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Why pursue a degree in game design? Some of the most rewarding career choices couple a passion for the subject matter with a promising job that is both enjoyable and pays the bills. With the right skills and preparation, including an undergraduate degree in game design, becoming a Game Designer could be an excellent career choice for the passionate gamer.

Key Game Design Program Features

Many game design schools in this area emphasize a strong mix of skills learned in the classroom and in practical application, resulting in a blend of the two at many programs. In other words, the best way to learn game design is to spend a lot of time designing games.

Here are some features to look for in a Game Design program that maximize your opportunities for learning and developing games:

Game Design Program Features

1. Cutting edge technology

One advantage to learning game design in a university environment is having early access to new technologies, or even developing those technologies. At Drexel University, for example, faculty go beyond teaching AI for games by involving students in NSF-funded research, developing AI beyond its current applications. “Rather than being "new," our students have been working with immersive technologies like VR and AR for many years, so the depth of knowledge in these spaces extends into our cohorts of Masters and PhD students that are working and sharing in the same spaces as our undergraduates. Our students are constantly making games, LOTS of games, and those games could be entirely entertainment, or ways to challenge physical therapy patients to strive for their next goal, or help programming engineers learn the intricacies of parallel computing.” By seizing these unique opportunities, Drexel students can graduate with a stand-out portfolio of skills and working experiences, which is incredibly valuable in a crowded industry.

2. Hands-on projects in game development

Bradley University offers two exciting opportunities for hands-on learning in a collaborative game design environment: “Catapult Project” and “Hollywood Semester.”  “Catapult” funds up to $15,000 for each of ten games that students can use as portfolio pieces when applying to internships and jobs.  The funds are used to purchase virtual reality equipment, arcade cabinets, multi-touch tables, Hololens or whatever the student-team needs to realize its vision. Bradley’s “Hollywood Semester,” where “game students live in Los Angeles, intern at video game companies (such as Dreamworks Animation and Sony Interactive Entertainment), and study with industry professionals.”

You also want to make sure that your hands-on projects culminate in a portfolio for your job search. At Cogswell Polytechnic College, the program culminates with students creating a strong portfolio and working in Game Studio. “In Game Studio, students work with an external client to make a shippable game. A recent example is a game made for AC Transit, a major transportation authority in the eastern region of the San Francisco Bay Area. In collaboration with their executives, students designed a playable game for people riding their bus line. The game will ship in both the Apple Store and the Google Play Store.”

3. Interdisciplinary studies with a collaborative, team approach

The ability to work successfully in a team is a beneficial “soft” skill that employers look for in game design and development, and in many careers. At the University of Utah EAE, students from a variety of disciplines come together in classes to create games, and take courses allied areas such as Videogames and Storytelling, Intro to Design Thinking, and Intro to Interpersonal Communication. “This interdisciplinary work fosters understanding between students who are pursuing very different passions, and at the same time teaches the fundamental building blocks of great teamwork. These “soft” skills are put to the test in a yearlong capstone class where students work in large teams to build a video game from inception to public release.” 

4. Preparing students for careers inside and outside of the game industry

Not every major pursues game design as a career. Many programs work with other on-campus programs to leverage skills and technologies in different areas. At Worcester Polytechnic Interactive Media and Game Design (IMGD), “students learn all of the components needed to succeed with the skills they acquire here (design, coding, art, writing, and sound, as well as leadership and entrepreneurship).” They can double major, or benefit from strong connections with degrees like Learning Sciences and Robotics. “Though many of our undergraduate and graduate students go into game development, they have found opportunities to apply their knowledge to medical augmented reality via Hololens development at UMass Medical Center, to work at the New York Times on mobile app development, to enter the robotics industry, to do Android development for Google, to become animators, and so much more” inside and outside the games industry.

Researching different game design programs can help you refine your list of target schools. Here are some more things to think about when comparing different colleges.

Keep in mind that Game Design majors can also consider an advanced degree in Game Design. (The Princeton Review ranks the best graduate programs in Video Game Design.) We asked SMU Guildhall, the #1 Graduate Program in Game Design, about the graduate school curriculum and experience they offer their students:

“Teamwork and specialized learning are the core of SMU Guildhall’s curriculum. SMU Guildhall offers 50 graduate classes annually dedicated to game design masters students with specializations in Art Creation, Level Design, Production, and Programming. Each cohort completes 4 core courses that teach the theory & practice of game development. These courses include 3 team game projects (one 2D and two 3D) in which teams build and iterate their game designs based on robust user research. Students then take 11 courses related to their specialization of interest in order to become masters of game art, programming, design, or production.  In addition, master’s students complete 3 thesis based courses to focus their projects on advancing the field of game research. Further, SMU Guildhall students enroll in 2 professional development and ethics courses related to a professional career in game development.”