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.
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.
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?
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.
University of Pennsylvania
College Choice Score: 100
Average Net Price: $22,944
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.
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
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.
New York University
College Choice Score: 97.93
Average Net Price: $35,147
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.
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
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.
Rochester Institute of Technology
College Choice Score: 95.99
Average Net Price: $29,111
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.
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
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.
Savannah College of Art and Design
College Choice Score: 93.09
Average Net Price: $40,856
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.
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
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.
University of Central Florida
College Choice Score: 93.08
Average Net Price: $15,533
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.
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
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.
University of California Los Angeles
College Choice Score: 93.06
Average Net Price: $14,236
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.
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
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.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
College Choice Score: 91.43
Average Net Price: $40,666
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.
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
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.
University of California Santa Cruz
College Choice Score: 91.32
Average Net Price: $16,261
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.
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
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.
DigiPen Institute of Technology
College Choice Score: 90.49
Average Net Price: $33,076
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.
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
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.
Michigan State University
College Choice Score: 89.84
Average Net Price: $14,970
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.
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
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.
College Choice Score: 89.82
Average Net Price: $29,998
Northeastern University is located in Boston and is an elite research institution. For those eager to earn real-world work experience during school, look no further than Northeastern. They have one of the best co-op programs in the nation, through which their 25,000 students are employed.
The College of Arts, Media, and Design at Northeastern offers an MS in Game Science and Design. Through this program you will gain comprehensive insight into game products, player-centric environments, and factors that make a game succeed. This is a two-year program with classes on:
- Game Design and Analysis
- Business Models in the Game Industry
- Usability and Empirical User Research
- Introduction to Computational Statistics
Northeastern’s boasts many accolades. The Princeton Review named it first in “Best Schools for Internships.” It has been named sixth in “Most Innovative Schools” by U.S. News & World Report.
University of Utah
College Choice Score: 89.50
Average Net Price: $11,322
The University of Utah is a major hub for research in Salt Lake City. Offering nearly 200 academic programs at all degree levels, the university is home to more than 31,000 students. Though known for many of its prestigious programs, Utah is notably strong in computer science, political science, and medicine.
Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering program provides a Master’s in Games Studio program. For those who want to exclusively study game development, this could be the program for you. You will graduate fully equipped to not only design and develop games, but to cultivate assets and demonstrate leadership in the industry. There are also four tracks of specialization, in:
- Game Arts
- Game Engineering
- Game Production
- Technical Arts
Utah has produced dozens of Rhodes Scholars, MacArthur Fellows, Nobel Prize winners, and Pulitzer recipients, to name a few. It is a nationally and globally ranked university and third in the nation for its usage of green power. Indeed, for the eco-minded, there’s hardly a better place to earn your degree than Utah.
Southern Methodist University
College Choice Score: 87.18
Average Net Price: $37,499
Located in the metro Dallas area, Southern Methodist University is a private school founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Though it still maintains those ties today, SMU has grown exponentially. Nearly 12,000 students attend SMU and are enrolled in one of the seven academic colleges or professional schools.
When you earn your graduate degree in game design at SMU you will have the opportunity to specialize in art, design, production, or programming. On top of those concentrations, this program also covers key focus areas that includes everything from virtual sculpting to rigging, modularity, game engine pipelines, and more. Graduates have gone on to become:
- Character Artists
- Hardsurface Artists
- 2D Artists
- Environment Artists
Both U.S. News & World Report and Forbes rank SMU among the top 100 best universities in the nation. Likewise, it is considered among the top five best universities in the state of Texas. And in particular, its computer science and fine arts programs, among others, are top-ranked.
College Choice Score: 82.10
Average Net Price: $32,084
DePaul University is a private, Catholic school located in Chicago, IL. It is one of the nation’s largest Catholic universities with more than 25,000 students. DePaul is known for its strengths in both the fine arts and the professions, having one of the best business schools on its campus.
Another creativity-based degree, DePaul offers an MFA in Game Design through its College of Computing and Digital Media. With an emphasis on work that is at once socially, culturally, and emotionally intuitive, DePaul’s students study theory, application, and everything in between. Some of the required coursework includes:
- Creative Computation
- Game Design Workshops
- Art Games Bootcamps
- Game Development Practicum
In addition to being nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report and Washington Monthly, DePaul has earned a solid reputation for its innovative approach to education. Its programs are marked by their emphasis on service-based learning, and the university is designated by U.S. News as being one of the top schools for service learning.
Full Sail University
College Choice Score: 75.90
Average Net Price: $27,840
Located in Winter Park, FL but home to a burgeoning distance education program, Full Sail University is a private, arts-centric school. Full Sail offers an array of programs, but its curriculum is notably strong in the areas of entertainment, media, animation, and production. Nearly 10,000 students attend Full Sail.
