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Overview of an Associates in Game Design

Video game design is another of those technology sectors where you may not need to have a degree or complete an associate program at all. If you already work on designing online computer games, or you have worked with game platforms such as Unity, then you may be able to break into the game design world without any degree at all, by making your own online computer games with the software available to you or for popular online game websites. However, if you are interested in video games or you are working with publishing your own online, but are looking for a way to get a position within the game design industry, it’s probably a good idea to gain some education in the field.

Education, like a portfolio of your own online computer games you've created, never hurts when you are trying to stand out from the rest of the candidates for positions. An associate degree in game design and development from a local or online technical community college can help game design students learn the fundamentals and give them hands-on experience with platforms you’ve never used before as well as general computer science, computer programming, the fine arts, and more. It’s the perfect jumping-off point, whether you need knowledge you don’t have to make your first game, or you’re looking to perfect your skills and earn an associate or bachelor's degree in video game design to help you earn a place on a design team. Online programs continue to become more and more popular for these degrees, and they attract online students from all over the world.

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Pros and Cons of an Associate Degree in Game Design

Those who are creative and love playing video games, gaming in general, and computers might have wondered how to become game designers. While many entry-level positions in this field require that you have at least a bachelor's degree, not everyone can commit to a four-year college video game design program. Even an online program can take up a lot of your time, especially if you must attend synchronous online courses. An online or traditional associate degree in game design is an alternative, and there are both good and bad points to consider when deciding whether this is a route you should pursue. Here's are some pros and cons of earning an associate degree:


  • An online or on-campus associate degree only takes about two years on average, so you can get a solid knowledge base and perhaps find a position within the field that allows you to learn more than the fundamentals of game design and development as you earn a living.
  • If your high school grades weren't too great, you can use your associate degree in video game design to raise your grade point average (GPA), that way you will qualify for entry into your dream bachelor's program or a prestigious online program.
  • Many employers offer reimbursement programs for employees to attend college, so you may be able to continue your education with a Bachelor of Science in Game Design for free after you earn this degree.
  • Your associate degree is basically the same as the first two years of a bachelor’s degree so, when you graduate, you'll be halfway through your next degree whether you choose to attend in-person or online in the future.
  • An associate degree will give you exposure to the field of game design, as well as similar careers, such as multimedia artists and animators, so you may find something similar you enjoy more.
  • Those who hold an associate degree earn more than someone who only has a high school diploma, regardless of the area of work.


  • As mentioned before, an associate game design degree from a community college or technical college may not make students eligible for jobs as game designers, as there is a lot to learn to become capable of designing games.
  • Not all associate credits are accepted by bachelor degree programs, especially if you attend an unaccredited online program, so you'll have to find a program with fully transferable credits if you plan to continue on to a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts game design program.
  • The gaming industry is highly competitive, and you may have a hard time finding a support position that will help you learn on the job without a higher level game design degree.
  • Associate degree programs are usually limited in class choices, so you may not learn everything you need for entry into a bachelor degree program for video game design.
  • Even in a support position, you could be passed over for another candidate who holds a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer programming, or game design and development.
  • Many support positions are awarded to students who are working an internship.

Certificate vs. Associate's

Some schools offer online certificate or diploma programs that give you a basic foundation in game design. The advantage is they can be completed in a short period of time; some are even offered for students in high school. Certificate programs are great if you're not sure about going into gaming and, if the courses are accredited and transferable to a four-year degree program, an online certificate may work for you.

If you already have a bachelor's degree in a similar subject, such as graphic design, a certificate may be ideal as you can showcase your talent in the field of game design.

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What Game Design Associate Degrees are Available?

Game design is a relatively new field of study and the varying titles of degree programs reflect this. You should be aware of the differences between game design, graphic design, programmers, and developers. Some designers have experience as developers or programmers, but not in graphic design. A game designer dreams up the concept of the game and creates the basic framework; in a larger company they may work as part of a team or on a single aspect of a game. A developer takes the designer's concepts and creates the actual game.

