Top 10 West Coast Game Design Schools - 2018 Rankings
1University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia
2Digipen Institute of TechnologyWashington
3University of California, Santa CruzCalifornia
4University of California, IrvineCalifornia
5Gnomon School of Visual EffectsCalifornia
6University of California Los AngelesCalifornia
7Academy of Art UniversityCalifornia
8University of WashingtonWashington
9Otis College of Art and DesignCalifornia
10Laguna College of Art and DesignCalifornia

Our 2018 rankings of the Top 10 game design schools on the West Coast. 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

The University of Southern California (USC) offers programs for aspiring game designers through the Viterbi School of Engineering (Department of Computer Science) and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences’ Interactive Media & Games Division. Dornsife programs are offered in in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts.

Viterbi School of Engineering offerings include a BS in Computer Science – CSCI (Games), an MS in Computer Science (Game Development), and a PhD in Computer Science with a Game Design and Development or Virtual Reality research area. A Minor in Computer Science and a Progressive Degree Program (PDP) are also available.

The PDP 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).

The Interactive Media & Games Division offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment, an intensive three-year MFA in Interactive Media and an MFA in Interactive Media (Games and Health), and an MA in Cinematic Arts (Media Arts, Games and Health). The Division’s extensive list of minors include Game Design, Game Animation, Game Audio, Game Entrepreneurism, Game User Research, Themed Entertainment, Video Game Design and Management, Video Game Programming, 3D Computer Modeling and Graphics, and Computer Science.

In addition to a wide variety of program options for aspiring game designers, USC is home 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.

About USC: Established in 1880, University of Southern California is home to 45,500 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate programs, 300-plus graduate programs, and more than 150 minors. The school has around 18 colleges and schools covering everything from Accounting and Architecture to Theater, Medicine, and Social Work.

2. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
Digipen Institute of Technology

Digipen Institute of Technology has a variety of 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.

Although the BS in RTIS offers “extensive training in mathematics and physics,” says Digipen, 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.

About Digipen Institute of Technology: DigiPen Institute of Technology was founded in 1988. It is home to approximately 984 undergraduates and 78 graduate students from all 50 states and close to 50 countries. The school offers ten graduate and undergraduate program options in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science.

3. University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
University of California, Santa Cruz

The University of California - Santa Cruz (UCSC) is home to the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE), which houses the Department of Computer Science (CS) and Computational Media (CMPM) Department. Here, aspiring game designers can earn a BS in Computer Science: Computer Game Design, an MS in Games & Playable Media, or an MS and PhD degree in Computational Media or Computer Science with a Research Focus in Computer Games.

The UCSC Art Department houses the Arts Division, which offers another option for designers—the MFA in Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) with a Playable Media Research Option. UCSC is also 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.”

About UCSC: The University of California - Santa Cruz opened in 1965. The school serves more than 18,000 students enrolled in over 100 degree programs across 10 colleges.

4. University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California
University of California, Irvine

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, throughout the major CGS students will “gain hands-on experience in creating a variety of digital games, for entertainment purposes, but also for education, training and engendering social change.”

Working in teams, students “will employ a variety of different programming languages, game platforms and hardware.” Overall, the program “strongly emphasizes the technical aspects of creating games, as well as working in teams to design and implement them.”

About UC Irvine: The University of California - Irvine was established in 1965. It is home to nearly 36,000 students enrolled over 100 programs across more than a dozen schools.

5. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Gnomon School of Visual Effects offers a four-year Digital Production BFA, a three-year Entertainment and Digital Production Certificate, and a two-year Digital Production for Entertainment Certificate. The school also offers single courses such as Game Creation, Game Design, Anatomy of Games, Animation for Games, Character Creation for Games, Creature Design, Texturing and Shading for Games, Digital Sculpting, Visual Effects for Games, Props and Weapons for Games, Hard Surface Modeling, Photoshop for Digital Production, and Introduction to 3D with Maya.

Students have the option to mix and match courses to meet their career goals, and some courses are available 100% online.

About Gnomon School of Visual Effects: Established in 1997, Gnomon School of Visual Effects specializes in computer graphics education for careers in the entertainment industry. The school, which has 600 graduates to date, offers degree and vocational programs, as well as single courses which can be completed on-campus or entirely online.

6. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
University of California Los Angeles

University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the School of Arts and Architecture, which houses the Department of Design Media Arts (DMA). Here, aspiring game designers can earn either a BA or MFA degree in Design Media Arts (BA DMA and MFA DMA). The DMA program highlights game design study, interactivity and games, video and animation, visual communication, and more. With support from the School of Theater, Film, and Television, DMA also houses the UCLA Game Lab.

The primary function of the Lab is as “a research and production space for collaborative teams to pursue focused work on gaming projects.” It supports exploration of Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres, while emphasizing the “conceptual risk-taking and development of new modes of expression and form through gaming.” 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.”

