Best Master’s in Game Design Degrees

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Level up with one of the nation’s best master’s in game design degrees!

Do you love the imaginative worlds and inspiring narratives that make up the newest games? Can you envision yourself designing such stories through detailed coding as well as creative character development?

Whether you’re more interested in the technical or creative aspects of game design, one of these degrees will help you launch your career in a competitive, exciting industry.

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Top 10 Best Master’s in Game Design Degrees

What kind of master’s degree in game design should you get?

Game design programs can vary widely, so you’ll want to choose wisely. Seek out those programs that not only emphasize your areas of interest, but also those that will provide the type of learning opportunities you need.

Some of these programs are MFAs (Master of Fine Arts) degrees. MFAs are more focused on creativity and portfolio/project development. while Master of Science degrees are concerned with the technical aspects of game design, such as coding and software development.

Regardless of program, rest assured that each of these will give you a strong foundation in gaming fundamentals. You’ll gain insight into gaming theory as much as you will practical development.

You should also consider online education. Not only is it a flexible way to earn your degree, it’s often one of the most affordable ways to advance your career. Check out College Choice’s Best Online Colleges and Universities.

How much money do people make with a master’s in game design?

With a degree in game design you you have many career options, each of which pay well and are in demand.

For example, those who go into the creative field of game development, such as multimedia artists and animators, have salary averages hovering around $70,500 a year. For those interested in coding and software development, average salaries are around $103,500 a year.

And, depending on job title, the projected growth rate of game design lands between 8 and 24 percent for the next few years.

What can you do with a master’s in game design degree?

Whether you want to work behind the scenes, writing lines of code, or at the writer’s table developing compelling stories, a master’s in game design will help you get there.

The gaming industry, like other sectors within the larger media and entertainment markets, is competitive. But having a graduate degree will set you a notch above the rest. You’ll graduate ready for several potential careers:

  • Graphic designer
  • Computer programmer
  • Multimedia Artist/Animator
  • Computer Network Architect

What are the requirements for a master’s in game design?

These 20 programs vary in length, requirement, and emphasis. However, here’s what you can expect regardless of program.

You’ll spend the first semester or year building a sturdy foundation in game design. This likely entails classes on graphics, prototyping, animation, and more. Once you have firm grounding in the fundamentals you will go on to take specialized coursework in an area corresponding to your personal career goals.

Many programs will require a capstone project or portfolio. These are a great way to illustrate your technical skills, career plans, and creativity to future employers. We’ve been sure to note which programs make it a requirement.

Finally, whenever possible seek out hands-on experience through colloquiums, workshops, gaming conventions, and networking events.

What are the best master’s in game design degrees?

Best Master's in Game Design Degrees Badge

As we wrote above, some of these programs are creative while others are technical. Some are offered through polytechnic, research-based universities while others are offered through small arts and design colleges. However, all 20 share one thing in common: they are the nation’s best Master’s in Game Design programs.

To determine the best we first extensively researched all programs across the nation specializing in game design. From there we factored in academic reputation as well as student retention, which is a sign of student satisfaction. Then we looked at tuition rates and salaries of graduates to get an idea of the return on investment.

What we found are the nation’s best Master’s in Game Design programs.

Our figures and information come from the university and colleges’ websites, PayScale, and nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of Pennsylvania
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Ivy League University of Pennsylvania is located in Philadelphia with around 22,000 students. Penn is one of the nation’s most active research universities. This is true of it as a whole, but also many of its distinct schools and colleges demonstrate vibrant research activity in their respective fields.

    Features

    Penn’s engineering school offers a Master’s in Computer Graphics and Game Technology degree that uniquely integrates computer science, technology, and art. At Penn you will have access to the Center for Human Modeling and Simulation, which conducts some of the most regarded research in 3D computer graphics today. Core classes you’ll take at Penn include:

    • Computer Graphics
    • Computer Animation
    • 3D Modeling

    Notables

    Penn is ranked among the top 10 most prestigious schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Similarly, The Princeton Review names it a “Dream School.” It is home to some of the best business, art, communication, medicine, and nursing programs in the country.

