Oh hi, hello!
Today I've seen a lot of back on forth on Twitter about whether a degree is necessary to work in game development, and because there are only so many words on Twitter I thought hey - it might be easier to do a blog post on this instead over my lunch :D
It causes people a lot of anxiety, I get asked about it all the time, so why not talk about it here!
Firstly, please let it be known that all of my thoughts on this are completely and entirely UK-specific. (Actually maybe even England specific) Your location is a huge factor in whether or not a degree is necessary or even if it's affordable in the first place, so I can't do anything but speak on what I know about which is the UK. Oh also it's been 10 years since I did my degree so y'know take this with a pinch of salt.
So let's look at it from a few different angles;
How much does having a degree matter to a hiring manager or recruiter?
Well, it depends. For me, I absolutely, 100%, do not care about whether or not someone has a degree. If they don't - cool, if they do, I don't care what grade they got. For me, it's 100% on a person's portfolio, experience, extracurricular activities and other things. I would say the majority of hiring managers at smaller studios in the UK are probably of the same opinion in that regard as well. Some larger studios that have a high volume of applicants may use a degree as a way of filtering out candidates. The reason I don't personally care is because I am aware of the financial barriers that exist that mean that not everyone can afford a degree (we have a decent student loan system in the UK but there is a lot more to it than that) and also some of the best people I've worked with don't have degrees. Some don't have GCSE's. Some never went to school. Not everyone thrives in traditional academia either. So if you don't have one, don't sweat it too much, your portfolio and experience is king.
Is a degree really worth it?
Probably! I did my degree when university fees were around £3,000 per year. I worked at McDonald's alongside my degree to top up money I needed to get the bus to Uni etc. The value was definitely there then. Now, it's £9,000 a year, and in COVID times there is a lot of debate about whether it's worth it right now. For some people, it might still be cheaper than buying all the hardware/software/books/etc yourself and also universities sometimes have bursaries for dependants if you're in that situation as well. But there are also a ton of benefits to having a degree that aren't related directly to recruitment, e.g having direct support from people that know what they are doing, getting hands on experience with group projects, hearing seminars from industry experts, etc. Also, if you plan to go overseas then it is often a requirement, so that's worth thinking about. Before I went to University I had zero industry connections. ZILCH, NADA. Not a sausage. But we had industry speakers visit us and university-organised events which helped me get out there a bit more than I would have otherwise.
Another thing of note is that some internships are only available to university students for a variety of reasons. Getting industry experience is obviously vital and it can be hard to open the door if you are going it alone.
What about the quality of existing game development courses?
Some Universities do excellent courses; they keep up to date with industry knowledge, provide relevant mentorship and support, have access to industry internships and speakers as already mentioned, and a bunch more. Other degrees end up being total hogwash with outdated industry practices, irrelevant modules, no connections or they are trying to capitalise on industry trends such as e-sports without the proper knowledge and experience to teach it. So not all degrees are equal. Please do your research on what your chosen University can provide you and how successful they are at helping students get employed once they have completed their degree!
Here are a few more considerations;
What kind of learner are you? Are you an autonomous self-starter? It takes a lot of discipline to be that way, even when you have the support of university. There is no shame in needing structure to motivate you, and University can provide that. Uni goes at a certain pace, so that structure can be great for some people but not for others i.e some people might feel the pace puts too much pressure on them, and isn't the kind of environment where they can do their best work. It's a very personal journey and realisation to figure out the kind of thing you need to thrive.
One last thing I want to say; as I mentioned, this decision can cause people huge amounts of anxiety. People with no degrees thinking they've go no chance, or people with degrees feeling like they've wasted a ton of money and still don't have a job. There are multiple routes into the industry and there isn't one single way that is the 'best.' If you have a strong CV and portfolio and an ability to work well with others, the degree is secondary. It can be a means to get those things (good CV/portfolio etc) but it isn't the only one. So please try not to panic too much about decisions you are potentially making in the future, or choices you've made in the past. There are always opportunities to build your knowledge, experience and expertise and course correct, so all is not lost!
Hope this helps a little!