Lodz University of Technology, Poland
Faculty of Technical Physics, Information Technology and Applied Mathematics
Institute of Information Technology
Polish Cybernetic Society, Lodz Chapter
Computer Game Innovations
Adam Wojciechowski and Piotr Napieralski
Lodz University of Technology Monograph
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DSc PhD Adam Wojciechowski
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Humanities-based degrees and game dev
Kazimierz Wielki University
Focused on game dev job-relevance of humanities education, this paper
consists of two parts. First, it discusses the current trends in the employment
market, both in the general economy and in the video game industry. Special
attention is given to the value of humanities-based education, whose useful-
ness is frequently questioned or denied, while the analysis of expectations
formulated by employers proves otherwise. With people frequently mov-
ing between companies, teams, tasks, and positions in the dynamic work
environment, much more value is assigned to soft skills such as commu-
nication, creativity, and logical thinking, which have traditionally been the
domain of the humanities. Surveys among game industry specialists in the
USA, EU, and Poland universally acknowledge the practical importance of
at least some of the liberal arts. The second part of the paper is a case study
of Gamedec.UKW: a specialisation within a Humanities 2.0 undergraduate
degree which combines the liberal arts background with an intense training
of practical skills for careers in the game industry. This part starts with the
practical side of the curriculum: modules related to team-based game design,
project management and industry collaboration. Next comes a discussion of
the admission process, the relatively low retention rate (62,8% from fresh-
man to sophomore), and the high rate of pre-graduation full-time employ-
ment (39% for seniors and sophomores). The study is concluded with a set
of good and bad practices for potential consideration by creators of game-ed
This is a case study of Gamedec: Game Studies & Design, a specialisation track
within a B.A. in Humanities 2.0 in Poland, discussed in the context of employabil-
ity in the game industry. The ﬁrst part of the paper is a summary of current trends
on the job market, with special focus on the value of liberal arts and interpersonal
skills which are associated with humanities-based education. Starting from the
general expectations companies have about their would-be employees, the focus
moves to the speciﬁc needs of video game development, and to recommendations
this industry has formulated for game-related degrees. The second part, which
includes the case study, begins with an overview of several practice- and industry-
related modules which form the backbone of employability-oriented education at
Gamedec.UKW. Then follows a comparison of Gamedec’s curriculum with the
guidelines set by industry professionals for an ‘ideal’ degree in game design. The
case study continues with a discussion of admission, retention, and employability,
pondering over the surprising combination of low retention and high employabil-
ity. Finally, it presents good and bad practices compiled from the three years of
experience with the Gamedec programme. Overall, the text may be interesting for
anyone investigating the practical side of the humanities, for game teachers and
students who can relate it to their own experiences, and for game industry profes-
sionals who collaborate (or are planning to collaborate) with universities. It should
be the most relevant for higher-ed administration and curriculum designers who are
considering the launch of game design programmes rooted in the humanities.
2 The Value of Liberal Arts Education for Employability
To begin with, I refer to the general trends in the contemporary job market (2.1),
with emphasis on the skills and competences expected by employers from prospec-
tive employees. Then, I move on to the job-relevance of the humanities education
for the general occupations (2.2) and for the needs of the game industry (2.3). Fi-
nally, I take a look on the speciﬁc recommendations for college-level education
formulated by employers and industry professionals (2.4).
2.1 General Job Market Trends
“The days when a majority of workers could expect to spend a career moving up
the ladder at one company are over. Young people anticipate working for many em-
ployers and demand an enriching experience at every stage”, as we read in the in-
troduction to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report (p. 2). Also,
“because employees change jobs more rapidly, employers must provide develop-
ment more quickly, move people more regularly, provide continuous cycles of pro-
motion, and give employees more tools to manage their own careers” (p. 49).
Today, people’s professional lives are frequently subjected to changes on both lev-
els: they will move between different companies - and between different roles and
positions within a company and teams. In the video game industry, people change
Humanities-based degrees. . .
companies on average once a year (p. 30). It comes, then, as no surprise that
mobility, ﬂexibility, adaptiveness to changes, and willingness to learn are highly
valued as qualiﬁcations – sometimes more than the ’hard’ job-speciﬁc technical
In 2014, a survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers in
the USA found that employers prioritise the following 10 skills:
•Ability to work in a team structure.
•Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie).
•Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organi-
•Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work.
•Ability to obtain and process information.
•Ability to analyze quantitative data.
•Technical knowledge related to the job.
•Proﬁciency with computer software programs.
•Ability to create and/or edit written reports.
•Ability to sell and inﬂuence others .
Reports commissioned by the European Union tell a similar story. Gallup’s
2010 Employers’ perception of graduate employability study lists the following:
teamworking skills (with 98% respondents rating it “very important” or “rather
important”), sector-speciﬁc skills (91%), communication skills (96%), computer
skills (95%), ability to adapt to and act in new situations (97%), good reading/writing
skills (95%), analytical and problem-solving skills (95%), planning and organisa-
tional skills (95%), decision-making skills (91%), good with numbers (88%) and
foreign language (67%) (p. 6). Respondents also agree that “Work experience
is a crucial asset for new recruits”: 53% agree “strongly”, 34% “rather” (p. 11).
In The Employability of Higher Education Graduates report developed in 2013,
we read: “The conjoint study reveals the following relative importance ranking
with regard to graduates’ chances to get hired for the job: Professional expertise
(19.5%), Interpersonal skills (19.1%), Commercial/ entrepreneurial skills (17.6%),
Innovative/creative skills (16.0%), Strategic/ organizational skills (14.2%), Gen-
eral academic skills (13.7%)” (p. 50).
