Why Earn a Master’s in Game Design?
If you have or are working on your bachelor's video game design degree, you may be wondering whether to end your education with a four-year degree or to continue on to earn your master's. As with most major life decisions, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, but you may find that a master’s is the optimal way to advance your career. It also might be a necessity if you decide that you want to start your own gaming studio. You’ll need the expertise to really delve into the full creation of a game or direct a group who are working together to create a finished product. Those who go on to earn a master's are likely to take at least some business courses to help they advance into management, but on the technical side, students may take courses and focus in on any of the following subjects and learn sophisticated skills in their academic programs at their university or institute of technology.
- Interactive Design
- Entertainment Design
- Interactive Entertainment - Games and Interactive Media
- Digital Media and Digital Design
- Digital Production
- Video Game Design
- Computer Graphics and Art Design
- Game Programming
- Game Development
- Game Production and Management
- Game Audio
- Human-Computer Interaction
- Artificial Intelligence
- Game Studies
- Gaming Industry Standards
- And More
Computer Science Degrees & Career Paths
- A master's degree will put you at the top of the game industry and make you eligible for the most desirable careers in game design and development, such as interactive media & game develpment or entertainment design.
- Your master's degree will allow you to apply for management spots at major studios because it will showcase your knowledge and talent.
- Because a graduate degree includes business and management courses, you'll be prepared to launch your own studio, which is many game designer's dream.
- Your master's degree will mean you can expand your job options if you wish to enter another career, either in or out of the computer field.
- Regardless of your position, on average you will earn more than someone who holds a bachelor's degree with the same experience.
- You will qualify for certifications not available to those who only hold an undergraduate degree. Many employers have education programs and will pay for your master's degree courses.
- You'll have to dedicate more time to your education and, if you're working full-time as well, that can lead to burnout.
- Master’s degree programs are expensive, and it may take a considerable amount of time to see a return on your educational investment.
- All master’s degree programs are tough, and students may have a hard time keeping up on your game studies, depending on the support and flexibility their university or institute of technology provides.
- Because the field of game design is constantly evolving, you'll still need to take continuing education courses in order to stay on top of new advancements in the field.
- Because the field of gaming is so competitive, earning your graduate degree does not guarantee you'll land a position in video game design or as a computer game designer.
Overview of a Master's in Game Design
What Game Design Master’s Degrees are Available?
Game design is a relatively new degree field and you'll see this reflected in the titles of the graduate programs available. There are basically three types of degrees you can earn: Master of Arts, which allows more leeway in the electives you can choose; Master of Fine Arts, which concentrates more on the artistic practices themselves; and Master of Science, which has a more focused choice of electives. It's important to look at the curriculum to determine it offers the track you wish to follow and that the program accepts all your credits from your bachelor’s degree.
Here's a look at some popular titles of Master degree programs in game studies:
- MS Game Design and Development
- MFA Video Gaming
- MS video gaming
- MS Game Design
- MFA Game Design
- MS - Mobile Gaming
All master’s degree programs require you to hold a bachelor’s degree in the subject, and the courses in your degree must be transferable to your graduate school. You'll also have to verify you have taken all prerequisites for the curriculum in the program you intend to enter. Beyond the admission application and fee, you'll also probably have to take one or more admissions tests; some common ones are the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, and the MAT. You'll need your undergrad school transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume that showcases your experience in the subject.
Each school sets its own admission requirements so you should check the admissions for each school you're considering.
How long does it take to earn a Game Design Master’s?
The time involved in earning a Master's degree can fluctuate depending on the school but, as a rule, you'll need about 60 credit hours to complete your courses. If you attend full-time, this is about two years, and you'll also most likely need to write a thesis before you're eligible to graduate. Some schools offer accelerated programs and some schools offer a five-year Bachelor/Master program. Of course, if you attend part-time it will take you longer to finish your degree. Make sure to check any certifications you have earned to see if you can get credit for them in your graduate degree program.
Potential Careers in Game Design with a Master’s
Obviously, your goal is to land a job as a game designer but, as with most careers, there are levels you will typically move through to reach the top. The following positions are potential jobs you will qualify for once you hold your master's degree. Median salaries are included but take note: in the gaming industry the size of the studio, the sector of the industry, and the amount of experience you have all play a big part in how much you might earn. The following examples are for someone who holds a master's degree and has six years’ experience in the field. Note also that studios may pay bonuses and profit sharing in addition to your salary.
