Not that long ago, things were different. There were no dedicated courses for those wanting to get into games development. And, slowly, course providers woke up to the fact there was significant demand for such qualifications. Some IT faculties offered electives in games coding or animation as part of their Computer Science or Multimedia programmes. A couple of institutes largely dedicated to electronic entertainment popped up: the AIE, which was initially based only in Canberra, and QANTM College. The situation improves each year. If you want to study a dedicated games development course, no longer do you have to consider moving interstate: you can go to TAFE, university or one of the dedicated institutes, although predictably more is on offer to those living in the eastern states. The AIE now has campuses in three cities. Major universities, such as RMIT and Queensland University of Technology, offer Bachelor-level courses you can pay for through the HELP deferred payment system.
The Academy of Interactive Entertainment has been open for fifteen years and now has campuses in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. It also delivers some courses via the internet. It offers a reasonable selection of qualifications specialising in both the programming and art aspects of development. They range from short courses to two year long Advanced Diploma-level courses. The Canberra campus is the only campus to offer a Bachelor-level programme: the three year long Bachelor of Games and Virtual Worlds (Programming).
The shorter courses are generally offered only online. All three campuses of the AIE run holiday courses aimed at school-age games enthusiasts. Check out their website for more information on their school holiday offerings: if you’re under 18, it’s a good way to get a taste for what development is really like and see if you’d like the AIE. If you’re over the age of 18 but still want a ‘cheap’ taste of the AIE before committing to a full-time Diploma, check out some of the online short courses.
As with TAFE, it’s possible to enrol in a lower level qualification (say, a Certificate III) and, if you find you like it and you’re good at it, emerge a couple of years later with an Advanced Diploma or Bachelor.
QANTM College also has campuses in four cities: Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. Like the AIE, it offers a variety courses at a variety of levels. You can study Certificate and Diploma-level courses both on campus and online or you can look to their flagship courses, the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment and Bachelor of Creative Media. With the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment you can choose to major in animation, design or programming. QANTM students have access to the FEE-HELP system and the institute also offers a number of scholarships to students who demonstrate a high level of ability.
Raffles College of Design & Commerce in Sydney, is another private institute that offers a Bachelor of Arts with a games design stream.
TAFE and University
In addition to the two big specialised institutes, many of Australia’s universities and TAFEs offer qualifications in games development. These range from Diploma level courses, such as the games development stream of Victoria University’s Advanced Diploma of Screen & Media and Southbank Institute of Technology’s Diploma of Interactive Digital Media to Deakin University’s Bachelor-level Information Technology (Games Design & Development) programme.
It’s fairly common for TAFE-level qualifications, such as the courses at Victoria University and Southbank Institute courses, to lead into Bachelor-level programmes offered by either the same institute or a related institute, such as Queensland University of Technology.
Entry requirements vary hugely depending on what you want to do and where you want to do it, although generally – particularly if you’re interested in art – aren’t too steep.
Providers of games development courses, in addition to those already mentioned, include Bond University, Charles Sturt University, Deakin University, Edith Cowan University, James Cook University, La Trobe University, Monash University, Murdoch University, RMIT University, Swinburne University and the University of Ballarat.
We know, we know, we know. We do neglect our readers from New Zealand so. Luckily, educators do not. Games development courses are on offer through Media Design School, Natcoll and the University of Otago.
Bachelor or below?
In recent years, more Bachelor programmes specialising in games development have appeared – both through places like QANTM and universities such as Monash and QUT. Is there any reason do one of these over a significantly shorter Certificate or Diploma-level programme? Yes – there are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, a qualification can provide the opportunity to travel and work overseas. Even though your portfolio is your main way of selling yourself, particularly if you’re an artist, larger studios in Asia, Europe and North America are more likely to be impressed by a Bachelor than a TAFE-level qualification. That bias may not be fair, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you’re choosing a course.
Secondly, the increase in the number of courses available to prospective developers means one thing above all: more games development students. More students means more competition for you, come two or three years from now when you graduate and begin the search for your first job. There are a lot of people out there who are very talented and very passionate about what they do; about what you do. Give yourself every advantage you can.
Should you do this at all?
Games development courses provide you with specialist knowledge. They teach you the skills and software that’s being used in the games development industry – not by software developers in general. The pros of this are obvious but there are, of course, significant cons.
Firstly, it’s possible you’ll grow tired of the games development industry or even outright dislike it. Games development is notorious for its high burn-out rate. A more general programming course can qualify you for jobs outside of the games industry, and flexibility is a good thing.
Secondly, there’s a perception among some – not all – employers that general programming courses produce stronger coders. Again, the perception may or may not be fair: we haven’t studied these courses and we haven’t had to hire graduates of these courses so we don’t speak from any experience. The bias may or may not be based on reality but given that it’s there, it may impact on your employment opportunities.
Thirdly, there’s the possibility you may not get a job in the games development industry immediately. Universities and TAFEs will all tell you about the massive percentage of their graduates that find employment but always take such claims with a grain of salt. There is a lot of competition out there. The global financial crisis hit the industry pretty hard. We hate to be the ones to burst bubbles but think rationally and realistically. Every geek kid wants to make games at some point. A few of them are dedicated, good, prepared to work for shit money and everything else. They finish school and go off and do some games development course. Given the size of the industry and the number of graduates just like them, the chances of all of them – or even most of them – finding a graduate-entry position are slim. At least in the short-term, you may have to seek employment elsewhere, and a generalised course will provide you with the opportunity to do that. You don’t want to be in the position where you’ve done two or three years worth of tertiary study and have a hefty HELP debt to prove it, but can only find work at your local fast food outlet.
We’re not rubbishing games development courses. We just want to make it clear that they’re not the only option. Given the number of universities that now offer at least a few units in games development-related topics, it’s possible to undertake a Bachelor in Computer Science or Information Technology and perhaps minor in games programming. It’s also possible to undertake both options. Consider a generalised bachelor-level qualification followed up by a certificate-level qualification such as those offered by the AIE.
To recap, again
We mention this every time we mention games development courses: the value of proven passion and experience. We repeat it like a mantra because it’s true. Every time we speak to people from the industry, or even when we read through the chatter on websites like tsumea, we hear the same thing. Whether you choose to study a Bachelor of Computer Science or a Certificate III of games animation, it’s absolutely essential you develop a portfolio that showcases your passion and talent. A piece of paper will only get you so far; after that, you need to be able to demonstrate what you can do when it comes to making good quality, stable, enjoyable games.