Into The Wild: Is There Hope For Australia's Gaming Graduates?

Last week Qantm College sent a whole new group of graduates into the real world, into a local industry racked with job losses and constant uncertainty. We caught up with two former students and spoke to Qantm themselves about their hopes and fears as the enter the brave new world of Australian games development.

"The industry here sucks — it's an absolute shame," says Tim.

Tim isn’t angry, he's resigned. His words don't carry emotion, just the message. And it's a clear one.

“This is the first thing we're told in orientation — programmers, you're going to get hired. Animators? You'll probably get hired too. Game designers? Most of you won't get hired."

It's graduation night at Qantm College in Sydney and there's a strange, familiar atmosphere. Anyone who has ever graduated can empathise with the mixed emotions — elation, trepidation. The big bad world awaits, what will it have in store?

Already Sold

Alongside a group of guests from the Australian games industry, we've just finished watching the cream of this year's graduates present their work. Some of the work shown is genuinely astounding. One student presents a money management app that integrates Foursquare and GPS tracking to help monitor where you're spending money, how much and when. It takes all the willpower I can muster not to simply lob my wallet on stage at the poor boy (which says a lot about my own money management). I want that app. I want to tell my friends about it, I'm an instant advocate. Said student says there is scope for gamification in the app. I'm already sold.

According to the tagline, Qantm College are "the experts in creative digital media education" therefore a broad spectrum of said media is on show — animation, CGI, digital art — but the vast majority of presentations are by aspiring game developers.

Tim O'Brien is one of those aspiring game developers. His presentation was first, and it was a good one. In all respects he's a model student — proactive, gifted, diligent. His team's work was selected from the slew of student projects for many reasons: its quality, the attitude of the team, the fact that Tim had enough initiative to chase us here at Kotaku for early coverage of a game still in its infancy.

Despite this, he remains pessimistic about his chances of gainful employment in the games industry.

"I have a feeling that it might be difficult," he says. "I know that the industry, at least here in Sydney, is very limited. Currently I'm looking offshore to find work at the moment — in Canada or maybe Europe somewhere? I'd like to stay here in Australia, but I'm not sure if there are many job prospects.

"I'm not panicking, I think that's because I'm an older student, I've had experience in the work force before. For some of the younger students, they're a bit more like 'oh my god'! But I know that, worse comes to worst, I'll just have to find a job in a different industry.

"Before I worked in sales and also IT — would I go back to IT and sales? Well I did alright in sales, but I don't really want to do that. I did uni to start with, then I went into the work force and I just came to hate the idea that this would be my life."

Tim O'Brien, one of Qantm's most gifted students worries that he may have to go back to the sales job he hated. But it's a reality he may have to face.

Bolt of Lightning

Catherine McAdam bubbles with a mixture of nerves and enthusiasm, it's difficult to tell whether she's simply nervously excited about her future or just nervous. Probably a bit of both.

Her team isn't waiting to get hired, under the monicker Molniya (Russian for Lightning) they're keen to get out of the classroom and into business.

"This is the second degree I've done," begins Catherine. "I did graphic design before this so I'm fairly used to the whole 'I'm gonna graduate thing'. You can't study forever. I told myself this was the last time, and I have to get a job after this.

"It's pretty scary, but also exciting, because we have plans for next year. The rest of my group working on our game want to develop it indie and go for a government grant. We've got plans, so that's exciting, but it's still like, do we have to go and get real jobs in the meantime?

"Right now it hasn't really set in, because graduating just felt like another assessment for us," she continues, "but in the next couple of weeks I think it'll really start to set in that we're done with education for good."

Much like Tim, Catherine feels as though the experience of having studied elsewhere, prior to attending Qantm, made her far more focused on a practical approach to learning.

"I guess because I've been studying so long compared to other people I felt that, because I'd done that first degree already, I took this a lot more seriously and really focused on getting a job out of it. I wanted to graduate with something I was really proud of, something I could use to get a job."

Serious business

It's a stark contrast. Two of Qantm's strongest students — one enthused about her future in video games, another pessimistic. Each have almost diametrically opposed ideas regarding their chances of success in this incredibly competitive industry.

To an extent Jens Schroeder, Campus Academic Coordinator at Qantm, sympathises with both.

"I think you'll always get this contrast in any institution and admittedly I can sort of see where some of the students are coming from," he says.

