Best Video Game Design Colleges

by TBS Staff
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Best Colleges for Video Game Design

With an online degree in video game design, you can participate in the growing international industry. E-sports — professional competitive gaming for titles and prizes — draw huge crowds, and even televised coverage, at large events all over the world.

With a large variety of degree and non-degree programs available at video game design colleges and universities of all sizes, potential game designers of all backgrounds can bring their passion for creative arts to the program that fits their needs and interests, qualifying them for a variety of careers in the field.

A Bachelor of Science in Game Design degree can provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to start designing games professionally, but so can a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, or a Master of Science degree.

With such a wide variety of options for study, including online Game Design degrees, and so many ways to enter and specialize in a rewarding career in the video game industry, potential students have a difficult task figuring out where to begin. Our list of the 50 best video game design schools in the U.S. makes the task easier. The list includes programs that fit the individual needs of everyone.

What Do Video Game Designers Do?

In short, video game designers make ideas come to life. They work with other designers to flesh out the concept of a game, draft it, identify how it should play and what demographics it fits, and get their company to give the “go-ahead” on it. As an inherently interdisciplinary career, game designers must be creative, adaptable, and able to comfortably occupy several roles at once. The job includes:

  • Artistic development
  • Character development
  • Concept development
  • Control interface design
  • Drafting
  • Gameplay mechanics
  • Graphic design
  • Programming
  • Sketching
  • Storyline development
  • Writing

Working with a team composed of members with various specializations, video game designers develop a game from top to bottom, start to finish, program to package.

Featured Online Video Game Design Programs

The Best Online Video Game Design Schools

  1. The University of Texas at Dallas
    Location

    Richardson, TX

    Tuition

    $9989

    UT Dallas offers a bachelor of arts, technology, and emerging communication with animation and games concentration. The program introduces students to game design and development through its games research lab, critical studies, and innovative research applications. The school also hosts talks and panels from major industry players for networking opportunities.

    The 120-credit program offers coursework in animation, project management, digital audio, and computer animation. A senior seminar or capstone project completes the degree.

    UT Dallas automatically admits first-year Texas applicants who graduate in the top 10% of their class from an accredited Texas high school and reach minimum SAT/ACT scores. Transfer students may apply credit to coursework.

  2. Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $11931

    Taught through its Media School, IU's bachelor of science in game design looks at gaming through a social systems lens. The program emphasizes the creative connection that happens when designers combine the art of storytelling with cutting-edge animation and media platforms.

    The curriculum includes a three-semester intensive where students develop and publish an original game. Students may select from six tracks and concentrations, including art, programming, sound, and games and the mind.

    First-time students must submit official transcripts (3.6 minimum GPA) and show an ACT composite score of 27 or an SAT combined score of 1280. Transfer students must submit transcripts from previously attended institutions (minimum 2.3 GPA for Indiana residents, minimum 2.5 GPA for nonresidents).

  3. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $16227

    Taught through MSU's College of Communication Arts and Sciences, the serious game design and research graduate certificate offers a fully online or in-class hybrid curriculum. For undergraduates, the school also offers a bachelor's with a concentration in game and interactive media design and a minor in game design and development.

    The master's certificate program gives designers, teachers, and other professionals insight into game theories, design, and development. Studies include foundations of serious games, theories of games and interaction design, and understanding users.

    Certificate applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and apply as graduate certificate students. The program is available to students enrolled in an MSU graduate program and as a stand-alone, three-course graduate certificate program.

  4. University of California-Irvine
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Tuition

    $15014

    UCI's bachelor of science in game design and interactive media prepares students as innovative designers, developers, and industry leaders of games. Internationally recognized faculty and experts teach programming, visual design, and interactive storytelling. The Silicon Beach location provides access to industry partners including Electronic Arts, Disney, Tencent, and the Cartoon Network.

