What are the top game design schools with Master of Fine Arts programs in 2021?

Top 10 Game Design MFA Programs – 2021 College Rankings
1University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia
2New York University New York
3DigiPen Institute of TechnologyWashington
4Savannah College of Art and DesignGeorgia
5DePaul UniversityIllinois
6Texas A&M University, College StationTexas
7University of Texas at DallasTexas
8The New School/ParsonsNew York
9The Ohio State UniversityOhio
10Laguna College of Art and DesignCalifornia

Below are the Top 10 Game Design schools and colleges offering Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree programs for 2021. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.

1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California

University of Southern California (USC) houses Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences—home to the Interactive Media & Games Division. Dornsife programs are offered in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts. MFA offerings include an intensive three-year Interactive Media program, and an Interactive Media (Games and Health) program.

All MFA students benefit from optional salaried or paid internship opportunities and access to the GamePipe Laboratory. Sponsored by Intel, Sony, and other technology companies, the Lab produces a "Demo Day," which allows students to showcase their work. The semiannual event attracts game industry reps, reporters, faculty, students, and hundreds of spectators from across the country.

Organizations that have recruited USC students for salaried or paid internships include 3Q Digital, Apple, Blackstone Gaming, CBS Interactive, Disney, Epic Games, ESPN, Heavy Iron Studios, NetEase Games, and Riot Games, to name a few.

2. New York University, New York, New York
New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts

Tisch School of the Arts (Tisch or TSOA) is part of NYU and home to the NYU Game Center, Department of Game Design. Here, students can earn an MFA in Game Design that takes two years to complete. Course highlights include Game Design, Game History, Game Production, and Game Studies.

Students in this terminal degree program gain hands-on experience by taking studio courses and participating in play labs, and electives offer the opportunity to “explore everything from Game Journalism to Games and Players (a class on the psychology and emotions of game play),” says the school.

Classes and events for all Game Center programs take place at the Media and Games Network (MAGNET) at the NYU Brooklyn campus. MAGNET also houses the Game Center Open Library, which is "the largest collection of games held by any university in the world."

3. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology

DigiPen Institute of Technology houses the Department of Game Software Design and Production, which offers an MFA in Digital Arts. Course highlights include 3D Concepts and Production, Character Design, Cinematography and The Art of the Story, Game Design, Development and Production, Facial Rigging and Animation, Organic and Hard Surface Modeling, Physics for Animation and Modeling, Scripting for Games, Storyboarding, and Texturing for 3D. A Team Project is part of the program as well as an Internship.

DigiPen student games have won more than 50 Independent Games Festival awards (more than any other school) and DigiPen alumni have been credited on more than 1,000 commercial game titles. Additionally, more than 550 companies around the world have hired DigiPen graduates.

Program alumni have gone on to land job titles such as Content Designer, Director, Game Designer, Game Scripter, Level Designer, Technical Artist, Technical Designer, UX Designer, and many others.

4. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers an MFA program at the main campus (Savannah) and through eLearning. The program consists of 45 credit hours of study. Course highlights include Character Development, Environment for Games, Game Design Documentation, and Scripting for Interactivity. Students will also take Thesis Studio I&II, and complete a Graduate Internship.

Professionals visit SCAD to meet with students every quarter in order to interview for positions and review portfolios. Recent visitors include representatives from Activision, Blizzard Entertainment, Crystal Dynamics, Electronic Arts, and Zynga. Graduates have been recruited by Epic Games, Firaxis Games, Sucker Punch Productions, and many others.

5. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

DePaul University houses the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM), which offers an MFA in Game Design. Course highlights for the program include Art Games Bootcamp, Creative Computation, Game Design Proseminar, Incubation Studio, and Thesis Studio.

MFA students have access to the Deep Games Laboratory and all CDM labs, including several that intersect with the program specifically, including game development and research, gameplay, virtual reality, and playtest and usability labs. The Deep Games Laboratory is a cross-disciplinary design, research, development, and assessment game lab housed in CDM that focuses on games exploring the human experience.

Recent DePaul Game Program graduates have gone on to work at Carbine Studios, Disney Interactive Studios, Firaxis, NeatherRealm Studios, Owlchemy Labs, Phosphor Games, Scientific Games, Wargaming, and many others. Several graduates have gone on to form their own gaming companies, including Young Horses, whose indie hit Octodad was developed at DePaul.

6. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University (TAMU) is home to the College of Architecture-Department of Visualization, which houses the Visualization Program. Established in 1988, the program offers gaming-oriented study options at the graduate level, including the MFA.

TAMU’s MFA in Visualization (MFA-V) is the only program of its kind in Texas and one of only a handful of its kind in the U.S. The program is designed for students “seeking a computing technology-infused terminal degree in the visual arts applicable to employment in digital media fields, working as a contemporary artist, and teaching in post-secondary digital arts programs,” says the school. This non-thesis degree requires the completion of 60 hours of coursework and a satisfactory presentation of a body of work by the candidate. “A written document addressing issues pertinent to the final study is also required.”

All Visualization students have access to the Department’s Learning Interactive Visualization Experience Lab. Established in 2014, the Lab “provides space for graduate and undergraduate students to create game prototypes while learning about game theory, the art and science of the visual image and game history. In the lab, through research and rigorous scientific process, students collaborate with specialists from visualization, educational psychology, computer science and engineering to create innovative, interactive software.”

Visualization program alumni can be found working as creative talent for Hollywood’s leading animation and special effects studios including Pixar, Blue Sky, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Industrial Light and Magic, DreamWorks Animation, Rhythm & Hues Studios and Reel FX.

7. University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas
University of Texas at Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) houses the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC). Created in 2015, ATEC offers an MFA in ATEC with Gaming Studies.

Research area options for graduate students include Computer Animation, Game Development, Game Studies, and Interaction Design, to name a few. The program is a good pathway whether students are interested in teaching arts- and technology-related courses in colleges and universities or working in a professional studio or design practice. Graduate students may choose to pursue additional research opportunities.

ATEC students have access to a number of studios and labs housed in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building. Spaces include the 3D Studio, CG Animation Lab, experimenta.l. Animation Lab, Game Lab, Games Research Lab, Mixed Media Lab, Motion Capture Studio, Narrative Systems Research Lab, Render Farm, Surround Studio, and The Studio for Mediating Play. The building also houses a Games and Media Library and the Lecture Hall.

Speakers such as “Father of the Internet” Dr. Vinton Cerf, and others from Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar, have been featured in the Lecture Hall.

8. The New School/Parsons, New York, New York
The New School/Parsons

The New School/Parsons houses the School of Art, Media, and Technology (AMT), which offers an MFA in Design and Technology (DT). This studio-based program consists of collaborative studios and the thesis studios. Per the school, “in Collaboration Studio courses, students work on real-world projects with industry firms and nonprofits.” Past partners include American Red Cross, Apple, Eyebeam, gameLab, Human Rights Watch, Intel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mozilla, NASA, Red Bull, Samsung, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Students also have the opportunity to work with peers in related programs including Communication Design, Fine Arts, Illustration, and Photography, and they have many elective options to choose from in order to create their own “coherent” study plan. Areas of practice include critical design, data visualization, digital fabrication, game design, interaction design, new media art, and physical computing.

9. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University (OSU) houses the College of Arts and Sciences-Department of Design, which offers an MFA with a Digital Animation and Interactive Media (DAIM) Track. The program requires 60 credit hours of study including core design courses (18 credits), thesis project and writing development (15 credits), and open electives in the themes of studio/lab (12 credits), history/theory/criticism (9 credits), and collaborative/interdisciplinary studio (6 credits).

Students in the program “work closely with a three-person thesis committee to develop their thesis topics and the vehicles best used for their development,” says the school.

Most students complete the program within a period of six semesters. Course highlights include 3D Modeling, Computer Animation, Digital Image Manipulation, Holography I&II, Moving Image Art, New Media Art, Podcasting, and Video Art I&II.

Students in the program utilize state of the art facilities, equipment, and interdisciplinary expertise in the school’s many special labs, including the world class Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD).

10. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design

Laguna Beach College of Art and Design (LCAD) offers a Game Design MFA. This online two-year terminal degree explores the design and development of games as a creative practice. The program offers a “unique, multidisciplinary approach that bridges the gap between theory and practice in game design,” says the school. Course highlights include Game Audio, Game Narrative, Game Production, Management Psychology, Mechanics Based Game Analysis, Prototyping, and Specialized Programming. Worth six credit hours, a Meaningful Games Summer Session is also part of the program.

Select MFA program candidates “will create a graduate level game development environment, replicating that which reflects the current industry model, nurturing advanced skills in design, research and development, leadership and marketing in the creative art of game design.”