Video Game Programming Degrees: Associate, Bachelors & Online Info

About this article
What will you learn in a video game programming degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
View available schools

Studying Video Game Programming: Degrees at a Glance

A video game programming degree can lead to a number of career opportunities in programming, software development, game design and user interface scripting. The programming languages and skills you learn about in video game programming classes can be used in many different industries leading to careers outside of video game development. An associate degree program gives you foundational game programming knowledge that may be sufficient for a programming position, while the bachelor's degree program is often required to become a game designer, software developer or graphical user interface (GUI) programmer.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that programmers were expected to see a 12% increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). Application software developers were projected to see a 28% increase in job openings from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. Programmers who have a bachelor's degree were expected to have the best job opportunities.

Both of these careers may be subject to some outsourcing, since these jobs can be done from anywhere there is computer access. However, because customers often prefer to be close to their software development team, offshoring of these jobs was expected to remain be somewhat limited.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals looking for entry- and junior-level programming positions in the video game industry People who want to pursue mid-level game development positions with the potential to advance to high-level game design careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Programmer ($55,000 - 0-3 years of experience)**
- Junior game designer (salary unavailable)
- Software developer ($89,000)*
- GUI programmer ($60,000)**
- Video game designer (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion About 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 9-12 courses covering game programming
- Capstone/group project
- Roughly 15-20 courses in game development and programming
- Basic computer science and programming language courses
- Senior project/capstone course
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability No Yes

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

Associate Degree in Video Game Programming

Associate-level game programming curricula covers a variety of programming languages, such as Java, C# and C++. Most of these Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science programs include a significant amount of lab work, allowing students to apply their studies to projects. Many schools help you build a portfolio of work while you work towards completion of the degree. Because careers in this field rely heavily upon problem-solving abilities and creativity, a portfolio can come in handy once you hit the job market, where your work is expected to speak for itself.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can prepare you to continue your education at the bachelor's level if you choose
  • The programming languages covered in an associate program are used to develop applications besides video games, giving you skills that are easily transferable to other careers
  • Projects you complete in the program can be used in your portfolio to show potential employers what you're capable of

Cons

  • Large game companies prefer - and sometimes require - game programmers and game designers to have a bachelor's degree*
  • Even if a position doesn't require a bachelor's degree, you still may need some industry experience before you can become a video game programmer*
  • Limited number of specialized elective options

Source: *Multiple job posts from July 2012.

Courses and Requirements

You can expect to begin your associate program by taking some general education courses, in addition to foundational coursework designed to teach you the fundamentals of programming. After you have an understanding of one or more programming languages, you'll start to apply these skills to game development scenarios, such as creating game engines and modeling 3-D animations. At the end of your program, you can expect to complete a capstone course or a group project that entails designing a complete video game or solving a problem that demonstrates your programming abilities. Some of the courses you may take include:

  • AI programming
  • Java programming
  • Programming with C++/C#
  • 3-D character modeling
  • Developing game levels
  • Game architecture

Online Course Info

There are not currently any associate programs in video game programming offered in a completely online format. While you may have a couple course options offered in an online format, you typically won't find hybrid programs either.

Stand Out with This Degree

Experience is a very important trait that employers look for in game development applicants, so you'll want to get your foot in the door as soon as possible. Since internships are rarely required as part of an associate program, check with your academic department or career services center to see what you can do to find an internship that will help you in the game industry.

The bigger and more impressive your portfolio is, the likelier you'll be desired by employers. Find projects outside of the classroom that give you something to add to your portfolio. If you have an idea for a game, work on it while you're in school so you can show potential employers exactly what you're capable of.

Bachelor's Degree in Video Game Programming

Bachelor's-level video game programming studies are often found as a specialization or concentration within a game development or information technology program. Since employers don't always require applicants to have a degree in video game programming, earning a degree in another field - such as computer science - can also qualify you for a game development position.

The bachelor's program features a mix of lectures and hands-on learning. You'll probably end up spending a significant amount of time in computer labs or studios. This program usually offers more elective options and a more diverse selection of electives than an associate program, but you still may be limited on which programming languages you can learn about.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Skills you learn in a game development program can be used in other computer science careers
  • Many employers prefer to hire game programmers who have a bachelor's degree
  • Prepares you for careers you couldn't get with an associate degree (software developer, lead designer, GUI programmer)

Cons

  • You'll probably need experience to go along with your degree for mid-level game programming positions
  • A computer science degree program can teach you the necessary skills to work in game development and may offer a wider range of career options
  • Most programs cover a variety of topics, giving you limited opportunities to learn about a specific programming language that you plan on using

Courses and Requirements

After completing some introductory courses in your first year - such as computer science, C++ programming and game design fundamentals - you'll be ready to start taking more advanced game development courses in programming and graphics development. Each school may offer different types of courses that focus on programming; for example, some programs may cover mobile game programming and social games, while others may focus on the development of console games. Most programs offer some similar courses, including level design and algorithms.

Your senior year usually includes a project or capstone course that uses all of the skills you learned throughout the program, often resulting in a complete video game. You may also have the opportunity to build a portfolio and showcase all of the video games you created during your four years of study.

Online Degree Options

A few schools offer this bachelor's degree in an online format, and many of the courses are similar to on-campus programs. However, even though much of your work takes place on a computer, you won't have the same lab experiences in a distance-learning format. Participating in group projects is rather important for this type of program since teams of programmers, designers and other professionals develop most big games. An on-campus program gives you the opportunity to work in a group setting and can show you what to expect when you get a job. If you still want to pursue an online program, make sure that it is accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Since you'll be in school for about four years, you may find that you have time to make your own game while you study. You don't have to start out with complex games; beginning with a simple and innovative game gives you an achievement to show employers when you hit the job market. Creating a complete game may also lead to internship opportunities while you're still in school. Game companies want to see your work, and making a game on your own not only shows off your skills in programming but can also showcase your creativity and innovation.

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. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Computer Information Technology, A.S.
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Information Technology - Associate
  • Fond du Lac, WI

    Moraine Park Technical College

  • Canandaigua, NY

    Finger Lakes Community College

  • Bossier City, LA

    Bossier Parish Community College

  • Rapid City, SD

    Western Dakota Technical Institute

  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado Christian University

  • Computer Information Technology, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Baker College Online

  • Information Technology - Associate

What is your highest level of education?

Moraine Park Technical College

Finger Lakes Community College

Bossier Parish Community College

Western Dakota Technical Institute