Game & Simulation Programming Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Info

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What will you learn in a game & simulation programming degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor degree and potential careers.
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Studying Game & Simulation Programming: Degrees at a Glance

Game and simulation programming degrees are designed to teach you a broad range of skills that are useful in the design and development of video games, computer software and simulation programs. Graduating with this degree can prepare you for a variety of entry level positions in game design and software development. You might enroll in a degree program that focuses entirely on game programming or select a concentration in game programming while enrolled in a computer information technology or computer science degree program.

A variety of job titles are available in this field. For example, according to O*NET OnLine, positions for game designers are expected to grow by 3%-9% between 2010 and 2020, whereas the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) predicted that positions for software developers will grow by 30% during the same time period.

Associate Bachelor
Who is this degree for? People who want a solid background in programming Students who want a more in-depth look at programming specifically for interactive programs
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Computer programmer ($76,000)* - Computer programmer ($76,000)*
- Game designer ($80,000)**
- Software developer ($92,000-$100,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years 4 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Coursework
- General education classes
Same as associate degree, plus:
- Internship, and/or
- Capstone project
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- Placement test (varies)
Same as associate degree
Online Availability Some Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **O*NET Online (2011 figures).

Game and Simulation Programming Associate Degrees

Game and simulation programming associate degree programs tend to be offered at the community college level. Programs often combine programming techniques with design concepts, providing a mix of skills geared specifically toward working with video games and related mediums. Degrees may also be found under the labels of interactive simulation and game technology, game and simulation design, or game development and simulation programming. It may also be a concentration under a larger game design degree.

These programs are designed to be completed within two or three years. Additionally, some credits may be applied towards earning a bachelor degree in the future.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Game design careers often have a higher-than-average wage*
  • Provides basis for work in many industries
  • Many programs allow you to build a portfolio that can be useful in securing jobs

Cons

  • May need to work long hours, including nights and weekends*
  • May compete against those with higher degrees for positions*
  • Potential careers can be high-stress**

Sources: *BLS, **O*NET Online.

Courses and Requirements

Game and simulation programming degree programs tend to be a mix of programming courses combined with courses designed to teach you how to put a game together from a creative angle. Programs may include projects, co-ops and general education requirements. The programming languages taught depend on the program. Classes you may take include:

  • Level design
  • Project development
  • Programming fundamentals
  • Artificial intelligence
  • 3D Modeling
  • Data Structure

Online Degree Options

Some schools may offer completely online or hybrid programs, though these are not common. Even if a school does not offer a distance learning option, some programs may have core or general education courses that are offered online. Offerings may vary from semester to semester. Even fully online programs may have some portions that need to be done in-person, such as exams.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

As game design often consists of many people working together, you will have an advantage in this field if you work well with others. Additionally, having knowledge specific to an area of specialty may prove useful against the competition, as well as keeping up with changes in technology and new programming languages as they become available.

Certifications may be available for those who choose to become computer programmers. For example, the Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) offers a certified computing professional certification for those who pass their exams, have a set amount of experience and agree to meet ICCP's code of ethics.

Degree Alternatives

As game specific positions may be difficult to come by, you might consider becoming a computer support specialist instead. Computer support specialists offer aid and advice to a variety of businesses and people relating to computer issues. Though wages may be lower (according to BLS, the average computer support specialist makes $52,000), job prospects are expected to grow 18% between 2010 and 2020. These positions are expected to increase as computer systems become more complex and older systems need replacing.

Game and Simulation Programming Bachelor Degrees

Bachelor degrees in game and simulation programming are designed to provide a broad base of programming skills, as well as other skills that may be useful in a creative environment. These programs focus specifically on game design and the many steps necessary to take a game from idea to completed project. Bachelor degrees in the field tend to focus specifically on game and simulation programming rather than being concentrations in another degree. Programs typically take four years to complete.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Creative industry with wide range of opportunities**
  • Many potential careers are high earning*
  • Wide variety of platforms to work with*

Cons

  • Competition with cheaper labor overseas*
  • Some positions are highly competitive or offer low growth in job prospects*
  • Overtime work is common*

Sources: *BLS, **O*NET Online.

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor degree programs for game and simulation programming typically require somewhere between 120 and 180 credits to complete. Classes tend to be a mix of programming, game design, mathematics, creative applications and other computer-related courses. Programs often include working in groups, and may include an internship or senior project. There may also be some sort of partnership with a related degree, such as game design or game art. Courses you may take include:

  • Computer graphics
  • Interactive programming
  • C++
  • Game concepts
  • Game development
  • Networking

Instruction in programming languages varies from program to program, with some offering more than others. Aside from C++, programs like Java, C#, Visual BASIC or Adobe Flash may also be offered.

Online Degree Options

Some schools may offer an online program alongside their on-campus offerings. These programs may take longer to complete than traditional programs, and are often designed for those who are working or otherwise unable to attend college full-time. Aside from these options, many schools also offer some core and general elective courses online.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Game development is often a group process, meaning those who work well in a team and have good communication skills will have an advantage. Additionally, those who can think creatively and hold up in a high stress environment will fare better.

Aside from general certifications such as those offered by organizations such as ICCP, you can also be certified in the use of a particular programming language, like Java or C++. Certification may be offered by the company that controls the programming language (for example, Oracle offers a Java certification).

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AA: Information Technology
      • AA: Cybersecurity
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AAS in Information Technology - Multiplatform Software Development
      • AASIT: Network Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Software Development
      • Associate of Science - Technology Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Christian University

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    Associate's
      • Computer Information Technology, A.S.
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. Computer Information Technology
      • A.S. General Studies - Computer Information Technology
  • New Albany, IN

    Indiana University

  • Anchorage, AK

    University of Alaska

  • Manhattan, KS

    Kansas State University

  • Macon, GA

    Macon State College

Featured Schools

Saint Leo University

  • AA: Information Technology
  • AA: Cybersecurity

What is your highest level of education completed?

Purdue University Global

  • AAS in Information Technology - Multiplatform Software Development
  • AASIT: Network Admin

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Herzing University

  • Associate of Science - Software Development
  • Associate of Science - Technology Studies

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Colorado Christian University

  • Computer Information Technology, A.S.

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Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. Computer Information Technology
  • A.S. General Studies - Computer Information Technology

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