What is the best game design school in the Southwest for 2021?

Top 10 Southwest Game Design Schools – 2021 College Rankings
1University of UtahUtah
2Southern Methodist UniversityTexas
3University of Texas at AustinTexas
4Texas A&M University, College StationTexas
5University of Texas at DallasTexas
6Rocky Mountain College of Art and DesignColorado
7University of Advancing TechnologyArizona
8Baylor UniversityTexas
9University of DenverColorado
10University of ArizonaArizona

Our 2021 rankings of the Top 10 schools for game design in the Southwest US. We define the Southwest as Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
University of Utah

Founded in 1850, University of Utah (The U) serves nearly 33,000 students from across the U.S. and around the world. The school offers over 100 undergraduate and more than 90 graduate programs across 17 colleges and schools, and nearly 100 departments. The College of Engineering and the College of Fine Arts are home to the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Master Games Studio (EAE:MGS).

The Studio offers a Master of Entertainment Arts and Engineering (MEAE). Tracks include Game Arts, Game Engineering, Game Production, and Technical Art. According to the Studio, “all students in each of the tracks have a series of common classes including Game Design, Rapid Prototyping, Pre-Production, and Final Project.” In addition, students will “develop and enhance a professional game portfolio” and they will have the opportunity to complete an internship in the game industry.

The EAE Interdisciplinary Teaching Program now offers a BS in Games (BSG) designed “specifically for students who aspire to hold careers within the professional games industry or a related field, such as simulation, edutainment, or visualization.” The new program “provides a technical grounding in mathematics and computational skills, core knowledge in the design and production of digital playable experiences, and specialization options that prepare students for technical supervision, tools development and overall game design.” A Minor in Games is also available.

The David Eccles School of Business and the Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program also offer a dual degree program “designed to take advantage of the complementary elements in the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) and the Masters of Entertainment Arts & Engineering.” The MBA/MEAE, which aims to bridge the ‘suits’ vs. the ‘dev’ divide, takes three years to complete.

Other offerings include a BS, five-year BS/MS, and Minor in Computer Science and a BA in Film and Media Arts. The BS in Computer Science and the BA in Film and Media Arts offer an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE). The BA is available through the School of Computing and Department of Film and Media Arts, and the BS is offered through the School of Computing.

2. Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Southern Methodist University

Southern Methodist University (SMU) was founded in 1911 by what is now The United Methodist Church. The school serves nearly 12,400 students enrolled in more than 200 programs in seven schools. Programs for aspiring game designers are offered in Lyle School of Engineering and Meadows School of the Arts.

Lyle School of Engineering offers a BS in Computer Science with a Game Development Track. Students interested in this track must be admitted to the Professional Certificate Program in Digital Game Development at The Guildhall—SMU’s School of Video Game Development (est. 2003). The Certificate is “tailored to students who wish to become actively involved in the game development industry as designers or artists,” says the school.

Specializations for the program include Art Creation, Level Design, Production, and Software Development. Course highlights include Digital Computer Design, Graphical User Interface Design and Implementation, Programming for Commercial Game Engines, Software Development for Games, and Team Game Production.

Students will also complete a Gaming Design Project, Senior Design I&II, and six credit hours of advanced electives in the Lyle School of Engineering. An internship is also part of the program.

Meadows School of the Arts offers a BFA in Art/Masters of Interactive Technology (BFA/M.I.T) in Digital Game Development. Supported by the Guildhall, the program “provides the breadth and rigor of a BFA degree, which will develop skills supportive of the in-depth investigation of digital game development fundamentals through the curriculum of the Master of Interactive Technology.” BFA/M.I.T and M.I.T Specializations include Art, Design, Production, or Programming for Games.

Graduates of the games programs at SMU will be prepared to seek positions in the video game design industry, multimedia and design, visual effects, game-based learning, and more.

3. University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
University of Texas at Austin

Founded in 1883, the University of Texas - Austin (UT Austin) serves nearly 52,000 students enrolled in 156 undergraduate degree programs with more than 170 fields of study, 139 graduate degree programs, and nearly 100 doctoral programs. Degrees are offered in 18 colleges and schools.

UT Austin’s Game Design and Development Program is a partnership between the Department of Arts and Entertainment Technologies (AET) in the College of Fine Arts’ School of Design and Creative Technologies, the Department of Computer Science (CS) in the College of Natural Sciences, and the Department of Radio-Television-Film (RTF) in Moody College of Communication.