Another highly valued trait is employee engagement. The oft-cited results of
the Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report claim that “only 13% employ-
ees are engaged at work” , with regional differences ranging from 6% in East
Asia to 29% in USA and Canada; whereas 24% are “actively disengaged”, rang-
ing from 14% in East Asia to 35% in Middle East and North Africa - such was
Gallup’s data for 2011-2012. These ﬁgures numbers have been criticised as too
harsh; e.g. Zenger in Forbes rejects the number of “70% disengagement” given for
the USA. Gallup consistently keeps the ﬁgure at very low levels, noting it for
the USA as 29,6% for 2013, 31,5% for 2014 and 32% for 2015 . Using a differ-
ent methodology, AON Hewitt reaches radically different results for the 2012-2013
period: 65% “engaged employees” in the USA, 61% globally, and the lowest 57%
in Europe; with “actively disengaged” rating at 16% globally, 15% in the USA,
12% (lowest) in Latin America and 19% (highest) in Europe . These numbers
did not improve more than by 1% in 2014 (p. 7 and 14). Still, even in the more
optimistic view, the number of the disengaged is alarmingly high (“Six out of ten
engaged employees means four out of ten are not engaged”,  (p. 14)), with en-
gagement counted among the most important challenges for organisations. In the
Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, between 86% (North America) to 92%
(Southeast Asia) respondents found it “important” or “very important” (p. 48).
2.2 The Value of the Humanities / Liberal Arts
The liberal-arts education has frequently been criticised and mocked for its ap-
parent irrelevancy to the needs of the present-day careers. Data from Eurostat
conﬁrms that it were ”Humanities & arts” that held the highest rate of graduate un-
employment in the EU in the ﬁrst decade of the 21st century (9.7% among 20-34
year-olds in 2003-2007). In Flash Eurobarometer 304: Employers‘ perception of
graduate employability from Gallup (2010), “Humanities and Art & Design” are
near the bottom of employer’s preferences (7% and 6%), second only to Teaching
(5%). In Poland, Millward Brown SMG/KRC in their Campus 2011 survey
claim that only 38% of humanities graduates have jobs related to their ﬁeld of
study, and 50% declare they feel insecure about employment prospects. Data from
Interactive Institute for Market Research (2012) says 71% of Polish humanists feel
useless on the job market. In the dataset for Destination of full-time ﬁrst-degree
leavers 2011/12 to 2014/15 from the DHLE survey by HESA , employment
statistics for graduates of ”Languages” and ”Historical and philosophical studies”
are among the lowest: respectively 67% and 64% when we add up UK employ-
ment, overseas employment and combination of work with further study.
Still, these employment stats are comparable to those for ”Mathematical Sci-
ences” (63%) and slightly higher than ”Physical Sciences” (59%) and ”Law” (59%),
which does not support the view of the humanities as the least employable. What
Humanities-based degrees. . .
is more, ”Creative arts & design”, which also belong to the liberal arts, are in the
upper end of the scale (80%). All these are data for 2011-2015 . And if we go
back to the lists of skills / competencies valued by today’s employers (see above:
2.1), we will discover that the “human skills” are increasingly appreciated in pro-
fessional environments. Out of the six skill groups in The Employability of Higher
Education Graduates, Interpersonal Skills are number 1 or 2 (very rarely 3) in
any conﬁguration: by country, occupation, market scale and ﬁrm size (p. 52).
They are second only to Professional Expertise, but the top priority of Expertise
comes with this disclaimer:
Professional expertise is very important as it pertains to the graduate’s
ability to master the content of the job tasks. However, professional
expertise without the ability to make ideas clear to others and to ﬁt
into a team is not what employers are looking for. . . . It is therefore
not surprising that interpersonal skills – the ability to work in a team
and to communicate and cooperate effectively with diverse kinds of
people – are extremely important in today’s workplaces. (p. 55)
In other surveys, professional expertise (“technical knowledge related to the
job” in Adams  / “sector-speciﬁc skills” in Gallup) ranks even lower than
teamwork, communication, problem-solving or organisational skills. And it is
the humanities-based education that provides the necessary training. Philosophy,
which includes both Logic and Ethics, may teach logical thinking (including equa-
tions and algorithms), lateral thinking, and ethical reasoning. History and culture
studies, with their focus on the complex, multilayered, interconnected and dynamic
systems (economy, culture, geography, technology etc.), teach systemic thinking
and cause-effect reasoning. Focusing on the multitude of the human experiences
and conﬂicts, history, literature and culture studies fuel creative thinking, problem-
solving, and openness to different perspectives. Literature and language studies
primarily, and all liberal arts to some extent, teach communication in speech and
writing, and have a potential for training design thinking. The further we move
into the 21st century, the more job-relevant they become.
2.3 Expectations of the Game Industry
Formalised collaboration between the video game industry and game academia
has been developing at least since the 1990s, just to mention the establishment
of Computer Game Developers Association (now International GDA) in 1994 and
Digital Games Research Association in 2003. In 2000, the IGDA formed a special
interest group to work “on a curriculum framework and set of guidelines to aid in
the development of game-oriented curriculum” (p. 16), which IGDA calls “an
unprecedented cooperative effort between game industry and academia” (p. 3).
This led to the publication of the IGDA Curriculum Framework in 2003 and its
revised edition in 2008.
The framework divides the game-relevant curricular content in nine areas: 3.1
Critical Game Studies (subdivided: 3.1.1 Game Criticism, 3.1.2 Non-Game Media
Studies), 3.2. Games and Society, 3.3. Game Design, 3.4 Game Programming,
3.5 Visual Design, 3.6 Audio Design, 3.7 Interactive Storytelling, 3.8 Game Pro-
duction, and 3.9 Business of Gaming (p. 7). Analogically to the trends in
the general economy (see 1.2.), in game development only a part of the valued
skillset is directly connected to the technical side of the job, with the humanities-
based abilities, attitudes and interpersonal skills being in high demand. As McGill
(2009) concludes, “Interpersonal and personal abilities category are those non-
technical skills that have previously been identiﬁed to be important to game indus-
try employers. These abilities include interpersonal skills, communication skills,
problem-solving skills, work ethic, attitude/disposition, organizational/time man-
agement skills, and leadership skills” (p. 132).
