Game designers have a variety of duties ranging from designing characters, levels, and puzzles to creating art and animation. While some game designers may write code, it is usually up to the game developer to take the overall design of the game and turn it into an actual game. Along with game developers, game designers are part of a team that helps see the creation of a video game through from beginning to end. Game designers at the advanced level may take on project management responsibilities and even testing early versions of video games, says Study.com.
Whether entry level or advanced, the requirements to become a game designer are the same. Most employers prefer a bachelor’s degree or higher in Game Design or Game Design and Development. While these are the two most common majors, a number of other options are available. In fact, dozens of other programs with much more elaborate names have entered the scene over the years, and many have become just as popular as the traditional programs have. Though program names may vary, all curriculums prepare students to work in the competitive world of game design—and a few others. The following are just a few programs that can take you where you need to go.
- Computer Game Design
- Computer Game Science
- Computer Science, Focus Games
- Design and Technology
- Digital Gaming and Simulation
- Engineering: Computer Graphics and Game Technology (CGGT)
- Experience Design
- Game and Interactive Media Design
- Game and Simulation Arts
- Game Art and Design
- Game Design and Mobile Gaming
- Interactive Design and Game Development
- Interactive Entertainment
- Interactive Media and Game Design
- Media and Information, Specialization Game Design & Development
- New Media Interactive Development
Depending on your goals, you may choose a program, emphasis, focus area or specialization that leads to a Bachelor of Art (BA), Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA), Master of Art (MA), Bachelor of Science (BS), or Master of Science (MS). Some schools even offer a PhD for game designers. For example, Michigan State University offers a Media and Information Studies PhD with a Research Area in Games and Meaningful Play, while the Center for Games and Playable Media (CGPM) at UC Santa Cruz (UC SC) offers a PhD in Computer Science with a Focus in Games.
No matter which type of game design degree program you choose, keep in mind that a top program should offer a rigorous, well-rounded curriculum that covers key areas of game design. They should include game studies (example: intro to game studies, games & players, writing about games, games 101, history of design and play); game design (ex. intro to game design, intermediate game design, advanced game design, level design, visual communication); game development (ex. intro to game development, development studio: modeling, studio project, project management); programming, visual design, audio design, and game business. Students will also explore areas such as mobile games, experimental gameplay, and writing for games.
While game design programs are plentiful at colleges and universities across the U.S. and overseas, some are more popular than others are. The following are just a few standouts.
USC School of Interactive Media & Games Division (in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts) and Viterbi School of Engineering, USC Games
BA Interactive Entertainment, three-year MFA in Interactive Media, Minors in Game Design and Game Entrepreneurism, BS in Computer Science – CSCI (Games), MS in Computer Science (Game Development), PhD in Computer Science (Game Design and Development or Virtual Reality).
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), School of Digital Media
BA, BFA, MA, MFA, Minor in Interactive Design & Game Development, Certificate in Interactive Design.
Parsons The New School for Design, School of Art, Media, and Technology (AMT)
BFA, MFA Design and Technology with a Game Design Focus.
University of Central Florida (UCF) + Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA), School of Visual Arts and Design (SVAD)
BA Digital Media with a Specialization in Game Design, MFA Emerging Media with a Track in Digital Media, MA in Digital Media - Visual Language and Interactive Media, MS Interactive Entertainment program with three Tracks: Art, Production, and Programming.
Miami University, College of Creative Arts and the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS)
BA, Co-Major in IMS with game-related Tracks in Game Design, Game Studies, Art and Interaction, Interactive Business, and Game Development, MFA in Experience Design (XD:MFA), Minor and Graduate Certificate in IMS.
Michigan State University, College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Media and Information (MI) Department
BA, BS Media and Information with a Game Design and Development Specialization, BS Computer Science with a Game Design and Development Specialization, BA, BFA Studio Art with a Game Design and Development Specialization, MA Human Computer Interaction (HCI) with a Games and Meaningful Play Focus, PhD Media and Information Studies (Research Area: Games and Meaningful Play), Graduate Certificate in Serious Games, Interdisciplinary Game Design and Development Minor.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MIT Game Lab, MIT Education Arcade, Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab
BS Comparative Media Studies (CMS) with a Games and Interactive Media Cluster, MS with a Specialization in Games, Minor in CMS.
