Gaming industry and university unite to tackle UK’s “growing skills crisis”

Leading players in the gaming industry are tackling growing recruitment concerns by devising degrees in High Performance Graphics and Games Engineering in partnership with the University of Leeds.

The move comes after stark warnings of a severe technical skills shortage in the UK, which could compromise the gaming industry’s contribution to the UK economy and leave it trailing in an expanding global industry predicted to reach $113 billion by 2018.

Both the undergraduate four-year MEng and one-year postgraduate Master’s degree are open for 2017 entry. 

The structure and content of the programmes have been steered by a mix of industry giants, large studios and low-level technical experts, including: NVIDIA; Epic Games, Sumo Digital, Barog Game Labs, Team 17 and Weaseltron.

Simon Barratt, Director of Barog Game Labs and board member of UKIE who chaired the Steering Group, said:
“There are plenty of high-level university courses that teach students how to develop games, but there are very few in the UK and indeed the world that deliver anything like the level of technical skills that are needed to innovate with graphics, simulation, low-level performance and engine development techniques. These are the skills needed to push the next generation of entertainment especially at the dawn of the VR and AR industries with their increased graphical requirements. 

“There’s an urgent and growing skills crisis – that’s why we were keen to work with the University of Leeds to help put a programme together that we know will produce graduates with the technical skills the industry demands. As an employer, this is exactly the type of course we need to produce the next technical innovators.”

Alongside industry lectures, visits to games development companies and attending UK games events as part of their studies, the University is confident that the Leeds programme will provide the most comprehensive training in cutting-edge computer graphics, with a level of detail and practical experience that is unrivalled in the UK. 

This includes: 

  • Understanding of the latest APIs, such as Vulkan and DX12 to get the most out of the hardware
  • The foundations of graphics and renderers, so that students understand how the very latest techniques used in modern games and applications are implemented
  • Analysis of game engine development and how to best map to the hardware while also providing a toolset for developers using the engine
  • Complex visual effects, such as realistic simulation of cloth, fur, and hair
  • Animation and behaviour modelling, including crowd simulation.

Students will benefit from Leeds’ research environment, getting directly involved in research projects and having access to specialist facilities including high end workstations, hardware such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets for experimenting with virtual reality technologies and Epic’s ‘Unreal Engine 4’ for learning games engine design and exploring new rendering techniques.

David Duke, Head of the School of Computing and Professor of Computer Science at the University of Leeds said: “Gaming is such a fast-paced sector and continually benefits from rapidly evolving computer technologies. It needs graduates with the right mix of deep academic knowledge and hands-on experience who understand how to generate new levels of visual realism and effects on cutting-edge hardware platforms and write the rendering engines that will power the next generation of games. 

“This collaboration with industry will ensure our students will be the best-equipped to enter the employment market in the games development, animation and visual production industries.”

For further information, contact the University of Leeds press office on pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk or call 0113 343 4031. 

Additional quotes:

Paul Porter, COO and founder, Sumo Digital 
“There is a real shortage of technical talent which is a limiting factor in the growth of the UK games industry. I expect that students on these new programmes will graduate with exemplary expertise in graphics technologies, ready to step into key positions in the gaming and related industries. They’ll be snapped up.”

Phil Scott, Developer Technology Evangelist, NVIDIA
“At NVIDIA we do a lot of work to educate existing GPU developers across many industries including games through our developer support, our website and events like the GPU Technology Conference and the Games Developer Conference. These new courses from the University of Leeds are a way to provide great education early on and gives the entire industry an ever stronger bed of talent to build on, with the required skill-set to lead the next generation of research in many areas.

“The GPU in modern computing terms, does a lot more than provide graphical output with hundreds of applications including deep learning, encryption, simulation, virtual reality, video processing and video game development. Skilled developers are needed to lead the development of techniques that best exploit the many-core approach of modern hardware.”

Mike Gamble, EU Territory Manager at Epic Games
“Since Unreal Engine became free to access for developers of all sizes a year ago we have seen a huge amount of technical enhancements from advanced lighting techniques to platform specific optimisations to the editor and tool improvements. Most recently we announced our support for new multi-platform graphics API Vulkan which allows UE4 developers to build even more performant games. The importance of understanding low-level APIs like Vulkan is a vital skill and while Unreal can be used without this knowledge Epic and the industry as a whole needs programmers with this knowledge and experience so we can continue to innovate in the technology we make available to game makers. The new MEng and MSc at the University of Leeds are a great initiative to producing the skilled technical developers the industry greatly needs more of.”

