Best Game Design Degrees 2021

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Creative students with a passion for strategic thinking often succeed in game design degree programs. With the increasing popularity of video games, most game designers work with electronic media. Some game designers focus on developing story arcs, while others create games’ visual elements.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), multimedia artists and animators earned a median salary of $75,270 in 2019. The BLS projects employment for these professionals to increase 4% between 2019 and 2029. Game designers typically collaborate with programmers and other artists. They create engaging games that inspire players to complete challenging yet enjoyable tasks.

This guide explores game design degree requirements and highlights the best programs for aspiring game designers. The following sections also cover career options and scholarships for game design students.

FAQ


  • What is game design?

    Game design refers to the creation of recreational programs. Most modern game designers help produce video games, but some game designers create physical board games.


  • How long does it take to earn a degree in game design?

    A bachelor’s degree in game design takes about four years to complete, and learners typically earn a master’s degree in two additional years. However, degree completion time varies based on program requirements and enrollment status.


  • What is the difference between game design and animation?

    Game design refers to the entire process of producing a game, including writing the story theme, coding the effects, and producing the sounds and music scores. Animation professionals create the visual elements of a game or motion picture.


  • What is the difference between game design and computer science?

    Computer science involves general programming for digital applications. Game design professionals primarily develop programs for gaming purposes.


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Career and Salary Outlook for Game Design



Graduates with a degree in game design can pursue a variety of roles related to the field. Game design curricula explore topics including visual arts, programming, and creative writing. The list below highlights four potential careers for graduates with game design degrees. Additionally, the following chart features the projected growth rate and median salary for each occupation.


  • Multimedia Artists and Animators

    These professionals create two- and three-dimensional designs, which may appear in video games, televisions shows, and moveis. These individuals need strong interpersonal communication skills to coordinate with clients and collaborate with art directors and fellow artists. They apply feedback to produce high-quality, entertaining animated designs.


  • Software Developers

    Software development professionals create applications for video games, computer programs, and phone apps. Software developers usually do not write code, but they may communicate with programmers to create products. These professionals perform maintenance checks and software tests to ensure a positive user experience.


  • Graphic Designers

    Graphic designers arrange layouts and designs for digital and print media. They choose fonts, colors, and images that communicate desired messages and evoke certain feelings. These designers can work for video gaming companies, publishing companies, news companies, private corporations, and advertising agencies.


  • Art Directors

    Art directors oversee a team of creative professionals. Directors provide feedback, delegate tasks, and help employees meet goals. Typically, these professionals provide final approval before releasing a product to a client or the public. Professionals usually gain experience as entry-level graphic designers or animators before becoming art directors.


Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Multimedia Artists and Animators $75,270 4%
Software Developers $107,510 22%
Graphic Designers $52,110 -4%
Art Directors $94,220 -2%

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Game Design Degrees

Before committing to a school or program, learners should research its accreditation status. To earn and maintain accreditation, an institution must pass regular quality assessments from a third-party agency. The U.S. Department of Higher Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee these accrediting bodies.

Educational institutions can earn regional or national accreditation, and employers typically view degrees from regionally accredited schools as more prestigious. Each regional accrediting agency evaluates schools in a certain geographic area.

Programs that confer game design degrees can also earn programmatic accreditation. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design is one of the top accrediting agencies for game design degrees.

Courses in a Game Design Bachelor’s Program



Game design students learn how to develop pixel art and to creatively communicate storylines. They also explore the tasks necessary to create a game. Game design curricula generally cover software engineering basics and methods for using computer programs to create digital art.

Before enrolling in a program, learners should review course descriptions to ensure the curriculum aligns with their career goals. Exact courses vary by game design bachelor’s program. However, most programs in the field include the following classes.

Students in this class learn how to use visual and audio effects to create a compelling game. Degree-seekers practice writing creatively and developing supporting visuals. Learners discuss common themes and their origins, and they prepare to use images, sounds, and written words in game applications.

Most game design degrees require at least one application development course. Learners in this class gain an understanding of development foundations and prepare to communicate with experienced software developers. Course topics include common client-server architectures, user-interface design, and the differences between web-based and mobile-based applications.

This foundational course provides an overview of game development components. Learners explore game genres, principles of successful game designs, and the roles of various creative professionals in the game production process. Students typically complete a 2D game development group project.

Scholarships for Game Design

Learners can apply for scholarships to minimize student debt. The following list features three scholarships for digital art and video game design students. Scholarship applicants must typically submit recommendation letters, essays, and official transcripts. To improve their chance of receiving an award, students should allow enough time to complete multiple scholarship applications.

