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Online Video Game Design Schools

Video gaming has been a billion-dollar industry for years now, and these days games are doing a lot more than just giving people something to play. They're used as teaching tools in classrooms, as simulations for training in the workplace and as art objects in avant-garde galleries across the globe. The boundaries of video game development are expanding all the time, and the industry needs well-trained designers, animators, programmers and digital artists to help turn out innovative experiences year after year.

To meet this demand, schools all over the country have begun to offer campus-based and online video game design degree programs. Here's a table of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data that shows how many schools in each region of the U.S. are offering the type of degrees that can help lead to a game designer career:

Region No. of institutions offering video game design degrees No. of schools offering online video game design degrees No. of institutions offering animation, video graphics and interactive technology degrees No. of schools offering online animation, video graphics and interactive technology degrees
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 30 3 91 3
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 9 1 11 1
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 14 1 35 2
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 12 4 24 1
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 39 9 57 2
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 17 1 54 4
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 12 2 24 0
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 9 0 15 0
Total (all 50 states) 144 21 311 13

Entry-level video game development degrees

If you're looking to get started in the video game industry, there are a variety of entry-level degrees that can show you the ropes and lay the foundation for the skills you'll need. Here's a quick primer on the various levels of campus-based and online video game design degrees for undergraduate students:

  • Associate degrees - Degrees in video game development at the associate level typically concentrate on providing a scholarly introduction to a range of basic concepts used in game designer careers, taking elements from both the technical and artistic sides of the job. Subject courses may include digital animation, game console programming, C++ programming, audio design, game engine architecture, interactive storytelling and mobile application development, alongside some general education study in the sciences and humanities.
  • Bachelor's degrees - The additional two upper-division years of a four-year degree plan serve to deepen and solidify the foundation of knowledge provided during your associate degree or other introductory study. Additional course topics may include math and statistics programming for games, physics engine development, artificial intelligence (AI) programming, 3D modeling and animation and the psychology of interactive design. Employers in the game design field tend to prefer candidates who have earned at least a bachelor's degree.
  • Non-degree study - If you're not sure that you want to commit to a full degree program in game design but your interest in the field is too great to ignore, non-degree certificate programs might be the way to go. Some certificate programs in video game development may be completed in a year or less, depending on how much day-to-day time you have to devote to coursework, and they tend to cover subject matter similar to associate degrees without requiring as many general education courses.

Several colleges and universities offer online video game design and development degrees, designed to expand access outside of an institution's home range and increase the flexibility of course scheduling for students whose career or personal responsibilities restrict their availability. Online programs often permit students to take as large or small a courseload as their time permits each semester, and most have a curriculum that differs very little from traditional offerings in campus-based programs.

Advanced-degree video game development programs

The video game business just as hot as the rest of the tech industry, and competition for the most desirable game designer careers can be fierce. Here's a quick rundown of advanced degrees for video game designers and developers looking to enhance their skills or distinguish themselves from the average job applicant:

  • Master's degree programs - Graduate degrees in video game development tend to focus on one aspect or another of the field, with courses in animation, graphic programming, music composition and more for those working toward the artistic side and deep study of hardware, software and programming techniques for aspiring engineers. Master's degrees for students hoping to work as producers or executives in the industry are also available, featuring courses in management, marketing, team leadership and the logistics of the entertainment industry.
  • Doctorate programs - Even though the study of video games as an academic pursuit is fairly new, there do exist a few terminal scholarly degrees in the subject. Doctoral programs that cover game design and game studies tend to be offered as sub-disciplines of other departments — a Ph.D in digital media, for example, or a doctorate in computer science with a games focus — are typically used to start careers in research and often have an interdisciplinary element.
  • Graduate certificates - If you've already earned a bachelor's degree in a different discipline, graduate certificates in video game development can be a strong step toward a game designer career. Some certificates, particularly those that cover the more technical aspects of game development, may have prerequisite requirements in computer science, programming or math, but most institutions can give you guidance on how to fill in any gaps that may be present in your coursework.

Master's degrees are available on campus as well as online at video game design and development schools, although some programs may encourage you to attend on-campus symposia or networking events to get the full value out of your degree. Hybrid or blended programs, which take place partially online and partially in a traditional classroom setting, can serve as a happy medium between the flexible scheduling of online study and the familiar instructional environment of face-to-face learning.

Q&A with an expert

Kathie Flood was one of the first developers employed at Microsoft Game Studios in 1994 and currently serves as managing director and CEO of Cascade Game Foundry, a startup game studio based outside of Seattle. We reached out to her to see what she had to say about training for a game designer career, and here's what she told us:

Kathie Flood, managing director and CEO of Cascade Game FoundryWhat are the most common educational paths for those interested in video game design?

Degrees for people working on games cover a wide range depending on their specialties — art, animation, math, computer science, physics, engineering, psychology, music, writing, marketing, and so on. The keys to getting a job in the industry are 1) to be fantastic at whatever your specialty is (and pick up a second specialty or strong knowledge in other areas, if possible), and 2) to get experience working on a video game, even as a volunteer. Great games usually come out of great teams, so showing that you already know how to function well working with others is critical. This is an intensely competitive field, so you must rock the skills and play well with others.

Are there major differences between bachelor's and master's degrees in game design? What undergraduate degrees can best prepare students for a game design graduate program?

College costs are so outrageously high right now, I can't in good faith recommend to anyone that they pursue a graduate degree in game design. Get a job in the industry and learn on someone else's dollar. Hobbling yourself with crushing debt simply isn't worth it.