Jesse Schell in the second edition of his successful The Art of Game Design
(2015) lists the following skills as useful for game designers: Animation, Anthro-
pology, Architecture, Brainstorming, Business, Cinematography, Communication,
Creative writing, Economics, Engineering, Games, History, Management, Math-
ematics, Music, Psychology, Public speaking, Sound design, Technical writing,
Visual arts (p. 3-4). The single most important skill, in Schell’s (2015) view,
is listening, divided into ﬁve types: listening to the team, audience, game, client,
and one self (p. 5-7). A signiﬁcant part of this list belongs to the realm of the
humanities, social sciences and soft skills, with a surprisingly low number being
directly relevant to the technical-practical tasks of game development.
Schell is not the only one to share this view. Having interviewed a number of
professional game designers, James Portnow of the Extra Credits team compiled
the following list of skills they valued the most for their trade in 2016: 1. Com-
munication, 2. Collaboration, 3. The love of learning, 4. Scope (realistic design
plans), 5. Logical thinking, 6. Lateral thinking, 7. Breadth of knowledge ; see
full transcript in the footnote1, noting that “None of these things are really game-
1First, communication. You need the ability to express the design to members of all the different
departments clearly and concisely. Second, collaboration. You need to be able to work with people
from many different ﬁelds and with many different mindsets. The ability to take feedback and to
really incorporate it in your design. Third, a love of learning. You need the ability to be able to pick
new things up quickly. Because different projects will require developing an in-depth knowledge
of different things. You might have to learn about the ﬂowers of the English countryside or the
weapons of World War 2, not to mention ﬁguring out the scripting engine and the pipeline and the
peculiar quirks of whatever team and studio you are working with. And the designer needs to love
doing it to really do the kind of deep dives that allow them to add the little touches that really make
a project special. Fourth, scope. You need to be capable of creating realistic design plans, and the
Humanities-based degrees. . .
speciﬁc skills” (3:51). While essential for game designers, such skills are valued
even in programmers (p. 240), and thus have entered the curricula in Computer
Science departments (p. 26).
The game industry also expects designers to be passionate about their work.
“If game development isn’t YOUR PASSION and you think it’s tedious and boring
after all, pick a new industry immediately”, says Elling (p. 101). The IGDA
2015 Developer Satisfaction Survey shows that indeed, ”those who work in the
game industry are passionate about their jobs” (p. 32). Schell (2015) claims
that this passion is even more important than a natural talent:
There are millions of people with minor gifts of all kinds, who, though
skilled, never do anything great with their gifted skill, and this is be-
cause they lack the major gift. The major gift is love of the work. .
. . If you have the major gift, the love of designing games, you will
design games using whatever limited skills you have. And you will
keep doing it. And your love for the work will shine through, infus-
ing your work with an indescribable glow that only comes from the
love of doing it. And through practice, your game design skills, like
muscles, will grow and become more powerful, until eventually your
skills will be as great, or greater than, those of someone who only has
the minor gift. (p. 7)
Another expectation is less-optimistic but also related to passion: crunch. Ac-
cording to the 2015 Developer Satisfaction Survey, among people employed in
62% indicated that their job involved crunch time; 58% said they were
in crunch more than twice in the last two years; and 61% said that
crunch time is expected at their workplace. In addition, 44% of those
who did not report engaging in crunch said that their job did require
periods of long hours, extended work hours or extended overtime that
is not called ‘crunch.’ The majority of employees reported working
50-59 hours per week (31%) and up to 60-69 hours per week (30%)
willingness to cut even the parts you personally love the most, in service of the project as a whole.
Fifth, logical thinking. You need to be able to build and work with logical systems, as that’s the
foundation of most game systems and scripting languages. Sixth, lateral thinking. You need to be
able to see problems from a new perspective and ﬁnd answers outside of those that are traditionally
used. Seventh, a breadth of knowledge. This is the only one on this list that I think is debatable,
but most designers I know like to see potential applicants have knowledge of things other than just
games, as this gives them a greater ﬁeld to draw from when solving design problems, which in turn
leads to better solutions. And if you look at this list, you’ll see one commonality: none of those
things are really game-speciﬁc skills. (Extra Credits, 2016, 2:12 – 3:54).
during crunch. A sizable minority (17%) reported working more than
70 hours a week in crunch. (p. 21)
Similarly, in the self-employed sector,
53% indicated that they do crunch, 54% said they crunched more than
twice in the past two years, and 44% said their job required long hours
that they would not necessarily call “crunch.” Forty-four percent feel
these long hours are necessary for their job, but 38% say it isn’t re-
quired and another 18% say they aren’t sure. While in crunch, 30%
of the self-employed reported working 80 or more hours a week while
24% reported working 50-59 hours in crunch. (p. 27)
What is more, ”When employees work beyond normal ofﬁce hours, 36% re-
ceive no additional compensation. Of those who do, this additional compensation
comes mostly in the form of various perks like meals (47% of respondents) or time
off (27% of respondents)” (p. 20). For more than a decade, the IGDA and
other organisations and media have been campaigning against crunch in the indus-
try (see ; ). Nevertheless, as the 2015 reports show, it remains a common
practice, with employees regularly expected to endure crunch time. Regardless
of the occupation, above 50% of IGDA respondents agreed that “Crunch Time is
a Necessary Part of Game Development”, with numbers ranging from 53% among
managers to 75% among quality assessment teams (p. 31).
2.4 Industry Recommendations for Degree Programmes
How do all these expectations translate into recommendations for curriculum de-
sign? According to the 2009 study by Hart Research Associates conducted among
American employers from across a multitude of industries:
The areas in which employers feel that colleges most need to increase
their focus include: 1) written and oral communication, 2) critical
thinking and analytical reasoning, 3) the application of knowledge and
skills in real-world settings, 4) complex problem-solving and analysis,
5) ethical decision-making, 6) teamwork skills, 7) innovation and cre-
ativity, and 8) concepts and developments in science and technology
Above 80% of employers in this survey recommend:
Expecting students to complete a signiﬁcant project before gradua-
tion that demonstrates their depth of knowledge in their major AND
Humanities-based degrees. . .
their acquisition of analytical, problem-solving, and communication
skills; Expecting students to complete an internship or community-
based ﬁeld project to connect classroom learning with real-world ex-
periences; Ensuring that students develop the skills to research ques-
tions in their ﬁeld and develop evidence-based analyses” (p. 8).
