There are several ways you can get involved in video game development. The most obvious one is to take the right course at university, take an entry-level job with a video game development company, and work your way up. The second is to teach yourself the basics, start by making simple games, and then hope that someone notices you as you improve. The third is to try to gain the relevant qualifications later in life and hope you can make a successful career transition. We think that most people who use our website go with the second option.
Teaching yourself how to make games and then breaking into the industry is incredibly difficult. Many of us would have liked another way into the business, and large companies have launched initiatives in the past. Within the past few days, Microsoft has announced a brand new one, and it might be the biggest of its kind ever launched by a household name. It’s called the Xbox Academy, and its stated name is to inspire and develop the next generation of video game creators. On the surface, it sounds wonderful, but is it a good idea or a bad idea?
The initiative is actually a partnership between Microsoft and Rare, best known for the popular Sea of Thieves video game. Initially, it will be open only to pupils in Year 9 and year 10 of the English school system. The program aims to develop practical skills, give students an insight into how video games are made and provide a practical route into the industry for those who are gifted and interested enough to follow it. The words “educate” and “inspire” frequently appear in the academy’s promotional material. It will be hosted online and will prominently feature some of Microsoft’s leading lights from within the Xbox division of the company.
Playground Games will also be involved in the project and have hinted that students who show promise might be enrolled into their twelve-month placement scheme for university students. That would offer a solid pathway through school into university and then on into the industry via contacts that have already been established. The scheme will commence in September, with an unspecified limited number of places available. Students have to apply individually and undertake all relevant work and training outside of normal school hours.
While the academy might sound like a philanthropic endeavour, it’s likely that Microsoft is trying to recruit talented individuals at an early stage of their development with a view to having them work on Xbox products and, perhaps, Xbox games. They have a clear vested interest in doing so. At the time of writing, the PlayStation 5 is outselling the Xbox Series X by a factor of two to one in the United Kingdom. There are reports that sales figures might be as far apart as five to one in Sony’s favor in other territories. Microsoft expected that the PlayStation would outsell the Xbox as that’s almost always been the case with previous models of both consoles, but the difference has never been more stark. Microsoft might believe it needs new blood within its ranks, and getting talented young minds into the company might be a solution.
Although this hasn’t been explicitly stated, it might be the case that Microsoft will have the first refusal on any games developed by people enrolled in its Academy. That would give Microsoft access to new, experimental games developed by keen young minds, which it can then slap its logo onto and sell to players. We’ve seen something like this happen before with online games. One of the biggest names in the online game development industry have launched Megaways Casino to capitalize on the success and demand of these types of games.
Developing video games – especially top-tier ones – is an incredibly expensive business. Modern blockbuster releases have bigger development budgets than some Hollywood movies. Anything that can be done to reduce those costs without compromising on quality has to be a good thing from the point of view of the people footing the bill. If Microsoft can bring in young talent and capitalize on their ideas and work without having to pay the normal associated costs, it would be a big win for the company. We’re not saying this is definitively what’s going to happen, but Microsoft will presumably want to make some return on the money its spending on this program.
Perhaps we’re being too cynical. Perhaps Microsoft doesn’t have any designs on cornering the market in terms of young talent and genuinely doesn’t want to do anything more than encourage teenagers and students to consider a career in video game development. That would be a wonderful thing, and it would create a generation of children in the British education system who have a better route into the industry than was available to any of us when we were at school. We shouldn’t hold that against them. If the idea is successful, it should result in a better industry for all of us. If it’s a power grab, though, it could result in a generation of young video game design professionals shackled to Microsoft when they could (and, by rights, should) be making more elsewhere for the fruits of their labor.
We need to know more about this scheme before we can reach a conclusion about its motives and potential. The press release announcing the launch of the Academy is short and lacks detail. Microsoft will presumably flesh out their vision in the weeks and months to come. Knowing the way that Sony usually operates, it might be the case that they launch a similar academy of their own in the near future. What we do know, though, is that the video game industry can often be a closed shop to people who didn’t get the right qualifications or the right experience in their early years. If this academy can do something to change that, it should be welcomed as a good thing.