Overview of a Bachelor’s in Game Design
If gaming is your first love and you'd love to make it your job, you may be thinking about a career as a game designer or otherwise involved in the game industry. Although many think that video game designers have a fun and easy profession as they create online games from home, the fact is that there's a lot of hard work involved, and you should plan on earning at least a bachelor's degree in game design (BA in Game Design) if you want to achieve success outside of the online game creating community. This will not only introduce you to the basic knowledge you will need but also give you a leg up on those who only have online certifications or an associate's. Once you start gaining experience in the field and maybe a few certifications of your own, your resume will look great no matter what kind of position in the field you’re applying for. Video game design degree programs prepare students to become video game designers or graphic designers with general education courses and core courses and advanced courses in subjects such as:
- Computer Science or Information Technology
- Computer Programming Languages
- Web Development and Web Application Development
- Human Computer Interaction
- Theories of Game Design
- Video Game Applications
- Game Engine Development and Design
- Computer Graphics
- Interactive Media, Interactive Design, and Online/Mobile Gaming
- Game Design and Development
- Game Software
- Game Production
- Art and Design
- Game Development and Simulation Programming
- Artificial Intelligence
- And More
Certificate Vs. Bachelor’s in Game Design
There are online certificates in game design and development you can earn without a degree and, like a degree program, they have both pros and cons. On the good side, you'll get a solid exposure to the field and that may help you decide whether game development is the career for you. Some certificates are available at the high school level, so you won't have to pay for what you learn. On the other hand, a certificate won't help much with entering the field of game development, and the online classes you take may not transfer to an undergaduate student's in-person or online game design degree program. If you're considering a certificate program, look for one that is accredited and accepted for college credit in a traditional or online bachelor's in game design degree.
What Game Design Bachelor’s Degrees are Available?
Game design is a relatively new field and, as such, the degree program titles can be confusing. Some schools don't have programs specific to game development or interactive game development but offer it as a concentration in their graphic design program, while other schools may offer a similar concentration under the umbrella of computer applications, game engine design, or game software. It's a good idea to look at all design and computer programs and look for concentrations and specializations as well as game design degrees and courses within the curriculum. Whether this curriculum is offered online or not is also dependent on the school you attend and their support of online learning.
For the most part, Bachelor of Art (BA) degrees will give you more leeway in the choice of electives while Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees will have a narrow choice of electives that are within the field of game design and development. Look at several programs that are game design specific and compare the curriculum to other design and computer programs that have a concentration or specialty in game development to see if the vaguer program titles (like game development and simulation programming, game programming, game software design, or interactive design and game development) offer the coursework you'll need to be proficient in game design including game mechanics, game programming, and graphic design. Here's a look at a few traditional or online game development degree titles:
- Bachelor's in Video Game Design
- Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design, Game Design Concentration
- Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering, Game Design Specialization
Although each school decides on its own admission requirements, as a rule of thumb you will be expected to have a high school or associate degree grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 and submit your school transcripts with your completed application and application fee. Some schools will also require a minimum score on your SAT or ACT and a transcript of the score.
If you already hold an online associate degree, there may be prerequisite courses you'll need to have completed as an associate is the equivalent of the first two years of a bachelor's program. If your online associate degree is in another subject, you may have to take some introductory game development courses to meet the school requirements for admission.
Some schools require letters of recommendation, a letter of intent, and an essay as part of their admissions process. Basically, the more competitive the school the more stringent the admission requirements will be. However, you should expect to provide the same documents whether you hope to attend online or in person; jut because a program is offered online does not mean the school will be more lenient in its admissions process.
How long does it take to earn a Video Game Design Bachelor’s?
An online bachelor's signdegree is considered a four-year degree in that it takes approximately four years to complete if you follow the suggested curriculum schedule. You'll need a total of 120 credits to complete your degree, which is an average of 40 classes.
If you already hold an online associate degree, it will take approximately two years of full-time attendance to earn your bachelor's degree. If you take half the classes per semester, it will take twice as long. Some online programs offer accelerated programs that let students finish more quickly.
If you're still in high school, you may be able to take online or nearby college courses and earn a semester or more of credits before you graduate. Most schools participate in the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) which allows you to test out of subjects you are knowledgeable in, giving you credits in place of actually taking a course such as English or algebra.
Potential Careers in Game Design with an Online Bachelor’s Degree
Because the video game industry is so competitive, you probably won’t be able to find a position as a video game designer right out of college. You may qualify for a lower-level position within the field and then you’ll be able to showcase your ability as well as your portfolio to advance from within the gaming industry.
It's important to note that job titles can vary within the game design industry. A smaller game studio may post a job opening for a game designer when they actually want a programmer or graphic artist to create game art, while a larger company may post the same job title when they are looking for a level designer. Look at the details of a position before responding with an application.
