Video Game Development & Degree Programs
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The video gaming industry is forecast to reach an overall value of nearly $20 billion by 2019, and the games it releases are getting more complex and labor-intensive to produce. The demand for trained programmers, artists, designers and developers has been on the rise for years, and video game development degree programs have cropped up around the country to fill that need.
Many four-year degree programs in game development give students an introduction to every stage of the development process, from initial design to publishing. Others give students the option to narrow their approach and focus deeply on one specific aspect of game work, such as art, animation, programming or gameplay design.
Just about all of the work that's done on video games takes place on a computer screen, so the emergence of online video game development degrees seems fairly natural. If you're looking to get an education in game development without committing to a full-time, traditional degree, look into online degree programs for game development students.
Best Colleges for Video Game Development Degree Programs
We looked at National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data on the dozens of schools nationwide that offer campus-based and online video game development degrees, analyzed it in eight major categories and ranked the final scores from top to bottom. Click the button to find out just how we calculated the rankings and continue reading for some info on the top schools for video game development.
Full Sail University isn't only one of the best schools for video game development, it also produces by far the highest volume of game development graduates of any school in our top ten. The NCES reports that Full Sail graduated 734 game design and development students in 2015 -- fully seven times more than the second-place school in that category of our analysis.
The numbers also show that students looking for online game development degrees can find what they're after at this private, for-profit school. More than 99 percent of students at Full Sail took at least some of their coursework online, and a 29-month version of the institution's game design bachelor's can be earned entirely online.
Our No. 2 school, located in Fort Pierce, Florida, took home the crown for most affordable video game development degree programs by a wide margin. The annual average tuition and fees expense of $2,764 at Indian River State College was nearly six times more affordable than the average calculated among schools that made our top ten.
The game development degree at IRSC is offered as a concentration in animation, gaming and 3D modeling within a Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.S.) degree in digital media. The curriculum focuses mostly on the artistic side of game development, teaching such skills as storyboarding, model design, environment art and texturing, although programming and play theory courses are included also.
This for-profit school headquartered in Emeryville, California, offers two degree programs targeted to the gaming and interactive entertainment industry, both structured as B.A.S. programs and both with an expected full-time duration of 32 months. The game development program is the more technical of the two, with the game art and design program focusing more on art and animation.
Game development students at SAE Expression College take four semesters of general game development instruction, not including the introductory course taken in the first program year. Other courses cover multiplayer game design and technology, logic and math for games, programming for games and level and entertainment design.
Coming in at No. 4 is the Schaumburg, Illinois campus of the Art Institutes, partially on the strength of its graduation rate and the flexibility measures it makes available for on-campus students. What's more, the reported 29 percent of students taking some of their coursework online shows that schedule flexibility doesn't end with weekend and evening courses.
Students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) program in game art and design at the Illinois Institute of Art - Schaumburg study a broad range of topics from the aesthetic side of game development. Digital storytelling, texture mapping, digital lighting and world design are all part of the curriculum, as well as the logistics of game production.
The Phoenix, Arizona, campus of the Art Institutes offers two separate degree tracks for aspiring game designers and developers. One of those programs is a B.F.A. in game art and design that's similar to the program offered at the Schaumburg campus, and the other is a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in visual and game programming that takes your gaming education in a more behind-the-scenes direction.
Courses studied in the visual and game programming degree include gaming algorithms, interface design, artificial intelligence, game prototyping, interactive experience design, game logic and rich media application development. If you're looking for a game development degree that focuses on the technical side of the field, this one has a course list that deserves your attention.
The No. 1 graduation rate among our top schools for video game development can be found at Living Arts College, where 100 percent of students attend classes on campus and around 12 percent graduated with degrees in the gaming field in 2015. The flagship Raleigh campus of this North Carolina school offers classes in the evening and on weekends for students who need them.
The B.A. in visual effects and animation at Living Arts College takes three years of full-time study to complete and includes some instruction on game technology, level design and overall production strategies. Students can also choose a 12-month non-degree program that leads to a credential called a Professional Intensive Diploma (PID).
