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Development Updated: 26 Dec 2017

What should I study to become a videogame developer?

The new technologies, and their presence in everyday life, are radically changing the way we look at entertainment, social relationships and work. They have also created new professions that do not yet have a set educational pathway, such as videogame developer.

Videogame development is a profession in demand, due to the growing importance of this industry in the Spanish economy.  According to data from the EAE Business School, the videogame sector is one of the strongest in the culture industry, contributing nearly €112 million to the economy in 2016 and an estimated €128 million this year. The rise of the sector is also reflected in job creation. In Spain, videogames employ more than 7,000 people, a figure that is expected to exceed 10,100 by 2020.

All this is taking place in a very young business community in which most of the companies have been around for less than five years and the majority have fewer than 50 employees. However, the first graduates from academic programs specifically tailored to this field have just entered the job market.

Computer engineering or development programs?

Several universities in Spain both public and private – offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs designed specifically for videogame development. However, most of these new educational programs are barely have any graduates in the job market, compared to computer engineering programs, which are much more established.

David Alonso, Head of the Videogame Development Program at the University School of Design, Innovation and Technology ESNE maintains that theirs  is “currently the only degree program from which students have graduated.” ESNE began the program in 2010 after three years of offering its students degrees from British universities such as Wolverhampton, which could be obtained while studying from Madrid.

Other schools, such as the Polytechnical University of Catalonia launched their official degree programs in Videogame Design and Development in 2014, after a decade of offering specific masters’ programs in the field. David Sánchez Carreras, Director of the university’s Image Processing and Multimedia Technology Center, recalls that at that time, “The master’s program covered many different profiles coming from a variety of academic backgrounds with a professional interest in the field of videogames.”

Education with links to the industry

Sánchez Carreras sees parallels with the multimedia sector in 2000: “There were professions in the field, but there weren’t any professionals with university training.” That’s why he stresses the importance of unifying courses into an official degree program, which together with the other degree program just launched in Design, Animation and Digital Art, “provide education that will give students a technologically strong profile, along with an artistic component,  training in teamwork and close ties to the industry.” He underscores the latter: “There are many professors who have a dual role. They leave the industry, come to teach classes and go back to the industry.”

Ana Calvillo is a good example. She works as a “test lead” at Electronic Arts, one of the biggest multinational companies in the sector, and is also professor of Testing and Balancing at the Francisco de Victoria University Videogame Creation and Narration Program. Calvillo believes that the vast majority of professors “combine teaching with their jobs in the videogame industry.”

While the aspiring professionals completing their studies in the program, currently most of the developers working in the industry are engineers, says David Alonso of ESNE. “Using myself as an example, I am a computer engineer by training and I work in the videogame industry, but I have had to learn on my own or on the job.” By contrast, the graduates in videogame development “are prepared to work and be productive from the day one.”

For her part, Calvillo says that “all the developers that I know, or those that have worked at Battlefield, for example, have studied computer engineering.” That’s why she says that we’ll have to wait and see “what the videogame development graduates are capable of doing, as they have a global perspective instead of coming from their own specialization, which has been the case so far.”

An industry that’s ready for more professionals

“We haven’t had time to see whether the people who complete the new videogame degree programs will find a job in the industry. The key will lie in how well the first graduates perform,” maintains Josu Ojeda, Location Testing Manager at Electronic Arts. He says it must be understood that “Videogame development includes many different disciplines. People tend to automatically think of programmers or computer engineers, which are a very common profiles, but videogames also need screenwriters, creative designers and audio technicians.”

In terms of job placement for those graduating from the Videogame Design and Development program, Josu Ojeda is optimistic: “It’s an industry that’s growing. There are more and more companies and more and more people working for those companies, so there’s room for everyone.” David Alonso has a similar opinion, saying that: “When we were planning our degree program at ESNE, there were 60 videogame companies. That number has multiplied by 10 in seven years.” Alonso also believes in convergence with other multimedia industries, greater institutional support and in breaking down the geographic barriers to ensure that videogame development is a strategic sector with increasing demand for more professionals.