Because of this confusion, it's important you look at the curriculum, rather than the title, of each program to see if it offers what you want. A degree with "developer" or "simulation" or even "Computer Graphics" may offer electives that give you the design courses you need.

Your best bet is to compare associate programs with bachelor degree programs and see what courses are required in the first two years. That way, you know you'll have the prerequisites needed when you're ready to continue your online or traditional education.

Here's a look at some degree titles that offer game design courses as part of the curriculum:

  • Associate of Fine Arts in Game Design (AFA)
  • Associate of Applied Science Game Design and Development (AAS )
  • Associate of Applied Science in Simulation and Game Development (AAS )
  • Associate of Science in. Game Design and Interactive Media (GDIM)
  • Associate of Science in Video Game Design (AS)
  • Associate of Science in Graphic Design / Animation & Motion Graphics (AS)
  • Associate of Science in Applied Arts & Science / Computer Graphics (AS)
  • Associate of Arts in Game Development (AA)
  • Associate of Science in Computer Science / Game Development-Design (AS)

Admission Requirements

For the most part, the only requirement for an associate degree program is a high school diploma or GED. You'll need to fill out an admissions application and submit your high school transcripts, as well as an application fee. Most schools have a deadline for applications, so you need to apply in time to receive your transcripts before the deadline.

If your school of choice has a transfer agreement with a four-year college or university, you may need to submit your SAT scores as well, so check with the admissions page on the website of each school you're considering.

How long does it take to earn a Game Design Associates?

An associate degree is considered a two-year degree because it takes two years to complete if you attend full-time. You'll need to complete 60 semester credit hours, which is an average of 20 classes. If you're still in high school, you may be able to take college-level courses your junior and senior years and complete up to half of your degree requirements. You may also take College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests and get credit for courses such as English or mathematics if you have a solid knowledge of the subjects offered.

If you attend part-time it may take several years to earn your degree, but in the end, you'll still have a diploma and that's what counts.

Potential Careers in Game Design with an Associates

As mentioned above, you won't qualify for employment as a game designer with just your associate degree. You may find employment in a support position associated with the industry, and this will be valuable experience. Here are some sample positions you might qualify for and the median salary for each job; note that an entry level position will most likely pay considerably less:

  • Multi-Media Artist or Animator:
    Create animation and graphics for film, television, internet, video games, and similar electronic media platforms; you'll need to know the latest software and programs used within the field in order to perform this job.
    Average salary is $58,100.
  • Graphic Designer:
    Use fonts, colors, illustrations, and layouts to present a product or communicate a message; graphic designers are employed in a wide range of industries and are often self-employed and work for a per-project fee.
    Average annual salary is $45,900.
  • Junior Artist/Animator:
    You’ll work with a wide range of programs such as Adobe Creative Suite, Trapcode Suite, and Element 3D to create animation for various electronic media platforms.
    Average annual salary is $55,400.
  • Game Tester:
    You’ll work in the quality assurance department of a company to make sure video games work the way they are supposed to and are error free. They usually follow a script to test each stage of a program or game development.
    Average annual salary is $40,700.
  • Software Tester:
    Working in quality assurance, a program tester runs a program through various tests to ensure it works as planned and is error free. Testers document each stage of their work so programmers can track issues and pinpoint problems and errors within the program code.
    Average annual salary is $56,900.

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Options to Advance

You should plan to enter a game design bachelor's program as soon as possible in order to enter into the actual field of game design, as this is the standard degree for entry-level positions. Throughout your school and work career you should build a portfolio that showcases your work within the field.

When you choose a bachelor degree program, look for one that includes an internship position as part of the curriculum. This will give you vital experience within the field as well as a chance to network and meet influential people who may help you advance in the future.

If you can't enroll in a bachelor's program right away, look for courses you can take one at a time so that you can continue to build your knowledge base. Make sure the classes you take are transferable to a bachelor’s program so you will be constantly advancing your degree credit total.

