What are the best game design schools in the West for 2022?
|University of Southern California
|University of California, Santa Cruz
|DigiPen Institute of Technology
|Gnomon School of Visual Effects
|University of California, Los Angeles
|University of California, Irvine
|University of Washington
|Laguna College of Art and Design
|Academy of Art University
|California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Our 2022 list of the Top 10 Game Design School Programs in the West. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
The University of Southern California (USC) is home to USC Games—a collection of 10 minors and four degree programs leading to a BA, BS, MFA or MS. Programs are housed in the School of Cinematic Arts’ (SCA) Interactive Media & Games Division or the Viterbi School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science.
The USC Games Program combines the study of art, design, engineering, and production. Classes are collaborative, immersive, and hands on, allowing students to develop team-building skills and expertise in every area of game design and development. Courses are taught by working professionals in the field.
Specific degrees include a BA in Interactive Entertainment, BS in Computer Science (Games), MFAs in Interactive Media (Games and Interactive Entertainment) and Interactive Media (Games and Health), and an MS in Computer Science (Game Development). An MA in Cinematic Art (Media Arts, Games and Health) is offered in conjunction with SCA, the Graduate School and the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center.
USC Games Minor Programs at the University of Southern California are designed for students who would like to develop entry-level game design and development skills that can be utilized in interactive media, animation, games, film/television, and other areas. Minor options include Game Design, Game Animation, Video Game Design and Management, Game Audio, Game Entrepreneurism, Video Game Programming, Game User Research, 3D Computer Modeling and Graphics, Computer Science, and Themed Entertainment.
Graduates of USC Games have developed and sold their own games, launched their own studios, or landed positions at major studios such as Riot Games, Disney, Epic Games, Apple, ESPN, and CBS interactive, among others.
The University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Established in 1880, USC serves 49,500 students across campuses and centers in Los Angeles (two campuses), Marina Del Rey, Orange County, Catalina Island, Alhambra, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C. The University of Southern California offers more than 600 programs housed in 23 schools, academic divisions, and institutes.
2. University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz or UCSC) was the first institution in the University of California System to launch an undergraduate game major. Housed in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE), and known as Games @ UC Santa Cruz, this intensive program has expanded to include MFA, MS, and PhD degrees.
Programs are offered at the UC Santa Cruz and Silicon Valley campuses and include Computer Science: Computer Game Design (BS), Art & Design: Games and Playable Media (BA), Digital Arts and New Media (MFA), Serious Games, Computational Media, and Games and Playable Media (MS degrees), Computer Science and Computational Media (PhD).
Students in all programs have access Games @ UC Danta Cruz facilities and centers such as The Center for Computational Experience, Advanced Visualization and Interactive Systems, Ludo Lab, Critical Realities Studio, Software Introspection Laboratory, Expressive Intelligence Studio, ADL (Augmented Design Laboratory), Social Emotional Technology Lab, and The Other Lab.
Other program benefits include participation in the Annual Games Showcase, game design internships, and frequent studio tours. Undergraduates will complete a Capstone Project during the final year of their program and graduate students will complete a Thesis Project, Research Project, or both.
Graduates of the UC Santa Cruz Game Design Programs have gone on to establish careers in the industry at companies and studios such as Electronic Arts (EA), Tencent, Amazon, Universal, Google, TicToc Games, Method Studios, Ubisoft, TopGolf, and Hi-Rez Studios, among others.
University of California, Santa Cruz is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Established in 1965, the school provides 130 programs to a population of around 18,140 students. Programs at the University of California, Santa Cruz are offered in 10 colleges.
3. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology (DigiPen) launched the world’s first bachelor’s degree in Video Game Technology and Development. The program has evolved and expanded to include BS degrees in Computer Science (CS) & Game Design, and Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation, and BA in Game Design. An MFA in Digital Art that prepares graduates for careers in animation and games is also available. The program, which allows students to customize a specialization, requires a final Thesis Project, which culminates with a professional portfolio.
Students in the DigiPen Game Design BA Program will explore interactive systems and game design, communications, user experience, and psychology. BS in Computer Science & Game Design students will study artificial intelligence (AI), system, level and technical design, user interface design, and programming languages.