Notes to editors 
In 2015 games consumer market in the UK worth £4.19bn – up £210m from 2014 (Source: UKEI)

report published by NESTA in 2011 highlighted a number of “bottlenecks in the talent pipeline” in the games and visual effects industry, with co-author Ian Livingstone CBE saying: “The games industry is highly competitive and the industry needs the best talent with hard skills: world-class computer scientists and artists… Quite simply, there are not enough of them in the UK. The education system is failing to produce the talent of the calibre required.” 

As a result of the review, programming was introduced into the school curriculum. A study carried out on behalf of O2 in 2013 estimated that Britain will need 750,000 skilled digital workers by 2017, but the number of computer science students graduating each year stands at around 56,000.

The School of Computing is one of the UK's leading centres for research and education in Computer Science. Its mission is wide-ranging, from fundamental advances in algorithms and our understanding of computation, through to highly applied research into new display technologies for clinical diagnosis, energy-efficient data centres, and profound insight into data through visualisation.

Founded in 1957, the School is one of the oldest departments of computing in the UK, and with 85% of its research rated world-leading or internationally excellent, and number one in the Russell Group for teaching satisfaction in the 2015. The new MEng/MSc programme in High Performance Graphics builds on the School's expertise in graphics and parallel computing, and opens a new chapter in the School's track record of translating research into innovation which saw it placed in the top-10 for impact in REF 2014.

Steering group members

Simon Barratt, Director at Barog Game Labs (steering group chair)
Barog Game Labs is an independent game developer which also provides business technical, production and business development consulting services to the games and tech industry. Founder Simon Barratt is a seasoned low level programmer with 18 years of industry coding experience as well as 10 years running his own games studio. Most recently he has been involved in Mobile VR projects, several PlayStation 4 and Vita conversions and the release of PS4/Xbox One and PC title “101 Ways To Die”.

Phil Scott, Developer Technology Evangelist, NVIDIA
Before joining NVIDIA in October 2000 Phil worked had worked for 13 years as a lead engineer on over 30 published titles. As manager of the European Developer Relations team, Phil speaks at conferences worldwide and works with AAA and independent developers advising and consulting so they get the most out of NVIDIA GPUs.

Mike Gamble, EU Territory Manager at Epic Games
Luis Cataldi, Educational Evangelist at Epic Games

Founded in 1991, Epic Games is the creator of the Unreal, Gears of War and Infinity Blade series of games. Today Epic is building Paragon, Fortnite, and the new Unreal Tournament. Epic’s Unreal Engine technology brings high-fidelity, interactive experiences to PC, console, mobile, the Web and VR. Unreal Engine accelerates the creation of games, applications, visualizations and cinematic content. Download Unreal Engine for free at unrealengine.com, and follow @UnrealEngine for updates.

David Smethurst, Head of Programming at Team 17 
Founded in 1990, Team17 Digital Limited is a leading international games label that hosts the Worms franchise, Yooka-Laylee, Allison Road, The Escapists, Beyond Eyes, Sheltered and many more from amazing developers around the world. www.team17.com 

Paul Porter, COO at Sumo Digital 
Based in Sheffield, UK and Pune, India, Sumo Digital employs 260 staff developing games across all platforms and genres. Recognised for its versatility, proprietary technology, creativity and high Metacritic, Sumo Digital’s portfolio of games includes LittleBigPlanettm 3, Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, Forza Horizon 2 – Fast & Furious and Disney Infinity 3.0's Toy Box Speedway.

At the 2013 Tiga Game Awards, Sumo won Best Arcade Game (Large Studio) for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed – SEGA’s bestselling console game of their FY2013, and Outstanding Leadership Award. LittleBigPlanettm 3 also won the 2015 DICE award for Best Family Game.

Adrian Hirst, Director at Weaseltron Entertainment (contracted for Rockstar Leeds on PC version of GTA V and LA Noire)
Weaseltron provides technical consultancy across a wide range of platforms and genres. Most recently it has worked on the PC and next gen version of Grand Theft Auto V for Rockstar as well as the PC version of LA Noire.

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