Top Online Game Design Degree Programs
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What is an Online Game Design Degree Program?
Online Game design degree programs teach the multimedia artistic skills needed to create games. This could involve both traditional and digital art. And along with the creative side of game design, you’ll study the technical side. That include everything from 3-D modeling to computer science courses like programming.
A lot goes into your favorite video games, and an online game design program touches on many topics. For example, you could delve into the math behind games. You could learn how to put a story together. You could even study the potential of virtual and augmented reality. If you’re passionate about games and hope to play a role in creating them, this program may be ideal for you.
|Associate Degrees||Bachelor’s Degrees||Master’s Degrees|
|A.F.A. in Game Design||B.S. in Game Design and Development||M.S. in Game Design|
|This program lays the groundwork for understanding the craft of game creation. Courses cover everything from design to programming. An important part of the program is hands-on experience, with students applying what they’ve learned to create working digital games.||This program teaches how to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional games and simulations. Courses cover everything from designing compelling environments to programming levels. Artistry and technology come together to show the full picture of how games are designed and built.||This program builds on previous knowledge and experience to help students narrow their area of expertise. You’ll choose a track: user experience research, production, or design. Courses cover everything from quality assurance to working effectively in teams. And, a multidisciplinary approach helps you prepare for diverse industry challenges.|
Game Design Degree Online Programs
Online game design programs cover the skill areas used to create video games. Programs can vary by degree level, getting more complex as you progress. And, the curriculum may vary depending on what you choose to focus on. For instance, programs in game art center on a game’s visuals, whereas a game development program may concentrate on technical skills.
Undergraduate Game Design Programs
The majority of video game designers earn a Bachelor’s degree. That said, you may be able to find an Associate’s degree in game design.
At the undergraduate level, game design programs focus on how games work and how they’re built. You’ll take a ground-up approach to the mechanics of games, and the components that go into them. That includes everything from music and sound effects to lighting and texture. You’ll learn how to create and “rig” characters, as well as make them move realistically. And, you’ll discover how to set the scene by designing realistic or fantasy environments.
The underpinnings of creative game design include math and technical skills. So, expect to study programming, including languages like Java and C++. You’ll also delve into 3D modeling, animation, and other skill areas needed to bring storylines and characters to life.
And while you may think you understand how games are played, there’s more to it than what meets the eye. You’ll take a closer look at pacing, conflict resolution, player communication, and everything else needed to make games fun.
Some programs cover all or most of the above. Others focus on a subset of the field. Look for concentrations like Game Design, Game Art, Game Development, and others.
Undergraduate game design programs include:
- Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) in Game Design
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Game Design and Development
- S. in Information Technology – Gaming Design
- Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Game Design
Graduate Game Design Programs
Graduate programs in game design take a deeper dive into both theory and practice. Most are at the Master’s level. They may include both advanced technical coursework and a more detailed study of how games impact individuals and society.
Earning a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Game Design is a potential next step. These programs often take an interdisciplinary approach. That means you could study everything from UX design to the psychology of gameplay. The goal is to have a clearer understanding of games on every level – from the emotional to the economic. From there, you could refine your own vision as a game designer.
Possible graduate game design programs include:
- Master of Arts (MA) in Game Design
- Master of Science (MS) in Game Design
- S. in Computer Science – Game Development
Featured Online Schools
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Game Design Degree Courses
Game design courses cover everything from storytelling to programming. In other words, they examine all corners of what goes into a game: narrative, artistry, animation, and more. The courses you’ll zero in on may depend on your program’s focus. For instance, a game development program may include more technical courses. (Think, artificial intelligence and data structures.)
Here’s a sampling of common courses you could find in a game design program:
Concept Development: It all starts with an idea. A course like this gives an overview of what happens before a game goes into production. That includes research, planning, visualizing the design, and working with teams.
Game Animation:  Animation brings games to life, and a course like this covers the skills needed to make that happen. You’ll cover the theory and practice of putting graphics into motion. That includes concepts like timing, movement, and creating sequences.
Game Audio: From dialogue to music, sound moves the action along (and gets stuck in players’ heads!) This course covers skills needed to record, edit, and create audio assets for games.
