This article is a sub-section of a large report on French video game studies published by the STJV. You will find the table of contents of this dossier, and links to all its parts, here : https://www.stjv.fr/en/2021/09/report-on-french-video-game-studies/
Project-based learning is often an excuse to “build up students’ portfolios” with no further guidance from the schools as to what this means, or a way to learn to work “just like in the industry” without any educational oversight, and thus without any feedback on how their training matches the reality of the industry. This situation, which is very widespread in video game schools, can be explained in a relatively simple way: video game schools do not prepare students to enter the labour market.
It starts with the inadequacy between the number of students and the number of existing jobs. We feel it is important to stress that video games courses train more people than there are available positions. If it is true in almost all disciplines, it is even more so in certain fields such as game design, or in faculties that exploit the appeal of emerging disciplines, such as narrative design at the moment.
In particular, most of the year groups are very unbalanced in terms of the majors offered, often being composed of 50% of game designers and other design majors. However, there are relatively few jobs to be filled in these specialities in the French industry and internationally. These inconsistencies with the job market force students to over-specialise, to acquire a double expertise by their own means, or even to change direction completely or to give up the idea of working in video games in order to be able to find a job.
Because even at the finest of schools, there is no guarantee that students will find a job in the video game industry, if they even want to after surviving the conditions of their years in school. Many former students have made this observation themselves:
“Today, out of a class of 35, there are maybe 7 or 8 of us still in the video game industry.”
The 2019 Video Game barometer published by the SNJV, a French employers’ lobbying organisation that also includes schools, tells us that 57% of students find a job in the video game industry within a year of finishing their studies, which is a far cry from the 80-90% job placement rate claimed by the vast majority of schools. These employment figures for the first year or two after graduation, when there are any available, are purposely distorted by school managements to impress: they include former students who have been pushed to take up a freelance status without worrying about whether they can make a living out of it (which is rarely the case), and the jobs of former students who have moved on to other industries.
Some schools even introduce job blackmail right from the start of training, encouraging students to accept exploitative internships and/or to take internships without an internship agreement, insinuating that you have to accept everything without question to make video games. It even happens that some of them provide students with forged documents, in particular to satisfy the (illegal) demands of companies.
As a reminder, in France an internship is not an employment contract, it is not supposed to replace a job. A member of the teaching staff is responsible for overseeing the internship, with an interview with students during the course of the internship, to ensure that it is going well (for example, checking that the student has a mentor, that the company provides him/her with the necessary equipment and that he/she is in the right conditions to work). Internships are very much regulated by law, this fact sheet from the Ministère du Travail gathers important information.
Schools regularly give very bad “advice” to their students, encouraging them to enter the industry by accepting very precarious, unpaid or underpaid jobs. Among the comments we received were these chilling words from a member of the teaching staff to an entire class:
“To be hired for sure, you take an auto-entrepreneur (freelance) status and you ask for half the minimum wage for a full time job.”
The lies, whether explicit or of omission, of private schools are playing on the cool image of the video game industry. They sell dreams by talking about a rich, growing industry where creativity is limitless, while students will discover after graduation that salaries are low, the jobs they fantasized about are rare, opportunities for career advancement are limited, and most jobs are in companies that are peripheral to mainstream game production.
Many of these students will have taken out loans to cover the ridiculous cost of their studies, which they will then have trouble paying back because of the precariousness of the industry, low salaries, or simply because they will not have found a job.The few who manage to get a job in the video game industry will, after a few years, reorient themselves towards industries with more interesting conditions and salaries, leaving room for students from schools who will in turn flood the market… Thus, the loop is completed.
Our presentations in schools, and our discussions with students and professors, have revealed that students are almost never aware of the basics of internship and labour laws when they start looking for a job, sometimes not even really knowing the difference between a salaried and a freelance status. These gaps show a lack of teaching, as students should be prepared to be able to defend themselves when they leave school, if only to enable them to know the different employment statuses and to identify an abusive contract… It is essential that labour laws and economic concepts related to wages be an integral part of the training of any higher education institution.