You can earn an MS in Game Design from Full Sail University in just one year. At Full Sail you will gain a foundation in user experience research, design, and production. And because every student is required to complete a capstone project, you can be assured that you will graduate with a polished portfolio or product ready for review by employers. Classes include:
- Project and Team Management
- Game Design
- Methods and User Experience
- Game Production Tools
Campus at Full Sail is marked by its many production and computer studios. For example, it is also home to the Full Sail Studios, a 22,000 square foot multi-use recording and production building. And, when Rolling Stone Magazine calls the university “one of the five best music programs in the country,” then it’s a safe bet that this is the university all things media.
College Choice Score: 73.28
Average Net Price: $31,758
American University is a Methodist school located in Washington, DC. It is organized into over a dozen schools and colleges and is known for being one of the “Most Politically Active” universities in the nation. More than 13,000 students attend American.
American offers an MA in Game Design degree that is highly customizable. There are nearly 10 areas of concentrations student can choose, in everything from gaming development to 3D animation. All students, however, will be required to complete the common core, which consists of:
- The Design of Play
- Game Design and Art Pipeline Production
- Games and Society
- Game Development
With research and academic strengths in numerous areas and subjects, American is most known for its film, media, and business programs, among others. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University sixty-ninth nationally while The Fiske Guide to Colleges includes it on its “Best Buy” list each year.
Laguna College of Art and Design
College Choice Score: 84.93
Average Net Price: $34,863
Head to the beach for your degree! Laguna College of Art and Design is located in Laguna Beach, CA. It is a small arts school with around 550 students, seven majors that span from digital media to creative writing, and four MFAs, including its renowned MFA in Game Design.
The MFA in Game Design from Laguna is a two-year program that, though steeped in creativity, is also highly technical and technological. This degree can be earned online and teaches students the creative and technical process of creating vibrant games. Therefore, some of the classes you’ll take as a Laguna student include:
- Mechanics-Based Game Analysis
- Game Production
- Engine Technology
On top of its reputation for offering some of the nation’s most regarded art degrees, Laguna is also known for its integration of technology and the liberal arts. Plus, the College is only an hour from LA, a mecca of culture, tech, and entertainment.
George Mason University
College Choice Score: 67.32
Average Net Price: $18,032
George Mason University is a sprawling research university located in Fairfax County, VA. It is organized into dozens academic colleges, professional schools, and research centers and institutes. More than 35,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend GMU.
GMU offers an MA in Computer Game Design program that blends interactive design, creative writing for games, production, and the business of games. This unique degree balances both the science and craft behind gaming, opening many vocational doors for its graduates. Some of the classes you’ll take as a George Mason student include:
- Game Business, Entrepreneurship, and Practice
- Advanced Game Art
- Game Studio Management
- Interactive Game Systems Design
GMU is a nationally and globally ranked university with high marks for its research contributions. The Carnegie Foundation even designated it among the most active research universities in the nation. U.S. News & World Report ranks it as among the top 100 “Best Colleges for Veterans” and for its affordability.
Academy of Art University
College Choice Score: 63.45
Average Net Price: $29,301
Located in one of the most art-driven cities in the nation, San Francisco, the Academy of Art University was first founded as an advertising school. Today it has over 12,000 students and dozens of undergraduate and graduate programs in everything from landscape architecture to fashion, game design, and acting.
The School of Game Development at the Academy of Art University offers two online degrees, one in video game development and the other in video game programming. Though the former is more arts-centric and the latter requires a lot of coding, both will give you a foundation in gaming concepts and applications. You can even specialize in one of many areas, including:
- Environment Concept
- 3D Character Modeling
- UI/UX Design
- Game Design
One of the most distinctive features of the Academy is its no-barrier admissions policy. The university is explicit about its student-centric focus, accepting students based on their level of passion and commitment to their craft.
College Choice Score: 62.04
Average Net Price: $30,485
Becker College has several campuses located throughout Massachusetts, including in Worcester and Leicester. It offers around 50 academic programs, its most well regarded being those in video game design and nursing. Just over 2,000 students attend Becker College.
At Becker College you can earn an MFA in Interactive Media with a concentration in Advanced Game Studio. This is a two-year program during which you will create an industry-standard portfolio showcasing the work you developed during your time at Becker. Because of the independent and customizable nature of the degree, you won’t take core courses but instead directed graduate studios, group seminars, and electives such as:
- Developing Story for Interactive Media
- History of Interactive Media and Analysis
- Graduate Character Animation
- Global and Localization Concepts in Interactive Media
Becker College is designated as the home of Massachusetts Digital Games Institute. MassDigi promotes collaboration, entrepreneurship, and development among the state’s digital and video games industry. The Princeton Review consistently ranks the video game programs at Becker as among the top 10 in the nation.