TIGA, the trade association representing the UK’s video games industry, is writing to the Secretary of State for Education to set out the priorities for the Higher Education sector to allow it to cope with the impact of Coronavirus. The recommendations are based on feedback from TIGA members, including universities.
1. Hardware: With classes going online, it is essential that students have computers at home and that they are good enough to run the software needed for their courses. Some students will either not have a computer at home at all, or have an insufficiently powerful one and so cannot run the software. Up to 25 per cent of students on some games courses do not have computers at home that are good enough to run the software needed for their courses.
Universities are helping students to learn online, but face challenges. The Government should explore options to enable students to work from home effectively. For example, the Government could consider a system whereby students are given a zero per cent interest loan to purchase hardware and software licenses that they need for their courses. Alternatively, a Government grant could be made accessible for students to buy/upgrade computer hardware that would enable them to work from home effectively.
2. Software: Students need access to software at an affordable price in order to learn effectively. Some software providers (e.g. Adobe) have helpfully made their software free for students to use during the Coronavirus crisis. Others have made temporary keys available (e.g. DragonFrame). It would be helpful if more software providers could either provide free or low cost personal learning editions to help students in the UK. The following table shows the current availability of students licenses for development software.
|Software||Student Licence Available||Cost||Adjustment during Lockdown?|
|Autodesk (3DS Max, Maya, MotionBuilder)||Yes||Free||N/A|
|Adobe||Yes||£194.88 in first year
|Accounts via Educational Licence opened up during lockdown period for use at home.|
|Allegorithmic (Substance Painter, Designer)||Yes||Free||N/A|
|Zbrush||Yes||£414.00 one off current version||No|
(commercial with limitations)
|£79.86 one off||No|
|Marvelous Designer||No||£169.52 per annum
£274.46 one off current version
|Foundry (Nuke, Mari, Modo)||Yes||£158 for 3 year node locked license|
|Toon Boom||Yes||£72 – £204 per annum
depending on package
|30 day key matching our number of licences|
|Storyboard Pro||Yes||£108 per annum||30 day key matching our number of licences|
|DragonFrame||Yes||£157.21||Temporary keys provided|
For some students some of these costs are achievable, but others are quite high and with the need to practise that is inherent with all games subjects, not having software at home can be limiting.
3.Student welfare: As students are dispersed from campus and go to study at home, there could be a negative impact on the mental health of some students, many of whom have had their university experience cut short and are familiar with working in teams. Financial pressures such as still having to pay for student accommodation when the student is no longer living there and having to leave part-time jobs in cafes and bars could be causing great strain on some students. Some universities have already cancelled accommodation costs. Support measures for students to help in this regard would be welcome.
Many students who have moved back home may now be facing working from home in less than ideal circumstances. Some students have dependent children that they will now need to be looking after as well as studying, or have moved into conditions that do not facilitate an effective working environment. Also, some students are on placement and businesses need to ensure that students, like employees and freelancers, are working in safe environments.
4.Higher education policy: With the postponement/cancellation of university exams and the changes that have had to be made to the end of this university year, universities fear a lower intake of students in the upcoming university year. Students may not apply for a university place this year, or may defer their place at university by a year to wait for the dust to settle. This could have an impact on university finances. The Government will want to consider the impact of the Coronavirus on our universities. UK higher education is one of our most successful industries. The sector: contributes almost 3 per cent to UK GDP; supports thousands of jobs; is a the cutting edge of research and development; and equips large numbers of well-educated and highly skilled people for UK employers. The UK is the second most popular country in the world in the market for overseas students. UK Government policy must be framed to support growth of our important and successful higher education sector.
5. Access to free cloud rendering: It would be particularly helpful for 3D/VFX students to have access to free cloud rendering. Some universities have been working towards their own render farm that is properly accessible to the students remotely, but they will have lost a significant amount of rendering time due to the disruptions. Access to additional rendering resources could help mitigate this.
6. Access to Source Control: Video games are made by teams not by individuals. The blockbuster hits are developed by studio of hundreds of developers. Students need to learn how to operate in such complex and creative software development eco-systems. Learning to use some of the software systems which enable dispersed and collaborative game development is vitally important, especially now given all game development is currently taking place remotely in the UK. The technology which allows multiple developers to work simultaneously is called source or revision control.
Popular solutions are GitHub and Perforce. Both operate cloud solutions which can be accessed by remote developers, although these systems are free the free versions are only for a limited number of users (3 users on GitHub for instance). The government should consider a scheme which supports aspiring game developers access these remote collaboration tools. Giving students the opportunity to learn these skills at this time will help both them and the wider game development industry in the UK.
Dr Richard Wilson OBE, TIGA CEO, said:
“The UK video games industry needs a high skilled workforce if it is to continue to grow, expand and succeed. TIGA has recommended 5 points for the Government and industry to consider in order to enable games students at university to continue to study effectively. It is important that students have access to the software and equipment that they need to complete their work. Student welfare is also a prime concern for universities and support measures for students who are adapting to working from home are imperative.
“Many final year students are worried about the availability of jobs after they graduate. If the COVID-19 crisis persists over several months, it would be helpful for university students to hear from as many games businesses as possible about the opportunities of taking on new hires directly into remote-working roles.”
 Data collected by Staffordshire University.