    Coursework includes multiplayer game systems, modeling and world-building, algorithms, and human-computer interactions. In-state first-year applicants must submit high school transcripts with a minimum 3.0 GPA minimum (3.4 out-of-state) and complete A-G course minimum. California transfer applicants must earn a 2.4 GPA in transferrable coursework (2.8 out-of-state).

  5. Arkansas Tech University
    Location

    Russellville, AR

    Tuition

    $11674

    ATU offers a bachelor of fine arts in game and interactive media design accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). The program introduces students to the latest in visual communication arts interactive digital technology sciences.

    Studies focus on game development, design theory, digital art, and animation techniques. It also covers general education courses in English, math, and social sciences.

    First-year students must submit high school transcripts (2.0 GPA minimum) and ACT (minimum 19 composite) or SAT (minimum 1010 composite) scores. Transfer submission requirements include transcripts from previously attended institutions (2.0 GPA minimum).

  6. University of Wisconsin-Stout
    Location

    Menomonie, WI

    Tuition

    $14866

    The bachelor of fine arts in game design and development offered through UW-Stout teaches core skills in art and design, such as drawing, 3D modeling, and animation. Students learn about concept art, characters, and level design.

    Required classes for the 120-credit program come from the game design core (games design and development), studio requirements (drawing and graphic design), and studio "selectives" (art and design coursework).

    First-year applicants must submit official high school transcripts. Transfer applicants must submit transcripts from high school and previously attended institutions (2.0 minimum GPA). Test scores are optional.

  7. Drury University
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    DU's bachelor of science in computer science-game development targets those interested in careers as game developers and students who want to pursue graduate work in computer science or a related digital media field.

    The program requires computer science and mathematics courses, with additional credits in game development (computer animation and multimedia storytelling) and media arts.

    Submission requirements for first-year students include official high-school transcripts and either SAT/ACT scores or a 250-500-word essay. Transfer applicants must submit high school and previously attended college transcripts. SAT/ACT scores may also be required.

  8. Savannah College of Art and Design
    Location

    Savannah, GA

    SCAD offers a bachelor of arts in digital media with a concentration in interactive design. In addition to learning from experienced faculty, students have access to AR/VR labs, game showcases, and competitions.

    The 180-credit BA degree requirements include foundation and general education coursework and the concentration (including game art, interactive design, and digital design aesthetics). SCAD also offers internships.

    First-time applicants must submit official high school transcripts and SAT/ACT scores. Transfer applicant requirements include official transcripts from previously attended institutes. All applicants must submit portfolios.

  9. Northeastern University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Northeastern offers a 120-credit bachelor of fine arts in game design that teaches students to communicate ideas through interactive media. The degree explores games as an aesthetic form through critical analysis and creative practice.

    Students learn a wide variety of genres and contexts and are encouraged to think up innovative new approaches to game content. The program groups courses into game studies, design, development, aesthetics, and critical play. Graduation also requires a game design capstone.

    Submission materials for first-year applicants include high school transcripts and teacher/counselor recommendations. Transfer applicants must submit high school and college transcripts and an academic evaluation. College courses with a 2.0 GPA or higher might be considered for transfer credit. Portfolio submissions are highly encouraged.

  10. Southern Arkansas University Main Campus
    Location

    Magnolia, AR

    Tuition

    $13203

    SAU's bachelor of fine arts in game, animation, and simulation teaches students to apply technical and theoretical skills to problem-solving with open source and software applications.

    In addition to general education requirements, the 121-credit program's core curriculum includes studies in game design management, physics of animation, concept art, and virtual reality.

    First-year applicants must be high school graduates with a 2.0 minimum GPA and ACT scores of 16 or higher. Transfer applicants must have a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher. Official transcripts are required.

Best Video Game Design School Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

Video Game Designer Education Requirements

According to Sokanu.com, professional video game designers most commonly hold Bachelor degrees in Game Design. While a variety of degrees at different levels and with specific focuses can prepare students for careers as video game designers, students should make sure the program they select provides a well-rounded foundation that incorporates concepts and coursework from a variety of fields.

