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Technology & Gaming

The next level of gaming

If you have the skills you'll find a role to play in the gaming industry whatever your background

Video games are now a well-established part of our popular culture. Sixty per cent of the UK population plays video games, 48 per cent of whom are female; the average gamer, meanwhile, is 28-years-old.

Games such as The Sims are played predominantly by women. Yet the industry's workforce does not yet reflect wider UK society. Skillset, the sector skills council for the creative industries, estimates that just 12 per cent of the UK's computer games workforce is made up of women, compared to 46 per cent of the workforce as a whole. Employees from a black or minority ethnic background make up a mere 4 per cent of the industry's workforce, compared to 7 per cent of individuals in the working-age population. Relatively few disabled or older people work in the sector: three-quarters of the workforce are aged 35 or less. Only 17 per cent of the games sector's workforce has dependent children.

The situation is changing: women are being appointed to senior positions within the industry, for example. The content of video games is becoming more diverse to appeal to different audiences: Kuju's Zoë Mode studio in Brighton explicitly develops social, music or party games. Employers in the UK games development sector are gradually recruiting a more diverse workforce. The sector faces skill shortages, but recruitment from a wider range of backgrounds can help to offset this problem. A more heterogeneous workforce could also generate a greater variety of ideas and perspectives for new genres of games and game features, thereby enhancing the sector's already strong tradition of creativity. Developing content that appeals to a more diverse market will increase the industry's profitability and sustainability.

A career in games development offers great opportunities, not least because The UK games development sector is a world-beating industry. We have the fourth largest games development sector in the world in terms of revenue generation and the largest industry in Europe. Of the 22,000 people that work in the games business as a whole, 10,000 people work in 280 studios across the UK. With the sector growing by 4 per cent annually, the chances of working in the sector are good if you have the right skills and qualifications.

Staff turnover in the games development industry is relatively low. Average salaries exceed £30,000 - significantly above the national average - and the work itself is intrinsically innovative and rewarding. There are a variety of jobs and career paths within the games development sector: artists, animators, graphic artists, designers, computer programmers, audio programmers, designers, testers and production managers all have a role to play in developing games.

Generally you will need a 2.1 or above in a relevant subject to stand a chance of getting a job in the development sector. The industry employs exceptionally well-qualified staff. Approximately 80 per cent of the teams employed by companies such as Blitz, Juice and Rebellion are qualified to first degree or Masters level; Sony Computer Entertainment Europe even has some staff with PhDs. Today, the non-graduate members of studio teams are generally the industry's veterans, who became involved in games development when the industry was in its infancy.

Programmers and designers will usually be expected to have good degrees in computer science, mathematics, physics, software engineering or games programming. Artists and animators will have degrees in subjects such as animation, fine art, graphic design, multimedia design, game design or even architecture. Audio programmers will normally be expected to have a degree in music technology or a similar subject.

The games industry also increasingly offers employment opportunities in fields other than pure development. Already there are administrative and human resources roles, and as the industry matures and consolidates there will be more employment opportunities in the bigger games development studios for finance directors, HR professionals, and marketing, communications and public-relations experts.

Games studios employ the majority of their teams on a full-time basis. However, because of the need to operate flexibly and use talented labour wherever it can be found, there are opportunities for freelancers: roughly 8 per cent of the industry's workforce consists of these workers.

Developing games offers a creative, rewarding and challenging career path in an industry set to become the Hollywood of the 21st century. People from all backgrounds with the requisite qualifications, skills and enthusiasm should give serious consideration to working in this sector.

Dr Richard Wilson is the CEO of Tiga, www.tiga.org