What would have been helpful to know when you were looking into your own education?

The only thing I wish I would have known back when I was in school is how very different the real world is from academia. Goals are fairly straight-forward when you are a student, while the real world requires far more tenacity and self-direction to get to do what inspires you.

Explore what else game designer experts have to say, including descriptions of what game designers do on the job.

Types of video game design and development careers

It can be surprising just how many different job titles can be given to a game designer career in its various specializations. Here's a table of a few of the occupational categories that relate to video game development, along with salary and job outlook data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2014)
Projected job growth
(2012-2022)
Total U.S. employment
(2012)
Entry-level education
Web developer $68,670 20 percent 141,400 Associate degree
Graphic designer $50,670 7 percent 259,500

Bachelor's degree

Multimedia artist or animator $69,410 6 percent 68,900 Bachelor's degree
Applications software developer $99,530 23 percent 752,900 Bachelor's degree
Computer programmer $82,690 8 percent 343,700 Bachelor's degree
Art director $97,850 3 percent 74,800 Bachelor's degree
Mathematician $104,350 23 percent 3,500 Master's degree

Learn more about the career and what you need to know about how to become a game designer.

Common misconceptions about video game development degrees

Degrees in video game development and design are relatively new on the academic scene, so it's understandable that a few mistaken ideas about them have made their way into the minds of the masses. Here's a little myth-busting about popular misconceptions in campus-based and online video game design degrees:

Misconception: Video game design and development degrees are an excuse to play games all day.

  • Fact: It may be the case that you're occasionally asked to conduct your own playthrough of a game to gather information for an assignment or classroom discussion, but the truth of the matter is that coursework, homework, readings and other aspects of the ordinary business of college are no less a part of a degree in game design than they are of degrees in any other field. You're likely to spend more time studying the implications of games and staring into their inner workings — the math, physics and application code — than playing them.

Misconception: Studios and other employers don't respect online video game design degrees.

  • Fact: Most personnel at video game development companies work in an environment where the bulk of employee responsibility is handled on computer workstations using purpose-built software tools, which often allows hiring managers to understand that working in a "virtual" space can lead to real results. A certain gap of employer understanding about online education does exist in some traditional job fields, but even that has been waning as awareness increases.

Misconception: A game design degree only prepares you for a career designing games.

  • Fact: You may graduate with some discipline-specific knowledge that most other people don't have, but that's true about nearly anyone with a bachelor's degree. Your study of the general technical elements of game development can help you get your foot in the door of a variety of tech careers, including computer programming and Web development, and the generally wider slate of professional opportunities that college graduates enjoy is no less available to a game development major than it is to a student of any other discipline.

How can I enroll in an online video game development degree program?

The exact steps you need to take to start your traditional or online video game design education tend to vary from program to program, and reaching out to the school of your choice is the best way to be certain about how to proceed. Browse the program listings below and find a few schools that look right for you, then get a hold of a registrar or admissions representative to find out more.

Sources:
1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed November 27, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. 2014 Annual Report, Entertainment Software Association, accessed November 27, 2015, http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ESA-2014-Annual-Report.pdf
3. School pages, accessed November 27-29, 2015: Game Design & Programming Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree, Bramson ORT College, http://www.bramsonort.edu/Academics/AssociateDegrees/GameDesign.html; Video Game Design, AS, Keiser University, http://www.keiseruniversity.edu/video-game-design-as/; Video Game Design, New England Institute of Technology, http://www.neit.edu/Programs/Associate-Degree-Programs/Information-Technology/Video-Game-Design; Game and Simulation Programming Degree Program, DeVry University, http://www.devry.edu/degree-programs/engineering-information-sciences/game-and-simulation-programming.html; Game Development Degree Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/bs-in-game-programming-and-development; Game Design Certificate, Austin Community College, http://www.viscom.austincc.edu/degrees/certificate/game-design; Video Game Design and Development - Certificate, Houston Community College, http://www.hccs.edu/finder/programs/video-game-design-and-development -- -certificate/; Video Game Development and Programming School, Academy of Art University, http://www.academyart.edu/academics/game-development; Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, University of Central Florida, http://www.fiea.ucf.edu/; Master's in Game Design Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/ms-in-information-technology/game-design-and-development; Master's Program, Entertainment Arts & Engineering, The University of Utah, http://eae.utah.edu/admissions/masters-program/; Game Design Master's Degree, Full Sail University, http://www.fullsail.edu/degrees/campus/game-design-masters; PhD in Digital Media, Georgia Institute of Technology, http://dm.lmc.gatech.edu/program/phd-program/; PhD, Games and Meaningful Play, Michigan State University, http://seriousgames.msu.edu/phd/; Graduate Certificate in Game Design and Development, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, http://cs.uncc.edu/academics/graduate-certificate-game-design-and-development; Certificate in Game Design, University of Washington, http://www.pce.uw.edu/certificates/game-design.html; Graduate Certificate in Game Design, Northeastern University, http://www.cps.neu.edu/degree-programs/graduate/graduate-certificates/certificate-in-game-design.php
4. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed November 27, 2015: Web Developers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm; Graphic Designers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm; Multimedia Artists and Animators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm; Software Developers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Computer-and-Information-Technology/Software-developers.htm; Computer Programmers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm; Art Directors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/art-directors.htm; Mathematician, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Math/Mathematicians.htm
5. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed November 27, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

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