Types of Video Game Design Programs

With so many programs available, students have the flexibility of earning a wide variety of educational qualifications, with everything from undergraduate certificates, to full-blown Ph.D. programs, which meet different personal interests and needs.

true Undergraduate Certificate in Game Design

Numerous schools offer some variation of this type of certificate program; these programs provide quick, entry-level qualification for potential game designers.

true Associate of Arts in Game Development

A common, two-year game design program, an AA in game development prepares students in a short timespan to enter careers in game design, and later pursue Bachelor degrees.

true Bachelor of Arts in Game Design

A common type of game design program, the program approaches game design from a basis in the humanities, merging art and storytelling with programming.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Game Arts

The program provides an aesthetic and artistic basis for game design, treating the field as an intersection of art, culture, and computer science. The program focuses on the cultivation of the creative process in students.

Bachelor of Science in Comparative Media Studies with a Games and Interactive Media Cluster

The program provides a critical approach to games in a new media context, examining the theory of games in a cultural context, beyond just their design.

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with emphasis in Game Design

A common bachelor degree for game design, the program provides a well-rounded approach to game design with a heavy foundation in computer science.

Master of Fine Arts in Game Design

This program takes the BFA one step further, allowing for an in-depth study of the creative and artistic processes present in game design.

Master of Science in Computer Science with emphasis in Game Design

Another common game design program, and the next logical step after a BS, this type of program maintains a computer science focus as the basis for game design, but with graduate-level depth and specificity.

Master of Science in Mobile Gaming

This program allows students to focus specifically on game design for mobile platforms and the casual gaming market.

Doctor of Philosophy in Media and Information Studies

The program allows students to take game design, theory, and criticism to the highest academic level, even opening the possibility for them to become professional academics of video game studies.

Subjects Video Game Design Programs Cover

Video game design requires an interdisciplinary approach. Video game design programs, at any level, cover a variety of subjects, including:

  • 2-D and 3-D animation
  • Aesthetic theory
  • Algebra
  • Algorithms
  • Art history and appreciation
  • Calculus
  • Color theory
  • Computer and gaming hardware
  • Computer graphics
  • Computer programming languages, including C++ and Java
  • Drawing
  • Gaming culture, attitudes, and history
  • Game mechanics
  • Geometry
  • Interactive media
  • Modeling
  • Media studies
  • Operating systems
  • Physics
  • Storytelling
  • Trigonometry

Video Game Design Salary

According to PayScale, as of October 2021, the median yearly salary in the US for video game designers is $66,362. Entry-level video game designers make about $55,963, and experienced designers make about $98,639.

Video Game Designer Careers

Video game design programs prepare students to pursue general or specialized video game design careers, including:

  • Artificial intelligence programmer
  • Audio engineer
  • Character designer
  • Creative director
  • Environment designer
  • Game animator
  • Game artist
  • Game designer
  • Game programmer
  • Game tester
  • Producer
  • Software engineer
  • Software project manager
  • User interface designer
  • Video game system designer
  • Writer

Video Game Designer Job Outlook

The BLS does not offer specific data about video game design, but it does project that special effects artists and animators — many of whom work in game development — could see a 16% growth in job opportunities between 2020-2030. That's much higher than the average for all occupations in the U.S.

Header Image Credit: luza studios | Getty Images

Frequently Asked Questions About Video Game Design Careers

How Do You Become a Game Designer?

Earnign a degree in video game design and pursuing and internship is a great way to get started. Many video game designers also start by playing video games competitively.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Video Game Designer?

Narrative sense, game theory, and collaborative communication are all key skills for a video game designer. Depending on what role you pursue — like coder, writer, or graphic artist — you will also need specialized, role-specific skills.

Can I Be a Game Designer if I Can't Draw?

Yes. There are plenty of roles in game design that do not require drawing abilities, such as coding, writing, or project management positions.

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