“Newly offered classes focused specifically on game design are offered by AET, coursework in coding for games and visualization are offered by CS, and courses offered by RTF center on narrative design, cinematic arts, and emergent media,” says the school. Complementary minor programs and concentrations are “exclusively offered by all three departments to provide a broad and comprehensive curriculum that blends instruction in computer science, media, and design.”

The program highlights the 2D and 3D Capstone courses, where teams of 5-8 students assemble to create 2D games to show prospective employers and learn how to make 3D games (including virtual reality games), while learning the common practices and processes of game studios. Game students also have the opportunity to work “alongside organizations such as UT’s EGaDS! and IGDA Austin,” and with local game and mobile studios, and industry professionals.

UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences’ Department of Computer Sciences has several additional programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a BS in Computer Science with a Concentration in Game Development (BS CS), an MS in Computer Science (MS CS), and a Five-Year BS/MS Integrated Program in Computer Science. Programs include elective options that allow students to study game design and because Texas has the second largest concentration of game studios in the U.S., all CS programs offer local internship opportunities that often lead to permanent employment in game development or interactive entertainment.

Graduates of the Game Programs at UT Austin are “ready to design, develop, and provide leadership for the exploding growth in AR/VR, game, mobile app, and creative media agencies and studios in Texas and around the world.”

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

Established in 1876, Texas A&M University (TAMU) is the state’s first public institution of higher learning. Consisting of more than 5,200 acres at the College Station campus alone and serving more than 69,000 students, Texas A&M is also one of the nation’s largest universities.

The school offers 133 undergraduate degree programs, 175 master's degree programs, 92 doctoral degree programs and five first professional degrees in 17 colleges and schools. The College of Architecture houses the Visualization Program, which was established in 1988. The program offers gaming-oriented study options in the MS and MFA degrees as well as enhanced game design curricula at the undergraduate level. Degree options include BS, MS, and MFA degrees in Visualization. A Minor in Game Design and Development is also available.

The BS in Visualization is a 120 credit hour studio-based program that integrates aspects of fine arts, 3D design, and digital technology into the studio experience. The program focuses on “the processes of creation, design and development of the visual experiences” says the school.

Another highlight of the program is the required semester away during the Junior year followed by a capstone proposal and studio during the Senior year. “A broad range of directed electives allows the student to gain an in-depth understanding in an area of specialization.” Graduates of the program are prepared for employment in such fields as user interface and web design, the entertainment industry (game design and development, animation and visual effects), and fields such as modeling and simulation, data analytics, and other areas where visualization contributes to understanding. Graduates may also “enter graduate programs that emphasize digital media in either computer science or art/design.”

The MS in Visualization is “designed to prepare students for a range of long-term careers in visualization. The program helps students develop the focused expertise and broad foundation knowledge needed in this rapidly developing field.” The program’s core curriculum will give students a “basic grasp of the artistic, scientific, cognitive, and technical foundations of the discipline. Beyond this broad training, the program requires students to develop a strong focus area of advanced expertise, and to complete a research thesis in this focus area.”

The 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.” 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 of Visualization’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.

5. University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas
University of Texas at Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) was established as the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest (GRCSW) in 1961 by the founders of technology company Texas Instruments. The school became an official member of the University of Texas System in 1969. Today, UT Dallas serves more than 28,000 students enrolled in over 140 academic degrees in eight schools, including the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC).

Created in 2015, ATEC merged two long-running programs at UT Dallas: the program in Arts and Technology and the program in Emerging Media and Communication. Serving more than 1,500 students, including 100 MA and MFA students and 40 doctoral students, ATEC offers programs that blend Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Management (STEAM).

Degree pathways include a BA in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (BA ATEC), an MA in ATEC, an MFA in ATEC with Gaming Studies, and a PhD in ATEC. Undergraduates may choose between several pathways such as Game Design or Animation. BA ATEC students may also choose electives in more than one area. Elective highlights include Educational Games, Game Design, Game Pipeline Methodologies, Game Production Lab, Interaction Design, Interactive Narrative, Level Design, Modeling and Texturing, Serious Games, User Experience Design for Games, and Virtual Environments.

Research area options for all 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.

6. Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Denver, Colorado
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design

Rocky Mountain School of Art was founded in 1963 by Educator and illustrator Philip J. Steele. Located in the foothills of Colorado, this proprietary institution had a mission to create a “community of creatives” that that would instill in all students a passion for creativity, innovation, and a desire for lifelong learning in the fine and applied arts. Today, the school has a new name—Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) and it is considered one of the nation’s premier art and design institutions.