In Europe, 36% respondents in the 2010 Gallup survey suggest that univer-
sities should “Include sector speciﬁc work placements as an integral part of the
study programme”; 30% say “Include practical experience in courses” (p. 17);
and 52% claim that “Participation in internship programme with higher education
institutions” counts among “the best ways of cooperating with higher education
institutions on recruitment” (p. 20).
Recommendations coming speciﬁcally from the video game industry do not
fall far from the above-mentioned views of the general job market. Given the fre-
quent changes of tasks, projects and companies, ”games education will never be at-
tached to a speciﬁc industry position” (p. 32): it must be ﬂexible and versatile,
focused on practical experience in game projects, portfolio-building, and regular
contacts with the industry (p. 33). Informed by interviews with numerous game
dev professionals, James Portnow presents a vision of the ideal game design col-
lege programme in the “Educating Game Designers” Extra Credits episode .
Interestingly, he starts with the humanities:
First, a hardcore focus on the liberal arts. And when I mean hardcore
I mean challenging to the point where failure is not uncommon. It
would include grounding in the philosophy and literature that makes
up the Western tradition along with the focus on psychology and math-
ematics. The variety and volume of the material here would hammer
in the ability to rapidly assimilate new materials. And the courses
would be taught in the discussion format, with regular papers to train
up communication skills at both the verbal and written medium. All
rote tests and quizzes would be abandoned, as this education is far
more concerned with how the students are using and playing with
the ideas they are exposed to than with their absolute retention of the
detail therein. Additionally, the pillar of mathematics in the course
would be strong, with at least one math class per semester. This en-
courages logical thinking and gives students the one almost univer-
sally applicable design skill. Next, one or two courses in formalised
logic would also be a possibility, as this also reinforces the logic train-
ing and makes the jump to scripting easier for designers who don’t
have much experience with scripting languages. (4:25 – 5:27)
Having outlined the importance of liberal arts, mathematics, logic and psy-
chology, he concludes:
Anchoring the programme, each semester would have an underlying
“megacourse” Project course which all students must take, where they
actually make games. Every semester, month in and month out - every
month they’re there. . . . students would be expected to spend a fair
amount of time outside the class on this course. In this course, the stu-
dents would work in teams - preferably, interdisciplinary teams if the
school can support that - to build a game that integrates an idea or topic
from the other courses. This would build collaboration skills, teach
scope, and build lateral thinking muscles, as the constraint of hav-
ing to incorporate elements from their core liberal arts courses would
force them to rethink traditional game genres, or force them out of
established genres entirely. Such a degree would probably preclude
large class sizes, and would require someone with a fair amount of
development experience to mentor the students in the Project course.
But if that could be achieved, it would produce far more adaptable
designers that are far better prepared for the industry, and far more
desirable as potential employees. (5:28-6:28)
Poland is no exception to all the above-mentioned features of the game indus-
try. In an extensive research with both digital and non-digital game developers in
Poland, which I conducted in 2012-2013 for the needs of curriculum design for
Gamedec.UKW, I compiled the following list of expectations, which comes here
as a quotation from a yet-unpublished analysis of the Gamedec.UKW programme
in view of the IGDA 2008 framework (currently under review):
Activities (what game students should do):
•Make games: the most important thing is actual practice of creating games.
•Start small and ﬁnish early: it is better to have a portfolio of small completed
projects than grand visions which are never ﬁnished.
•Learn the tools: work hard on mastering the technical skills and tools.
•Play games: have an extensive player’s knowledge of games and game gen-
•Get inspired: look for inspiration beyond games, to other media, science,
•Network: connect with people who are already working in the industry.
Humanities-based degrees. . .
•Be visible: attend industry events, have an online portfolio, participate in the
Skills, personality, behaviour (what game students should be like):
•Be ready for criticism: do not get discouraged by online hate.
•Kill your darlings: accept that a large part of your creative work will be
•Endure crunchtime: be able to stay productive and creative when working
•Attention to details: pay it.
•Teamwork: timeliness, team spirit, shared responsibility.
•Respect partners: stay on good terms with co-workers and ex-partners.
•Communicate: “single most core skill” (0:48).
Over the three years of activity of Gamedec.UKW, the recommendations have
not changed. Employers expect practical hands-on experience with game devel-
opment, good communication, and teamwork skills, and professional standards of
behaviour. At the Conference on Game Innovations in 2016, Michał Gembicki,
CEO at CDP.pl, said that young recruits generally had fairly good technical skills
– or could quickly develop them in the company – and it was the humanities /
liberal arts competence that he found most frequently lacking.
3 Gamedec.UKW Case Study - Curriculum
GAMEDEC: Game Studies & Design at UKW (Kazimierz Wielki University in
Bydgoszcz, Poland) is a specialisation path within 2nd Gen Humanities B.A. pro-
gramme launched in October 2013. The semi-ofﬁcial name comes from a Polish
sci-ﬁ saga by Marcin Przybyłek: a ”gamedec” is a game investigator and problem-
solver in virtual MMO worlds. My presentation of Gamedec.UKW curriculum
from the CEEGS 2015 conference can be found on Prezi.com , and a detailed
discussion has been submitted for publication in Replay. The Polish Journal of
Game Studies. To quote part of the conclusion,
The curriculum of Gamedec.UKW specialisation within the Humani-
ties 2.0 BA degree has a very strong coverage of the following IGDA
core topics: 3.1.1 Game Criticism, 3.1.2 Non-Game Media Studies,
3.2. Games and Society, 3.3. Game Design, and a strong coverage
of 3.7 Interactive Storytelling. It has a relatively weak coverage of
3.8 Game Production and 3.9 Business of Gaming, very weak for 3.4
Game Programming and 3.5 Visual Design, and zero for 3.6 Audio
Design. Also, it meets 7.5 out of 9 Institutional Considerations which
refer mainly to collaboration with the industry environment and the
organisation of after-class student assignments. The two leading sec-
tions of the curriculum are: practical game design team projects and
rich liberal arts background, in line with recommendations from both
academia and game industry. 
