5 Surprising Degrees That Can Get You a Job in Video Game Development

by Meg Embry
• 4 min read
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At some point, all liberal arts majors will have to field the question, "What exactly are you going to DO with that degree?" One good answer could be: "Make video games."

Everyone in the video game industry has one thing in common: They love games. But aside from that, they tend to have wildly diverse backgrounds. That's especially true of veteran game developers, because video-game-specific degrees are a fairly recent phenomenon.

Today's video game degrees mostly focus on design and programming, and many of the best programs available are online.

What are the Most Popular Video Game Degrees?

  • BA in game design
  • BFA in game design
  • MA in game design

If you know you want to work in games from jump, these degrees can put you on the fast track, according to Renee Gittins of the IGDA. Aside from the niche technical training you're sure to get, one major benefit of a game degree is the industry connections you'll make along the way.

"Networking continues to be pretty crucial for getting a job in games," said Gittins.

But don't assume that a highly specialized college program is the only way in. The world of games is vast, and expertise of all kinds can be leveraged into a career. So if you're a game lover who studied liberal arts, music, math, architecture, science, politics, whatever — you have something to bring to the table.

Surprising Degrees You Can Leverage Into a Career in Game Development

1. Literature

Industry Jobs to Consider

  • Games writer
  • Narrative director
  • Games PR
  • Games journalist

Transferable Skills

  • Research
  • Writing, communication, and presentation
  • Problem-solving
  • Screenplay writing and storytelling
  • Character development
  • Storyboarding
  • Dialogue

There are a lot of lit majors running around in the game industry. Game developers are increasingly interested in narrative elements and storytelling, so development teams need highly creative writers who design empathically, understand fictional construction, and can add narrative to all elements of the play experience.

2. Architecture

Industry Jobs to Consider

  • Game designer
  • Environment artist

Transferable Skills

  • Sketching
  • Conceptualizing space
  • Understanding built environment
  • Use of color and light
  • Interior design

Architects-turned-game-designers are a growing trend. Both architecture and game design are concerned with the built environment: how a space is used, how it feels, how it functions, and how the end user will ultimately navigate it.

As world building in games gets more sophisticated, the expertise an architect can bring becomes even more valuable.

3. History

Industry Jobs to Consider

  • Games writer
  • Narrative director
  • Consulting

Transferable Skills

  • Analytic thinking
  • Understanding systems of human behavior
  • Research
  • Building narrative structure
  • Curating data

Storytelling is ultimately about curation: Which elements will you bring into the game and which will you leave out? How do those elements work together to create meaning and coherence?

Historians are trained to curate.

"As historians, we read historical documents and look at historical images, and then discuss what that means about the societies they came from. I think that's very important in game development, where you are trying to connect up the world-building mechanics to the narrative you want the player to move through," said James Baillie, a part-time game designer who is pursuing a history Ph.D. at the University of Vienna.

"Historians can bring a wider understanding of how narrative and the human systems behind it connect up."

4. Fine Arts

Industry Jobs to Consider

  • Conceptual artist
  • Narrative designer
  • Special effects
  • Character modeler
  • Character animator

Transferable Skills

  • Artistic development
  • Distinctive style
  • Adaptability
  • Creative vision
  • Traditional skills (light, perspective, color, anatomy)
  • Technological skills (digital arts and 3D software)

There are many art jobs in the video game industry, and people in those roles can benefit from traditional training and skills. Artists create the visual elements that determine a signature look and feel for the game.

According to "Drawing Basics and Video Game Art" author Chris Solarski, "video games rely on the very same design principles — perspective, form, value, etc. — that classical artists employed to create the illusion that the canvas is a window into an imagined world. These design techniques also serve a second purpose equally applicable to game design."

5. Music

Industry Jobs to Consider

  • Audio engineer/sound designer
  • Audio implementer
  • Composer

Transferable Skills

  • Improvisation
  • Working within an ensemble
  • Discipline
  • Creativity
  • Music composition

Brenna Noonan has an MA in music composition and classical performance. She has recently founded her own game development studio, Quillsilver Studio.

"I definitely think that my musical training has made me conceive of games differently than other people do," Noonan said.

"I think like a composer when I'm designing. Other people will look at the individual mechanical components, while I look at a game like a piece of music. What is the structure? Where is the rising and falling action? What is the audience experience? What are the ergonomics? How does this make me feel? It's a powerful perspective to have when you are trying to produce an immersive experience."

Game developers agree: You don't need a formal education for a career in this industry.

Competition for jobs within the industry may be fierce, says Gittins, "but no one is going to rule you out because you didn't go to the right school."

What do you need? To absolutely love games, make industry connections, and know what value you bring to a team.

Popular Questions About Video Game Development

true What Does a Game Designer Do?

Game designers bring a game concept to life with graphic design, programming, creative writing, and visual elements.

true Does Game Design Require Coding?

Yes and no. Most designers work on a team that includes programmers, who do the heavy lifting when it comes to coding. But because all video games are written with code — and because the job market in the games industry is so competitive — it's good to have chops in at least one coding language as a designer.

true Does Game Design Pay Well?

Yes! The game industry creates highly-paid, family-sustaining incomes. According to the 2020 Economic Impact Report, total compensation across video game industry workers is equivalent to $121,459 per worker.

true What Do I Need on My Resume?

The most important thing is a robust, stand-out portfolio full of individualized projects that showcase both your passion and your skill. Aside from that, a resume should include:

  • Relevant experience, both personal and professional
  • Soft skills (highlight elements that show you can work well within a collaborative, intimate, creative team)
  • Technical skills, including any coding languages
  • Special skills, including any niche areas of interest and training
  • Education

Meg Embry is a Colorado-based writer for TheBestSchools.org covering higher education. She is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Header Image Credit: Klaus Vedfelt | Getty Images

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