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Home » Video Games & Esports » Why practical experience is the best way to get gaming students ‘industry-ready’

Davin Ward

Senior Lecturer in Computer Games Programming, Staffordshire University

Contribution from: David James and Molly Swift and Daniel Bond

Placements that give students practical gaming experience are an invaluable way for them to grow and develop their skills for a job in the industry. 

Theory is an important part of learning. However, there is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting hands-on experience — particularly in video games design. “Students benefit from working on real games,” says Professor Chris Headleand, Head of Games Development Department, Staffordshire University.  

“In the games industry, we often talk about the importance of ‘getting your first title,’ which means getting your name attached to a commercially released game for the first time. It makes you extra-attractive to companies in the sector.” 

Placement for practical gaming experience 

With that in mind, Staffordshire University now runs an annual six-week summer paid placement scheme called 1UP. This is open to 30 students across all levels who are employed to build commercially ready video games in the university’s in-house games studio, Bulldog Studios, which was created for the initiative and is run by industry experts. The scheme launched in 2022 and has been a success, winning ‘Best Education Initiative’ at last year’s prestigious TIGA Games Industry Awards.  

It can be a steep learning curve for some,
but it means they will develop all the skills
they need to work at a commercial level.

Molly Swift

Inclusive, hands-on opportunity 

“Six weeks isn’t a long time,” admits David James, Course Director of Games Design. “So, 1UP students hit the ground running by working on projects that have been partly made by the staff, developing these into commercially ready products by the end of their placement. Because the scheme is open to students from all levels, even those at foundation year can receive invaluable hands-on industry experience and bring in their own ideas.” 

Critical feedback to develop industry skills 

To give students a proper insight into the games industry, the placement has been deliberately designed to mirror industry practices. “As lecturers, we act as directors, producers and technical experts, giving students critical feedback in daily meetings,” explains Molly Swift, Associate Lecturer in Concept Art for Games and Film. “That’s vital because they will certainly receive critical feedback in a professional studio environment. It can be a steep learning curve for some, but it means they will develop all the skills they need to work at a commercial level.” 

“One reason for creating 1UP was to provide a bridge between academia and industry,” notes Davin Ward, Senior Lecturer in Computer Games Programming, also at Staffordshire University. “Many Level 4 students who took part in the 2022 scheme have won industry placements while Level 5 students — who have since graduated — have found jobs in the games industry and beyond.”

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