Here are a few positions that are typical, available entry-level jobs you can enter when you graduate from a bachelor’s degree program in game design:
- Quality Assurance Game Tester
As the title suggests, this job involves testing a game to make sure every level works the way it's supposed to. Testers keep a log of their actions, tracking bugs and errors so that the designers can fine tune the game before release. Average salary is $40,700
- Level Designer/Editor
This position typically designs the environments within a game such as the landscapes and buildings or the gameplay within a level. Depending on the size of the studio, you may be in charge of more or less. The average Level Designer Salary is $58,500.
- Junior Game Developer
A junior game developer may work on a specific aspect of a game or be charged with fine tuning a level or other details of a project. Depending on the size of the studio you may have many different tasks or be part of a team of junior developers who work under the direction of a lead developer. The average salary is $65,700.
- Game Artist
A game artist creates the game art and storyboards that are incorporated into objects within a game. In a smaller studio this may be a freelance position; in larger studios you may be charged with a specific area such as weapon designs. The average salary is $58,200.
Options to Advance
It will most likely take three to five years of experience working in the field before you can expect to advance to the role of game designer. Because of this you should consistently add to your portfolio and stay abreast of developments within the field of gaming. Plan to learn new techniques and platforms as soon as they are developed in order to stay on top of the latest in gaming trends.
If your ultimate dream is to own your own studio you should continue your degree to the Master's level and add basic business knowledge to your resume.
Best Bachelor’s of Science in Video Game Design Programs
Rochester Institute of Technology School of Interactive Games and Media
Rochester, New York
Rochester offers an excellent program that allows you to choose your area of specialization, so you can concentrate on game design, game art, animation, or a similar aspect of the industry. The Bachelor program is fully transferable to a master's program within the school.
- Game Design and Development BS
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
One of the best schools for video game design, USC has many professional game designers affiliated with their program to give each student mentoring as they learn all aspects of game design. Both programs integrate smoothly into graduate programs at the same school.
- BS in Computer Science – Games
- BA in Interactive Entertainment
Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
One of the top technology schools in the country, Drexel combines their computer science and digital media departments to create a comprehensive program for game design and game art. This program is fully transferable to the graduate degree program at the same school.
- Bachelor of Game Design and Production
- Bachelor of Computer Science with a concentration in Game Programming and Development
New York University Tisch School of the Arts
New York, NY
NYU Tisch School of the Arts has a premiere game design program that fully integrates into their Master of Fine Arts in Game Design program. Students also have access to the Media and Games Network at the NYU Brooklyn campus
- Bachelors of Fine Arts in Game Design
Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT Game Lab
MIT allows students to make their own curriculum in game design, utilizing the MIT Game Lab with state-of-the-art technology and the best instructors in the country.
- Bachelor of Science in Game Design
Traditional Schools Offering a B.S. in Video Game Design
DigiPen Institute of Technology
DigiPen Institute of Technology is affiliated with Nintendo to give students the latest developments in the industry as they learn the art of game design. All programs are fully transferable to the graduate degree programs at the same school.
- Bachelor of Science
- Bachelor of Arts
- Bachelor of Fine Arts
Full Sail University
Winter Park, Florida
High level design and production classes that cover all the key concepts of the field as well as developing a portfolio to showcase your creativity.
- Bachelor of Science in Game Design
St. Charles, Missouri
Courses cover key concepts of the field of game design as well as game economics, aesthetics, and usability. Portfolio and project development courses are included for a comprehensive curriculum.
- Bachelor of Arts in Game Design
Southern New Hampshire University
Hooksett, New Hampshire
A balanced curriculum that teaches skills and knowledge, SNHU combines computer science with animation, storytelling, and art aspects for a complete game design program.
- Bachelor of Arts in Game Art and Development
Liberty offers one of the best game design programs in the country. You'll learn the technical skills as well as the artistic elements required to enter the field of game design with a well-rounded education.
- Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree program with a Game Design specialization
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a bachelor’s in game design worth it?
While in the long run, only you can decide if the degree you end up earning is ‘worth it’, there is evidence to suggest that a game design degree will be worth it in upcoming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that computer systems design and related positions will experience growth in the coming years. This includes those with degrees in game design. Application software developer roles alone are expected to increase by 22% by 2030. Some roles will not increase at these numbers, but that gives you an idea of the possibilities for those with these degrees.
What exactly will I learn in a game design degree?
This degree has a very specific title, and you might be worried that you aren’t going to learn any skills that transfer to other roles. What if you can’t find someone to hire you as a game designer? What if the game you design doesn’t take off? Well, you needn’t worry too much about not working in a game designer position specifically. This degree will give you knowledge that can serve you well in a number of other roles. You should learn about data management, software development, web design and development, and even UX and UI design. With the skills you will learn in these degree programs, you will have many opportunities to find roles where you can succeed.