Pursuing a degree in video game design opens the opportunity to explore exciting career avenues such as graphic design, software engineering, game creation, and animation. Students who study this field get training and knowledge about the various aspects of art and storytelling skills, and content creation. Students can work as technicians, writers, artists, and programmers.
Video game design offers opportunities both in start-ups and established enterprises. A 4% growth for multimedia art and animation jobs was predicted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2018 to 2028, almost as quick as the general average for all professions (BLS, 2021). In this guide, you will know more about what to expect in terms of program length, tuition, courses, specializations, and career path when taking a video game design degree program.
The video game design definition refers to the invention, creation, and selling of video games. The industry has been expanding alongside technology, video training, and the gaming industry itself. Therefore, earning a degree in the field is now becoming a reasonable choice.
A video game design degree is about the study of basic video game development and programming. It is also a popular option for those looking at graphic design online degree programs. That is because, in this degree, you may also study to graphic design among other topics like gaming theory and marketing (The Best Schools, 2021). Unlike English, math, or history, video game design is but a newly developed college degree.
The degree is new, but video games have emerged many years ago. Briar Lee Mitchell, who co-runs the successful gaming firm Star Mountain Studios and teaches at the Art Institute, penned the 2012 book Game Design Essentials. The book starts off by looking back at the first few games that brought gaming to where is it now.
“(In 1971) Bill Pittis and Hugh Tuck created Galaxy Game, the first coin-operated video game, at Stanford University.
Bill and Hugh made the game on a 16-bit minicomputer called a ‘DEC PDP-11’ and it was later adapted to a coin-operated console using a DEC PDP-11/20 with vector displays. Only one unit was made, which was installed at Stanford’s Tresidder Union; however, it was modified to accommodate up to eight consoles, allowing gamers to play against each other. The game was patterned after Spacewar!” Spacewar!, the first shooter game, was created by Steve Russell in 1962. This game was inspired by E. E. Smith’s sci-fi novel series Lensman, where the hero was pursued all over the galaxy by villains and had to think of ways to beat them along his journey.
Two months after the debut of Galaxy Game, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney released the first commercial video arcade game. “Computer Space was an interesting first attempt at producing and marketing arcade games; however, even with $3 million in sales, it was a failure.” Computer Space was also based on Spacewar!
Arcade and video games then rose to popularity in convenience stores, hotels, restaurants, bowling centers, malls, theaters, laundromats, and airports across the globe.
The arcade game Pong, also created by Bushnell, was released in arcades in 1972. “This simple game came preloaded into a console that could be hooked up to a television set, players rotated a dial on the console, which moved a paddle back and forth on the TV screen, to hit the ball back and forth.
The game was extremely simple and became boring fairly quickly, but it was one of the first interactive games that two players could play at home. Pong’s success led the way to further development with home gaming systems and games.“
A degree in video game design is as popular as online software engineering degrees. It can be your stepping stone to the fun-filled video game environment. This degree will help you explore features of game invention, like 3D modeling and animation or coding to program games. It will also qualify you for marketing or advertising roles. If you wish to work for Microsoft, Nintendo, or any leading technology and game company, this is the perfect degree for you (Payne, 2021).
Video game design degree tuition depends on the school location, college type, and delivery method. Usually, public schools are more affordable than private schools. An online degree in video game design is also a viable option as students are eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of residence.
Use the table below as your guide for the range of video game design degree costs. Bear in mind, though, that the published (sticker) numbers are not the full amount that you will be paying should you qualify for the degree. Nevertheless, most colleges or universities offer financial assistance to help students lessen their expenses.
|Public In-State||Public Out-of-State||Private|
|Associate Degree||$3,570 - $9,289||$13,585 - $17,090||$25,431 - $44,551|
|Bachelor's Degree||$7,043 - $24,800||$24,800 - $30,700||$52,000 - $57,250|
|Master's Degree||$9,700 - $15,900||$12,200 - $38,800||$36,300 - $54,250|
|Doctoral Degree||$6,000 - $11,120||$32,370 - $61,850||$24,712 - $44,020|
|*Values are estimates.|
A degree in video game design does not just ensure job security and a decent salary, but it can make you a qualified candidate for leadership roles. Depending on the program or school, you can concentrate on specific content areas of video game design as well.
A video game design degree will provide you with an opportunity to improve your education and enhance your portfolio. Your educational background and portfolio will then get formally acknowledged, making you a more stand-out candidate to employers (Pyzik, n.d.).
Video game design is an enjoyable means of livelihood, and that is why many people pursue it. Graduates of this degree will not be also confined to gaming jobs as they can take other jobs in other related industries.
Surprisingly, the video game industry consistently expands, even during recessions. Video training trends show that more and more organizations are using video games in their skills development programs. This instance probably happens due to consistent technological developments, leading to new and exciting forms of entertainment that keep players playing video games. As a result, more video game design degree jobs are opening for designers, developers, and animators.
The US has approximately 287,200 video game designers (New England Institute of Technology, 2020). According to Game Designing.org founder Dustin Tyler, the next five years are a promising phase for video game specialists.
