Students considering an online game design degree should research the field before committing to a program. This guide is a great starting point for such research. The sections below outline typical courses, admission requirements, and features of video game design programs. The guide discusses common jobs, salary expectations, and career paths for game design graduates. The information below also explains accreditation and can help students decide whether attending video game design school online is right for them.
Overview of Game Design Degrees
Game design and development degrees can help students turn a passion for gaming, computers, or design into a career. Game design programs prepare students to work on various stages of video game development. Students learn how to develop storylines, create game objectives and rules, and design overall gameplay. Game design programs often cover visual design, along with programming and coding. Students gain practical experience crafting graphics and coding games.
While many programs are available entirely online, some programs require in-person internships in video game and software development. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for multimedia artists and animators to increase 8% from 2016 to 2026. The BLS also projects opportunities for software developers to increase 24% during the same time frame, which translates to more than 300,000 new jobs. The BLS projects employment for application developers to increase 31%, due in part to the growing demand for smartphone and tablet apps. Students attending online game design schools prepare to take advantage of rapid growth across the technology industry.
The application process for game design programs is typically similar to the processes for other online bachelor’s programs. However, each school has specific expectations and requirements. In addition, transfer students should check for any additional materials or requirements that apply to them.
Most bachelor’s programs require that applicants hold a GED or high school diploma. Applicants must typically submit official transcripts, and most schools require a minimum 2.5 GPA. Generally, applicants must submit SAT or ACT scores, and some schools set minimum score requirements. Some programs may require letters of recommendation, a personal essay, or an interview. In addition, some art-focused programs request that applicants submit a portfolio.
Many online programs allow students to submit most or all of the application materials online. Most programs require students to submit a short online form and an application fee to begin the application process.
What Will I Learn?
Though most game design programs focus on practical training, students also learn about major principles and concepts in the field. Programs often begin with a discussion of the basic computer science concepts that drive programming languages, operating systems, and databases. Students also learn about the basic principles of coding, such as logic, and study advanced theories in artificial intelligence and mathematics. Students explore basic graphic design principles necessary to develop attractive characters and environments. Coursework also covers game design theories related to storytelling, character development, and rule systems.
While every program is slightly different, most require about 120-130 credits. Typically, students take 40-50 credits of general education courses, 50-60 credits of game design classes, and 20-30 credits of electives. Specific coursework varies by school and type of program, such as BA, BS, or BFA. The sample classes below are common to many game design programs.
Introduction to Programming
Students in this introductory course build the foundation needed to study computer programming and game design at a high level. This course outlines basic computer programming concepts including logic, flowcharting, stacks, queues, and binary trees. Students also explore basic programming techniques using languages such as Python, C++, and Java.
Scripting for Games
This course covers the fundamentals of scripts, which are programs used for automating processes. Students gain experience writing basic scripts using common scripting languages. They also become familiar with variables, functions, event loops, and classes. Students learn how to script in multiple game engines.
3D Modeling and Animation
In this course, students explore the various techniques that game developers use to model for mobile devices, PCs, and gaming consoles. Students gain experience with 3D-modeling tools, such as Autodesk 3ds Max, and learn to apply these tools to game design. They also learn to generate low-poly and high-poly models.
Game design degrees that are part of computer science programs often include coursework in artificial intelligence. Strong knowledge of artificial intelligence and machine learning helps technology professionals in many occupations. This course covers artificial intelligence theory and applications, and discusses search, logic, and knowledge representation.
Design of Interactive Game Environments
This course introduces the underlying concepts of electronic game design and virtual environments. Students explore computer science topics including systems theory, cybernetics, and game theory. Plus, students learn about basic game design principles relating to interactive design, play mechanics, game balancing, and human-computer interaction.
Programming for Mobile Devices
Students learn the basics of developing applications for various mobile devices, such as phones and tablets. Learners study software development for Apple and Android systems and learn to apply engineering tools and languages to the design of mobile applications. Students often design a simple application during the course.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Game Design?
An online bachelor’s degree in game design equips students with the skills they need to pursue a variety of careers. While graduates often work for video game companies, the degree prepares students for many other design-focused and software-oriented careers. The following section explores the skills game design students develop, as well as common salaries and responsibilities of game designers and developers.
