Game Design Degrees: Associates, Bachelors & Online Course Info

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An associate or bachelor's degree in game design can set you up for a career in character or level design, game animation and game artistry. Find out about the essentials for coursework and learn more about what you can do with your degree.
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Study Game Design: Degrees at a Glance

Even if you already love playing video games, there is more to learn about video game design before committing to it as a career. Game designers create the environments, characters, plot and overall vision of video games, working with programmers and developers on various teams to create the game from start to finish.

Overall, video games are a profitable industry and career field, and the Entertainment Software Association (EAS) reported that in 2010, $25.1 billion was spent on video games. Likewise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, career fields in digital and interactive media are projected to be very strong. The game industry is highly competitive, but many job positions for game design students are expected to open up within the next decade.

Associate Bachelor's
Who Should Apply for this Degree Program? Those looking for entry-level positions as level designers, junior game designers, special effects artists and game testers Those seeking a career in the video game industry as a lead designer, game animator or game art director
Common Career Paths (approximate annual median salary) - Entry-level game designer ($39,000)*
- Video game animator ($61,000)**
- Lead designer ($50,000)*
- Art director ($81,000)**
Time to Completion Average 2 years full time Average 4 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements Portfolio critique Portfolio critique and/or capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED
- Foundational mathematics/computer science courses
Same as an associate degree, plus the following:
- Foundational courses in mathematics and computer science
- Essential art courses
Online Availability Online/hybrid classes Yes

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

Associate Degrees in Game Design

While many upper-level job options in the video game industry are available to those with at minimum a bachelor's degree, there are entry-level jobs in game design that you can get with an associate degree and relevant expertise. You'll be expected to develop a certain level of technological and artistic skill sets through your courses. Many 2-year game design programs require you to have a portfolio ready for critique before you are able to graduate. Also, many associate degree programs are set up to help you transition into a 4-year program or a job position as a modeler, illustrator or designer. Even with an associate degree, a strong portfolio and experience will be valued over education

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Prepared for work after graduation
  • Work in a creative industry
  • The technological and artistic skills learned in a game design associate degree program are applicable in many other fields

Cons

  • You must stay up-to-date in the field due to the rapid technological advances
  • Careers in the gaming industry are highly competitive*
  • The majority of upper-end careers in game design expect a minimum of a bachelor's degree*

Source: *U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

For a game design associate degree program, expect to take primarily general education courses in communications, mathematics and computers before starting on classes in game design. Most programs emphasize classes in game theory and technology, digital design, animation and storytelling. Students will also develop specific skill sets in particular software programs, such as CAD. Here are some sample course topics:

  • Design and creation of games
  • Character and level design
  • Light, shading and texturing
  • 2D and 3D modeling

Online Course Information

Even though you'll be working extensively with computers and technology by earning an associate degree in game design, the majority of schools only offer select courses online in a hybrid program. A great number of general education courses are available online for AAS programs, but many core courses in computer science and game design are offered on campus. However, plenty of private, for-profit schools do have 2-year game design degree programs that are fully online; it's important to ensure they are accredited before enrolling.

How Do I Stand Out with this Degree?

If you are working towards an associate degree in game design, there are plenty of opportunities to take on internships to help prepare you for a bachelor's degree program or an immediate career. Recent internship opportunities offered by video game companies in game design, game programming and quality assurance offer a chance to put your classroom knowledge to use in a professional setting.

Bachelor's Degrees in Game Design

In a game design program, you will gain the fundamental technological and artistic skills required to become a game program designer, 2D/3D animator or artistic director. The ultimate goal of most bachelor's degree programs in game design is the creation of the portfolio, which must pass a critique made by faculty and sometimes other students before you can graduate. Whether your interest is in modeling game characters, creating special effects, designing levels or testing games, you must be able to build a strong background in working with computers and digital media before entering a specific field. Experience may be valued over education when looking for jobs in the field.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Various roles in the game design process are interactive and give you the chance to be creative*
  • The technological, communications and artistic skills from a game design program are in demand*
  • You'll finish your degree program with a created portfolio ready to submit to game companies and other industries upon graduation

Cons

  • Internships and job positions in the game industry are highly competitive**
  • You may have to purchase additional software or computer components to complete assignments or generate portfolio work outside of the school's resources
  • There won't be as many jobs opening up in the next ten years for animators or illustrators in game design*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **www.ferris.edu

Courses and Requirements

If you're interested in the art of game design, you'll need to take prerequisite communications courses, animation and illustration classes, and other foundational classes in game analysis, character design and storytelling. Based on your interest, you may also consider taking relevant business and computer science classes. Most programs require a capstone course as part of the minimum credit requirements. Some sample course titles for a bachelor's degree program in game design include the following:

  • Culture, technology and communications
  • The anatomy of a game
  • Designing online multiplayer game environments
  • Business and management of games

Online Course Information

There are various online bachelor's degree programs for game design. The majority of coursework requirements are the same whether in an online or face-to-face program, including the creation of a final portfolio or capstone project to be critiqued by faculty. However, know that you must meet certain software and computer system requirements to be able to complete assignments and generate portfolio artifacts from home. If you can't acquire the basic technological requirements, an online program may not be possible for you.

How Do I Stand Out with this Degree?

Many universities provide internships through their interactive media departments or in connection with local corporations. While many of these internships can be taken for credit alone, a number of internships are also compensated positions.

Likewise, even if your heart is set on working with a video game company, also consider the other industries in which you can apply your knowledge. Plenty of areas other than the video game industry, such as law enforcement, the Department of Defense, the medical field and risk management, also seek those with knowledge of designing games and simulation programs for training and many other purposes.

Alternative Degrees

If you are interested more in the code creation and programming of video games, you may be interested in seeking a major in computer programming or software development. Working with designers and their creative vision, programmers are the ones who put the design into a realistic function in the video game. In most cases, careers related to computer programming require a bachelor's degree; however, careers in software development are growing faster than average compared to other careers. If you want to become a video game programmer, you will need a strong background in mathematics and computer science, including various software programs and computer languages (such as C++).

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Herzing University

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

What is your highest level of education?

ECPI University

  • Associate's - Network Security

What is your highest level of education?

Excelsior College

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

What is your highest level of education completed?

Bossier Parish Community College

Moraine Park Technical College

Finger Lakes Community College

Western Dakota Technical Institute