What Can You Do With a Degree in Video Game Design?

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A video game design degree is a recent development, unlike more traditional disciplines such as math, history, or English. But it has quickly become a popular pathway to an array of potentially well–paying careers. Whether it’s on desktops, gaming consoles, or phones, playing video games is a common pastime for people of all ages. A child might expand their vocabulary with an educational game on an iPad. A teen or young adult can improve their hand–eye coordination, learn strategy and practice cooperation in games like Minecraft or Fortnite. There are even video games designed to both entertain the elderly and help them retain their cognitive abilities as they age. The video game market is expanding all the time as technology improves, which means that a video game degree is more practical now than ever before.

A degree in video game design will give you the basics in the development and programming of video games. Depending on where you choose to focus, you can also learn about graphic design, gaming theory, marketing, programming languages, design theory, and concept development. As the gaming industry continues to expand, the possibilities for your education and career in video game design are limitless.

Whether it’s a certificate or an advanced degree in video game design, your education will prepare you to work in many areas of the game design field. If you’re inclined towards software development, you might want to work as a programmer, writing and troubleshooting the code that runs the game. For those of you who enjoy drawing, you might want a career as an animator or graphic designer, creating the images of characters and scenery. Or if you’re the type who wants complete control of a project at every stage, you might be cut out to be an entrepreneur in the video game design field, building your own games or apps from the ground up. Opportunities in game design careers exist both in start–ups with small, close–knit teams, and in established companies with experts coordinating work across mulitiple departments.

Game design is unique in that there are many different ways to contribute. There is space for artists, programmers, technicians, writers, and entrepreneurs alike in this field. There are also many different paths to entry. Though the bachelor’s degree is the most popular degree among video game professionals, a certification or associate degree could still help you create promising professional opportunity. Whatever degree level you choose, bear in mind that the field of game design education is growing almost as fast as the gaming business itself.

There are many schools and degrees to choose from. Make sure the school or program you choose is reputable, has a proven track record of success, and offers the right degree or certificate for your specific area of interest.

What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?

Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education–recognized accreditor for its students to receive federal financial aid.

For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?

What is Regional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies

To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What Is National Accreditation?
National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
 
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency–based education, or other education models that operate under a for–profit model.

To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.

For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide toFor–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

What is Programmatic Accreditation?
Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
 
If you are pursuing an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in game design and development — or in a related area of study like programming or graphic design — a stamp from one of these regional accreditation groups is essential.
 
However, certification programs and “programming boot camps” can offer a viable alternative or supplement to a degree program. Many regionally accredited schools do offer certificate–level programs, but quite a few certification programs are independent and without accreditation. This is not necessarily a deal–breaker. If your top priority is gaining or refining viable skills, a certification program or programming boot camp can be a great way to improve your value to prospective employers or gain the tools to pursue your own vision. However, if you are looking at a video game design program without regional accreditation, do your due diligence in assessing factors like reputation, track record, and cost.
 
In most instances, regional accreditation will be considered sufficient for a degree in game design. In some sub–disciplines, though, there may be program–specific accreditors that can lend further credibility to your degree.
 
For instance, if you are pursuing a career as a video game programmer, you may seek out a college with a school or program that is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET . If your interest is video game graphic design, you might seek a college with a program accredited by The National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
 
These accreditation groups maintain national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees related to computer science and art & design, respectively. Accreditation by one of these groups indicates that an institution is maintaining the standards of quality and curriculum set forth by the group itself. This can be an indicator of program credibility.

Again, the absence of one such accreditation is not a deal–breaker. As long as your school is regionally accredited by one of the six associations listed above, you’ll be on your way to a legitimate degree in video game design.

The easiest way to determine accreditation status in a video game design program is to contact your school of choice. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.

To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?

What Kinds of Video Game Design Degrees Are There?