Here, I will focus less on the structure of the curriculum, and more on the
organisation of the most practical, project- and industry-connected modules.
3.1 Platform-Speciﬁc Design Labs
One pillar of game projects at Gamedec.UKW are eight platform-speciﬁc design
labs. Except for Video Games, all labs have a dedicated lecture component which
covers relevant theory, tools and case studies. The lectures are completed with
exams, the design labs – with game projects. These modules are divided among
levels (semesters) as follows:
(Level 2) 1. Board & Card, 2. Tabletop RPG, 3. Larp;
(Level 3) 4. Video Games (I), 5. Gamiﬁcation;
(Level 4) 6. Video Games (II), 7. Urban Games;
(Level 5) 8. Educational Games
The Edu-Games Design lab+lecture is already a capstone course with com-
bines platform-speciﬁc expertise (board / digital / larp) with educational theory
(already introduced in 5. Gamiﬁcation), and teaches to merge gameplay design
with instructional design. In each of these modules, students create two or three
game prototypes, most of them in teams. They come to the instructor-guided lab
each week, but a signiﬁcant part of design work and documentation must be self-
managed outside class.
3.2 Special Module: Project
A special Project module in semesters 2-4 is focused primarily on project man-
agement. Each semester is divided in three 5-week project slots, which amount to
three game projects created in small teams. The teams are free to choose the topic,
genre and platform (digital or non-). Work in the 5 weeks is usually scheduled as
Week 1: concept, pitch & Gantt chart.
Week 2: ﬁrst playable prototype.
Humanities-based degrees. . .
Week 3: playtesting.
Week 4: revised prototype.
Week 5: beta tests outside of university.
Expected learning outcomes focus on project management (Gantt chart, work
breakdown structure, scheduling, self-evaluation), teamwork (communication, time
management, shared responsibility), and game development (iterative design, playtest-
ing, production cycle). There are no mandatory contact hours, just projectmaster’s
ofﬁce hours, with additional meetings scheduled when needed. Communication
and assessment is conducted primarily online, with the use of Gantt charts in
In the ﬁrst two editions, the Project module required independent game projects
in all three semesters. In 2015/16, we connected the ﬁrst Project semester (i.e.
Level 2) to the Board Games lab, so that the board game projects effectively had
two instructors. The labmaster ran the design lab and evaluated the games mostly
on the basis of the quality of the ﬁnal product (prototype). The projectmaster in-
troduced the project management tools and helped the teams organise the work,
evaluating not the product but the process of production and communication. This
applied only to the ﬁrst semester of the specialisation, the idea being to decrease
the workload of students making their ﬁrst steps in design labs. On Levels 3 and
4, the Project will go back to separate projects of its own. The project/labmasters
have not yet decided if the uniﬁcation of Project with Board Games on Level 2 will
be repeated with the next cohort.
3.3 Special Module: Collaboration with Stakeholders
The second non-contact module is Collaboration with Stakeholders in semesters
3 and 4. Parallel to Project, it is divided in three 5-week slots, each of which is
assessed separately (all must be passed). Here, gamedecs are expected to get real
experience on the job markets, building professional CVs and personal networks
in the game industries and beyond - for example, in the educational sector, which
hires 26.8% of video game graduates in the USA (p. 3). To get credits for
Collaboration, gamedecs must be involved in game-related activities with a partner
outside of university. This may take three forms.
Option 1 is an internship or actual job with a game company, with 1 month
of employment / internship equivalent to one 5-week slot. Here, the academic
supervisor only asks the employer to assess the student’s performance, and this
translates into the grade.
Option 2 is to combine Collaboration with the Project module: if the Project
game is developed for or with an external stakeholder, the completion of the Project
slot automatically earns credits for the Collaboration slot, too. The stakeholder
does not have to represent the game industry; an educational game created for
a school or museum also counts. Grading is based partially on feedback from the
stakeholder, and partially on the individual workload in the Project.
Option 3 was to collect four ‘microcollaborations’ per slot, such as running
a programme item or volunteering as staff at a game event.
For future editions 2016/17+, we decided to abandon option 3, which we did
for several reasons. Firstly, from the end of the supervisor, it was time-consuming
to track and very difﬁcult to grade, as there are no objective measure to compare the
value of such diverse activities as: writing a text for a game portal, volunteering at
a board game night, playing an NPC in an urban game, testing an edu-card game
in a school, or participating in one-day focus tests for a video game developer.
Secondly, many of the microcollaborations had little value on a game designer’s
CV, especially when repeated with the same local stakeholder. With Collaboration
being mandatory only for the sophomore year, i.e. less than 30 students at any
time, we will be able to ﬁnd a valuable long-term collaboration for all.
3.4 Special Module: BA Seminar
Finally, there is the BA Seminar. Gamedecs do not graduate with a liberal arts
BA paper - they create a diploma project, which is a game developed at least to
the stage of solid beta, and delivered for playtests with its intended audience or
prospective publisher. The seminar is envisioned as a capstone integrating a va-
riety of skills and know-how. Obviously, it needs the platform-speciﬁc (board /
card / larp etc.) practical design experience. It needs a short BA paper with the
analysis of choices made with regard to game mechanics, narrative, feedback sys-
tem, visual design, player motivation etc., which covers a variety of lectures and
seminars. It needs documentation, scheduling, and management like the Project
module. Moreover, it requires a partner outside of university like the Collabora-
tion module. Preferably, it should be a game company interested in publishing
this game or in supporting its non-commercial release. At least, an experienced
designer who will act as informal “industry supervisor”: provide feedback while
the game is being created and support it with a personal recommendation (if it’s
worth it) when it is ready.
