By Bill Bennett
Although it sounds like a romp, senior lecturer Wayne Moore says Charles Sturt University’s Batchelor of Computer Science (Games Technology) is a rigorous course. It’s also a passport to a well-paid career in an increasingly important industry: opportunities in the computer games business are expanding rapidly at a time when the wider information technology industry is only slowly coming out of recession.
Moore says the computer games business is particularly strong in Australia. “Australia has a couple of dozen companies. Recently I was at the Australian Game Developers Conference in Melbourne along with 400 or 500 other people. One local employer told me he was looking at hiring between 100 and 150 people next year.”
He warns that some of the jobs in the industry can be short-term, maybe for the life of a single project. However, he says it certainly looks as if the games business is going to keep on expanding for some time yet.
Computer games are bigger than Hollywood
In terms of worldwide sales, computer games are already bigger than Hollywood. Moore says, “Typically 50 to 100 programmers may work on one of the bigger games; the budget might be as high as $40 million”. To illustrate the amount of money at stake he points out that Microsoft has thrown billions of dollars into establishing its Xbox games machine.
CSU’s course is heavily geared towards the technical rather than the art and design side of computer games development. There’s a lot of mathematics and coding in programming languages like C++. Prospective students need to get a relatively high UAI of 85 or over and have something of a background in maths and physics. Exposure to computer science at school helps, but it isn’t essential. Moore says the course teaches that subject from basic principles.
It’s a four year degree course. Most of the first three years are taken up with computer science; though there are units dealing with psychology, maths, graphics and an introduction to computer games amongst others. There’s no formal hardware component. Students get to choose four extra subjects as electives.
The fourth year is either an industry placement or an honours programme that can lead to a Phd or Masters degree. About 60 percent of students have opted for placements and 40 percent have chosen further study. Moore is currently in discussions with Sony which may have placements for three or four students in its UK operation. He says, “I imagine if they do well there they can look at continuing on with that company.”
CSU: first game technology programme
A number of other Australian universities are now offering similar games-oriented courses and options. However, Moore says the CSU degree was the first programme expressly designed around games technology and its entire content has been specifically tailored to this end. “When you study graphics, you do it in a games context. You learn about maths so your games can include realistic looking smoke, you learn about physics to recreate authentic crashes.”
The CSU course covers a broad range of games, not just those played on a PC or games console but also handheld and mobile phone-based games. He says, “Our students get to cover the whole genre”.
Moore says there’s plenty of ‘hard yakka’ but his students do get an opportunity to play games, something that’s not generally encouraged with other computer science undergraduates. He says “They get to pull them apart”. There’s a games laboratory at CSU’s Bathurst campus equipped with the latest hardware and course students have exclusive access.
CSU’s Game Technology programme is about to enter its fourth year, the first intake of students are preparing to start their industry placements. Moore says that two or three students fell by the wayside because they were more interested in playing games than doing any work, but those people prepared to put in the effort all stand a good chance of graduating.
Demand for the course is strong. Moore says that like all other information technology courses the demand has tailed off over the last year, but the quality of the candidates has improved. Although there are some female students, Moore says their numbers are not as high as the one in six women working in the industry and that CSU is keen to entice more onto the programme.