The Interactive Media & Computer Games Skill Set
The interactive media and computer games workforce is highly educated, with most practitioners holding degrees and many holding postgraduate qualifications. At present, many of these are in subjects not directly related to interactive media.
The Industry generally seeks graduate-calibre recruits, with the subjects studied frequently being less important than the quality of the person.
This sector requires a unique set of skills.
Practitioners typically need a combination of specialist skills drawn from at least two of the design, technical, content and business or management disciplines. This mix will include both transient and enduring skills.
Practitioners also need a range of more general transferable skills and an all-round awareness of the wider industry and marketplace, as well as certain attitudes that make them more employable and better able to progress in their career.
A useful term to describe the interactive media skill set is ‘T-Skills’. This is the notion that an individual has a range of broad general skills (the horizontal bar across the top of the T) plus a set of deep specialist skills (the vertical bar of the T).
Transient specialist skills
Transient specialist skills include expertise in:
- Software packages, including their strengths, weaknesses and intended purpose;
- Platform, hardware or delivery technologies, for example, different types of internet connection, device or storage media, including knowledge of their capabilities and constraints;
- Payment and billing management options.
Enduring Specialist Skills
Enduring specialist skills underpin the transient skills and provide a solid foundation for long-term career development. These include:
- Broad design theory (encompassing product, audio, information, visual, interaction and systems design);
- Software programming principles;
- Human-computer-interaction and user-centred design;
- Information architecture and systems architecture;
- Digital rights management;
- Video game theory and game-play concepts;
- Creative writing and drawing skills;
- Writing for user guides and technical documentation;
- Writing for interactive media and electronic publishing;
- Audio design;
- Video design;
- Concept development abilities;
- Quality control.
For example, it is not enough simply to know how to use a piece of software; users must also understand when, why and for what it should be used so that they can select the right tool for the job. Practitioners must also understand the parameters of the technology they are working with - for example, in the case of interactive television, knowledge of return paths such as telephone, SMS, email, web etc. as well as red button interactivity is essential.
On top of these specialist skills, practitioners need more general, transferable, work and life skills that can operate within an international context and that they can take from job to job.
- General personal, communication and presentation skills;
- Time, client and project management;
- Self directed learning;
- Leadership, people and team-working skills, including mentoring skills;
- Business, financial, sales and marketing skills, including awareness of international context ;
- Change management;
- Research and study skills, including the ability to learn new skills quickly;
- General ICT user skills including a focus on the use of search engines;
- Client empathy and requirements analysis - being able to understand quickly and accurately their business needs, environment, and processes;
- User empathy - being able to understand the psychology, needs, wants and desires of consumers;
- Self management and learning - being able to effectively manage and prioritise ones own skills and career development.
As well as specialist and general skills, practitioners working in interactive media or computer games need an all-round awareness of the industry, its processes and business issues as a whole. Successful practitioners need to be self-motivated and autonomous, and have an entrepreneurial attitude and a willingness to continue learning. They must have a broad outlook and be willing to embrace “T-skilling” and cross-disciplinary roles. A lack of this general awareness is considered detrimental to the functioning of companies as it affects communication and productivity.
An example of this can be seen in the production process, which is not a simple production line, where each person can complete his or her task and handover to the next. Each individual needs an awareness of the wider process and their place within it, so that they can ensure their work is not just finished, but also ready for the next person. Designers need to appreciate technical and business issues; programmers need to have design awareness; managers need to understand creative processes and technical constraints and, most importantly, all must understand the needs of end-users.
Although exact requirements may vary, depending on an individual's role, function and the type of organisation, in broad terms practitioners need to have an awareness of:
- The other interactive media skill sets beyond their own specialities;
- Users and usability, including accessibility and cultural issues;
- Cultural issues and languages;
- Commercial and marketing requirements, which includes an ongoing knowledge of future technologies;
- Relevant legal issues, especially relating to copyright, intellectual property and rights management;
- Business issues and drivers, including business and payment models;
- Media convergence and multi-channel distribution;
- Consumer / end user demands and the product’s market environment.
The nature of the interactive media industry also requires practitioners to have certain attitudes. These relate in particular to skills acquisition and working practices.
The principal means of skills acquisition and knowledge transfer in the interactive media industry tend to be self-directed learning and coaching or mentoring from colleagues . Although off-site courses and in-house instructor-led training are used it tends to be the larger companies that most often do so, however, the industry comprises mostly small and micro businesses.
Self-directed learning is most often achieved through:
- Research and development work;
- Reference to on-line resources;
- Participation in on-line newsgroups and mailing lists;
- Talking to colleagues.
The interactive media and computer games industries therefore not only requires practitioners to have the ability to learn for themselves, but also the willingness to do so.
Flexibility and adaptability are further key attitudes required of practitioners. This is partly because the industry and marketplace is developing and changing rapidly, but also because of the nature of its working practices. These tend to be characterised by:
- Blurring of roles;
- Vague job descriptions;
- Unpredictable working hours and long days;
- Frequent changes of employment.
Successful practitioners need to be self-motivated, autonomous and have an entrepreneurial attitude. They must have a broad outlook and be willing to embrace hybrid skills and cross-disciplinary roles.
As well as their interactive media skill set, many practitioners will have additional specialist domain expertise, such as:
- Knowledge of a specific subject matter;
- Experience of particular markets, for example by application or content, sector, geography and audience demography;
- Foreign language and cultural understanding.