BS in CS/Real-Time Interactive Simulation students will master software engineering, 2D and 3D simulation, engine technology, graphics rendering, graphical user interfaces (GUIs), artificial intelligence (AI), and programming languages.
For exceptional students, DigiPen offers an accelerated BS/MS Program that allows them to complete both programs in just five years. The BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation degree program is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET.
Students in all programs will work in multidisciplinary teams in a studio environment to create software and a series of video games.
DigiPen Institute of Technology graduates enjoy a high placement rate. To date, more than 600 companies have hired DigiPen graduates. A few examples include Epic Games, DreamWorks Interactive, Google, Amazon, Walt Disney Imagineering, SpaceX, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Microsoft, Electronic Arts (EA), ArenaNet, Bungie, Activision, Insomniac Games, Zynga, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Booz Allen Hamilton, Intel Corporation, Ubisoft Shanghai, and Take-Two Interactive.
DigiPen Institute of Technology is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Established in 1988, DigiPen serves 1,200 students enrolled in 10 degree programs in Game Design and Development, Digital Art and Animation, Engineering, Computer Science, Audio and Music. DigiPen Institute of Technology has international campuses in Singapore and Spain, and educational partnerships with Princess Nourah bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Keimyung University in South Korea, The One Academy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Thammasat University in Thailand.
4. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects (Gnomon) emphasizes hands-on production. Learning takes place in classrooms that replicate real production studios. Consisting of a 30,000 square foot facility, Gnomon also houses nine state-of-the-art computer labs, drawing studios, lecture spaces, cycloramas, dedicated sculpture labs, a green screen stage, and the Gnomon Gallery.
Program options include a BFA and Certificate in Digital Production. More than 35 ten-week courses are also available. Examples include Game Creation, Props and Weapons for Games, Dynamic Effects, Maya Modules, Character Rigging for Production, and Creature Animation.
The Gnomon BFA in Digital Production Program focuses on the 3D production pipeline for visual effects, games, and film. Students will also master industry software and tools such as Nuke, After Effects, V-Ray, ZBrush, Maya and Photoshop. A wide variety of elective options allows BFA students to create a specialization in any area of entertainment or production.
Gnomon BFA students may also choose to complete the 3D Generalist curriculum or the Game Art or Visual Effects Concentration. The program, takes four years to complete (full-time), with or without a concentration. Graduates will leave the program with a professional demo reel.
The Digital Production Certificate Program has five areas of emphasized study: 3D Generalist, Character and Creature Animation, Games, Visual Effects Animation, and Modeling & Texturing. The program takes two years to complete, full-time.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects alumni work at some of the world’s top studios. Examples include Framestore, WetaFX, Disney Imagineering, Walt Disney Feature Animation, Blizzard Entertainment, Amazon Game Studios, Pixomondo (PXO), Marvel, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), DreamWorks, Electronic Arts (EA), Framestore, and Riot Games.
Established in 1997, Gnomon School of Visual Effects is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Located in Hollywood, California, Gnomon serves more than 500 students enrolled in BFA and certificate programs designed for students seeking production jobs in the entertainment industry. Individual 10-week courses are also offered.
5. University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
The School of the Arts and Architecture (UCLA Arts) at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the Department of Design Media Arts (DMA). The department offers several multidisciplinary programs suitable for individuals seeking careers in game design. Option include BA and MFA degrees in DMA (BA DMA, MFA DMA). The undergraduate program explores everything from interactivity and motion to video and game design. Courses for the program are taught as studios of up to 22 students. Sample courses include 3D Modeling and Motion, Game Design, Tangible Media, Word + Image, and Video. DMA BFA students will complete a final project—the Senior Project—in Interactivity and Games, Video and Animation, or Visual Communication and Image.
The two-year UCLA DMA MFA requires a full year of thesis work. Students will work and learn through seminar and studio courses. All MFA students will have the opportunity to collaborate with instructors on research projects or work as teaching assistants.
In addition to the DMA programs, the University of California Los Angeles houses UCLA Extension and the UCLA Game Lab. UCLA Extension offers game design courses such as Developing Video Game Narratives, Unity: 3D Game Design and Game Engines, Composing Music for Video Games, Producing Commercials for Games, and 3D Real-Time Animation.