- Lead Game Designer
You’ll supervise a team on a specific level or area of design such as animation or world building. You might also create the flowchart and storyboard your team will follow to design a game.
Average annual salary: $85,000
- Senior Video Game Designer
The senior game designer is in charge of the entire team and can have dozens of details to track during the development of a project, from concept to quality assurance testing.
Average annual salary: $105,000
- Senior Project Manager, Game Design
The project manager is charged with taking care of the big picture. They ensure that gaming projects ships on schedule and stays within the budget and typically oversees hiring and scheduling to ensure there are the proper number of team members for each department.
Average annual salary: $112,300
- Sr. Software Engineer / Developer / Programmer
Because design and development are usually taught in the same degree program, you might choose to work as a developer, looking at the practical aspects of the game creation and production process.
Average annual salary: $130,000
- Professor, College Level Game Design
Game design is a high burnout career and, at some point, you may get tired of the fast pace and long hours. Your master's degree will allow you to switch fields and, as a college professor, you can opt to share your skills with the next generation of game designers.
Average annual salary: $86,600
Options to Advance
Senior video game designers are at the top of their field and advancement is usually made by moving to a larger, more prestigious studio. With your master's degree and six or more years of experience you can basically write your own ticket when it comes to advancement. Your master's degree in combination with experience will also qualify you to advance into the management area of game studios, in game design and development, game programming, game production, or digital production among other options, open your own studio if you wish to go independent with your game ideas.
Because the field of gaming is constantly advancing you should plan to continue your education by staying on top of industry developments and taking courses in new platforms and innovations in the field, such as in interactive entertainment, interactive media and game development, game audio, etc.
Best Master’s of Science in Game Design Programs
Rochester Institute of Technology School of Interactive Games and Media
Rochester, New York
Rochester Institute of Technology offers a well-rounded program that offers undergraduate and graduate programs and accepts all credits from its bachelor program, as well as credits from other accredited schools. The Interactive Games and Multimedia department offers more than 150 courses so you can personalize your degree curriculum.
- MS in Game Design and Development
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
The University of Southern California is ranked number one in most game development school ratings because it offers hands on training from experts in the field of game development and design. The graduate level degree is a continuation of the bachelor's degree program.
- Master of Fine Arts
- Master of Science
DigiPen Institute of Technology
Digipen Institute is sponsored by Nintendo and will give you the tools to shine as a designer in the field of video and mobile games; your degree program will give you all the tools you need to shine in any career in the field of gaming.
- Master of Science
- Master of Fine Arts
New York University
Tisch School of the Arts
New York, NY
One of the few fine arts programs in game development and design is at New York University, and you'll have access to the Media and Games Network at the NYU Brooklyn campus as well as the Game Center Open Library while you earn your graduate degree.
- Minor in Game Design
- Bachelor of Fine Arts
- Master of Fine Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT Game Lab
Although MIT doesn't have a degree specific to game studies, it is the premiere technical school in the country and its Game Lab reflects that fact. Grad students can choose their own curriculum based on their personal interests and career goals.
- Master of Science
Traditional Schools Offering an MS in Game Design
Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
Drexel University has one of the best technical schools available and combines the digital media and computer science departments to create a strong graduate program in game design.
- Master of Science
Full Sail University
Winter Park, Florida
Full Sail offers a 12-month graduate degree program in both game design and mobile gaming so you can streamline your master's degree while learning the latest in the gaming field. Students create a fully working game as part of their curriculum.
- Master of Science - Game Design
- Master of Science - Mobile Gaming
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
SCAD offers two graduate degree programs, so you can choose between an Arts program and a Fine Arts degree. Students can concentrate on the area that interests them most while earning a degree that will fully complete your graduate education.
- Master of Arts (MA) in Interactive Design and Game Development
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Interactive Design and Game Development
St. Charles, Missouri
Lindenwood University offers two graduation plans: a thesis track or a non-thesis/applied project plan, so you can customize you graduate degree curriculum to match your learning style.
- MA in Game Design