Video game professionals, even those who hold entry-level roles, are well-paid. Salary expectations for video game designers depend on experience. Those who have only been in the practice for one year earn an average of $64,974 annually, while those who have already gained substantial experience earn an average annual salary of $77,511 (Payscale, 2023).
In relation to particular job roles, multimedia artists and animators earn an average yearly salary of $59,261, art directors earn $72,241, computer programmers earn $68,124, graphic designers earn $48,961, and software developers earn $75,774.
Source: CollegeChoice.net, 2021; PayScale, 2021
With a degree in video game design, aspiring video game designers can turn their passion for games and arts into a prestigious career. While some roles only require enough experience, others require common video game design degree types, including an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s degree.
American game designer, game player, professor, and author Tracy Fullerton talks about the availability of video game design degrees worldwide in her 2019 book, Game Design Workshop.
“Degree programs in game design are now available in major universities all over the world in response to student demand. The International Game Developers Association, in recognition of the overwhelming interest in learning to create games, has established an Education SIG to help educators create a curriculum that reflects the real-world process of professional game design. There is a Game Education Summit held every year at the Game Developers Conference where best practices in teaching game design are shared. And GameCareerGuide.com provides information on schools, jobs, and student games to connect the study of game development to the practice of it. [The website] lists over 200 programs that offer game design courses or degrees in North America alone. There are over 400 programs listed worldwide.“
Average time to complete: Two years
Associate of video game design degrees are typically offered as two-year, 60-credit programs in community colleges. An associate of game design can already prepare you for fieldwork or to a full-time bachelor’s degree.
The courses in this degree start with instruction on programming. game concept development, and software development. You will be introduced to design, simulation, and some computing technology courses. Most likely, you will take humanities or liberal arts courses as well.
Taking an associate degree program in a related field, such as computer science or graphic design will help you develop relevant skills and credentials. These skills are essential when continuing to a video game design bachelor’s degree program.
Entry-level jobs: programmer, graphic artist
Average time to complete: Four years
A bachelor of game design and development degree is the most preferred credential in the gaming industry. This degree will enable you to encounter revolutionary technology, experience innovative gaming venues, and learn more about the many facets of gaming. Upon completion, you will be qualified to work in most industry areas.
Courses in this 120-credit degree cover programming languages, design theory, and concept development. Also, expect a more focused approach in your chosen interest, which can be graphics, control interface design, and more. Moreover, it will touch on related computer science and mathematics courses.
A bachelor’s degree in video game design will shape you for future employment in huge-scale game development companies, start-up mobile app firms, casinos, and educational toy stores.
Entry-level jobs: game designer, system designer, technical designer
Average time to complete: One to two years
A master of game design and development degree will allow you to attain deeper mastery in a certain field. This degree can also lay out opportunities for you to excel in leadership and organizational skills.
Expect to take courses in game marketing, game project practicum, game usability and testing, principles of production management, research in team dynamics, and user experience in this graduate-level degree program.
With a master’s degree in game design and development, you will perhaps engage in practicum projects, where you can practice scripting, sketching, animating, and more with your classmates. This degree is recommended for those who want to bring their visions to reality amidst the highly competitive market.
High-level positions: video game producer, sound designer, postsecondary computer science teacher
Source: Zippia, 2021
The number of schools offering a video game design degree is continuously increasing across the US, which means that plenty of options are now available to you. Get accepted as a video game design student in your dream school by complying with its specified requirements.
Video game design degree bachelor programs normally require a high school diploma, but some community colleges accept applicants without one. Some schools also require standardized test scores, while others ask applicants to answer a placement test instead.
Other video game design degree prerequisites may include the submission of recommendation letters and a personal essay. Ask your target schools for their specific requirements.
Before enrolling, take time to do some research. Discussed below are the important features to look for in a video game design degree program.
Many schools structure their video game design degree programs uniquely; thus it is important to research and figure out what program works best for you.
Accrediting bodies consistently evaluate and validate colleges and universities to ensure that they are offering high-quality education. Faculty members from different accredited schools comprise these accrediting bodies, which are acknowledged by the US Department of Education (ED). The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also acknowledges the same institutes, but CHEA accreditation is not required (The Best Schools, 2021).
Most accredited game design colleges and universities offer offline, online, and hybrid programs.
Choose a school that can train you in developing your portfolio. A portfolio displaying your gaming skills and projects is the key to your target game design graduate degree program or dream job (Accredited Schools Online, 2021).
The specialized field of game design makes finding a job a challenge. If your school can assist you in future job placement, it would be easier for you to find a long-term job right after graduation.
Students can apply for scholarships to lessen student tuition or debt. Some available scholarship programs for a video game design degree are Adobe Design Achievement Awards, Microsoft Imagine Cup Glocal Competition, and Worldstudio American Institute of Graphic Arts Scholarship (Computer Science.org, 2021).
Mario Kart, Minecraft, Final Fantasy—these video games have truly played a big part in our lives. From being a simple hobby, video games have shaped us into who we are and how we interact with others. Now, the industry has also become a worthy field to invest in.
Designing, writing, engineering, and marketing video games is a skill not everyone is lucky to have. To graduate with a video game design degree is to be fully equipped with the creative and technical prowess to make millions of people all throughout the world happy and entertained (UCAS, n.d.).
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