Columbia College Chicago, School of Media Arts, Department of Interactive Arts & Media (IAM)
BA Game Design with Concentrations in Game Art, Game Sound Design for Games, or Game Development; BA Interactive Arts and Media, Game Art, or Interaction Design. Minor Game Design, Game Art, and Game Programming.
Carnegie Mellon University, College of Fine Arts-Integrative Design, Arts and Technology Network (IDeATe), and the School of Computer Science-Computer Science Department
Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts (BCSA) with a Concentration in Game Design, Master of Entertainment Technology (MET), IDeATe Collaborative Studio Programming for Game Designers, Minor in IDeATe.
Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD)
BFA Game Art and Design.
Digipen Institute of Technology
BA Game Design, BS Computer Science and Game Design, Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (BS in RTIS), Minor Game Design.
College for Creative Studies (CCS), Department of Illustration
BFA Entertainment Arts with a Focus in Games.
Shawnee State University, Fine, Digital and Performing Arts Department
BFA Game and Simulation Arts, AA in Art with a Game Design Concentration, BFA Visualist Design and Interactive Media with a 3D Design or Interactive Media Track, Minor in Gaming Arts.
Cornell University, Computing and Information Science Department-Game Design Initiative at Cornell University (GDIAC)
GDIAC is the first game design program established at an Ivy League institution and it is an exception to the “bachelor’s degree or higher rule.” The program offers a minor that is “a highly-regarded program for technical areas such as software development, technical game design, game analytics, and project management." While the Game Design Minor is open to all students (regardless of major), the program is often chosen as a complement to traditional majors such as Computer Science, Information Science, Art, Music, or New Media Studies.
University of Utah, College of Engineering, College of Fine Arts
Entertainment Arts and Engineering Master Games Studio (EAE:MGS) with an Arts, Technical Arts, Production or Engineering Track.
University of Texas-Austin, Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET), College of Fine Arts, Computer Science Department, and Radio-Television-Film Department
Games and Mobile Media Applications (GAMMA) Certificate. Like Cornell’s Game Design Initiative, the GAMMA Certificate is an exception to the “bachelor’s degree or higher rule.” This exceptional program produces graduates ready to develop, design, and provide leadership in the game, mobile app, and creative media industries.
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences’ School of Interactive Games & Media (IGM), Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity (MAGIC) (IGM-MAGIC)
BS, MS Game Design and Development, BSc New Media Interactive Development, and a Game Design or Game Design and Development Minor (GAMEDD-MN).
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HAAS), Department of Art
BS Arts (Electronic Arts - EART), Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer Science, Management/Entrepreneurship, Cognitive Science, or Writing for Games, MFA or PhD in EART.
Full Sail University
BS Game Design, Game Art, MS Game Design or Mobile Gaming.
University of California - Santa Cruz, Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE), Department of Computer Science (CS)
BS Computer Science: Computer Game Design, MS Games and Playable Media, MS or PhD Computer Science with a (research) focus in Computer Games.
DePaul University, College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM)
BS Computer Game Development with Concentrations in Game Design or GamePlay.
Georgia Institute of Technology, College of [email protected], School of Literature Communication and Culture within the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts
BS Computational Media (BSCM) with a Game Studies Focus, MS Digital Media and Digital Media – Human Computer Interaction (HCI), PhD Digital Media.
For more game design program offerings, check out our Top 50 Game Design Schools and Colleges in the US - 2016 Rankings.
Employment and Salary Outlook for Game Designers
According to CNN Money/PayScale, the future looks bright for game designers. Game design landed in the number two spot on the list of Best Jobs in America 2015. With an average salary of $79,900, and top earner’s averaging $115,000, it’s easy to see why this wildly creative, yet low stress career is only second to software architect. Even better is, 10-year job growth is an impressive 19%, which is much (much) faster than the average for all occupations.
"Best Jobs in America 2015." CNNMoney/PayScale. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2016.
"Game Designer: Job Info and Requirements for Becoming a Game Designer." Study.com. Study.com, n.d. Web. 17 Sep. 2016.