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.

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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.

Top 10 Game Design Programs

Rank School Location
1 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
2 Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester , NY
3 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
4 University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT
5 Digipen Institute of Technology Redmond, WA
6 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy, NY
7 Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah , GA
8 New York University New York, NY
9 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
10 Full Sail University Winter Park, FL

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.


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. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1880, the University of Southern California is the oldest private research university in the state. Home to 19,000 undergraduate students, USC is a top pick for talented students worldwide. In fact, The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education ranked USC 15th among over 1,000 public and private universities. Now, the university offers an excellent B.S. in Computer Science, with a concentration in games!

    Program Features

    The game design program at USC is great because it gives students a strong foundation in computer science. From there, students will learn more about the science of game development– and that’s where the creative juices can really start to flow! All students will have to complete 128 credits, and courses including:

    • Programming Game Engines
    • Introduction to Artificial Intelligence
    • Pipelines for Games and Interactives

    Students can also choose to pursue a B.A. in Interactive Entertainment rather than a B.S. in Computer Science (Games). The B.A. combines a broad liberal arts background with hands-on specialization in the design of games and interactive entertainment.

    Notables

    USC Games is recognized as one of the top game design programs in North America by The Princeton Review. Students graduating from these programs will be capable of engineering next-generation games and simulations, and their technologies in the entertainment and serious game fields.

  2. Rochester Institute of Technology
    Location

    Rochester , NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    This private university located in Rochester, NY is consistently ranked among the top technical universities in the world. With international locations in China, Croatia, Dubai, and more, RIT is home to over 15,000 undergraduates who are actively looking to change the world. Now, RIT offers a rigorous  Bachelors of Science in Game Design and Development.

    Program Features

    The game design program at RIT places a strong emphasis on programming. In fact, the program exposes students to all the intricate inner workings of the development and design processes. Students can specialize in a variety of areas, including:

    • Web
    • Audio
    • Mobile
    • Production
    • Game design
    • Engines & systems
    • Graphics programming and animation

    Not only does this degree prepare students for careers within the professional games industry but it also provides them with a solid computing background. Over four years, students will take courses like 3D Animation, Interactive Media Development, and Mathematics of Graphical Simulation.

    Notables

    The Bachelor of Science degree in Game Design & Development requires two co-op blocks. During their paid co-op experience, students will gain real life career experience in a full-time position. Since 2012, RIT students have worked at GSN Games, Muse Games, Warner Bros, Amazon, and many more prestigious companies!

  3. Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1891, this private research university located in Philadelphia is one of America’s 15 largest private universities. The university is ranked among the top 100 in the country and offers endless degree opportunities. Noteworthy is Drexel’s B.S. in Game Design & Production through the College of Media Arts and Design and the B.S./B.A. in Computer Science with a a concentration  in Game Programming and Development (GMPD). 

    Program Features

    Drexel’s GMPD major or concentration within the computer science degree may be a perfect fit for you. Both options will provide you not only with a conceptual understanding of game design, but practical experience as well. Courses in this concentration include:

    • Large-scale game development
    • Fundamentals of game design and development
    • Special topics in educational and experimental game design

    Students can also participate in Drexel’s renowned co-op program. Students in the BSCS program can participate in a four-year, one co-op program, a five-year three co-op program, or a five-year two co-op program (with a combined BS/MS degree).

    Notables

    Students and faculty at Drexel are always pushing the envelope on research and new technologies. The school is a hub of knowledge and innovation. In fact, Drexel’s degree program in computer science is ranked in the top 40 computer science programs in the country.

  4. University of Utah
    Location

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1850, the University of Utah is based in Salt Lake City and is home to over 32,000 students. Dreamers, innovators, and researchers come together at the University of Utah to make big things happen. The school’s programs continue to evolve; in fact, starting in Spring 2018 the school will offer a B.S.​ ​in​ ​Games​ for those interested!

    Program Features

    The Bachelor’s of Science in Games degree will include a core curriculum in game design and development courses. Courses may include:

    • Ethics in Games
    • Intro to Design Thinking
    • Digital Content Creation
    • Traditional Game Development

    Students can pick classes to suit their specific areas of interest. From game design and game arts, to technical art and game production, you’ll have the flexibility to create a course schedule that reflects your career goals. Since the program is so new, students will really have an impact on how the department organizes this major going forward.

    Notables

    The Princeton Review has ranked the University of Utah as having the #3 Undergrad Gaming Program in the nation. The university also offers a B.S. in Computer Science with an emphasis in Entertainment Arts & Engineering. The EAE specialization allows students to take courses covering video game design and development, 3D animation, and computer-generated special effects.

  5. Digipen Institute of Technology
    Location

    Redmond, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in Redmond, Washington, DigiPen Institute is a private school that was originally founded in 1988 as a computer simulation and animation company. Now, a leader in game development education, DigiPen offers students a variety of degrees fit for a career in game design.

    Program Features

    DigiPen offers undergraduate degrees in the areas of computer science, game design, animation, engineering, and music and sound design. Degree options include:

    • BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation
    • BS in Computer Science and Game Design
    • BS in Computer Science and Digital Audio
    • BA in Music and Sound Design
    • MS in Computer Science
    • BS in Computer Science
    • BA in Game Design

    Where to begin?! The BA in Game Design requires students to complete 139 semester credits. With courses like Game History and Analysis, Game Mechanics, and Scripting Languages, it’s the perfect degree for those interested in diving into game design.

