Girl playing video game

Where will the games industry find the 4D engineers it needs?

Image credit: Anton Anton/Dreamstime

Developing innovative games to meet soaring global demand calls for a unique combination of technical and creative skills. The sector is finding itself having to meet the challenge of widening the pool of ‘four-dimensional’ engineers with all the right attributes.

Engineering provides fantastic possibilities, allowing us to create everything from infrastructure, roads and bridges, to bridges into entirely virtual worlds – and almost anything in between that we can imagine and make technically feasible. Too often, however, the world of engineers is siloed.

Our educational path, intellectual curiosity and analytical rigour may be similar, but different fields of technology and engineering operate in separate disciplinary silos that could learn a lot from one another when it comes to tackling challenges facing the wider profession.

Within engineering and computer science, the creation and development of online games remains a popular choice for graduates. Those of us in the video game industry have seen the past year supercharged by demand from consumers seeking a digital escape from the pandemic, which sent global revenues soaring 23 per cent year on year. This has not only taught us a lot about the fundamentals of engineering, but has allowed us to explore more deeply how we develop games creatively, and what’s next for the industry.

One challenge familiar to all corners of engineering is that of building the talent pipeline in education and recruitment. In the games sector the challenge is that we’re creating platforms that blend the disciplines of arts, technology and science, particularly as we move toward more complex virtual worlds, solving issues like density at scale. Only the best can succeed and become the next generation of creators.

Old tropes of computer engineers writing code in isolated, dark rooms with limited social intelligence or interaction are out of touch with reality. Creating a game is a discipline where developers marry complex storylines, plots and characters with immense technical skill, requiring as much art as science.

Like any profession, engineering is relational, and talented, driven individuals should want to join our ranks without the flashy incentives of a Google Campus.

While game-makers work together, teams are now often working remotely. So our engineers must be rounded and able to work alone, as well as social individuals tuned into the world around them with a mind’s eye to what they aim to build. Crucially, they must have the technical ability to execute that vision.

That’s because gaming is also a global industry, catering to a cosmopolitan, sophisticated audience. Game engineers are nothing short of modern Picassos, Shakespeares and Turings blended into one ’four-dimensional’ individual – self, artist, storyteller and mathematician.

Game developers – from investors to the shop floor – are primarily concerned with making great games that people will love to play. Successful game-making today, from creative to technical development, must have a customer-facing approach throughout the process.

Everyone puts themselves in the shoes of another. Unlike ‘traditional’ engineering, game development must provide an emotional experience, something inspirational and aesthetic that precedes the build or manufacture of many other technical projects. It’s fundamentally a dynamic process, requiring agile teams of 4D individuals.

Game-makers need to understand people’s motivations and desires, not only building the virtual world but imagining the many journeys end-users can take within it, which ultimately makes a game project successful.

Such is the level of detail required to pull together a single game, both creatively and technically, that most never make it past the drawing board, and many will never reach the final stages to launch. Part of that challenge is the increased technical complexity of programming, opening up new possibilities, but also creating hurdles to completion of large-scale projects.

That the industry is constantly modernising is a challenge for talent, too. New cloud-based methods have revolutionised the whole digital sphere, including allowing for games to be developed and scaled rapidly. Equally, advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence have wondrous applications in virtual worlds.

But an industry can only move as fast as its talent and capability. It doesn’t matter how good the tech is, a game can only be built on a platform by people who know how to use it – technically and creatively.

The best game-makers have enormous levels of talent, with many years of training and experience required to reach the highest levels of the industry. Even then, we have seen there is the added challenge of constant upskilling. To keep up, we must constantly widen and deepen the pool of 4D engineers.

As a profession, engineers from every discipline must play our part in attracting the best talent. Without a continued focus on recruitment and education we will all be competing for too few of the best and brightest; vacancies for AI skills alone have increased 73 per cent, according to Accenture, which warns the UK is headed for a ‘digital skills gap disaster’. 

Together, I believe our recruitment drives should stress passion and personal motivation – there are rewards, but to get there requires grit, determination and a surprising amount of creativity.

Eric Molitor is VP of Platform at Improbable.

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