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Top 20 Game Design and Development Schools in the West - 2014

Written by ACR StaffApril 29, 2014
Did you know... Each student at The Digital Animation & Visual Effects School (DAVE School at Universal Studios Orlando) learns how to work at a studio by spending 12 weeks as a Production Artist on a school-produced film. As a result, they have produced dozens of shorts in class. Their animated Star Wars fan film, The SOLO Adventures, won the Lucasfilm award at Star Wars Celebration V! You can see it and many more at www.DaveSchool.com.
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Our 2014 rankings of the Top 20 schools on the West Coast for game design and development. 

We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and Idaho. 

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
The University of Southern California was established in 1880. The school sits on a 229-acre main campus (University Park) and is home to 40,000 students enrolled in more than 200 programs across more than a dozen colleges and schools. The University Park Campus, located just south of Downtown Los Angeles, houses the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School, and most of USC’s professional schools and programs.

The USC School of Cinematic Arts’ (SCA) Interactive Media & Games Division offers several Game programs in collaboration with the Viterbi School of Engineering-Department of Computer Science. Options include an MFA in Interactive Media, an MS in Computer Science with a Specialization in Game Development, a BA in Interactive Entertainment, and a BS in Computer Science (Games). The schools also offer Minors in Video Game Programming, Video Game Design and Management, Computer Science, and Innovation: The Digital Entrepreneur.

The Game Program features state-of-the-art labs and studio spaces such as the Game Innovation Lab, Gamepipe Laboratory, Kinect Development Lab, the SCA Motion Capture State, the Stereoscopic Lab, and more. The Program, which also features a new Interactive Media Building within SCA, incorporates courses from the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts (HenchDADA), the Division of Writing for Screen & Television, the Division of Critical Studies, the Roski School of Fine Arts, and USC Annenberg's School for Communication & Journalism.

2. University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
The University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) was established in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California. The school, which sits on a 419-acre campus, is home to 42,163 and the prominent UCLA Game Lab. The Lab offers immersive study in the areas of Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres. This non-traditional Game Development program is housed within UCLA’s Design Media Arts Department (DMA) and is supported by the School of Arts and Architecture and the School of Theater, Film, and Television. Degree offerings include a BA in Design Media Arts (BA DMA) and an MFA in Media Arts.

UCLA sits on a beautiful 419-acre campus just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains. The location is convenient to just about everything the entertainment capital of the world has to offer from game design, animation, and film studios to promising start-ups and more.

3. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
Founded in 1988, DigiPen Institute of Technology is one of the nation’s premier art, design and technology schools. DigiPen has campuses in Redmond, Washington (main campus), Singapore (DigiPen Institute of Technology Singapore), and Bilbao, Spain (DigiPen Institute of Technology Europe – Bilbao), and it offers competitive graduate and undergraduate degree programs in the areas of Game Design, Animation, Computer Engineering, and Music and Sound Design.

Home to around 1,000 talented student artists, DigiPen offers a BA in Game Design, a BS in Computer Science and Game Design, and a BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation. Related offerings include a BFA in Digital Art and Animation, an MFA in Digital Arts, and an MS in Computer Science. Students interested in Sound Design for Games may opt for the BS in Engineering and Sound Design or the BA in Music and Sound Design.

Students may also take individual courses through DigiPen’s Non-Matriculated Studies program. While the program does not lead to a degree, it may be useful for artists looking to enhance their education and career opportunities. The Program offers Game Design, Animation, Digital Arts, and many other courses.

4. University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
The University of Santa-Cruz (UC Santa-Cruz) is home to the lively Center for Games and Playable Media (CGPM). The Center offers 4 degree programs for aspiring game designers and developers. Offerings include a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Computer Science/Computer Game Design, a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Digital Arts and New Media (DANM), a Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science-Focus in Games, and a PhD in Computer Science-Focus in Games.

All CGPM students have the opportunity to work at the CGPM Game Design Studio where they will gain valuable hands-on experience by working in teams (and with faculty) to develop games from concept to final design. Students may also join popular student groups such as the UCSC Game Developer Club and they may participate in the monthly E-Games Gathering. Students also have access to one of the hippest beach towns in California and all of the art and culture it has to offer. Even better is, UC Santa Cruz is just 35 miles from Silicon Valley and around 75 miles from San Francisco’s Financial District.

5. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) was established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art. The school, which sits on a scenic 9-acre campus, is just 50 miles from Los Angeles and 73 miles from San Diego. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), LCAD is home to more than 450 students and the LCAD Game Art Program.

The Program offers a BFA in Game Art and a BFA in Illustration with 3 Tracks: Illustration Entertainment, Illustration, and Illustration Drawing & Painting.