"During orientation I'm always trying to make clear to students that this is a pathway. Parents come in for open days and they ask, 'will our children find a job?' It's a fair question. The spiel I give them is probably yes — if they work really hard, show the right attitude and entertain possibilities outside of the more hardcore side of things. You have to think outside the box — games for health, games that rehabilitate old people through dance mats! You know?

“A lot of the students still find it difficult to get used to the idea that they might not be working on the next Call of Duty.”

You get the sense that Jens struggles with the naïveté of some students, the sense of entitlement.

“No one is waiting to recognise their inherent genius,” laughs Jens, “which is what I think a lot of students believe. One of the things I'm really trying to encourage is to get students to attend networking events — like the IGDA stuff. You ask them to attend, and you go there and it's the same five people! I'm like really? Those are some of the basic skills you have to learn. That can be a little disheartening.

“Maybe it's an age thing — some of them come directly out of high school. They just want to make games, they don't realise the effort needed to succeed.”

Internal affairs

But despite his natural pessimism, Tim O’Brien hardly falls into the category of self-entitled student. After a series of interviews, Tim interned at Nnooo in Pyrmont, working on the critically acclaimed EscapeVektor.

According Nnooo’s Creative Director Nic Watt, Tim excelled.

“Tim did really well at his time with us,” claims Nic. "We had recently completed escapeVektor: Chapter 1 and wanted new levels designed and made for the other chapters. Before deciding on Tim we invited a few of the students in to interview and get a feel for how they thought and worked. Tim was the obvious choice; he was really well considered and took to the task of designing levels really quickly.

“Tim managed to design over 30 levels during his six weeks with us, all of which he sketched out on paper, prototyped in illustrator and then scripted and built into the game.”

Despite his great work, Nnooo is still a small studio, and didn’t have the resources available to offer Tim a job after he graduated.

“It's really hard,” continues Nic. “We've worked with some great staff and interns at Nnooo and due to our size we cannot keep all of them. If we had more money we could probably do more. At the same time however it is important to note that we want Nnooo to remain a manageable size. All of the games are designed by myself and the intention is to keep it that way. This means there is a limit to what we can do without becoming stretched.”

Some students, however, are more successful — although not necessarily in traditional games development. Many Qantm students do leave internships with the promise of a job after they graduate.

“Internships are part of the curriculum and I'm in charge of organising those, which is really unthankful work actually,” laughs Jens. “But there are some good outcomes because some students have been offered work out of the internships, which is really great to see.”

Tim himself was disappointed his internship at Nnooo didn’t result in a job opportunity, but fully understands the reality: Nnooo can’t afford to hire every intern that walks through its doors.

“Well I think even though I did an internship, they still weren't able to offer me a job, just because of the size of the studio,” he says. “There's not much they can do. I know that some people have gotten jobs from their internships, but for me personally I think that unless I manage to stumble upon something fantastic in the next few months I'll definitely have to look overseas.”

Despite this, he doesn’t blame Qantm either. In fact Tim has nothing but good things to say about his time at the college, and dedicated his successful internship at Nnooo to the quality of education he received.

“I learned a lot from my internship, but I think Quantm gave me the roots to understand what would actually be happening in the internship,” claims Tim. “Without that sort of foundation of game design principles and stuff, what happened during the internship — I probably wouldn't have taken it in, I wouldn't have absorbed that information properly.”

The waiting game

Jens recognises that life for a Game Designer can be difficult post-graduation — options are limited. It’s his job to stay ahead of the curve and provide potential designers with the skill set to adapt to changing circumstances. In the future, claims Jens, he is keen to make designers find their own niche in a world that’s becoming increasingly gamified in all areas of industry.

“We are considering teaching design, or game design, as something that can be applied to a lot of fields outside of the classic entertainment field,” says Jens. “That is something we're looking to do a lot more of. We actually do a serious games course, and I really like teaching it. Interestingly enough some of the students don't really find it that interesting unfortunately, but we do believe that games are a disruptive technology and you have to apply this kind of design to different areas.

“Gamification — it's a horrible marketing buzzword. As Ian Bogost put it — gamification is bullshit, in its current superficial marketing form. But as it evolves gamification will be able to take advantage of the unique engaging qualities of games, and hopefully that's something we'll be able to encourage our students to understand as well.

“We're trying to open up opportunities during a time when things are converging. Look at books as apps — are they games? Are they books? It's becoming blurry. These are important developments and we want to encourage students to have an open mind.”