Serving more than 1,000 students, RMCAD offers 16 degree and certificate programs offered in campus/hybrid and online formats. Among the schools programs is a BFA in Game Art.

The curriculum for this 123 credit hour program “is a merger of technical and artistic coursework that covers the computer, analytical, and technical skills necessary to understand the mechanics of game design,” says the school. Students will also be introduced to everything from the different aspects of graphic design to creative and technical writing.” Requirements for the 123 credit hour program include 16 Art History credits, 30 Liberal Arts credits, 24 Foundations credits, 48 Core credits, and six Studio Elective credits.

Course highlights include 3D Computer Animation Motion Studies, 3D Modeling, Business Ethics & Copyrights, Character Rigging + Animation, Digital Painting for Film + Games, Game Animation + Motion Capture, Game Creation Fundamentals, Game Particles + Effects, Level Design, Lighting & Texture, and Visual Storytelling. Other program highlights include a collaborative environment that allows students to interact with students from different programs, professors working in the field, and small class sizes.  

The BFA in Game Art prepares graduates for careers such as 3D Character Modeler, Concept Artist, Game Designer, Interactive Media Designer, Motion Graphics Designer, and Rigger Animator, to name a few.

7. University of Advancing Technology, Tempe, Arizona
University of Advancing Technology

Founded in 1983 as the CAD Institute, University of Advancing Technology (UAT) began as a place where students could learn computer-aided design and engineering. Today, this private and family-owned University serves more than 1,000 students enrolled in dozens of associate, bachelor, and master degree programs in areas such as Business & Innovation, Creation & Simulation, Cybersecurity, Digital Arts, Game Studies, and Software Engineering.

University of Advancing Technology established UAT Game Design in 1995. It is the “only fully accredited game design program that boasts a connection to a full continuum of game development degrees including: Game Design degree, Game Art and Animation degree, Game Programming degree and Serious Game Simulation degree,” says the school.

Degree options include BAs in Game Art and Animation, Game Design, and Virtual Reality, a BS in Game Programming, and an MS in Game Production and Management. Students also have the opportunity to start as a Game Design major and graduate with dual gaming degrees from the schools “prolific suite” of game degree programs.

All Games students are “exposed to all the tools of the trade, as well as programming and asset creation video game design skill sets.” Coursework for the programs emphasize “design skills such as strong initial concepts."  Design in the program will also take “a critical approach to the study of gameplay, player interaction, role-playing, and community dynamics as well as the unique features of the numerous game platforms available in the marketplace.”

Games students will work with video game design artists and programmers to create innovative projects through team-based assignments and they will “develop the leadership skills to see video game design projects through from an initial design concept to a publisher-ready final product.”

Other program highlights include access to the largest game incubator lab in Arizona, access to UAT Game Studios (a game production pipeline that fosters game development and connection to the game industry), access to UAT’s Gamer Group (supported by the Games Job Fair networking event), and access to UAT’s Greenlight Committee where game projects vie for UAT sponsorship at GDC. The committee awards winning teams the additional resources they need to ensure game readiness and celebrates students’ innovative work.

Students can expect to complete the undergraduate programs in eight semesters. Thanks to flexible, year-round schedules and no thesis requirement, the MS program may be completed in as few as six semesters.

UAT alumni are currently employed at such leading technology organizations as Blizzard, Electronic Arts (EA), Google, Intel, Microsoft, Nickelodeon, the Department of Defense, and many others.

8. Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Baylor University

Chartered in 1845 and serving more than 19,500 students, Baylor University is the oldest continually operating university in Texas and the largest Baptist educational institution in the world. The school, which sits on a 1,000-acre campus on the Brazos River, offers more than 250 degree programs among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

The School of Engineering and Computer Science houses the Department of Computer Science, which offers a BS in Computer Science (BSCS), a BA with a Major in Computer Science, a BS in CS with a Software Engineering Concentration, and an MS and Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science. All programs offer the opportunity to focus in games through electives and the undergraduate programs feature a Gaming Capstone.

In the semester long Capstone course, students will create a gaming system. “The project requires applying information technology according to established design management practices, including technical presentations (oral and written) by all students,” says the school.

