Our 2016 rankings of the Top 10 schools on the West Coast for game design and development.
We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California (USC) is home to the Dornsife College of Letters, the School of Cinematic Arts, and the Viterbi School of Engineering, which offer programs for aspiring game designers. Dornsife’s Interactive Media & Games Division, in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts, offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment, an intensive three-year MFA in Interactive Media, and Minors in Game Design and Game Entrepreneurism. According to USC, the MFA program “draws on the strengths of the School of Cinematic Arts, including Game Design, Animation, Sound Production, Screenwriting, Producing and Critical Studies, bringing these resources together in a vibrant community of innovative digital media practice.”
The Viterbi School of Engineering-Department of Computer Science offers a BS in Computer Science – CSCI (Games), an MS in Computer Science (Game Development), and a PhD in Computer Science (Game Design and Development or Virtual Reality). A Minor in Computer Science and a Progressive Degree Program (PDP) are also available.
The Progressive Degree Program allows exceptional undergraduate students to “start graduate-level classes during their senior year and request a reduction in the units required for the Master’s degree.” This “allows students to earn the MS in Computer Science with one or two additional semesters of study.” The PDP is available for the MS in Computer Science (Game Development). All programs are offered through USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science.
In addition to a wide variety of program offerings for aspiring game designers, USC is home to the GamePipe Laboratory. The Laboratory is sponsored by Intel, Sony, and other technology companies and it 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.
Established in 1880, USC is home to 43,000 students enrolled in more than 500 graduate and undergraduate programs, and over 150 minors across 18 colleges and schools.
2. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
Digipen Institute of Technology offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a BA in Game Design, a BS in Computer Science and Game Design, a BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (BS in RTIS), a five-year BS in RTIS/MS in Computer Science, and a Minor in Game Design. According to DigiPen, although the BS in RTIS offers “extensive training in mathematics and physics,” students in the program also “work both individually and collaboratively to learn the fundamentals of Game Design, Production, and Programming. Additionally, they write game design documents and technical design documents, learn how to schedule tools and techniques, and participate in the full production of several games.” The Game Design programs at Digipen Institute of Technology are offered through the Department of Game Software Design and Production.
Founded in 1988, DigiPen Institute of Technology is home to around 1,071 students from across the U.S. and 45 countries. The school offers 10 graduate and undergraduate programs in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science.
3. University of California - Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
University of California – Santa Cruz (UCSC) is home to The Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE). The school houses the Department of Computer Science (CS), which offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a BS in Computer Science: Computer Game Design, an MS in Games & Playable Media, and MS and PhD degrees in Computer Science with a (research) focus in Computer Games.
UCSC’s Art Department houses the Arts Division, which offers an MFA in Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) with a Playable Media research option. Finally, UCSC is home to The Center for Games and Playable Media. Established in 2010, the Center houses the schools “five games-related research labs including the Expressive Intelligence Studio — one of the largest technical game research groups in the world.”
UCSC opened in 1965. The school is home to 17,280 students enrolled in more than 100 degree programs across 10 colleges.
4. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Options include Entertainment Design (One-Year Track), Digital Production for Entertainment (Two-Year Program), Entertainment Design and Digital Production (Three-Year Program), and Maya Fast Track (10-Week Program). Gnomon also offers a variety of online courses ranging from Games Tools and Techniques to Character Animation, and Master Classes that “focus on different elements of the visual effects and games industries in a private forum.” Master Classes are offered exclusively online.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects was established in 1997. It is home to more than 100 students enrolled in Gnomon School of Visual Effects was established in 1997. It is home to more than 100 students enrolled in one-, two-, and three-year (intensive) programs leading to a Certificate.
5. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the School of Arts and Architecture, which houses the Department of Design Media Arts (DMA). The Department offers a BA in Design Media Arts. With support from the School of Theater, Film, and Television, DMA also houses the UCLA Game Lab. According to UCLA, the Game Lab “supports exploration of Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres.” In addition to producing games and research, the lab “functions as a center that develops public programming around critical issues in gaming, including: public lectures, workshops, exhibitions, a visiting artist program, and an annual public festival at the Hammer Museum.”
UCLA was founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California. It is home to 43,239 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The school offers 323 degree programs and majors through the College of Letters and Science, the university’s 11 professional schools, and more than 109 academic departments.
6. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) offers a BFA with an Emphasis in Game Art, 3D Character, or 3D Environment. This “project-based and highly collaborative” program features graduate and undergraduate partnerships, such as with USC’s graduate program, GamePipe. The BFA program has a placement rate above 94 percent and graduates have landed positions at Blizzard Entertainment, Obsidian, Crystal Dynamics, Visceral Games, and many others.
An Art of Game MFA is also on the menu. This unique program allows students to complete their first year by taking evening and weekend online classes ending in a six-week intensive at the LCAD campus in Laguna Beach, CA. The program takes two years to complete.
LCAD was established in 1961 as the “Laguna Beach School of Art.” Home to just under 500 students, LCAD offers five undergraduate majors and three graduate programs.
7. University of California - Irvine, Irvine, California
The University of California - Irvine (UC Irvine) is home to the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, which offers a BS in Computer Game Science (CGS). According to the school, CGS students will “acquire a solid foundation in computer science and software development” and “learn how to create interactive and human-centered computer game designs.” Students will have the opportunity to work in teams to “design and implement new games.”
Established in 1965, UC Irvine is home to 30,736 students enrolled more than 100 programs across more than a dozen schools.
8. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University is home to School of Game Development, which offers a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. Offerings include AA, BFA, BS, and MFA degrees in Game Development. According to the school, these multidisciplinary programs provide a “well-rounded education in the arts with an emphasis on understanding and applying techniques including 3D modeling, animation and lighting in video game production.”
Established in 1929, Academy of Art University had a Fall 2015 enrollment of 8,813 students. The school offers dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs through several schools.
9. Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California
Art Center College of Design offers a BS in Entertainment Design with a Track in Concept Design or Character Animation. The program prepares students for a career in both Game Design and Animation. The school, which opened in 1930, spans two campuses and four structures in the U.S. and Berlin. It offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in a variety of Industrial Design and Visual and applied arts disciplines, as well as a joint MS/MBA program with the Drucker School of Management.
10. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) offers a BA in Digital Media with a Game & Entertainment Design Major and a Minor in Digital Media. According to the school, “in Game & Entertainment Design, students learn to create the visual elements for games, apps, feature films, and other entertainment platforms. Students also develop the skills to design the gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters of interactive games, apps, and websites.” Digital Media graduates have landed positions at Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Sony Imageworks, and many others.
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was founded in 1918 by General Harrison Gray Otis—the founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Home to 1,140 students, OTIS offers more than a dozen interdisciplinary art and design programs from Animation, Motion Design, and Illustration to Sculpture/New Genres and Toy Design.