Nic at Nnooo is looking for a little more assistance from the NSW government.

"I would like to see NSW government think about starting some sort of apprenticeship scheme or similar for new graduates," says Nic. "One of the hard things a games company like ours faces is taking on recent graduates and getting them familiar with working on Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft's systems. This process of training can take 2-3 years as each platform has a lot of idiosyncrasies you cannot teach at university.

"If we had a system where 50 per cent of our graduates salaries were paid for the first year and maybe dropping in percentage terms by 33 per cent each year for three years it would allow us to firstly employ more graduates and secondly increase the skills and knowledge base of people in NSW."

But of course, no such system is yet in place. The NSW Government did recently announce it would be investing more heavily in digital services, helping fund Halfbrick's new Sydney studio. Strangely enough, Nnooo is among the developers receiving a cash injection — they're using the money to fund two new hires — both graduates from Qantm. Both programmers.

It reminds us of Tim O'Brien's earlier statement: "programmers you're going to get hired... Game designers? Most of you won't get hired." We wonder what chance Tim really has in this difficult job environment?

We ask him and, surprisingly, a strand of optimism reveals itself.

"I think it's definitely getting better," he says, smiling, "particularly with the change of government. Basically there's a common acceptance that maybe games aren't quite so silly! Especially as gamers start getting older and they start filling in those roles in parliament. And especially because well... Angry Birds! Now MPs play Angry Birds and realise this makes money! These kinds of games are really changing the attitudes of people."

If Jens is right, and the world continues to gamify itself, maybe Australia will have more need of people like Tim O'Brien and his unique skillset in the future. Maybe MPs across this country will have the eureka moment they had when they first got wind of Angry Birds or, more likely, Fruit Ninja.

But, for now, Tim O'Brien must play the waiting game.


Comments

    I love reading articles like this, I demand moar!

      I'm Cmdr. Shepard and this is my favourite article on the Kotaku.

    Articles like this suck. I have already applied for games design at Qantm to study next year.
    Let's just hope that by time I am done that there is more demand :/

      All depends on how hungry you are to succeed. Being willing to travel will help you a lot too.

        Well seeing as I have wanted to do this for a few years now and I travel wouldn't bother me, I think I might do well.

      I think there are a lot of positive things happening. At Qantm and in the industry locally. I wouldn't worry too much!

        That is really reassuring! I think in two years things will be quite a bit better anyway.

          At least it's not the music industry man! Good luck to you.

      The article (Great by the way) mentions that you have to think outside of the box. Don't think "if I do this I'll make Call of Duty", with Mobile Phones these days, if you create a great programme then it will be purchased and you could easily make a good living off that. Many have done it so why can't you and others. I think the best and biggest bit in this article is "Think outside the box"

        In a market now flooded with graduates and actual former industry employees there is no chance for any demand or even meaningful wages. You have all the universities conned on to the fact that there were plenty of naive kids willing to pay to lean how to make video games and they took advantage of this by making half-assed courses to churn out under-skilled graduates. Ask Qantm what job placement percentage the previous years graduates had in game design. Watch how fast they try to change the subject.

      Which QANTM campus?

        Sydney campus.

          Damn, i'm at the Melbourne one. it's really good (though i'm an animator).

            Hello Beau.

      Change majors, its a game testing degree with some bs thrown in to make it self important. Either do an art degree or become a programmer/animator like most other designers.

      As a graduate of Brisbane Qantm (Programming), I would highly recommend studying something else. There are absolutely no jobs for inexperienced game designers anywhere in Australia. None of the Game Designers who graduated with me in 2009 are working in the games industry. Don't listen to this "If you try hard enough you will succeed" bullshit. It just won't happen in Australia. Even moving overseas, your chances are slim at best.

        That is a bit fatalistic.

        I can personally say about 7 of the game designers that graduated last year with me from Qantm Sydney have a job working on iOS games as we speak, plus myself. They took a chance on something and worked for free for a bit but it has paid off for them.

        There weren't that many of us left at the end of the 2 years so that is a reasonable percent.

        Actually, I got a job as a game designer. Brisvegas Qantm 09. If Kotaku wants to do a follow-up piece on ME they can reach me at my online portfolio. Otherwise, on the money.