Other course highlights include 2D and 3D Design, Advanced Digital Production, Artificial Intelligence, Audio Production, Computer Graphics, Gaming Platform Frameworks, Interactive Media, Introduction to Game Development, Introduction to Video Game Design, Topics in Media Genres (film, television, gaming, and other media), and Topics in Media Storytelling (film, television, radio/audio, games, or other form of digital media storytelling).

Depending on the program, students may choose nine hours or more of elective coursework. Students may also take a Minor in an approved field such as Film and Digital Media or Studio Art.

Graduates of the programs are awarded a fully accredited Computer Science degree with all the associated career and graduate education opportunities.

9. University of Denver, Denver, Colorado
University of Denver

University of Denver (DU) was founded in 1864 as the Colorado Seminary, just six years after the founding of Denver City in what was then the Colorado Territory. Today, the school serves 12,000 students enrolled in more than 200 programs in 10 colleges and schools. The Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science houses the game design program. The School also offers Computer Science degrees that allow students to specialize in just about any area.

Leading to a BA or BS, the Game Development program is a joint effort between Art, Computer Science, and Emergent Digital Practices, each with specific requirements. For example, the BA requires a double major—one in Game Development and one in Digital Media Studies, Electronic Media Art Design or Studio Art—and it is “designed to allow students to bridge the gap between game programming and art, allowing the broadest range of opportunities throughout the field as developers, designers and artists,” says the school. Students receive “intensive instruction in computer science, graphics and programming skills in order to develop the technical know-how to make [their] ideas real.”

The BA requires “more courses in the allied art fields than the BS, and is balanced by having fewer required Math and Computer Science courses.” Graduates of this program will be able to study and work as a developer, game designer, and artist.

The BS requires a Minor in Mathematics and a second art-related Minor. A cognate of five approved classes from Art and Emergent Digital Practices is also required. A heavy focus is placed in on developing computer science and programming skills, while building a strong foundation in the artistic, critical, and design elements of games. Students will have the option to “focus either on the appreciation, understanding and production of art, or on the critical, technical and design elements of digital media.”

Students in both programs have access to study abroad and travel opportunities, as well as internships and cooperative education opportunities.

Graduates of both programs will be prepared to seek positions in game development and “effectively collaborate with artists and others throughout the development process.”

10. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
University of Arizona

Established in 1885, the University of Arizona (UA) existed before Arizona was a state. In 1895, the school graduated just three students—two women and one male. Today, UA serves more than 300,000 alumni and nearly 47,000 students. Notable alumni include Kristin Wiig, Jerry Bruckheimer, Rob Gronkowski, Robert Joseph "Bob" Dole, Savannah Guthrie, and Steve Kerr, to name a few.

The flagship institution in the State of Arizona, UA offers more than 300 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in more than 150 areas of study. Programs are offered in 20 colleges and nearly two dozen specialized schools. The College of Social & Behavioral Sciences houses the School of Information (iSchool), which offers a BS in Game Design and Development, a BA in Games and Behavior, and a Games and Simulation Certificate.

The iSchool Certificate Program provides undergraduate students “with the design and development skills necessary to create virtual interactive environments that span across devices and platforms,” says the school. Students will take the required Introduction to Game Design course, six units of elective courses, and one additional course from a list of additional offered electives. Just a few offerings include Advanced Game Development, Computing and the Arts, Game Programming, Digital Storytelling and Culture, and Virtual Reality.

The BS program provides “undergraduate students with the design and development skills necessary to create virtual interactive environments that span across devices and platforms.” A major component of the program is hands on learning through the required internship, which also helps students “develop valuable contacts with local and national companies, such as Hydrant, Octavia Digital Media, and the Enterprise Technology division of State Farm.” Course highlights include Algorithms for Games, Game Design, Game Development, Human Computer Interaction, and Monetizing Independent Games. Students will have the opportunity to take five games electives and complete a Capstone course during their senior year.

Graduates of the BS in Game Design and Development will be prepared to seek positions such as Game Designer, Game Developer, UX/UI Designer, and many others.

The BA in Games and Behavior provides students with a “broad understanding of important design principles and human behavior in games, but also the implications of gamification in society.” The degree covers “many aspects of game design and related social and societal factors without the need of extensive knowledge of computer programming.” Course highlights include Digital Engagement, Disruptive Technologies, Esports Industries, Ethics in a Digital World, Gamification in Society, and Technology of Sound.

Graduates of the program enter professional fields such as Digital Marketing, Gamification Design Consulting, and UX/UI Design, to name a few.