Online degree programs and video games have a lot in common. Both are innovative and high-tech, they stimulate the brain (though in different ways), and consumers can engage whenever they want, wherever they want. Because they have so much in common, combining the two turned out to be a natural fit. The result? A flexible, yet challenging degree program that prepares future game designers to work at a major studio or even start their own. And demand for talent is high. In fact, the commercial games industry is developing at such a rapid pace, that it’s growing faster than the U.S. economy as a whole.
For the 2009-2012 period, growth in the industry was 9.7%, while growth for the U.S. economy was just 2.4%. Direct employment in the games industry grew at an annual rate of 9%, while total U.S. employment increased at an annual rate of just 0.724%. The booming commercial games industry has added $6.2 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with 146,000 jobs (both direct and indirect) depending on it. Further, worldwide revenues are expected to reach $107 billion in 2017, and the current U.S. industry directly employs more than 42,000 people in 36 states. With such an a positive outlook, it’s no surprise that professionals in the games industry averaged close to $95,000 in 2012, which is more than double the National Average Wage Index (AWI) for that year.
For aspiring game designers, there’s no better time to enter the industry. The same can be said for earning the degree that will get you there as most degree programs have an online component that allows students to complete the curriculum on their own schedule and in some cases, in a shorter amount of time. For those interested in a fully online program, a number of options are available.
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has campuses in Atlanta, Savannah, Hong Kong and Lacoste France, but many of the school’s top programs may be completed entirely online via SCAD eLearning. The Interactive Design and Game Development program is one of them. The school offers a BA in Digital Media with a Concentration in Game Development or Interactive Design and MA and MFA degrees in Interactive Design and Game Development. According to the school, SCAD eLearning courses require no specific meeting times and are accessible 24/7. Students complete assignments by designated due dates and participate in online class sessions, where they assess and critique work and expand upon discussion board postings.” Website.
University of Advancing Technology (UAT), Tempe, Arizona
The University of Advancing Technology (UAT) offers four online Game programs including BA degrees in Game Design, Game Art and Animation, and Game Programming, and a Game Production and Management Masters. According to the school, UAT “holds the only fully accredited online game design program that boasts a full continuum of online gaming degree majors.” Just a few listed objectives for the 120 credit hour, eight-semester undergraduate game programs include: (1) prototype and complete original games for multiple platforms using complete documentation and following the full game production pipeline, (2) create and implement game elements, systems and play mechanics using industry standard tools, techniques and production methods, including both art and scripting/programming applications, and (3) establish collaboration, mentorship and professional skills by leading team projects, coaching junior team members, and working with other disciplines to deliver highly polished and completed projects. All students will complete a portfolio, internship, and a student innovation project.
Students in the graduate program will “master the skills needed to analyze and produce complete works in the electronic gaming arena, as well as build leadership, business, and production expertise applicable to the gaming industry. The video game production curriculum provides students the background and experiences necessary to navigate the game industry and lead an effective production team in either entertainment or serious based games.” Website.
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD), Denver, Colorado
The BFA in Game Art at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) prepares students for a career in Game Design, Game Testing, Software Engineering, Digital Design, Motion Graphics, Production, and many others. The online program, which is identical to the on-campus program, highlights core classes such as Game Animation and Motion Capture, Game Art, Game Creation, Game Particles and Effects, Game Shader Development, Business Ethics, Character Rigging, and 3D Modeling to name a few. According to the school, RMCAD’s small class sizes allow for “plenty of one-on-one attention with faculty and classmates, creating an environment that fosters collaboration and team learning. Students are encouraged to work with peers from a variety of other degree programs to hone their artistic skills and design work that is comprehensive, diverse, and professional.” Website.
The DAVE School, Orlando, Florida
A division of Florida Technical College, the Digital Animation & Visual Effects School (The DAVE School) offers a fully online bachelor’s degree in Production Programming with two Tracks including Game Programming and Productivity. The most popular option for aspiring game designers is the Game Programming Track. According to the school, students in the program will learn programming development for game consoles, PC, MAC and apps in the gaming industry and related fields, such as simulation. This accelerated program takes just 15 months to complete. Website.
Academy of Art Online, San Francisco, California
Part of the Academy of Art University, Academy of Art Online (School of Game Development) offers AA, BFA and MFA degrees in Game Development, a BS in Game Programming, and an Online Award of Completion (OAC) in Game Development. According to the school, students in the online program interact with classmates and instructors through discussion, video conferencing, multimedia feedback, and small class sizes. Students participate in flexible discussions allowing them to ask questions and receive constructive feedback. Instructors are accessible via email, phone, or through the online discussion forum. While discussions, lectures, and assignments may be reviewed online at any time, assignments do have specific deadlines. Website.
Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio
The BS in Interactive Media Design (IMD) at Franklin University prepares students to work in game design, mobile app design, web design, and project management. According to the school, the IMD major exposes students to “both the technical and non-technical aspects of interactive development. From mobile, graphic, rich media, web, and interaction design to front-end development,” the program “combines project management expertise with solid design and technology skills. Curriculum courses cover Interaction Design, Web Design, Rich Media, Graphic Design, Concepting, Project Management, and Mobile Design. Website.
Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida
Full Sail University offers several online programs for game designers including a BS in Game Design or Game Art, which take 32 months to complete. Aspiring game designers may also be interested in the 12-month MS in Mobile Gaming. According to the school, students in all programs will learn how to apply their “artistic talents to modern design tools, technology, and production processes. Project and portfolio courses are threaded throughout the curriculum and are dedicated to providing students with a relevant and comprehensive learning experience.” Website.
Baker College Online, Flint, Michigan
Part of Baker College, Baker College Online says that it costs less than half the tuition of most other online colleges. The school offers a BS in Game Software Development, which includes a three-week online class designed to orient you to the Baker Online classroom. According to the school, the curriculum immerses students in software engineering, with an emphasis on animation and game developing, and provides a strong foundation in programming technologies. Students will go through a complete development process, from game modeling, through animation and programming, to the final senior design project. Website.
Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh is part of the Art Institutes, which consists of 22 schools across the U.S. The Pittsburgh location offers a BS in Game Art & Design that may be completed over 12 quarters (180 total quarter credit hours). The school also offers a Certificate in Character Animation for Games that takes four quarters (49 total quarter credit hours) to complete. Students in the online program study the same curriculum as on-campus students do. Just a few courses include Game Modeling, Game Production Pipeline, Digital Storytelling, Character and Object Design, 3D Modeling, 2D and 3D Animation, and Texture Mapping. Website.
DeVry University, Multiple Campuses
While DeVry has more than 55 campuses across the U.S., the school’s Multimedia Design and Development (MDD) program with a Specialization in Web Game Programming can be completed from anywhere in the world. Offered through the College of Media Arts & Technology, the bachelor’s degree program “enables students to pursue a passion for gaming while still providing a well-rounded education in web graphic design applicable to almost any industry.” According to the school, students learn the design and development of web-based games and how to install, configure, and maintain game-server software with tools like ActionScript. They study common coding and scripting languages and become proficient in the industry-specific software programs, including HTML5, which is used build today’s websites. Students also “learn the principles of both competitive and collaborative game play, and how to bring game logic and functionality to a variety of interactive platforms.” The program also prepares students to take the Adobe® Certified Associate (ACA)1 exam. Website.
While these schools offer some of the best online game design and development programs in the U.S., our list is by no means complete. If you are interested in a game design program at any given school, head to their distance learning or online division to find out if an online option is available.
Please note that all program information has been obtained from each school’s website. At the time this article was published, all information was accurate.
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