          I got a job as a games tester straight out of my 19050 TAFE course (Games Design) and my course cost a lot less than your QANTM one :p

          Testing video games was a decent job while completing my games development degree at uni, but now that I'm done, I realise the money is elsewhere and am about to leave the industry.

          It's a harsh world, if I'd known the australian games industry was going to crumble I would have changed courses at the time.

      BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You'll be lucky to find an industry job locally. The industry has been bleeding out for years now here. Government refuses to support the industry and a few bad choices killed off most of the major studios. Fury killed Auran, Batman killed Pandemic and BladeKitten pretty much killed Krome. As a programmer you're guaranteed a job but it's more likely in bread and butter IT. I had the fortune to graduate while Krome was bleeding employees so as a graduate the chances of landing a job were negative and not much has changed since then except for maybe the more talented people heading overseas. As a game design major unless you plan on learning to code and make art and release your own mobile aps you're not getting a job here. Anyone telling you otherwise is lying to you.

        Navez, this is the wrong attitude to have. You're also very misinformed in terms of government support. In the last couple of weeks the govt has proposed a 40% Producer tax offset for game developers (http://bit.ly/tQmcF5), Film Vic have redeveloped their funding scheme (http://bit.ly/sDj8B9). This is just to start - there's a heap of funding bodies around. It may be too late for the studios that have closed, however the nature of game development is changing. If you do you research, you will notice that the shift in who, how and where we play games suggests that studios must develop products that cater for these markets. It is not simply a case of studying and landing a job - if that's what you'd expect join the public service. It's also not a case of spending you free time making a 'cool iPhone app' - it's a business, and it should be approached as such.

    As a gaming graduate from RMIT from about 4 years ago, no. There is no hope. I think 5 people got a job in the game industry out of a class of 150. 3 of them got the sack, one managed to get re-hired.
    Artists have hardly any hope (my area). The only one got the sack this year, but she was QA.
    I would love a job, but I'm not a programmer. =( I have tried making my own games but I run into the same problem. Not a programmer.

      Jesus, this is even more sobering than I thought it was.

    There's nothing more common in this world than wasted talent. It's sad that these highly intelligent individuals are struggling in a country where the majority of people are so wealthy. I hope things change for them for the better in the future.

    Yeah, for me, it was 2 years of AIE that did very little for my career prospects, because there are none here really. All it really did was ruin the illusion of so many video games for me :P

    game designers, the new marine biologist

    I've been offered a spot for games design and development at Deakin. Reading stuff like this scares me, considering the fact that I want to work with an indie group instead of the big companies out there.

    "Game designers? Most of you won’t get hired.”
    This does not bode well for a guy who is trying to make his own game design document :(

      Puppylicks, there is a great books for creating design documents. (It was on my book list for the BA that got me no where XD )
      http://www.paranoidproductions.com/gamedesign/

    Quick way to get a job in the gaming industry? LEARN A SECOND LANGUAGE. DO IT RIGHT NOW. Seriously, the amount of positions open to english speakers who also know Mandarin or Hindi or Indonesian are fucking HUGE.

      I think thats a good point, theres a huge ammount of korean/chinese mmos and with the economic movement I just see it getting larger. They would definatly need people who speak english to help translate/community manage etc the international side of their games/sites.

    I'm a software developer and I would NEVER want a job in game development. Unstability aside, I'm always wary that if I work in the gaming industry, I'd start disliking games and stop playing them...

      This for me as well. I realised fairly early on in my Computer Science degree that games and game programming are much better left as a hobby. I wanted to do it - part of me still does - but the industry is too immature and the long hours, low job security and issues with burnout mean that doing it as a career is something that is only for the absolutely dedicated. I like playing games too much to ruin my enjoyment of them. Bad enough that I now will often look at stuff I see in games and think about how they must have been put together. :(

      I don't find that you stop liking games, you just enjoy them differently. Unless it's a really compelling game, you'll end up appreciating its mechanics and then move on fairly quickly.

      I also find that the process of making games is more enjoyable than playing them, so I spend most of my free time doing that rather than "wasting" my time being a passive consumer.

      It's not better or worse, it's just different.

        It's true. Myself and a programmer friend are always talking about the mechanics of games while we are playing them. It has become second nature now.

    Great article Mark! As an Interactive Design Masters student I think it's really worthwhile fpr those that are just starting to pay close attention to this, and really take out the positives and the insight in there. It's EXTREMELY valuable stuff.