3.5 Gamedec.UKW and Recommendations from Extra Credits
Comparing the Gamedec’s curriculum to the vision of ”a well-formulated course
in game design” as detailed by Portnow in 2016 (see above, 2.4), we can see
a high degree of overlap:
•”Hardcore focus on the liberal arts”: Well-covered in a variety of modules
in the general Humanities 2.0 block, plus in the literature/culture-oriented
Humanities-based degrees. . .
modules on the Gamedec spec-block (e.g. Interactive Fiction, Role-Playing
Games Design; Game Studies: Narratology).
•”Psychology”: Well-covered in lectures and labs on Gamiﬁcation, and on
•”At least one math class per semester”.
•”One or two courses in formalised logic”: One module: Logic with Appli-
•”Classes in discussion format, abandon rote tests and quizzes”: Done in
most modules in the Gamedec spec-block.
•”A ”megacourse” Project course each semester”: Project module in semesters
2-4, BA Project in 5-6, platform-speciﬁc design labs in semesters 2-5.
•”Game projects integrating knowledge / topics from other courses”: Two
capstone project modules: Edu-Games Design; BA Diploma Project.
•”Teaching staff with game development experience”: Video Game Design
taught by Vivid Games employees; other design labs taught by instructors
with moderate to very high industry experience.
It seems that mathematics is the only component from J. Portnow’s list that
is missing from Gamedec.UKW curriculum, whereas the project-based learning is
emphasised even more than in the outlined vision.
4 Gamedec.UKW Case Study - Retention, Admission,
In the view of our industry partners, it is the intense practical training in design
labs, projects and collaboration that is instrumental in the high employment of
gamedecs in video game companies (see below, 4.3.). Simultaneously, in the
shared view of Gamedec.UKW staff and students, it is equally instrumental in
the high dropout rate (see 4.1).
A survey by Higher Education Video Game Alliance (2015) conducted among
“73 colleges and universities with video game certiﬁcation or degree-granting pro-
grams (p. 3)”, primarily in the USA, ﬁnds that: “Video game programs have sig-
niﬁcantly higher retention rates than national averages . . . over 88% was reported
among programs that tracked ﬁrst-to-second year retention” (p. 4). At Gamedec,
freshman to sophomore retention rate is only 62,8%, comparable to the general
average (non-game) degrees in the US in 2014: “64.2% among public and 69.8%
among private institutions conferring BA and BS degrees” (p. 4).
Table 1. Freshman-to-Sophomore Retention
Enrolled in Freshman Year Sophomore Y. Fresh-to-Soph. Retention
2013 52 31 59,5%
2014 46 26 56,5%
2015 39 29 74,3%
Total 137 86 62,8%
The primary reason for low retention seems to be the amount of hard work ex-
pected not only in the short exam period but systematically throughout all semesters.
As one of the students put it in his “Jak sie studiuje badanie i projektowanie gier”
(“What It’s Like to Study Game Studies & Design”) piece online:
There is also a ﬂy in the ointment of this beautiful picture of produc-
tivity, creativity and practice. People are failing and dropping out,
one by one. Many of them can’t cope with their negligent attitude,
trying to get things done with minimum effort - preferably, credited
for someone else’s work. They either give up by themselves or get
broken by the system which has zero tolerance for cheaters and idlers.
(para. 12; translation mine)
Elling (2013) in “100 Things Every Game Student Should Know”  says:
“Your ﬁrst year at uni should be really tough. This is where you learn how to
learn, how to self motivate, and generally how to get your **** together” (p. 17).
Extra Credits (2012) warn: “Any game school worth its salt is gonna push you
harder than most traditional colleges“ (3:36), “so be prepared to work more
than you’ve ever done in your life” (3:48). Elling (2013) concludes her 100 points:
“If game development isn’t YOUR PASSION . . . pick a new industry imme-
diately” (p. 101): a view which is clearly communicated by most of Gamedec
teaching staff. It should then come as no surprise that Gamedec students who were
not ready for sustained effort and/or lacked the necessary passion decide to quit.
This is by no means speciﬁc to Gamedec or Poland, similar observations come,
for instance, from the UK. Justin Parsler , teacher at game degrees at Brunel
University, discusses “the need to separate the love of playing games and turn it
into the love of designing games, and a lot of people can’t make that leap” (24:40).
Kaye Elling, based at University of Bradford, warns against tokenism (p. 40), ly-
ing in reports (p. 76), and passing assessments at minimum effort (p. 65), at which
Humanities-based degrees. . .
point she asks: “maybe you’re on the wrong career path?”. US-based Bour-
dreaux, Etheridge & Kumar  report “some students were able to slip through the
cracks and do very little work” (p. 31). Its seems that in any degree some students
will give up discouraged by the required committment of time and effort. Question
remains: why is their number so high at Gamedec?
The key to understanding the high drop-out rate is the inclusive admission pro-
cess which is cost-free and makes no selection based on skill or portfolio. By
comparison, Rochester Institute of Technology requires not only standardised test
scores but also asks for secondary school midyear reports and transcripts including
“a summary appraisal of the applicant. We are particularly interested in observa-
tions about character, motivation, ability and any special talent or quality” .
Admissions for RIT School of Art and School of Design must include an art port-
folio as well . “They ﬁght like hell to get in”, as summarised by RIT game
teacher David Simkins (personal communication). Moreover, accepted students
will pay tuition: $38.024 for full-time undergraduate day programmes in 2016/17
. Elling  warns students: “make sure you have your **** together by
the end of this year, or repeat the process at signiﬁcant ﬁnancial cost” (p. 17).
Undoubtedly, money is a factor encouraging to increased effort. Going through
a difﬁcult admission process and investing large sums of money, the US / UK
video game students are doubly motivated to stay.