About UCLA: Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, UCLA is home to nearly 45,500 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The school offers 125+ undergraduate majors across 109 academic departments, and more than 40 graduate programs.

7. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University is home the School of Game Development, which has a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. Options include AA, BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Game Development and a BS in Game Programming. 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.” 

The Game Development programs at Academy of Art prepare students for positions such as game designer, 3D modeler, concept artist, UI/UX designer, and many others.

About Academy of Art University: Academy of Art University was established in 1929. The school serves more than 7,200 students enrolled in dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs. Degrees are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and many programs are available entirely online.

8. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
University of Washington

University of Washington (UW) is home to the Paul G. Allen School Computer Science & Engineering, which offers a BS in Computer Science, a BS in Computer Engineering, a Combined BS/MS, and a PhD or Professional Master’s Program (PMP) in Computer Science & Engineering (CSE). Students may choose the Graphics, Vision, Games, and Animation Pathway for all programs.

In the BS degree programs, students can work with faculty and graduate students on research; collaborate with industry partners; tackle complex design and implementation projects in capstone courses; and tailor their degree to meet their interests and goals. Sample courses include Computer Animation, Computer Graphics, Advanced Digital Design, Digital Sound, Data Visualization, and Artificial Intelligence. In addition, students can earn a Certificate in Game Design.

Students in all programs have access to three main labs at UW CSE. All are engaged in research spanning the areas of animation, computer game science, graphics, vision, and visualization. Labs include the Graphics and Imaging Lab (GRAIL), the Center for Game Science, and the Animation Research Labs. Per UW, The GRAIL group is known for “groundbreaking” research in computational photography, games for science and education, 3-D reconstruction, Internet photo collections, object recognition, human shape and motion analysis, information visualization, and animation, while researchers at the Center for Game Science use gaming to solve grand challenges, crowdsource human problem-solving to aid scientific discovery, and improve student interest and achievement in mathematics.

The Animation Research Labs is a multi-disciplinary effort that brings together faculty and students from UW CSE, the Department of Architecture, and the Schools of Art, DXARTS, Drama, and Music. The ARL is focused on advancing the state-of-the-art in animation through teaching, research, and computer-animated production in collaboration with experts from Disney Animation Studios, Bungie, Industrial Light & Magic, Microsoft Game Studios, Pixar, and many others.

In addition to the Computer Science and Engineering Programs, University of Washington offers a BFA with a Major in Digital Arts and Experimental Arts (BFA DXARTS) and a PhD in DXARTS. Students in both programs have the opportunity to focus their work in a particular area of experimental arts (computer animation, digital video, digital media art, computer music and sound art, design computing, mechatronics, and so on). Whatever the chosen area, “artists and scholars working at DXARTS engage in teaching, learning, and research within the synergistic, multidisciplinary setting of the center's labs, studios, and classrooms.”

Additional programs include a Certificate in Game Design and nine-week Game Studio Roles & Development and Game Mechanics & Systems Design courses.

About UW: Established in 1861, University of Washington is home to more than 56,000 students across three campuses located in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma. The school offers more than 570 degree options across 300+ programs and 16 colleges and schools.

9. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Art and Design

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) offers a BA in Digital Media with a Game and Entertainment Design Emphasis and a Minor in Digital Media. The school says students in the Game and Entertainment Design Major “develop their skills in concept art and visual development, learning the principles and processes involved in creating the first visual representations of characters, environments, and props for films and games.”

Students will also acquire the skills to “design the gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters of interactive games, apps, and websites. Using the most advanced CGI technologies, students acquire the techniques to create stunning visual effects for films, commercials, and videos.” All OTIS students have access to nine labs and shops from audio/video to the model shop.

About OTIS: Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis. The school serves approximately 1,100 full-time students enrolled in 11 BFA degree programs and MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing. A variety of minors and certificate programs are also available.

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

Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) has two programs for aspiring game designers: a BFA in Game Art and an Art of Game Design MFA. The Game Art BFA is a project-based program that highlights a collaborative environment, partnerships with USC’s graduate program (GamePipe), among others, and exclusive access to teachers and mentors that come from Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Appy Entertainment, Double Helix, Obsidian Entertainment, NCsoft Carbine Studios, Insomniac, and Highmoon.

The school says that students may choose to further develop and perfect their skills through industry internships that apply theory to real world situations. Additionally, the Game Art program hosts workshops that have featured such inspirational giants as Steven Huston and Nathan Fowkes.

The Art of Game Design MFA is an online two-year terminal degree that explores the design and development of games as a creative practice. Sample courses for the program include Game Narrative, Specialized Programming, Game Audio, Game Production, Mechanics Based Game Analysis, Management Psychology, and Prototyping. The program also features a Meaningful Games Summer Session worth six credit hours.

About LCAD: Established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) serves more than 600 students enrolled in twelve undergraduate majors and four graduate degrees. Besides Game Design, a few options include Animation, Illustration, Drawing, and Painting.