    I graduated from a games course a couple years back. I really think they need to inject a lot of business studies into the courses, it seems like most applicants are high school graduates who have no idea about how the real industry works. A lot of people say 'I want to be a games designer', but don't actually know anything about the games industry. A lot of teachers say 'there's a massive market for games' to encourage students to study, but there are no jobs. The recent funding for studios like Halfbrick is good, helping them expand, but those guys have proven success behind them. What about people who want to start a new indie studio with a great idea? They get nothing. We have nothing in this country to sustain or develop new studios, create and maintain jobs, or put ourselves up there with the big AAA developers of the world. Our current biggest developers are making iPhone apps. We lose console developers like Pandemic, Krome, Team Bondi....experienced workers get picked up overseas and we are left with a flood of inexperienced graduates each year looking for scraps. We need to make an impact, we need government support as a legit media entertainment source, and we need it now.

    Just going from a UniSA perspective:
    Students doing Programming: 30~
    Students doing Game Design: 100~

    With the game community in Australia the way it is, no wonder there are no positions. A lot of people are far too naive.

    I went to a presentation Qantm was doing last year at a college/uni/tafe convention. They made it pretty clear straight up that it was a lot of hard work, only the best of the best would likely find jobs and that you'd more then likely end up working on an iphone app then the next CoD. They said it all enthusiastically like it was the greatest thing ever but it was actually really depressing. You could see that a lot of the potential students in the room were having their dreams of working for BioWare or Bungie or making AAA titles crushed.

    I'm also reminded of what my high school principal told all the VCE students last year. She said that every year a lot of students say that they want to work in the games industry and ever year she advises against it, as she was doing then, because the chance of getting to work in that industry was incredibly low and that most game companies just hire a couple of uni students for a few weeks to churn out models and levels for a game but then never actually hire anyone new for full time work.

    I don't know how accurate she was but in any case it's still pretty sad stuff.

    I graduated QUT's BGIE degree last year. Of my cohort, I know none who have gone on to work in the industry. That includes the team of 5 who won the ModDB contest and got flown out to Epic Games to show off their game.

    I am a software engineer. I have no hope of working in the industry with just my degree in hand. My plan is to work full time, and invest my spare time in furthering my skills and making my own small experiments/games. Once I've saved enough, and if I feel it is worthwhile at the time, I'll consider going to part-time work, and increase the time spent on my own projects, or form a team with fellow graduates.

    However, I can feel no pity for the designers. Everyone going in to the degree could see that you need the skills to do something besides your ultra-specialty. I can code up business applications (or, as I currently do, web-based GIS applications).

    The artists can do advertising, or film, or any number of other pursuits.

    The designer who knows nothing but level design, for instance, is a fool for not diversifying his or her talent pool to include skills in demand outside of traditional gaming.

    Incidentally, I don't see how the plight for game designers is any different to what you would encounter if you were a musician or an actor. Very few make it to the big leagues, the rest have to do it on the side of a job that can actually pay the bills.

      This is absolutely true. Of course, the rewards for being a successful musician or actor are much better.

    I graduated from Game Design at Qantm last year, same time as one of the programmers that is working at Nnooo. It was just as bleak a situation back then, but even in a year I can see that it is getting better.

    I got a job from my internship, which I consider myself lucky that I did, but I think a lot of it was because I had industry experience in graphic design before I started the degree at Qantm. The downside, my job is not as much about game design as I would like.

    Hopefully this government sponsoring business will make it better. I would love to see what Nic is talking about though being put in action, even at this point in my professional career I would snap that up in a second to purely work on games.

    OK... here's the thing. You are not going to get a job. If, by same fluke, you do manage to get a job you're not really getting paid to make games, you're essentially paying around $10k a year for the privilege of making someone else's games (for programmers... not sure about other disciplines). Being a game developer does not pay well, compared to almost any other programming job.

    Now watch this. From about 14:30.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_c9-MBQBX8

    This is the kind of thing that worries me. I've been considering going into the games programming course at AIM for a while now, but I've already been bumming around without a job for the last few years since I graduated from Computer Science. While it's kind of appealing to go and learn something again (and something I think I would enjoy, too), the thought of going nowhere with it afterwards all over again is majorly holding me back from doing anything about it.

    Something that also seems to get neglected in being mentioned is that not only is it hard to get a job in the games industry in Australia, but its also hard to keep that job (no matter who you are).