Adobe Design Achievement Awards

Who Can Apply: Art students who utilize Adobe products can enter an original project in this annual scholarship competition. Applicants can submit a digital game or a general interactive experience. Candidates must also provide a 100-word artist statement.
Amount: Up to $5,000

Microsoft Imagine Cup Global Competition

Who Can Apply: This scholarship competition requires candidates to design innovative software with Microsoft technology. Applicants must be at least 16 years old and enrolled in high school or college.
Amount: Varies

Worldstudio American Institute of Graphic Arts Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports students pursuing an art degree. Applicants must demonstrate financial need, submit a portfolio, and possess U.S. citizenship or a green card.
Amount: Up to $5,000

Best Game Design Degrees 2021



Choosing the best game design program for your goals requires time and research. To aid in the process, we created and frequently update this ranking of the best programs for game design. The ranking considers factors including graduate success rates, cost, and accreditation status.

  1. Northeastern University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Northeastern's bachelor of fine arts in game design allows students to explore games as an aesthetic and expressive art form through critical analysis and creative, reflective practice. Students learn to anticipate trends in the video and analog game industries and develop games through their own unique lens.

    The 131-credit curriculum covers game development, aesthetics, critical play, and electives. The art component focuses on animation, observational drawing, or physical computing. A game design capstone allows students to develop a fully functional game.

    First-year students must submit high school transcripts plus secondary school counselor and teacher recommendations. SAT/ACT scores are optional for 2021. Requirements for transfer students include official college transcripts and an academic evaluation from an academic advisor, professor, or employer.

    Northeastern is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

  2. University of California, Santa Cruz
    Location

    Santa Cruz, CA

    UC Santa Cruz offers a bachelor of science in computer game design through its Jack Baskin School of Engineering. Emphasizing interactive game construction, the program examines the technical, narrative, and artistic underpinnings of game development.

    Foundation courses (math and computer programming) blend with game design and development, playable media foundations, and game engineering electives. The undergraduate Game Design Studio harbors high-end development workstations complete with high-performance graphic cards and dual displays, the latest game consoles, and a large library.

    First-year applicants must show proof of a high school diploma and have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Transfer students from California community colleges must complete at least 60 transferable credits with a minimum 2.4 GPA. The school also recommends four years of high school mathematics.

    UC Santa Cruz is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  3. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
    Location

    Prescott, AZ

    Embry-Riddle's bachelor of science in simulation science, games, and animation teaches the principles behind virtual worlds. Taught at the school's Prescott, Arizona campus, students learn the mathematical algorithms and technologies underlying animation software, CAD systems, and aviation simulators.

    Studies for the 125-credit degree cover computer science, math, physics, engineering, animation, and computer graphics. Students become proficient in programming (such as C++, Python, and JavaScript) and game-engine architecture. They also complete a gaming capstone. Graduates qualify for careers in industrial enterprises, aviation, entertainment, game creation, military science, and spatial computing.

    Applicants must submit official high school and/or college transcripts or GED scores. ACT and/or SAT scores are strongly recommended.

    Embry-Riddle is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  4. Ringling College of Art and Design
    Location

    Sarasota, FL

    The bachelor of fine arts in game art offered through Ringling College emphasizes top-notch graduate marketability to game studios. Located in Sarasota, Florida, the college helps participants perfect artistic techniques and study game design and interactivity mechanics, allowing them to build their own worlds.

    The 120-credit program includes coursework in visual development, 2D and 3D environments, and digital painting. A thesis, concluding with a complete portfolio, allows students to create their own game project. The program also offers internship, professional work experience, and expert critique opportunities.

    First-year applicants must submit high school transcripts or GED certificates showing a minimum 2.0 GPA and a teacher evaluation form or recommendation letter. Transfer applicants must submit transcripts from previously attended institutions. All applicants must also send a visual art or written portfolio.

    Ringling College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Pratt Institute
    Location

    Brooklyn, NY

    Based in Brooklyn, New York, the Pratt Institute offers an associate of occupational studies in game design and interactive media. The two-year, 66-credit program teaches from an artistic standpoint. Enrollees learn narrative and worldbuilding techniques for game design and how to navigate industry programming languages. They also explore development through collaborative processes.

    Taught at Pratt's Manhattan campus, the all art-and-design-based curriculum provides capstone courses, internship opportunities, and a professional portfolio upon graduation. Highlight studies include immersive sound design, serious and subversive games, and mobile app design.

    Admission requirements include official transcripts or GED, a visual or written portfolio, and an essay. ACT/SAT scores and recommendation letters are both optional.

    Pratt is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

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