  2. New York University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Elite New York University is primarily based in Greenwich Village and is one of the best schools on the island. NYU is comprised of dozens of colleges, research institutes, and cultural centers, including the Tisch School of the Arts.

    Features

    For those who want a creative-based degree, NYU offers the perfect program. This MFA in Game Design is a two-year program where students explore design and development in games while also studying critical and cultural literacy. Graduates not only go on to become game designers, but artists, curators, critics, and scholars too. In addition to coursework on game history, theory, design, and production, you will also:

    • Take studio courses and workshop your projects
    • Create a thesis project during your second year
    • Participate in play labs, which are classes that look deeper into specific games

    Notables

    NYU houses the largest collection of games, both digital and non-digital alike, in the world in its Game Center Open Library. Nationally and globally ranked by dozens of sources, NYU has graduated a number of Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, Pulitzer winners, and more.

  3. Rochester Institute of Technology
    Location

    Rochester, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in Rochester, New York, the Rochester Institute of Technology has nearly 19,000 students. This huge polytechnic school is comprised of 9 colleges that offer degrees in the fine arts, engineering, computer science, and imaging sciences.

    Features

    The MS in Game Design and Development program at RIT specializes in entertainment technology. With technical roots in computer and information science, this degree covers the spectrum of game development, from graphics to game engines, game world design, and interactive narrative. Classes you’ll take while at RIT include:

    • Gameplay and Prototyping
    • Game Industry Themes and Perspectives
    • Game Development Processes
    • Plus colloquiums and capstone projects

    Notables

    U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks RIT’s programs as being among the top 10 of their kind. Forbes includes it on its America’s Best Colleges list, as does The Princeton Review. RIT is also home to one of the oldest, most renowned co-op programs in the nation.

  4. Savannah College of Art and Design
    Location

    Savannah, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in Savannah, Georgia, the Savannah College of Art and Design specializes in the fine arts. More than 10,000 students attend SCAD, a number of which study at one of SCAD’s international campuses in Hong Kong or Lacoste, France.

    Features

    SCAD offers an MA in Interactive Design and Game Development program steeped in contemporary art and imaginative design. As a SCAD student you will not only gain the skills needed to design and develop innovative games, but you will study character development, visual interface, interactive web design, and much more. For example, required courses include:

    • Game Art Methods
    • Interactive Design and Media Application
    • Design Methods for Interactivity
    • Game Design Perspectives

    Notables

    SCAD is known for offering some of the best, most competitive art degrees in the world. But it is also highly regarded for its School of Digital Media, which proffers degrees in interactive design and game development. Additionally, SCAD’s online programs are ranked among the best by U.S. News & World Report.

  5. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Central Florida is located in Orlando and boasts one of the largest student enrollments in the country. More than 66,000 students attend UCF. The university is well-ranked on a national level but is especially strong in computer science, engineering, public affairs, and more.

    Features

    When you earn an MS in Interactive Entertainment from UCF you will collaborate with leaders in the industry through the renowned Interactive Entertainment Academy. You will also be able to choose from one of three specializations, in Art, Production, or Programming. And you will take a range of classes that include:

    • Production for Media
    • Rapid Prototype Production
    • Experimentation, Application, and Innovation in Games
    • Preproduction and Prototyping

    Notables

    UCF is considered one of the most innovative and “up-and-coming” universities in the country by U.S. News & World Report. It has also been praised for its affordability by USA Today, Kiplinger, The Princeton Review, and more.

  6. University of California Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    One of the best schools on the West Coast and one of the most renowned within the wider University of California System, UCLA hardly needs an introduction. It boasts more than 330 academic programs and has nearly 45,000 students. It is a leader in the fine arts, humanities, and across the STEM fields.