    Roughly 2/3 game developers will be fired/layed off/made redundant through out their career. Its a cold hard fact developers need to live with. That, and you get payed very little for the work you put in.Id provide a link if i could but it was in a magazine ;p

    I am a games programmer who graduated from Qantm. I recently met up with a bunch of guys from my year, none of whom are in the industry (the lucky ones doing retail and pizza delivery) am still in contact with my final project group, of whom 1/4 are employed in industry.

    Qantm college told us when we had our first orientation that Qantm had an 80% placement rate for graduates each year.

    What to take away from this: Never go to a single career degree private college. They play on your hopes and dreams, and are just profit making excercises.

    Qantm for instance has been removing its valuable experienced teachers and staff and replacing them with low wage low experience people. Some of these people are alright but absolutely no replacement for those who came before them.

      I don't know what campus you went to but the Melbourne campus has some very experienced teaching the courses.

        I attended Brisbane, and i was also there for a while due to a gaffe on my part.

        While i was there teachers with 5+ years experience were constantly being replaced by teachers with 2 or less.

        By the time i left they were just hiring fresh graduates.

        Yeah there were a lot of experienced lecturers at QANTM when we went there Scared, but of the large class we had from the Melbourne campus, there are/were very few actual positions within a company unless they started an indie company themselves - like Ignition studios.
        Its a shame the industry is in the state that its in, not to mention a high aussie dollar has devastated an industry that was mostly reliant on american or overseas funding.
        Ah well when the new bunch of consoles and gaming hardware is released I'm sure the industry will pic up again, but in anycase I'm sure I'm not the only one who simply cant afford to live on indie money and has to go back to more uninteresting and less fulfilling work.

    As a student of Digital Art majoring in Game Design at RMIT starting in 2007, I was being taught from the get go 'Games are huge, and recession-proof and there are lots of jobs'.

    I am the only one out of all the graduates I know currently working with the skills I picked up at university. I'm not in the games industry. I'm in the Gaming industry, meaning I have work to do with gambling machines.

    And I'm glad to have it.

    This is only after a solid year of unemployment following having to leave a hospitality job that no longer provided me enough support to live on.

    Before anyone starts about how easy uni is, I was moved interstate and kicked out of home at the same time, so before I got into uni I was working another 2 jobs to support myself.

    The time I had in uni was precious, but mostly because the world isn't about what you know, but who you know. I did pick up rudimentary skills in a variety of Digital Art related software packages, but nothing in there actually prepared me for the job market I faced on leaving.

    Every job I looked at requiring 2d or 3d graphics also required HTML knowledge, or CAD experience. Even the few jobs for games I did manage to find, were often smaller things like community management, something I consider myself highly qualified in, as I do in fact manage my own forums.

    And those few jobs usually require an inordinate amount of experience. I've seen dozens of job ads for people who've shipped 'At least 2 or 3 X-box 360/PS3 games'. Or between 3 and 5 years of industry experience.

    It seems like in this, and even in other industries, the world expects you to live at home until you're 25, and work for free in the industry of your choice until then.

    This is not a problem for Game Designers only, but for everyone who's invested their future in this industry in our country. Though I do have to say, if you're looking to be a Game Designer, you should be clever enough to wear a few different hats. Understanding a bit about the creation and application of art assets, followed by some rudimentary code knowledge is absolutely vital.

    If we want this problem fixed, and to really turn local game development into a booming industry, we need to create an environment where there are jobs for experienced AND inexperienced applicants.

    I completely agree that the government should look at subsidising student wages, but that's a temporary fix.

    Many big studios will still opt to have the cheap students on, and dump the ones who's trial period is over.

    We have a huge population of talented, enthusiastic and hard-working game industry hopefuls, and many of them are untapped resources ACHING for an experienced hand to show them the ropes.

    I hope for a brighter future, but right now it's looking like startups (two of which I'm involved in myself) or moving overseas.

    This might sound strange, but if you want a more reliable path into this domain, consider studying psychology, and/or post-grad Human Factors. Its a domain with high job-prospects generally, but games developers are gasping for people who can run a rigorous empirical study of usability and enjoyability. I'm probably not going to pursue that path myself as it requires moving to Seattle, but to get an idea - I got nominated for a place on the Kinect team without applying (would still have to do the MSoft interview process of course).

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