Due to the support of the current participants in the study, the First Three Years Project is able to go to GDC from March 20-24. While there, the team will be presenting different papers based on the findings we have made so far, recruiting new participants, and spreading the word about our mission.
If you happen to be at GDC this year, we would love for you and your friends to come to our booth/talks and say hello!
With all our hard work, we forgot to mention that last year we did a panel at CGSA (Canadian Game Studies Association) on Friday, June 3rd, 2022. This panel was a collaboration of five pre-recorded presentations for attendees to watch and a live question-and-answer period facilitated by Kenzie Gordon.
The First Three Years Project: factors that influence success in the games industry for recent graduates of games programs in Canada and the United States // Le projet The First Three Years : Les facteurs influençant le succès dans l’industrie des jeux pour les récents diplômés des programmes de jeux au Canada et aux États-Unis*
Chair: Kenzie Gordon
The First Three Years Project
Sean Gouglas (University of Alberta)
This presentation describes The First Three Years Project, a SSHRC-funded longitudinal study that examines the complex factors that influence success in the game industry for new employees. The project follows hundreds of recent university and college graduates for three years after graduation as they try to find work in the industry. In November 2021, the project began interviewing students who were in the final year of a video games program in Canada or the United States, asking questions about their educational experience, networking opportunities, and career aspirations. Workers in the game industry face many challenges. Difficult working conditions, unpaid or low paid contracts, and systemic discrimination against marginalised communities create and reinforce barriers to success for many. All workers are impacted by poor labor practices, though some communities are affected more systematically and dramatically than others. Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ communities are much more likely to leave the games industry. Previous research has confirmed that systemic practices of discrimination drive these individuals from the industry. This study will examine how systemic barriers impact different workers and perpetuate inequities in the industry. The experiences of recent graduates examined over a three year period can help to see what supports were most effective in overcoming barriers to success. This could include formal mentoring and networking programs, informal networks of like-minded individuals that offer backchannel support, and Human Resource departments that encourage trust and disclosure. Finally, colleges and universities frequently claim to prepare students for rewarding careers in the game industry. The project examines whether educational practices bring awareness of systemic and cultural barriers that inhibit success, whether policies and practices in postsecondary game programs potentially normalize negative industry practices, and whether the curriculum prepares students to identify and potentially overcome these negative practices.
State of Games Education Research
Alison Harvey (York University)
While critical games education research is still a burgeoning area of inquiry, this longitudinal research project contributes to an active field exploring the cultural and policy context as well as political economy of formalized and community-driven education in game-making. This contribution to the panel synthesizes the international research on games education and its relationship to our understanding of gameswork, noting the similarities and differences between the imperative to train formally in games in the UK (Ashton 2009, 2011; Harvey 2019, 2020, 2021), North America (Livermore 2013), and Australia (Keough, 2018, forthcoming). In particular we focus on the cultures of games education and how these contexts can constrain and enable visions of gameswork beyond hegemonic norms of exclusion and exploitation. We also explore the contradictory role of the university in the pursuit of work readiness, employability, and professionalization.
State of the Industry
Jennifer R. Whitson (University of Waterloo)
This panel presentation presents an overview of the State of the Game Industry, with a special focus on employment in Canadian gameswork. To many, a career in Canada’s game industries sounds like a dream job that bridges arts, culture, and tech. As of 2019 the industry employed 27,000 Canadians in just under 700 studios. To meet this perceived demand, education and training programs increased fivefold from 2010 to 2017, with over 300 of postsecondary institutes offering games-focused courses, certificates, and degrees as of 2017 (Liu et al.). Despite this rosy outlook, a career in Canada’s game industries also sounds like a nightmare. Industry expansion is coupled with increasingly intense competition. Hundreds of games are released daily, leading to what some refer to as the “Indiepocalyse” and the concentration of profits in the hands of a relatively few large multinationals, such as Nintendo, Ubisoft, and Electronic Arts (Kerr). For decades, game industries have faced critique for exploitative working conditions, long hours, and unpaid overtime (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter). More recently, they face additional criticism due to toxic workplace cultures, and misogynistic and racist player communities (Gray). This panel presentation summarizes data about working conditions in games, focusing on the demographics of gamesworkers. It takes a critical approach to analysing just who can participate in (paid) Canadian game development, outlining why the industry seems to be perpetually young and perpetually male.
A Student Perspective on Games Programs, the Industry, and The First Three Years Project
Sam Graham (University of Alberta)
This presentation will offer a student perspective on games programs, looking for work in the games industry, and The First Three Years project. Currently a graduate student in Digital Humanities at the University of Alberta, Sam Graham is a research assistant on the First Three Years project and a recent graduate of the Game Design and Development Program at Wilfrid Laurier University. She will address the challenges students face in completing a degree that specifically prepares individuals for work in an industry that is intensely competitive, unsympathetic to members from marginalised communities, and the difficulty of maintaining a healthy work-life balance due to issues such as crunch, harassment, and ethical choices that may go against personal beliefs. The presentation will address how students discuss the effectiveness of their programs, especially during the times of COVID, common opinions on curriculum preferences, and the ways they are taught to stand out against students from other programs. It will further touch on the barriers to finding meaningful work, and the discourse concerning labour conditions in the games industry as a non-unionized profession. Graham will address the challenges that The First Three Years project will face in unpacking these issues and the difficulty the project may face in recruiting students from marginalized groups in a field that has been known to criticize and maintain realistic expectations from a commonly disillusioned field of work.
An Industry Perspective on Games Programs, the Industry, and The First Three Years Project
David Holmes (Inflexion Games)
While post-secondary institutions frequently profess as to the hireability of graduates from their games programs, the research is less clear (Gouglas 2010). Many employers remain skeptical of some of these programs and the suitability of the degree to actual work in the industry. In some disciplines more than others, a degree or diploma can stand as a declaration of competence in a particular skill set – a BSc in computer science, for example. However, what separates successful candidates from others may have more to do with an impressive portfolio, completed games outside the school setting, and the difficult to quantify ‘passion for games’. David Holmes, who currently works for Inflexion Games, has worked in the industry for ten years, including stints at FunCom and BeamDog. He published Life Goes On as part of a three-person indie studio called Infinite Monkeys. He has also taught courses in games design at the University of Alberta. His presentation will provide an industry perspective on hiring graduates from games programs and the changing nature of labour for entry-level workers.