    Notables

    One of the primary reasons to choose DigiPen over other institutions is the opportunity to work on a wide range of both personal and collaborative projects. These project courses will challenge you to create original software, games, animations, hardware devices, and more — often using custom-built software tools and do-it-yourself technology. By the time you graduate, you’ll have an impressive portfolio of creative projects to show potential employers.

  6. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    Location

    Troy, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1824 and located in Troy, NY, RPI is the nation’s oldest technological research university. With more than 145 degree programs and 34 research centers, RPI is well-known for its talented, dedicated, and forward-thinking staff and students. RPI is also home to a fantastic BS Degree in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences.

    Program Features

    All students will have to complete 128 credits to earn a degree. Courses may include:

    • Experimental Game Design
    • Introduction to Game Design
    • Character and Story for Games

    Students can also choose from a variety of concentrations within the major: Electronic Arts,

    Human Computer Interaction, Computer Science, Writing for Games, and more. If you’re interested in this program, you should note that all applicants must submit a portfolio with up to 10 examples representing their best work in any medium. Students should also have a basic foundation in mathematics and the physical, biological, and social sciences.

    Notables

    Every year, Rensselaer’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences hosts a GameFest Symposium and Exhibition. The event introduces students to philosophers, computer scientists, artists and cognitive scientists who actively conduct research in game design, development and production. It’s a great way for students to network and learn more about the gaming industry!

  7. Savannah College of Art and Design
    Location

    Savannah , GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Home to mascot Art the Bee, SCAD is a private university with locations in Savannah, Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, Hong Kong, and France. With over 10,500 students, SCAD is a hub of innovation and offers more than 40 majors and over 60 minors. Now, the school offers a B.A. in Digital Media with a concentration in Game Development.

    Program Features

    All students must complete at least 180 credit hours. You can expect to take unique courses, including:

    • Digital Design Aesthetics
    • Applied Principles: Game Art
    • Core Principles: Interactive Design

    Looking for a program that will open up tons of potential career opportunities? Professionals visit with SCAD students every quarter, interviewing for positions and reviewing their portfolios. Meet with folks from Zynga, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Crystal Dynamics and more! Looking for a flexible game design degree? SCAD also offers this degree online as part of their eLearning program.

    Notables

    SCAD’s interactive design and game development program has won the top prize in the E3 College Game Competition for two years running, along with receiving praise from The Princeton Review and Animation Career Review. It’s no wonder students choose this school to pursue their dreams– becoming a game designer, mobile app designer, technical artist, etc., has never been more exciting!

  8. New York University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Based in the Empire State, NYU is a private research university that is always nearing the top of the rankings for best universities in both the United States and in the world. With over 50,000 students, the school is a hub of innovation, research, and forward-thinking academics. While NYU is known for its many prestigious degree programs, the Game Design BFA is one of the most unique.

    Program Features

    Students in NYU’s BFA program will learn about game design, game development, and game scholarship, preparing them for careers as game designers, developers, and more. Courses may include:

    • Toy Design
    • Beyond the Joystick
    • Minimalist Game Design
    • European Videogames of the 1980s
    • Breaking the Mold: Idiosyncratic Games

    Aside from the cool course selection, all students will complete a senior project, which can be a group or solo endeavor. This project might be making a game on or off the computer, or it could be a research paper, curated exhibition, etc.

    Notables

    NYU launched the Game Center Incubator in 2014 which provides space, funding, and expertise for graduating students. Through a competitive application process, the incubator selects projects that have commercial potential and sees them through to a public launch. Students have gone on to work for prestigious gaming companies including Riot, Arkadium, Disney, and Avalanche Studio.

  9. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1855, this public research university is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is consistently ranked among the top 100 universities in the world. With students from all 50 states and over 130 countries, MSU is a pioneer in research and innovation. In fact, the school’s Media and Information department now offers an undergraduate specialization in game design and development for those looking to build the next great game!

    Program Features

    The game design and development specialization at MSU is available as an elective to students who are enrolled in the BA or BS Degree in Media and Information, the BS in Computer Science, or the BA/BFA in Studio Art. The specialization contains the following four courses:

    • Digital Game Design
    • Client-based Game Design
    • Collaborative Game Design
    • 3D Game and Simulation Design

    All students will also have access to the school’s Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab. You can work to design innovative prototypes, techniques, and complete games for entertainment and learning purposes alongside professors and graduate students.

    Notables

    Founded in 2005, the Game Design and Development Program at MSU has grown leaps and bounds. In fact, it’s now a Top 10 Ranked program by The Princeton Review.

  10. Full Sail University
    Location

    Winter Park, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Full Sail University offers both on-campus and online game design degrees, which take 20 months and 29 months to complete, respectively. Course highlights include game mechanics, game balancing, and prototyping, which cover key industry concepts and skill development. Students explore an understanding of the entire game development pipeline, from the initial idea to the final execution, in preparation for employment in a game studio environment. All students, online and on-campus, participate in seven portfolio projects throughout degree completion, culminating in a digital project eligible for submission to festivals and release to the general public.

    Program Features

    • Psychology of Play
    • Discrete Mathematics
    • Game Design Preproduction
    • Technology in the Entertainment and Media Industries

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

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