Game developers take the overall design of a video game and turn it into an actual game. While some game developers may be involved in the concept and story writing of a game, most will spend their days converting layouts, storylines and sketches into playable products. They accomplish this by using advanced technical skills in areas such as coding, programming, and engineering. Game developers may have also have input in areas such as audio, production, and visual arts.
According to Study.com, entry level and junior game programmers typically use basic tools and languages, such as C++, to add small elements to games, and they are expected to keep up with changing technology. Lead developers and programmers write code that is more complicated and they may manage other programmers. Visual basic, Java and MEL (Maya Scripting Language) are other key programming languages.
Whether entry level or advanced, the requirements to become a game developer are the same. Most employers prefer a bachelor’s degree or higher in:
- Game Development
- Game Design and Development
- Game Programming
- Computer Information Systems
- Computer Science
- Software Engineering
The option to choose an emphasis, focus, concentration or specialization in game development, game design and development, game development and programming, game programming, or other related area are fairly common in computer science, software engineering, and computer information systems majors. A games focus may not be as common with mathematics programs, but many do offer game electives.
While the majors listed above are common, they are not the only options. In fact, dozens of other programs have entered the scene over the years, and many have become just as popular as the usual suspects have. A few include:
- Computer Game Development
- Computer Game Science
- Digital Gaming and Simulation
- Engineering-Computer Graphics and Game Technology (CGGT)
- Entertainment Arts & Engineering
- Game Development Programming
- Gameplay Programming
- Interactive Design and Game Development
- Interactive Entertainment
- Interactive Media and Game Development (IMGD)
- Interactive Media Design
- Media & Information with a Specialization in Game Design & Development
- New Media Interactive Development
Many of these programs lead to a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Master of Science (MS), unlike many pure game design programs that lead to a Bachelor of Art (BA) or Master of Art (MA). Some schools even offer a Games PhD. For example, Michigan State University offers a Media and Information Studies PhD, with a Graduate Certificate in Serious Games, 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 degree program you choose, keep in mind that a top program should offer a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum that covers key areas of game development such as infrastructure, cognition and games, immersion, serious games, etc. A top program will also provide a strong foundation in computer science and an engineering-oriented game development core. Elective coursework may run the gamut from film and media studies to game art to data visualization.
While game development 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 Viterbi School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science, USC Games BS Computer Science Games, MS Computer Science (Game Development), and Minors in Computer Science, Video Game Programming, Video Game Design and Management, and Innovation: The Digital Entrepreneur.
- UCI Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences BS in Computer Game Science (CGS)
- 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, and a Minor in Game Design and Development (GAMEDD-MN)
- Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) BA, BFA, MA, MFA, and a Minor in Interactive Design & Game Development
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MIT Game Lab BS, MS Computer Science
- University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), School of Engineering and Applied Science, Department of Computer and Information Science (Penn Engineering) MS Engineering-Computer Graphics and Game Technology (CGGT), the Center for Human Modeling and Simulation PhD (HMS PhD), BS Engineering-Digital Media Design (DMD)
- University of Utah, Department of Film and Media Arts and the School of Computing, Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) BS Computer Science-Entertainment Arts & Engineering Emphasis. The Entertainment Arts and Engineering Master Games Studio (EAEMGS) offers a Master’s of Entertainment Arts & Engineering (MEAE) with a Game Engineering or Game Production 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. This exceptional program is an exception to the “bachelor’s degree or higher rule.” The program produces graduates ready to develop, design, and provide leadership in the game, mobile app, and creative media industries.
- DePaul University, College of Computing and Digital Media BS Computer Game Development: Concentration in Gameplay Programming or Systems Programming, MS Computer Game Development
- University of California-Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz), Center for Games and Playable Media (CGPM) MS, PhD Computer Science: Focus in Games
- University of Central Florida (UCF), School of Visual Arts and Design (SVAD), Center for Emerging Media (CEM) and Florida Interactive Academy (FIEA) MS Interactive Entertainment with a Game Production or Game Programming Track
While these programs are certainly high on the list of top programs for game developers, the buck doesn’t stop here. Check out more options here.
"Game Developer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements." Study.com. Study.com, n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.
"Summary - Software Developers." Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Dec. 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.