The UCLA Game Lab is a research center supported by the School of Theater, Film and Television, and UCLA Arts. All DMA and UCLA Extension students may participate in the lab, which hosts visiting artists and researchers, guest speaker events, and workshops.
University of California Los Angeles is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, UCLA serves nearly 45,000 students enrolled in more than 200 across eight colleges and schools.
6. University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California
University of California Irvine (UC Irvine) offers a BS in Game Design and Interactive Media (GDIM) in the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences’ Department of Informatics. In addition to traditional game design and development techniques, the GDIM Program explores new and emerging technologies such as, human-computer interaction (HCI), and artificial intelligence (AI). Students will also study programming, data science, storytelling, and visual design through hands-on coursework. The program ends with a two-quarter capstone project. Students will complete the capstone under the guidance of industry mentors.
Graduates of the UC Irvine GDIM Program work in a variety of positions in the industry or they have gone on to pursue graduate study. Some have busy freelance careers and others have launched their own studios.
University of California-Irvine is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). With more than 1,200 faculty members and 10,000 staff, UC Irvine is Orange County California’s largest employer. Established in 1965, the school serves more than 36,000 students enrolled in more than 220 programs in 18 colleges, schools, and divisions.
7. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
University of Washington (UW) offers a Certificate in Game Design in the College of Professional & Continuing Education (PCE). Designed for artists with at least two years of college experience who are interested in launching a career in game design or working designers and developers seeking advancement opportunities in the games industry. This three-quarter intensive program covers game design, game mechanics and systems design, and game studio roles and development.
The UW PCE Game Design Certificate was developed in partnership with the UW Bothell Digital Future Lab. The program is approved by the UW Bothell School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics.
For students seeking a degree, the University of Washington Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) undergraduate and graduate programs that offer access to four main labs in the Allen School: Graphics and Imaging Lab (GRAIL), Center for Game Science, Animation Research Labs, and the Reality Lab.
GRAIL provides opportunities to work with researchers from Adobe, Google, Intel, and Microsoft. The researchers at the CSE Center for Game Science create projects designed to solve problems through games. The multidisciplinary Animation Research Labs is a collaboration between CSE, the Department of Architecture, and the Schools of Art, Drama, Music, and the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS). Students have opportunities to interact with industry experts from Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Xbox Game Studios, and Bungie, among others.
In the UW Reality Lab, designers have opportunities to work on research projects in a variety of areas. Computer vision, lighting rendering, character animation, and 3D reconstruction are a few areas. Established in 2018, UW Reality Lab houses ongoing programs including The Reality Studio and The Reality Lab, courses, lectures, and the idea incubator.
Allen School CSE academic programs include BS degrees in CS or Computer Engineering, the combined BS/MS in CS or Engineering, the Professional Master’s Program (PMP), and a PhD in CSE.
University of Washington is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) and is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). Engineering at UW is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Established in 1861, the University of Washington serves around 57,300 students across campuses in Seattle (main), Bothell, and Tacoma, Washington. UW offers more than 300 programs and 570+ degree options in 18 colleges and schools.
8. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) is a non-profit art and design school that offers BFA degrees and a Minor in Entertainment Design that covers Maya, ZBrush, concept design, storyboarding, and visual storytelling. An MFA in Game Design is also available, along with Specialized Minors in Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX). Across programs, students will work and learn in a project-based environment that encourages collaboration.
Course examples across programs include Advanced Drawing for Games, 3D Environmental Design, UI/UX for Games, Rigging and Animation for Games, Scripting for Games, Creatures and Characters, World Development, Entertainment Design for Entertainment, New Technologies, and Visual Storytelling for Entertainment.
Game Art BFA students will work in teams with the graduate MFA students to create industry-ready games that could be featured at the Independent Game Festival (IGF). Students will also participate in workshops led by artists and designers such as Chris Bateman, Bill Perkins, and Justin Thavirat. Entertainment BFA students will explore prop-making, concept design, 3-D digital tools, and model making. Like the Game Art BFA, the Entertainment BFA encourages collaboration. Team members will work in all areas from brainstorming to direction.
The Laguna College of Art and Design Game Design MFA is a two-year, terminal degree that leads to the creation of a final, marketable game. Courses explore areas such as game prototypes, game mechanics, game narrative, the game production cycle, game design processes, and the business of games.