The skills students develop during game design programs depends on the school. Some programs focus on game art and visual design, while others emphasize technical skills in programming and software development. Some programs provide a comprehensive education that encompasses aspects of the field.
Students often develop fundamental design skills and gain experience with essential softwares, such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. They also master 3D and 2D animation tools designers use for game prototyping, game animation, and modeling. Students develop techniques for building 3D graphics and environments, and they gain skills in lighting, shading, and illustration, which help them construct game characters and settings.
Game design students learn how to script in game engines such as Unity, Karma Physics, and Unreal. They also develop programming skills they can apply to the gaming industry and to other fields. Some programs include coursework in C++, Java, and C#. Programs may also cover web design and teach students to code using HTML. Students hone software development and game design skills specific to various technologies, such as mobile phones, desktop operating systems, and gaming platforms.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Graduates of online game design schools can pursue careers in various industries with different types of companies. Newzoo’s Global Games Market Report projects consumers worldwide to spend $138 billion on video games in 2018. The growing video game industry leads to job opportunities for professionals in game design and development. Video game companies need designers to conceive new games, develop plots, and construct visually captivating products. They also need developers with the technical knowledge to program complex games across platforms. Professionals with a bachelor’s in game design can pursue jobs at large video game companies or small, independent firms.
Game design programs can also prepare students for work outside the gaming industry. Graduates can apply design skills to careers as motion graphics designers or animators. Other degree holders develop applications as software engineers or computer programmers. Below are typical career paths for video game design graduates.
Browse Bachelor’s In Game Design Careers
Video Game Designer
Video game designers create game concepts, craft storylines, and plan gameplay. They may specialize in a particular area of game design, such as rule systems or virtual environments. Game designers work with developers to implement their ideas.
Annual Median Salary
$61,522 per year Video Game Developer
Video game developers code games based on a game designer’s concepts, sketches, and models. They are skilled software developers who turn plans and designs into playable games. Developers write code, test functionality, and look for bugs.
Annual Median Salary
$50,000 per year
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Game Design?
A bachelor’s degree in game design prepares students for entry-level positions with large and small game development companies. Game design graduates who studied computer science or software development can also become junior developers at technology companies and other organizations.
Game designers who want to advance their career with their current employers should consider earning an advanced degree in the field. A graduate degree in software engineering, game development, or graphic design provides the technical skills necessary to take the lead on video game projects. Earning an advanced degree can lead to specialized, senior positions in the video game industry. Typically, a master’s degree also leads to higher pay. According to the BLS, professionals with a BS in computer science earn an average of $82,000 per year, while MS holders earn $100,000 per year.
Professionals can advance in the field without earning an advanced degree by gaining experience, mastering new software, and earning industry certifications.
Accreditation for Game Design Bachelor’s Programs
Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing between online game design schools. Students should only consider accredited colleges, since these institutions generally offer the best education. In addition, only students at accredited schools can apply for federal financial aid and most private scholarships. Many employers and graduate schools only recognize accredited degrees.
Look for programs with accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design or the Computing Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. While programmatic recognition is a good sign, institutional accreditation is the most important type. Any prospective school should hold accreditation from a national or regional accrediting organization, such as the Higher Learning Commision or the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Game Design Professional Organizations
Bachelor’s students can join professional organizations to receive access to career advising, job fairs, and networking events. Many professional associations host conferences, post job opportunities, and publish industry news and research. These resources can help new game designers advance their career and make connections with leaders in the field. Below, are some major associations for game design professionals.
International Game Developers Association
The IGDA supports professionals involved in game creation, including programmers, writers, artists, and producers. The association hosts industry conferences, advocates on behalf of members, and publishes game development news. Members can access a career center, professional development workshops, and job fairs.
IEEE Computer Society
The IEEE Computer Society serves more than 60,000 computer science and technology professionals across industries. The association helps professionals network through more than 200 conferences and events. Members receive access to 17 journals, 13 magazines, and training opportunities.
Association for Computing Machinery
ACM unites computing teachers, researchers, and professionals. The organization supports members through online education, career development, and networking opportunities. Members can stay up-to-date on the latest industry news and research through several publications and more than 170 annual meetings.