Computer Game Design Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a computer game design degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Computer Game Design: Degrees at a Glance

The computer game industry provides single- and multiple-platform games for entertainment, simulation and educational purposes. Computer game designers combine technical expertise with creativity to develop visually stunning games that follow an engrossing plot or offer some form of education or training. Specialists in the industry work in the video game and software development industries and apply their knowledge of modern technology, programming and design to the construction of game products. Colleges and universities provide the required training through courses in modern technologies, programming and design.

The associate's degree will prepare you for a career in simulation and game programming in desktop and digital production settings. The bachelor's degree provides the foundation for multiple career options in software engineering and computer science in addition to the gaming industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that occupations in the industry will face slower than average (9%) through average (13%) job growth over the 2010-2020 decade (www.bls.gov).

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People seeking entry-level design or programming opportunities in multiple sectors Individuals seeking a career path toward art direction or lead game design
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Multimedia artist or animator ($68,000)*
- Video game designer ($80,000)*
- Graphic designer ($49,000)*
- Art director ($95,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credits in general education, subject matter and elective coursework
- Internship or field experience
- Professional portfolio
- Roughly 120 credits in general education, subject matter and upper-division courses
- Internship or field experience
- Capstone project
- Professional portfolio
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Computer Game Design

Associate's degree programs offer training in game development, programming and simulation. Small classes and laboratory coursework provide a close-knit and structured environment that supports the application of design and coding principles. Programs emphasize multidisciplinary skills in imaging, modeling, animation and programming. You will learn to apply creative tools and technologies to the development of games and gain an understanding of the gaming industry. Creative illustration skills combined with design theory will enhance your education and offer the foundation required for careers in multiple industries.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Occupations in the industry offer competitive compensation; e.g., multimedia artists and animators ($68,000 mean) and video game designers ($80,000 mean) earned solid salaries*
  • It is a flexible degree when offered through a computer science department and can lead to career opportunities in computer science or a related field
  • Programs offer the opportunity to develop a professional portfolio, which often is a deciding factor in hiring decisions

Cons

  • The BLS projected slower than average job growth for video game designers (3-9%) and multimedia artists and animators (8%)**
  • Competition against graduates of a bachelor's degree program may present a challenge
  • Lack of above average artistic talent using computer graphics will lead to fewer job prospects

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Courses and Requirements

The associate's degree offers technical and design knowledge that complements visual arts in the gaming industry. Programs offer coursework in design, animation and modeling to provide a well-rounded education in the practical application of creative techniques. You will take roughly 60 credits in a combination of courses in general education, technical and conceptual topics. Following are common courses offered by the program:

  • 3D computer modeling
  • Programming logic
  • Computer graphics and animation
  • Art history
  • Game programming
  • Algorithms and data structures
  • Game architecture

Online Course Info

Game design represents a burgeoning field; the BLS tracks limited information about the field. Consequently, a universal accreditation program that accredits the game design specialization has not yet arrived. As a result, locating accredited online programs may prove difficult. Several colleges offer visual effects degrees online that may offer a game design specialization. Keep in mind that a program's accreditation can affect your job opportunities and diligent research offers the best results.

Stand Out with This Degree

Employers may use software developed specifically for their game design needs. Consequently, establishing an educational foundation that permits learning new programs quickly will give you an edge. In addition, highly developed graphic arts skills and artistic talent will provide increased job prospects. Following are a few steps you can take to increase your marketability:

  • Take courses in a program offered through a computer science or programming college. Courses in algorithms and programming principles will increase your ability to adapt to new software programs.
  • Develop your illustration skills through courses that emphasize traditional and digital drawing. Take courses that use modern graphic design software and seek feedback on your illustrations.
  • Compile a professional portfolio of your best works. Character designs and reels will demonstrate your expertise to employers.

Bachelor's in Computer Game Design

The bachelor's degree offers an education in the narrative, design and artistic components of game development and design. You will learn computer science theories in conjunction with music, digital media and engineering concepts. Programs place emphasis on computer systems, programming and the process of prototyping original games. In addition, coursework develops critical analysis and high-level writing skills through training in rhetoric and technical writing. The program will prepare you for a career in graphic design and art direction.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Programs offer a diverse educational background in computer science and programming, which will transfer to technology careers outside the gaming industry
  • Specialization options in interactive and website design will make you more competitive in an increasingly web-driven landscape
  • Employers are looking for candidates with higher education and the bachelor's degree will prepare you for management or director careers

Cons

  • Some occupations pay less than positions obtained by associate's degree graduates, e.g., graphic designers earned a mean annual wage of $49,000 vs. multimedia artists and animators who earned $68,000*
  • Trends in exporting design contracts overseas will contribute to slow growth in the industry
  • Continuing education courses designed to keep up with changes will contribute to the overall cost of maintaining your marketability

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree candidates learn the legal and business constraints that affect the industry, develop a broad range of computer science skills and demonstrate an understanding of technical game engineering theories. Programs offer roughly 120 credits of coursework in discrete mathematics, data structures and programming to develop a foundational knowledge of how computer systems operate and execute gaming instructions.

You will learn to program, illustrate and implement narratives through courses in innovation, digital content creation, computer graphics, game development, data structures, game creation and problem solving, game design and intellectual property law.

Online Course Info

Online bachelor's degree programs exist and many offer a 100% online education experience. Online delivery may cost less and some schools report a higher completion rate for distance-education programs. Schools design programs to meet the needs of working professionals and you may encounter accelerated programs. Access to the appropriate technology is essential to performing suitably in online programs.

Stand Out with This Degree

Advancement requires a minimum of 1 to 3 years of relevant experience and familiarity with web design and interactive media will present the best job prospects. Taking advantage of internships, field experiences and gaming events will boost your hands-on experience. Collaborative experiences with fellow students and faculty will build your teamwork skills, which presents a significant component of the game design process. In addition, mobile game technology continues to grow and taking courses in developing games for various mobile operating systems may boost your marketability.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Software Development
      • Associate of Science - Technology Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

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

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. Computer Information Technology
      • A.S. General Studies - Computer Information Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AAS in Technical Studies (Computer Technologies)
      • AAS in Technical Studies (Electromechanical Technologies)
      • AAS in Technical Studies (Electronic / Instrumentation Technologies)
      • AS in Science in Technology (Computer Technologies)
      • AS in Science in Technology (Electromechanical Technologies)
      • AS in Science in Technology (Electronic / Instrumentation Technologies)
  • Online Programs Available
    5. ECPI University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate's - Network Security
  • Fond du Lac, WI

    Moraine Park Technical College

  • Rapid City, SD

    Western Dakota Technical Institute

  • Online Programs Available
    8. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Information Technology

Featured Schools

Herzing University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

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

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Indiana Wesleyan University

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

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Excelsior College

  • AAS in Technical Studies (Computer Technologies)
  • AAS in Technical Studies (Electromechanical Technologies)
  • AAS in Technical Studies (Electronic / Instrumentation Technologies)

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ECPI University

  • Associate's - Network Security

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Moraine Park Technical College

Western Dakota Technical Institute

Keiser University

  • Associate of Sciences - Information Technology

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