Game changers in the video game industry

Video games are big business. And as the industry continues to grow, so does the number and variety of careers one can pursue in the world of gaming.

"It's a big industry in Canada and worldwide," said Regan Mandryk, associate professor of computer science. "It's a $25-billion industry in the US, which is bigger than the film industry. The highest grossing games are on par with the biggest Hollywood movies, but the average cost of developing a game is less than that of a low-budget movie."

Mandryk sees a couple reasons for this growth. "Gamers grew up. Those kids from the ‘80s playing video games in their basements grew up and are now in their mid-30s with purchasing power." And, the profile of a gamer has also changed, she explained.

Beyond the age change, which sees an average gamer somewhere around 35 years old, it is no longer just boys and men who play. "It's almost 50/50 male and female now."

The stereotype of nerdy teenaged boys playing fantasy games in their parents' basements is long gone. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 47 per cent of gamers are women and women older than 18 are a larger proportion, at 30 per cent, than boys 17 and younger at 18 per cent.

Mandryk said this shift in the profile is partly attributed to the second reason the gaming industry is so big these days, the advent of casual games like Angry Birds, Bejeweled and Plants versus Zombies. These games can be played on a tablet or smart phone for a short amount of time while, for example, waiting for the bus.

There are a number of factors contributing to the growth of the industry and a resulting interest in this field among university students, Mandryk said. "Since we started our third-year game programming class, it has become one of the most popular in the department." Students, she said, are seeing an increased demand from employers for their qualifications.

"A lot of students enjoy playing games. If you can make a career doing what you love, why not?  Computers, smartphones, and game consoles are everywhere, (and) there are tons of jobs out there. Computer-related jobs have some of the lowest unemployment rates."

And that is not just in the US, but in Canada as well. There are 348 gaming companies operating in Canada, and 77 per cent of those expecting to hire new graduates in 2013.

"We have some of the biggest players in Canada – Ubisoft in Montreal, EA Sports in Vancouver, Bioware in Edmonton," she said. "Not to mention the indie companies like Noodlecake Studios here in Saskatoon, who created Super Stickman Golf 2," which hit the number two spot on the iTunes app store last week. Noodlecake, she continued, is made up of eight U of S grads, mostly from the computer science department.

Needless to say, graduates from the U of S computer science program have the opportunity to go onto varied careers in the gaming industry. To help them get into this field and related industries like web design, the department recently created a new BASc in interactive systems design.

"Programmer is one the most common jobs in the game industry. There are also game producers and there are a lot of jobs in user research and human computer interaction. These require a unique set of skills like psychology, statistics, computer science and visual arts. At the end of the day, it is a software industry, but there are also nonprogrammer jobs like artists and scriptwriters too."

There is a misconception that comes with a career in video games, she continued. "It is a demanding field. People think it is playing games, but you work hard. There used to be a high level of burnout for young driven people. But because it is such a competitive field for the best employees, a lot of companies are changing that (burnout) mentality and creating great, creative workplaces."

Mandryk isn't certain how the industry will change, only that it will. What she is certain about is the ever-growing need for computer skills.

"Everything uses computers. We need to have computer literacy, just as you need to be literate in written communication. Not just programming, but computer literacy. Imagine how many jobs might be closed to someone for not knowing how to use a computer.

Share this story