By contrast, the BA at Humanities 2.0 / Gamedec is tuition-free, as are most of
full-time day programmes at public universities in Poland. It does not cost anything
to try, fail, and start a different programme next year. There are no entrance exams,
interviews or portfolio assessment either: anyone who passed high-school exit
exams is eligible. The exit exam score is the only factor taken into account in
the enrollment , with all candidates automatically accepted up to the limit of
available seats, those with the lowest scores rejected only when the limit has been
As established nationally by the Law on Higher Education act , admission
exams for undergrad programmes in Poland are allowed only when it is “deemed
necessary to assess an artistic aptitude or physical ﬁtness or other particular pre-
dispositions . . . which falls outside the remit of the secondary education examina-
tion” (Art. 169.4). Theoretically, it would be possible for a game BA programme
to deﬁne such ‘necessary predispositions’ and select candidates based on portfolio
and/or examination, as it is done at colleges of Fine Arts.
In practice, as long as Gamedec.UKW remains a specialisation within BA in
Humanities 2.0, it cannot introduce its own enrollment procedure. However unde-
sirable this may be (see , 1:45-2:13), it is destined to a high intake of students
who do not have the passion for games or love of learning - and most of those are
destined to quit.
On the other hand, those who do take efforts to develop professional skills and
portfolio are welcome on the job market (which also contributes to the dropout
rate, as it is difﬁcult to combine a full time job with full time studying). As reported
in July 2016,
The “ﬁrst generation” 2013/14 now has 23 gamedecs who have made
it to the last semester (LVL6), and 7 out of the 23 are employed full
time, plus another 4 who decided to quit studying when they got the
jobs. The “second generation” 2014/15 has 21 gamedecs on LVL4,
6 of them employed full time, plus another 3 who quit studying to
take the jobs. In total, the video game industry has hired 20 (39%)
out of the 51 students in the senior and sophomore grades (including
those 7 who quit university when they got the jobs) 
The “Employment” page provides a detailed list of companies and positions.
Out of the 20 gamedecs employed in video game dev, the majority took the posi-
tion of QA testers, with three level designers, two junior game designers, and one
of each of the following: Unity designer, junior programmer, Minecraft project
manager, customer support, HR specialist, and graphic artist. One of the level
designers also teaches game design to children in a private school. By compar-
ison, for graduates of foreign (mostly U.S.) video game degrees, the rate of full
time employment in the video game industry is 55,8% within a year post gradu-
ation (p. 3). Internationally, ”Only 15% of students are very conﬁdent and
32% are somewhat conﬁdent in their ability to get their ﬁrst job. This compared
to the 35% who are not too conﬁdent and the 18% who are not conﬁdent at all in
their ability to ﬁnd a ﬁrst job after graduation” (p. 29). In this context, the
Gamedec rate of 39% before graduation seems a notable success, even more so
when Gamedec.UKW is not speciﬁcally focused on video games.
All of the above refers to full-time employment lasting for months. Addi-
tionally, gamedecs have been paid on one-time or short-term contracts as: game
journalist, gamiﬁcation designers of a mobile app, gamiﬁcation designer for an
e-learning platform, organisers and staff in location-based urban games, builders
in a Minecraft project, instructors on tabletop RPG/Larp summer camps, manufac-
turers of wargaming accessories, board game designers for a local museum, and
“ever-increasing number of paid staff/help hired by video and board game com-
panies to man their booths at game fairs and conventions” . Altogether, the
Humanities-based degrees. . .
employment facts and ﬁgures support the initial vision expressed on the “Employ-
Game designer is a visionary, world-builder, storyteller and experi-
ence designer. A constructor of mechanisms and systems. An efﬁcient
project manager. A community leader. With the versatile humanities-
technical-managerial skillset, s/he can be professionally involved in
many areas and on many positions.
Employability in the game industry:
•video game development (as junior level designer, game de-
signer, QA tester),
•board and card game design,
•urban games and larps,
•game journalism, game analytics,
•game production, sales and marketing.
We go beyond game design. Gamedecs are trained in the design of
game-based services and events, for-proﬁt and non-proﬁt. They learn
how to create serious (applied) games for other purposes than sheer
fun, such as education. They know how to use the game designer’s
toolbox outside of the game industry: in gamiﬁcation of education
and management. A gamedec can work in any place which deals with
complex systems and human experience.
Other employment opportunities:
•commercial game-based services (tourism, youth camps, corpo-
•non-proﬁt game-based activities funded by grants and/or insti-
tutions (museums, libraries, culture centers, municipalities, reli-
gious organisations and NGOs),
•innovative education (game-based learning),
•gamiﬁcation of education, training or management,
•courses and workshops in game design .
Every single bullet point on these lists has been conﬁrmed by gamedecs being
hired or employed before graduation.
5 Learning From Experience: Good and Bad Practices
At the moment of writing, Gamedec.UKW is at the end of the ﬁrst full three-year
cycle. Three gamedecs got their BA degrees at earliest possible time (July 2016),
10+ others are on their way. From this perspective, I can attempt a set of guidelines
for humanities-based game degrees informed not only by the relevant literature but
also by several years of ﬁrst-hand experience. Of course, not all of this experience
will be relevant for other countries and institutions and not all guidelines will be
applicable – in the least, they may provide some food for thought.
5.1 Good Practices
These are ideas and solutions we have tested in practice and are going to keep.
Convert analytical models to design tools: Within the broad realms of literature
and culture studies, there are theoretical models capable of being converted to
practical design tools. Any kind of structural analysis, from the Hero Monomyth
by Campbell/Vogler to the framework for imaginary worlds by Mark P. Wolf, has
Scaffold non-digital and digital design modules: Start with the non-digital:
tabletop RPG and larp for getting experience in writing characters, plots, settings
and the whole narrative layer; board games to learn how to craft goals, rules, algo-
rithms, and how to work with maps and spatial organisation and movement. Only
then move to video game design and gamiﬁcation, which will beneﬁt from both
story and gameplay design experience. After that, with digital skills developed in
video games, and mechanisms and structures of feedback and reward learned from
gamiﬁcation, it is good time to move to location-based games and edu-games,
which may make use of all previous labs (capstone course).