Best Associate of Art in Game Design Programs

  • New York Film Academy- Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, California

    The New York Film Academy offers a degree program that is 16 months long and includes the Academy's Game Studio course, so you can create a functioning game while attending school. This program includes one-on-one mentorship with industry advisors, faculty, and a professional programmer.

    Degrees Offered:

    • AFA in Game Designy
  • Joliet Junior College
    Joliet, Illinois

    Students work with professional design game engines to develop animations and 3D models as they learn to create their own games. Joliet has partnered with several universities for a smooth transfer to a four-year degree program.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Game Design and Development, AAS
    • Game Design and Development, CAC (certificate)
  • Central Piedmont Community College
    Charlotte, North Carolina

    Central Piedmont's program offers specializations in design, programming, animation, and 3D modeling as well as the game development title so you can focus on the area of design while choosing some of the other subjects as your elective courses.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Science in Simulation and Game Development
    • Certificates also available
  • Pratt Institute
    Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Pratt, New York

    This schools program specializes in the artistic elements of game design as well as production, prototyping, and interactivity. It prepares each student for immediate entry into the field of game design, either as an independent designer or as an employee of an established game company.

    Degrees Offered:

    • A.O.S. Game Design and Interactive Media (GDIM)
  • Keiser University
    Pembroke, Florida

    This is an immersive program that will give you the skill to create levels, assets, characters, 3D modeling, and animation as well as game theory, interactive storytelling, and the art of game space construction while mastering industry-standard game engines.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Video Game Design

Traditional Schools Offering an AA in Game Design

  • Rasmussen College
    Fort Myers, Florida

    Although the program titles focus on graphic design, you'll also learn the basics of game design, how to begin a portfolio, and the core classes required for entry into a bachelor program in game design. Rasmussen is fully accredited and has campuses throughout the country.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Graphic Design
    • Associate of Science in Animation & Motion Graphics
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
    Rochester, New York

    The RIT graphics design program has a focus on computer graphics as well as similar courses vital to game design. The Institute offers both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in game design and development and this associate degree is designed to transfer into a higher education program within the school.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Applied Arts & Science / Computer Graphics
  • Academy of Art University
    San Francisco, California

    This school provides the fundamental concepts of game design, construction, and game engines used professionally within the industry. The program is designed as a stepping stone degree that will transfer to a bachelor degree program within the Academy.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Arts in Game Development
  • Ocean County College
    Toms River, New Jersey

    This online program follows the curriculum recommended by the Association of Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society to provide a degree that is fully transferable to most four-year colleges and universities.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Computer Science / Game Development-Design
  • Lake Washington Institute of Technology
    Kirkland, Washington

    Lake Washington’s program provides a broad range of skills required in the game creation industry such as animation, story building, digital storytelling, virtual reality, and character development. The program is designed to fully transfer to the corresponding bachelor’s degree program.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate Degree in Digital Gaming & Interactive Media (also offers an applied bachelor's degree)

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get a job in the game design industry with an associate’s?

Most roles in this industry are more focused on your skills than on your credentials. If you are able to put together a portfolio or create a game on your own that showcases your skills, you may not even need an associate degree! Where this degree comes in handy is when you are looking to get into a role with a lot of competition; then having earned the degree as well as having a portfolio handy can rocket you to the top of the ‘to hire’ list. Additionally, these programs usually include time spent on purposefully building and curating your portfolio so that you have plenty to show to prospective employers.

Is a game design degree easy?

Generally, most would say that, based on the requirements of these degrees, they are not particularly easy. Because these degrees are often heavily focused on the programming side of game design, they include quite a bit of high-level math. If you don’t have some previous experience in computer science or game design already, you might have trouble as there can be a bit of a steep learning curve. However, if you already have an interest in computer science and don’t have trouble understanding the concepts, then you might just have a knack for the field and might not have too much trouble with the degree. It all depends on where your strengths lie. If you think you might have trouble with the programming aspects of game design, you might want to consider whether or not you would do better in the visual side of game design, where you can focus on graphic design and creating the look and feel of the game rather than building the behind-the-scenes components.

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