Associate of Game Design

Many community colleges offer two–year, 60–credit programs in video game design. This degree can get you started on the path to an immediate career in the field, or on the way to a bachelor’s degree. Here, you’ll gain introductory instruction in programming, game development, and software development. You’ll also take introductory courses in design, simulation, and some of the computing technology driving game design. You’ll likely also complete a parallel course of study in the humanities or liberal arts. Your associate degree in game design and development can create immediate entry–level opportunity for work as a programmer or graphic artist. As you think about careers in game design, bear in mind that you will be competing for jobs against many candidates holding at least a bachelor’s degree. Parlaying your associate degree into a four–year program can significantly improve your appeal to prospective employers. It’s also possible to develop relevant skills and credentials by completing an associate degree program in a related field, like graphic design or computer science, before going on to a bachelor’s degree program in video game design.

What Video Game Design Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program?

  • 3–D Animation  Modeling
  • Game Concept Development
  • Game Design Principles
  • Intro to Graphic Design
  • Programming Languages

Bachelor of Game Design

The bachelor’s degree in game design and development is the industry–preferred credential. Here, you’ll gain an introductory–level education in subjects like programming languages, design theory, and concept development. You’ll also be able to undertake a more focused exploration of your chosen area of interest, be it graphics, control interface design, marketing, or brand placement. Over the course of 120 credits — typically completed in a minimum of four years — you’ll have the chance to interact with sophisticated technology and software, immerse yourself in cutting edge gaming environments, and gain a greater understanding of the dynamics of the gaming business. You’ll also take an array of related mathematics and computer science courses. A bachelor’s degree in video game design or a closely related programming or design field will qualify you to work in most areas of the industry. From large–scale game developers to startup mobile app designers, from casino slot machines to children’s educational toys, a bachelor’s degree in game design and a portfolio of practical skills can make you a strong candidate for employment in the field.

What Game Design Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’s Program?

  • 3–D Drawing
  • 3–D Graphics
  • Basic Design&Color Theory
  • Basics of Design Computer
  • Design and Development Analysis
  • Digital Imaging
  • Game Development
  • Interactive Design
  • Level Design
  • Psychology of Play
  • Statistics

What’s the Difference Between a BA and a BFA in Video Game Design?

The bachelor of arts (BA) in game design will typically pair your education in design and development with a parallel humanities course–load. The bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree pairs your design and development coursework with an array of creative subjects, with the intent of enhancing your artistic sensibility within the context of gaming. If, instead, you are interested in a course–load that focuses on the technical, mathematical, and analytical aspects of game design, you might consider pursuing a bachelor of science (BS) in computer science with an emphasis on game design.

Master of Game Design

A master’s degree in game design and development can help you achieve greater mastery in a specific area, from programming and development to sound engineering and production. It can also provide you with opportunities to develop the organizational and leadership skills necessary to succeed in a highly dynamic and collaborative field. To this end, you will likely also participate in a practicum project, one in which you share the creative process with classmates while scripting, sketching, animating, programming, and developing your own games or applications. Typically, a one– to two–year engagement, this advanced degree program can also help bring your skills up to speed in a fast–moving field and make you more attractive to prospective employers. A master’s degree could be the difference between grinding out grunt work as a programmer and setting yourself on a path toward concept development and team leadership. If you aspire to bring your own visions to life within the scope of a fiercely competitive industry, you might be a good candidate for a master’s degree in game design.

What Game Design Courses Will I Take in a Master’s Program

  • Game Marketing
  • Game Project Practicum
  • Game Usability and Testing
  • Principles of Production Management
  • Project Management
  • Research in Team Dynamics
  • User Experience

What Can You Do With a Degree in Video Game Design?

Your degree in game design and development can be the key to an exciting career in the video game industry. Here are a few of the top game design jobs within your field:

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Video Game Design Degree?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t compile figures specific to video game design jobs, but does provide some basic figures on salary for the top jobs in your field. The following data reflects median annual salaries as of 2018.

Career Median Salary
Graphic Designers $50,370
Computer Support Specialists $53,470
Web Developers $69,430
Multimedia Artists/Animators $72,520
Network/Computer Systems Admins $82,050
Computer Programmers $84,280
Computer Systems Analysts $88,740
Database Administrators $90,070
Art Directors $92,780
Information Security Analysts $98,350
Software Developers $105,590
Computer Network Architects $109,020
Computer and Information Research Scientists $118,370

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Professional Video Game Design Associations or Societies I Should Join?

Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for game design, graphic design, or programming associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration:

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