Game Software Development Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Info

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What will you learn in a game development 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 Game Software Development: Degrees at a Glance

Game development involves all stages of designing a video game, from the initial idea to the marketing of the finished product. Game development professionals work under a variety of job titles, such as game designer, software developer, programmer or animator. Each field of work has a specific set of duties, but game development studies are usually designed to cover the basic concepts needed in any of these jobs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that computer programmers in general were projected to see a 12% increase in jobs from 2010-2020, which was about as fast as the average of all occupations. Overall employment of software developers was expected to grow by 30% between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking entry-level positions in the game industry People hoping to secure a mid-level position in game development or a related job
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Programmer ($73,000)*
- Game artist (salary unavailable)
- Game tester (salary unavailable)
- Software developer ($58,000)**
- Software quality assurance analyst ($47,000)**
- Software architect ($117,000 - with 7 years of experience)**
Time to Completion About 2 years, full-time Roughly 4 years, full-time
Common Requirements - Roughly 2-3 math courses
- About 13-18 computer- and game-related courses
- Capstone/portfolio development course
- Approximately 15-20 courses in game development and related studies
- Roughly 1-3 math courses
- Game development practicum or project
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability No Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (figures as of October 2012).

Associate's in Game Development

Game development studies at the associate's level are often found at community colleges and may be included as a concentration option within a computer information systems or information technology program. The associate's program in game development is designed to teach students how to create 2-D and 3-D environments, model a virtual world and use various programming languages. Most programs allow you to continue your education at a 4-year institution or enter the workforce after completion.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • What you learn in the program is easily transferrable to careers outside of the gaming industry (especially programming)
  • Programs are usually designed so you can easily transfer to a bachelor's program if you choose
  • Can lead to a high-paying job (programmers earned a median salary of about $73,000, while the nationwide median salary for associate's degree holders was $40,000 in 2011)*

Cons

  • A bachelor's degree is usually required for many of the careers in the gaming industry
  • Programs are broad and cover all the different aspects of game development, limiting your opportunities to specialize in a particular area of game development
  • Some programs don't include an internship option, so you may have to find your own ways to get experience while in school

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

Courses and Requirements

The beginning of the associate's program usually includes some foundation courses, such as introduction to programming, computer information systems and introduction to game development. Some programs also require additional math courses, like algebra and math for games. Some of your required game development courses might include:

  • Game programming
  • Character animation
  • Computer graphics
  • Game architecture
  • 3-D modeling
  • Flash gaming

Some programs may require a capstone or internship course, but this is not a staple of all game development programs. You might have the opportunity to take a portfolio development course, which can help you present your skills to potential employers after you complete the program.

Online Options

The game development associate's degree program is not currently available online. Many of the courses are hands-on and most programs include some lab experiences, which doesn't transfer to an online program very well.

Standing Out with This Degree

You can start preparing for a career in the gaming industry by creating your own games. This can allow you get experience using platforms similar to those you hope to work with. Any games you create outside of school can be added to your portfolio, which can show employers that you've taken the initiative to increase your skills.

One way you can get tips for developing games is by subscribing to a relevant magazine. For example, the Game Developer Magazine features code samples, industry news and reports tailored for game developers. This magazine also features videos of the Game Developers Conference, which is an event that includes lectures, discussions and tutorials led by industry professionals.

Bachelor's in Game Development

Some schools offer game development studies as a standalone program, while others present it as a specialization option within a computer science program. You may find schools that allow you to choose a concentration within a game development program, such as game production, gameplay programming or marketing of games.

The bachelor's program gives students a chance to get in-depth instruction regarding the phases of the game development cycle and gain the technical skills needed for mid-level jobs. Although the bachelor's program covers more advanced topics than the associate's program, the curriculum is still rather broad, and students can get a taste of the entire game development cycle.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Most game development careers require a bachelor's degree
  • Most bachelor's degree programs are designed so you can continue your game development studies at the master's level
  • Can prepare you for fast-growing career paths (software developers were expected to see a 30% increase in jobs from 2010-2020)*

Cons

  • Programs focus on a variety of game development concepts, which doesn't give you much room to specialize in a particular subject area
  • High-paying positions may require significant experience in addition to a bachelor's degree
  • Employers may prefer master's degree holders for software development positions

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 growth projections).

Common Courses and Requirements

The bachelor's program typically requires some advanced math courses, like calculus and computer science math, although a few programs may not include many math courses. Core game development courses may include animation, scripting for games, game software development, 3-D modeling and digital design tools. Most programs include a game development practicum or capstone project that gives you a chance to work with a team of other students in designing and producing a game.

Online Options

The bachelor's degree program in game development is available completely online. Online programs may not have as many math courses as on-campus ones, but the required courses are similar in both programs. However, you may miss out on the game development project that is commonly found in on-campus bachelor's programs. Some on-campus programs may also offer some of the required courses in a distance-learning format, limiting the amount of time you'd need to spend at the campus.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Some schools have a video game club, which could give you extra opportunities to network with other students and get hands-on practice with game design. Joining a club can allow you to work on a team and make modifications to existing games or develop your own games from scratch. Any games you finish in the club can be added to your portfolio, which may make you more appealing to potential employers. Professionals from large development companies also make periodic appearances to give presentations, and students may even have the opportunity to visit an actual game studio.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

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

    Program Options

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

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate's - Network Security
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. Computer Information Technology
      • A.S. General Studies - Computer Information Technology
  • Rapid City, SD

    Western Dakota Technical Institute

  • Bossier City, LA

    Bossier Parish Community College

  • Fond du Lac, WI

    Moraine Park Technical College

  • Canandaigua, NY

    Finger Lakes Community College

  • Campus and Online Programs
    9. Everest

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate's - Computer Information Science

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Associate: Information Technology
  • 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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ECPI University

  • Associate's - Network Security

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Indiana Wesleyan University

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

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Western Dakota Technical Institute

Bossier Parish Community College

Moraine Park Technical College

Finger Lakes Community College