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Students play their way to the top …

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An exciting new career sector – gaming – has been quietly growing in the country in the past few years, and has now taken off with gusto as heavyweight degree courses come onto the market to provide professionals for the industry.

While in the past gamers were mostly dismissively considered to be idling away their lives on the couch, or worse, these days what used to be a hobby has become a lucrative and multi-dimensional field of work, an expert says.

“Whether as a player, a developer, designer or writer, the gaming industry – also known as the interactive entertainment industry – provides an exciting, engaging and rewarding new opportunity for school-leavers,” says Nola Payne, head of faculty: Information and Communication Technology at The Independent Institute of Education.

She says the opportunities in the gaming industry are a perfect example of why learners assessing their study options should look far and wide, and beyond the old-fashioned main streams of study.

“Traditionally, learners would have been encouraged to go to state universities to study broad degrees which would not necessarily prepare them for the workplace, but were considered a must-have to be successful in life,” says Payne.

“This approach is no longer suitable in the 21st century, however, as there are countless new fields with significant prospects which did not even exist 5 years ago,” she says.

Payne says the gaming industry is fast gaining on the movie industry in the country, which creates thousands of jobs every year and is considered to be a prime production destination.

Globally, the revenue generated by the gaming industry now surpasses that of the movie industry. In 2013, gaming revenues were double that of the movie industry, upwards of $70-billion. And the pool of prize money for the 2015 International Championship in E-Sports was over $18-million.

“This phenomenal global growth has opened the way for many different careers in gaming, with new disciplines constantly emerging, including as developers, designers and testers, to name but a few.”

Local career opportunities currently include software development, graphic and multimedia design as well as plot design, map design and storytelling to create the game plan, says Payne.

“South Africa already has a thriving and growing game development and design industry, which is set to explode in coming years, as leading institutions start offering major gaming-related degrees.”

Currently, only a handful of institutions have responded to the market demand, with UCT offering an elective Game Development major in its Computer Science degree, WITS offering a Game Design degree and Vega School a Degree in Game Design and Development.

“Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban all have thriving game production and development companies building their portfolios and reputations as forces to be reckoned with. As the industry continues to grow, so will the demand for qualified gaming professionals,” she says.

“Gaming has really come into its own as a respectable and viable career option and is no longer only a pie-in-the-sky option for nerds hoping to make a living from their passion. Gaming has moved on from being for entertainment purposes only, and opportunities now exist in business, marketing, advertising and branding for game developers.

“Gamification, as it is commonly known, is when game design elements and game principles are applied in non-game contexts in order to support business, such as improving user engagement of marketing and advertising, productivity in the workplace, employee recruitment and performance evaluation, to name a few.

“Institutes of higher education have realised this is one of the most exciting new and growing options for a career, and it is expected that the current offering will dramatically increase within the next decade.”