Our No. 7 school finished in the top three among schools on our list for both graduation rate and affordability of tuition and fees. Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design has an open admission policy, also, which means that no applicant will be turned away on the basis of test scores or past academic performance. The student-faculty ratio was 10:1 in 2015.
The gaming and multimedia degree at RMCAD takes the shape of a B.F.A. in game art, focusing on such skills as digital painting, character design, particles and visual effects for games and designing 3D models and rigging them for animation. Some non-art courses, such as business ethics for animators and game production basics, are also included.
This small art school in Boca Raton, Florida, offers an option to concentrate your computer animation degree on the processes of creating art assets for video games. The program concentrates its energy on the visual side of game development, giving students the tools they need to create game art and help build workable prototypes.
Computer programming, logic and other strictly technical subjects aren't covered in the Digital Media Arts College game art program, but students can use software from game engine giant Unreal to bring their ideas to life. The program requires 127 credit hours to complete, and just one other school on our list charged students a lower average amount for tuition and fees in 2015-16.
This Pacific Northwest outpost of the Art Institutes offers two distinct bachelor's degree programs in game production. The curriculum for the game art and design degree focuses on modeling, animation, 3D textures, digital imaging, object design, storytelling and other artistic elements, while the degree in visual and game programming teaches students interactive design concepts, game prototyping, programming for visual simulations and the physics of light, sound and motion.
Like all the Art Institutes campuses on our list, the Art Institute of Portland has an open admission policy. More than 30 percent of students took at least some of their courses online in 2015, and classes are available on weekends and evenings for on-campus students with special scheduling needs.
A fourth and final Art Institutes campus rounds out our list at No. 10, making the list in part due to a strong showing in the distance education category. Approximately 46 percent of students enrolled at the Art Institute of California - Orange County during the 2015-16 academic year took at least a portion of their coursework online.
This Art Institutes campus also offers a game development degree that can't be found at any of the other locations on our list. The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in software development for creative technologies covers 3D modeling and animation and replaces discussions of game design theory with a deep dive into programming languages, databases and networking.
Degrees and common career paths in video game development
A four-year degree in video game development can prepare you for fairly complex positions in the industry, although it's often necessary to enter the field in a specialized capacity such as artist, animator, programmer or quality assurance tester. Here's a rundown of a few careers for experienced pros in video game development.
Bachelor's degrees in game development
Although your portfolio and résumé may be the most important thing when seeking game design and development positions, a bachelor's degree is also a common requirement. Programs typically teach the basics of game art production software, animation rigging, problem solving and working with a team to achieve a shared goal.
- Game designers create the basic framework of a game, including the graphical look and feel, storyline, gameplay mechanics, native difficulty curve and reward structure
- Game developers guide the transformation of a game from design document into complete, playable experience, directing programmers and artists and balancing the various components
- Software engineers use a variety of computer languages to create applications (including games and other entertainment properties) and operating system software
Career outlooks for video game development
It can help you target your education to suit the demands of the job market if you keep your eye on the market's projected movements. Take a look at this quick summary of some relevant employment statistics for video game development graduates.
Expected Job Growth
|Software Developers, Applications||794,000||$104,300||18.8%|
|Multimedia Artists and Animators||29,810||$72,200||6%|
Professional organizations for video game development
Video game design and development have emerged only recently as prominent professions, but nevertheless there are professional organizations that can help newly graduated members of the field get themselves established and forge lasting connections. Typical benefits of organizations and associations like these include access to national or international networking events, distribution of trade papers and other industry publications, select retail discounts, professional development opportunities and more.
- The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) provides members with pathways to skill growth and potential Kickstarter/Indiegogo crowdfunding support for their passion projects
- The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) offers professional development for pros at all levels, a library of tools and resources and numerous networking and development events
- The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) is a long-standing industry organization in which membership is limited to employees of its corporate members
Financial aid and scholarships in video game development
Scholarships and grants specific to video game development students are somewhat scarce, but there are a few out there. For example, popular webcomic property Penny Arcade furnishes an annual $10,000 scholarship for students who have their sights set on the games industry. Check out these other financial aid programs for game development students.