Run co-op and internship programmes with the industry: cannot be overesti-
mated as a doorway to employment.
Attend and host industry events: as above.
Hire experienced staff: as above.
Hire passionate staff: A passion for games and teaching is priceless. At Gamedec,
it is the hundreds of unpaid after-class work of some of the staff that was instru-
mental ﬁrst in bringing the degree to life, then in building its presence and connec-
tions to the industry, which in turn translated to a success in terms of enrollment
and employability. In the words of one of the students, Gamedec.UKW is deﬁned
primarily by two things: dedication to hard work - and passion. ”It is the passion
that connects everyone at Gamedec, both lecturers and students, that differentiates
this specialisation from others” (, translation mine).
Non-contact classes in the last semester(s): limit the programme in the last
semester(s) to courses taken outside university: industry traineeship, e-learning
modules, BA/MA seminar online.
Humanities-based degrees. . .
Apply for grants: humanities-based degree in games meet more than one strate-
gic goals for education which are funded by governments, institutions and corpo-
Think beyond game dev: think about game-related employment of graduates
beyond game development per se: in game-based learning, tourism, gamiﬁcation
5.2 Bad Practices
Finally, a look on elements I see as problems or weaknesses in Gamedec.UKW
education. Most of them cannot be eliminated in the existing format of the pro-
gramme, i.e. as a specialisation within a 2nd Gen Humanities B.A. (my recomen-
dation for the university authorities is to raise Gamedec to a full independent de-
gree). In terms of general guidelines, I would say these should be avoided when
Understaffed: All Gamedec.UKW staff has full-time employment somewhere
else. Three of us (myself included) are full-time UKW staff at Department of En-
glish Studies, others work professionally in game dev or other occupations, which
severely limits the time they can invest in extracurricular activities. To make mat-
ters worse, there is no administration staff either. Basic procedures related to hiring
staff, student enrollment, and documentation of the educational process are cov-
ered by the general university administration. Everything else, from contact with
the industry to event organisation, grant writing and marketing falls on the already-
overworked teaching/research staff. With such limited manpower, we are able to
activate only a fraction of the existing potentials for fundraising or industry col-
laboration, not to mention the fact that none of this additional work is paid. This
situation will be slightly improved in the fourth year of Gamedec.UKW activities,
with the ﬁrst full-time staff member taking ofﬁce in October 2016.
Tuition-free: As a state-funded public university, UKW charges no tuition for
regular full-time programmes. Insufﬁcient funding results in the above-mentioned
staff shortage, low wages, mediocre equipment in computer labs, and no budget
for any additional expenses (hosting events, advertising etc.). In the ﬁnancial con-
dition of the Polish higher education, it seems that only tuition fees would provide
a long-term ﬁnancial stability.
Free admission: As mentioned above (see 4.2), with cost-free and exam-free
admission process, Gamedec.UKW accepts a signiﬁcant number of students who
do not have a creative passion for games and are not willing to work. Many of them
will quit (see 4.1), but before it happens they use up a large amount of instructor’s
time, and sometimes jeopardise university’s relations with industry partners they
collaborate with. What is worse, they drag down those students who take the
education seriously, which is most harmful in the most valuable part of the pro-
gramme: team projects self-managed outside class. A selection on entrance would
certainly reduce the problem.
Undergrad level: Many gamedecs are recruited right after they take the matu-
rity (A-level) exams at the age of 19. Some of them are capable of switching to
a professional attitude, but professionalism and performance-orientation is much
more frequent among older gamedecs who have already studied for a degree. In
most cases, the 19-year-olds are mentally much closer to high-school than to the
job market. A welcome solution would be to move the game-ed programme to
a Master degree.
Non-digital: As part of Humanities 2.0, Gamedec.UKW puts more emphasis
on the non-digital games, oriented for employability in non-digital game indus-
tries and a variety of game-based projects and services. The non-digital sectors
have indeed hired gamedecs for short-term assignments (see 4.3), but it is only the
video game industry that has provided permanent employment. This means that
employability-focused degrees should think primarily about video game jobs.
Native language: The ofﬁcial language of Humanities 2.0 is Polish. Even if the
game-related classes were switched to English, the general Humanities 2.0 block
would not. This is a serious obstacle in the way to internationalisation (enrolling
foreign students / establishing student exchange with other game degrees abroad).
In this paper, I have discussed the current trends in the general employment mar-
ket, with special attention given to video game industry. The central question was
the value of liberal arts for prospective employers and its usefulness in professional
careers. As exempliﬁed by surveys and opinions from the USA, EU and Poland,
despite the lingering doubts in the practical applicability of the humanities, the
dynamic nature of today’s jobs and careers prioritises transversal skills such as
effective communication in speaking and writing, logical thinking and creative
problem-solving, which are related to the core of liberal arts training. Paradox-
ically, these skills tend to be more valued by hiring managers than the technical
skills required for the regular tasks in the job.
The possibility of creating innovative liberal arts programmes dedicated to ca-
reers in game design was discussed in the case study of GAMEDEC: Game Stud-
ies & Design, which is a specialisation in the 2nd Gen Humanities undergraduate
programme. In line with recommendations from both academia and game indus-
try, the two leading sections of the curriculum are: practical game design team
projects and rich liberal arts background. The easy and cost-free admission (no
selection on entrance) and lecture-based semester 1 contrast with intense hands-on
Humanities-based degrees. . .
work required in semesters 2-6, leading to a relatively low (62,8%) freshman-to-
sophomore retention rate. However, the practical design labs, project work and
early collaboration with the markets result in a high (39%) full-time employment
rate of sophomores and seniors (prior to graduation!) by the video game industry.
The paper ends with a list of ’good and bad practices’ compiled a set of general
guidelines for the construction of game-focused degrees rooted in liberal arts.
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