The highly collaborative Game Art Program allows students to create digital worlds using the latest industry software. It also provides access to industry internships in nearby Los Angeles and other entertainment meccas across the U.S. Students also have access to partnerships such as USC’s graduate program called GamePipe as well as the Computer Game Science Program (CGS) at the University of California-Irvine (UCI).

LCAD Graduates have gone on to find employment at companies such as Microsoft Game Studios, Applied Medical, Adult Swim, Meteor Games, Coast Kids Magazine, Hive Gallery, Spectral Motion Inc., High Moon Studios, and Interplay Entertainment. In fact, LCAD Game Art students enjoy one of the highest job placement rates in the country. According to the school, the current graduate placement rate is 94%.

6. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects offers one, two, and three-year programs that are career-focused rather than degree focused. However, upon successful completion of any program, students do receive the coveted Gnomon School of Visual Effects Certificate of Completion. Options for aspiring game designers include Entertainment Design (One-Year Track), Digital Production for Entertainment (Two-Year Program), Entertainment Design & Digital Production (Three-Year Program), and Maya Fast Track (10-Week Program).

Gnomon School of Visual Effects also offers a variety of online courses from Games Tools and Techniques to Character Animation. The school, which in a 20,000 sq. ft. space in the heart of Hollywood, hosts more than 100 student artists and plenty of opportunities to work at some of the top studios in the world. In fact, many Gnomon graduates have found success in the gaming, film, and animation industries with companies such as Electronic Arts: EA Games, Activision, ROCKSTAR Games, Blizzard, Sony Interactive, Digital Domain, DreamWorks, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and many others.

7. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University was established in 1929. It began with just 50 students and 2 rented loft spaces. Today, the school sits on a 3-acre campus, consisting of more than several dozen academic and administrative buildings and student housing, and 18,000 students. With a student body of this size, the Academy of Art is the largest private school of art in the country.

Offerings for aspiring game designers include AA, BFA, and MFA Degrees in Game Design, as well as an Online Award of Completion (OAC) in Game Design. These programs prepare students for entry into dozens of career fields in the industry such as Lead Game Designer, Concept Artist, 3D Animator, Visual Effects Animator, Cinematics Director, and many others. In fact, Academy of Art graduates are routinely hired by companies such as Electronic Arts: EA Games, Lucas Arts, PlayStation/Sony, ROCKSTAR Games, and more.


8. University of California-Irvine, California, Irvine
The University of California- Irvine (UCI or UC Irvine) houses the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences—home to the Computer Game Science Program (CGS). Launched in 2010, the CGS Program leads to a BS in Computer Game Science which prepares students to work with games that run on PCs, consoles, Macs, websites, mobile devices, and more. CGS also works with students of Laguna College of Art and Design’s (LCAD) top-rated Game Art program to “develop innovative, visually engaging games.”

Many UCI Computer Game Science graduates work at major gaming companies such as Sony Computer Entertainment, Gameloft, Blizzard Entertainment, Insomniac Games, and many others.

UC Irvine is part of the University of California system that consists of 10 campuses, nearly a quarter of a million students, and more than 200,000 faculty and staff. Established in 1965, UCI sits on a 1,500-acre campus in sunny Orange County, California and it is home to more than 28,000 students. The school offers more than 75 undergraduate majors, 60+ undergraduate minors, and more than 100 degree programs for graduate students across 15 schools.

9. Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California
The Art Center College of Design (Art Center) was established in 1930 with a dozen teachers and just 8 students. Today, the school sits on a 175-acre wooded, hillside campus just 10 miles from Los Angeles and 11.5 miles from the Burbank Media District and it is home to more than 1,700 students enrolled in several dozen art and design programs. Among these programs are several top-rated programs for aspiring game designers.

Options include a BS in Interaction Design, a BS in Entertainment Design, and a BFA in Fine Art which explores all genres including Film/Video and Illustration. Art Center graduates from these (and many other) programs have gone on work for companies such as Apple and on films such as 300, Armageddon, Star Wars, Pocahontas, The Simpsons Movie, Curious George-Atlantis, and Jurassic Park III.

10. Woodbury University, Burbank, California
The School of Media, Culture & Design (MCD) at Woodbury University is home to the school’s popular Games Program which offers a BFA in Game Art & Design that combines the study of Art, Game Design, Computer Technology, Animation, Storytelling, and Animation. Students may choose between a Game Art Emphasis and a Game Design Emphasis. The Program is accredited by National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Woodbury University was established in 1884 as Woodbury's Business College. The school, which began in a one-room storefront in the oldest section of Los Angeles, now sits on a 22.5-acre campus in Burbank near Disney, DreamWorks, NBC, Universal, Warner Bros. and more. The school also has a campus in San Diego and it is home to more than 1,500 students enrolled in 4 schools.