Game Engines: A game engine is a software-development environment for building video games. In this course, you’ll learn how to work within game engines such as Unity. Areas covered may include prototypes, level design and balancing, environment design, and more.
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Degree in Game Design?
Earning a Bachelor’s in Game Design could take about four years to complete. If you pursue a Master’s, that could take an additional two years or so. Duration varies by program and your part-time or full-time status.
Game Design Degrees That Could be Completed in 24 Months or Less
|School||Degree Level||# of Credits Required||Start Dates||Minimum Months to Complete|
|American University||Master’s||36||2 (August and January)||24|
|Full Sail University||Bachelor’s||Varies||Multiple||20|
|Laguna College of Art and Design||Master’s||60||N/A||24|
The Cost of a Game Design Degree Program
At last check, NCES puts the average annual cost of attending a public, four-year school at $19,189. For private and for-profit schools, that cost was $39,529. Compare tuition for these schools that feature game design programs:
|School||Degree Level||# of Credits Required||Cost Per Credit||Total Tuition Cost|
|Southern New Hampshire University||Bachelor’s||120||$320||$38,400|
|Liberty University||Bachelor’s||120||$390 (full-time rate)||$46,800|
|Academy of Art University||Bachelor’s||132||$963||$127,116|
Top Schools That Offer Game Design Online Degree Programs
NCES lists 165 institutions with Game and Interactive Media Design programs. From those schools, students were awarded 2,452 degrees in 2016 (the most recent data). The most common degree awarded in this field was the Bachelor’s (65%).
|School||2016 Degrees awarded||2018/19 Tuition|
|Full Sail University||200||$24,109|
|The University of Texas at Dallas||168||$36,876 (out of state)|
|Wake Technical Community College||152||$8,912 (out of state)|
|Savannah College of Art and Design||122||$37,130|
|Academy of Art University||103||$22,308|
|Fayetteville Technical Community College||69||$8,688 (out of state)|
|New England Institute of Technology||65||$29,856|
|Central Piedmont Community College||56||$8,936 (out of state)|
|California State University-Chico||47||$19,488 (out of state)|
Choosing an Accredited Game Design Degree Program
Game design programs rarely hold programmatic accreditation. And, there’s no particular accrediting organization that’s prominent in the field. So, look for a college or university that is regionally accredited.
Regional accreditation helps ensure your school meets important quality standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes seven organizations that accredit schools at the regional level. Many regionally accredited colleges and universities offer game design programs.
What Can You Do with a Gaming Design Degree?
The most recent census data states that there are over 2 million visual and performing arts graduates in the workforce. That includes game design degree-holders. The average degree-holder in the workforce is 40.8 years old. And, males are more likely to study game design, comprising 80.5% of degree-holders.
Game design is at the intersection of two industries: technology and the arts. Perhaps that’s why multimedia artist and animator roles are growing at a faster rate than the arts and design industry average. This occupation is projected to grow 8% by 2026.
Potential growth may be due to a variety of factors. For one, professionals may be needed to create the realistic video game graphics consumers look for. And, growth in mobile gaming may lead to new roles.
Top Salaries by State for Multimedia Artists and Animators
|State||Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||80||$89,210|
Jobs with a Degree in Game Design
Game Designers design features of video games. They often work on a team with production staff. Designers may create aspects of a game like stories, characters, and role-play mechanics. They create design documentation so that others can collaborate to build a complex game.
Median Salary: $90,270 per year
Job Growth Through 2026: 5 to 9% (as fast as average)
Typical Entry-level Education: Bachelor’s degree
Multimedia Artists create visuals, animations, and more, for video games and other media. Often, they work in a team with other artists and animators. And, they tend to specialize. For instance, a video game artist may focus on designing scenery, levels, or characters.
Median Salary: $72,520 per year
Job Growth Through 2026: 8% (as fast as average)
Typical Entry-level Education: Bachelor’s degree
Programmers write the code that makes computer applications and software programs work. That includes video games. Programmers may be well-versed in several coding languages, like C++ and Java. They both write and test code, and work in teams to create a finished product.
Median Salary: $84,280 per year
Job Growth Through 2026: -7%
Typical Entry-level Education: Bachelor’s degree