    Features

    For those who want a broader degree experience, UCLA offers an MFA in Media Arts. This two-year program is notably student-centric, with each student allocating those years to developing their personal creative project. Rather than take seminars on specific topics, at UCLA you will take a series that includes:

    • Graduate Group Critique
    • Programming Media I and II
    • Graduate Tutorial

    Notables

    A Public Ivy, UCLA has graduated dozens of Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, Turing winners, and much more. It is the ranked first among all public universities by Times Higher Education. And among all national universities, both public and private it is ranked twentyfirst by U.S. News & World Report.

  7. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
    Location

    Worcester, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Worcester Polytechnic Institute is located in Worcester, MA. It specializes in the technical arts and applied sciences with programs ranging from engineering and science to the liberal arts and management. Around 6,000 combined undergraduate and graduate students attend WPI.

    Features

    WPI offers an MS in Interactive Media and Game Development program that requires concentration in one of three areas. The Technical concentration is for students with a software development background who want to expand their skills and knowledge in IMGD. The Serious Games focus is for those who will apply their IMGD training within the healthcare, education, or social sciences fields. And finally the Production and Management focus is for those who will work in the business industry. All specializations require completion of the core:

    • Immersive Human-Computer Interaction
    • History and Future of Immersive and Interactive Media
    • Design of Interactive Experiences
    • Production Management for Interactive Media

    Notables

    The Princeton Review ranks WPI’s gaming programs among the top 10 nationally. The school as a whole is well-ranked by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Businessweek, among others.

  8. University of California Santa Cruz
    Location

    Santa Cruz, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The Santa Cruz campus within the prestigious University of California System is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay. It has around 18,000 students and is organized into 10 small colleges. With strengths in many areas and subjects, UC Santa Cruz is especially renowned for its gaming programs.

    Features

    UC Santa Cruz offers two ways to study gaming, both of which are situated in ideal proximity to the Silicon Valley: an MS in Serious Games and an MS in Games and Playable Media degree. Both take just over a year to complete and both focus on the relationship between technical and design innovation. Curriculum requirements differ depending on the degree, but you will have the opportunity to explore the ins-and-outs of game design through electives such as:

    • Machine Learning
    • Game AI
    • Natural Language Interaction
    • Computer Vision

    Notables

    The Princeton Review along with Gamepro magazine ranked the collective game design programs at UC Santa Cruz as being among the top 50 best in the nation. Even better, Gamepro ranks the graduate program among the top 10 in the nation.

  9. DigiPen Institute of Technology
    Location

    Redmond, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    DigiPen Institute of Technology is located in Redmond, WA with campuses also in Asia and Europe. The school specializes in video game design, animation, and computer science education. More than 2,100 students, undergraduates and graduates alike, attend DigiPen.

    Features

    For those who want to allocate their academics mostly to software design, DigiPen has a fantastic opportunity for you. Their MS in Computer Science degree comes with a specialization in video game and simulation software development. This program can be earned at either a part-time or full-time pace. Classes you’ll take as a DigiPen student include:

    • Object-Oriented Design and Programming
    • Game Project
    • Advanced Computer Graphics
    • Fundamentals of Game Design

    Notables

    The Princeton Review has designated DigiPen one of the top five schools in the country to study game design. In addition to its rankings, DigiPen is also known for its partnership with Boeing, who has awarded DigiPen with the “Boeing Performance Excellence Award” many years in a row.

  10. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI was founded as one of the first agricultural schools in the nation. Today this huge university is home to more than 50,000 students and offers over 200 academic programs in a diverse range of subjects. It is a leader in both STEM and the fine arts.

    Features

    For those not ready to commit to a full graduate degree, MSU has the perfect option for you. It offers a Serious Game Design Certificate consisting of three classes. Earned in under a year, this certification opens doors for you in the game industry as well as in the public and private business sectors, education, engineering, and more. The certificate consists of the following classes:

    • Foundations of Serious Games
    • Theories of Games and Interaction Design
    • Understanding Users

    Notables

    MSU is a Public Ivy ranked among the top 30 best public universities in the nation. It is also a top 100 research institution known for its departmental strengths in computer science, the fine arts, business, engineering, and more.

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