: "It'd be great for them to give us their take on working in games, what they've been through and how they've gotten to where they are."
There's still progress to be made, and some hearts and minds to be won over. Concerned parents often presume that all their children will do is play games for two years. I tell them that if such a course existed, I'd be taking it, never mind teaching it. It's true, though, that with some students, even after assuring them that this is games development, not game play, some still come expecting a two year gaming marathon. A few students arrive with their own extra baggage too, with some living in foster care and others dealing with issues of homelessness, grasping onto games dev as a way out (or at least a way up).
Some of the college's less technologically savvy faculty are still a little confused about the program. One of my students revealed that when he enquired about games development for the first time, a confused member of the wider college ushered him towards a tutor that teaches physical education. Some colleges are rushing courses out there with little planning and even fewer resources because they know the word "games" can attract their target audience en masse, but having them in the mix only seems to tar us with the same brush. The expansion of the course and explosion in numbers has raised our profile, not only in the building in which we're based, but across the campuses as a whole. The student's achievements and work produced thus far have spurred that on even more. There's work to be done, but we're getting there.
Which brings me nicely back to the start, where I asked the panel how we could close the gap between us and them. Since their answers were so unsatisfying, I'll offer one of my own: My students have taken two years out of their lives to get ready for entering the industry. They've been fans of games for most of their young lives. They have and will continue to fund the industry as avid games buyers, even when money is tight. Perhaps since they've made the effort to really understand the industry they love, those in games should do the same. Open your doors to them, literally: Let them visit your studios and talk to your staff. Use them as a sample target audience, and let them give feedback on games in development. Then maybe the next generation of games developers will be more skilled, more creative and ready earlier to provide a much needed injection of raw talent. After all, that's what they're in Games Dev for.
Dean Reilly is a video games journalist and teacher of games development in the U.K. Find out more at www.sutcol.ac.uk