Graduates of the BFA and MFA programs at LCAD are employed at major companies and studios around the globe. Examples include Riot Games, Insomniac Games, Disney Animation Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, Marvel, Blizzard Entertainment, DreamWorks, The Jim Henson Company, 20th Century Fox, Microsoft Studios, and Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Laguna College of Art and Design is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Founded in 1961 as Laguna Beach School of Art (LBSA), LCAD has educational affiliates in California and around the world including the Florence Academy of Arts (Florence, Italy), Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, and Breda University of Applied Sciences (BUAS), Netherlands. Laguna College of Art and Design serves nearly 750 students enrolled several minors and specialized minors, and 10 BFA and MFA programs in the Visual Arts.
9. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
The School of Game Development at Academy of Art University (Academy of Art) has AA, BFA, BS, MA, and MFA programs for individuals looking to launch a career in game design. Specific program options include AA, BFA, MA, and MFAs in Game Development, and a BS in Game Programming.
STEM-certified, the School of Game Development operates under the direction of game design professionals. Programs at the school are all-encompassing, so student designers will explore animation/animation VFX, game, systems, and tools programming, coding, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), user interface/user experience (UI/UX) design, artificial intelligence (AI), coding, programming, rigging, concept art, 3D modeling, technical art, level design, and more.
Thanks to partnerships with studios such as Zynga, Sony Interactive Entertainment, and Riot Games, School of Game Development students have opportunities to gain real-world experience through an internship. In addition to working at a top studio prior to graduation, students will engage in hands-on learning in the Academy of Art Game Development Studio. Facilities include cross-departmental war rooms, esports and AR/VR labs, and more.
Academy of Art School of Game Development alumni Sledgehammer Games, Naughty Dog, Crystal Dynamics, Riot Games, Zynga, and Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Academy of Art University is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Family-owned, this private university serves more than 7,000 students, making it one of the nation’s largest independent art and design schools. Academy of Art University offers more than 129 degree programs in 40+ areas of study. Programs are housed in 22 schools and lead to the AA, BA, BFA, BS, B. Arch, MAT, MA, MFA and M. Arch degrees.
10. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California
California Polytechnic State University’s (Cal Poly) College of Engineering (CENG) houses the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, which has several degree programs for individuals seeking a career that requires computer science and game design & development skills. All CENG programs provide hands-on learning in a studio-like, collaborative environment that focuses on design- and project-centered coursework.
Degree options include the BS, MS, and Blended BS + MS in Computer Science. Minor options include Computer Science and Computing for Interactive Arts. The CS Minor allows students to specialize in Game Development through electives. The Computing for Interactive Arts Minor is a cross-disciplinary, 40-unit program offered in partnership with the Department of Art and Design, housed in the College of Liberal Arts. MS and Blended BS + MS CS students may specialize in multiple areas, including Game Development.
Course examples across programs include The Art of Mixed Reality, Game Design, Advanced Rendering Techniques, Video Games & Society, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Interactive Entertainment Engineering, Software Engineering, Game Theory, Media Arts and Technologies: Storytelling, Operating Systems, Computing for Interactive Arts, Digital 3D Modeling and Design, Illustration, Computer Animation, Collaborative Studio: Storyboarding, Modeling, Animation and Rendering, Mixed Reality, and Computational Linguistics.
The Computer Science Programs at Cal Poly offer internship opportunities, study abroad programs in 75 countries, and cooperative education experiences with a full- or part-time schedule.
Graduates of the CS Program at Cal Poly go on to establish careers as game designers, developers and programmers, computer graphics artists, software engineers and programmers, multimedia artists, and animators, among others. Program alumni are frequently recruited by major companies and studios such as Electronic Arts (EA), Adobe, HP, Google, Apple, Raytheon, IBM, Boeing, DreamWorks, Intel, Microsoft, Disney, Apple, SUN, Cisco, and Yahoo.
California Polytechnic State University The university is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Founded in 1901, Cal Poly is part of the 23-campus California State University System. With more than 25 centers and institutes, the school sits on 9,000 acres, making it the second largest campus in California and one of the largest in the nation. Cal Poly serves around 21,815 students enrolled in more than 60 undergraduate majors and 50+ graduate programs in six academic colleges.