What to Know about a Game Design Degree

Understanding what goes in to Pursuing a Degree in Game Design + Some of the Top Schools

According to industry research, it’s been determined that over 3 billion people globally play some sort of digital game. The field is only growing, which means many doors are opening for long-lasting careers! The field of game design requires a bit of variety when it comes to skills, most prominently when it comes to science and technical art skills. Main roles at gaming companies can include:

  • Artist or animator
  • Audio engineer
  • Creative director
  • Database or data manager
  • Game designer
  • Machine learning engineer
  • Play tester
  • Producer
  • Programmer or software developer
  • User experience designer
  • Technical support specialist or manager
  • Translator
  • Writer
  • Voice actor

Overall, game development of any sort will typically require a decent bit of collaboration with others. Producing a game can have its fair share of difficulties, and may even require you to devote a bit extra time outside of the workplace. 

Top Schools for Game Design

Game design schools across the U.S. can differ, with some that focus on multiple aspects of game design while others might just concentrate on one. Check out some of the top schools for game design and a variety of different programs!

Carnegie Mellon University 

Carnegie Mellon University offers a game design minor designed for students to take along with their major. This could be beneficial for students interested in the business side of the gaming industry for example, or students that just may have an interest in the game design field in general. The curriculum at CMU will be centered around all three aspects through game design, development, and assessment. You will get to learn about the history and different theories about gaming over time, all taught by faculty experts. 

Through the program at CMU, you will gain skills in these areas of game design:

  • Game systems and mechanics design
  • Interactive narrative and character development
  • Visual and audio asset creation
  • Game programming
  • Interface design and user testing
  • Collaboration and the iterative design process

Throughout the course of the program, students will get the opportunity to collaborate and build a strong game design portfolio. Students can also expect to deepen their cultural sensitivities as game designers, and work to expand their creative practice at the same time. It’s also important to note that pursuing this minor is not a requirement for the courses offered within the program!

 Georgia Institute of Technology

The School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Computational Media (CM). The program offers an impressive education that explains the aspects of the computer as a medium: the technical, the historical-critical, and the applied. Students in the program can expect to experience multiple hands-on opportunities that will educate them on computing along with the understanding of visual design and the history of media. 

CM majors have worked as interns in the design and development of video games, animation and special effects, and user interfaces while still attending classes throughout the semester. Most alumni have gone on to work for major video game studios and interactive media firms. Some undergraduates have also gone on to pursue graduate degrees in digital media, human-computer interaction, and even film studies.

Sample courses within the program:

  • Constructing the Moving Image
  • Computer Animation
  • Experimental Media
  • Game Design as a Cultural Practice
  • Principles of Interaction Design

Focus areas within the program:

  • Media
  • People
  • Intelligence Thread
  • Film Thread
  • Games
  • Interaction
  • Narrative

Sample courses:

  • Constructing the Moving Image
  • Computer Animation
  • Experimental Media
  • Game Design as a Cultural Practice
  • Principles of Interaction Design

Rochester Institute of Technology

The Rochester Institute of Technology is ranked as a top school for game design by The Princeton Review, and students can expect to prepare for a career in the professional games industry or related field. Related fields can include simulation, edutainment, or visualization. Students at Rochester will gain an immense amount of knowledge in game design, interactive media, user interaction, animation, modeling, math, science, and design in the context of computational game development. Students also have the option to further specialize in engines, graphics, audio, narrative, and even more with elective choices.

Game design students at Rochester will complete a core of required course work and then pursue advanced studies that can be catered to individual interests. Students can specialize their major by taking electives in areas like game design, production, engines and systems, graphics programming and animation, mobile, web, and audio. This depth of course work will enable students to build a portfolio of stellar interactive projects. 

Notable rankings of the program in 2022:

  • Ranked 4th nationally among Princeton Review’s “Top 50 Game Design Programs: Undergraduate Category.”
  • Ranked 6th nationally by the U.S News & World Report among best game design and development programs.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The Interactive Media and Game Development program at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute is one of the earliest programs in the entire nation. Research and courses at WPI are spanned among some very diverse topics that include digital painting, 3-D modeling, writing for games, game audio, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. The program is known for its renowned faculty researchers and industry advisors, and students will get the opportunity to create games that can shape advances in areas that include education, healthcare, art, and social sciences. 

Undergraduate courses include:

Major Qualifying Project

Every undergraduate of the program at WPI will be required to complete a Major Qualifying Project (MQP). The MQP is a culminating experience that allows students to use what they have learned and deal with real-world problems in their area of study. The MQP is a major opportunity for students to showcase their talents and add an impressive piece to their portfolios. Students can build game prototypes, interactive art exhibits, game development tools, and other forms of media.

Drexel University

Drexel University is another school recognized by The Princeton Review for having one of the best game design programs in the country. The curriculum at Drexel combines a comprehension of animation and interactivity, along with a thorough understanding of design and programming. Students among the program can expect to learn a foundation in design and technology, take core courses in all aspects of digital media, complete a six-month co-op working in the gaming industry, and participate in teamwork revolving around some pretty big projects. Students pursuing an accelerated BS/MS in Game Design & Production and Digital Media participate in three co-op experiences over their second, third, and fourth year in the program.

Skills that Game Design & Production students can expect to gain:

  • Scripting and Storytelling
  • Computer Programming
  • Computer Graphics
  • Animation
  • Motion Capture
  • Real Time Visualization: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Immersive Media

The class sizes at Drexel are also relatively small for the most part, so students have an easier time meeting with the distinguished faculty one-on-one.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

If you’re hoping to learn about as many of the gaming industry aspects as possible, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute might just be the right fit for you! Rensselaer’s program will help you to acquire a “comprehensive understanding of interactive digital media, a balance of disciplinary competencies, and the mastery of a self-defined set of interrelated disciplinary challenges,” according to the school’s website.

Along with exploring the theories and practices of game design and development, students can expect to learn about:

  • Game programming and software engineering
  • 3D animation and digital arts
  • Game audio and music composition
  • Experimental game design, pushing the boundaries of the medium
  • Interactive narrative and game storytelling
  • Artificial intelligence in games
  • Virtual and augmented reality
  • Critical analysis of games, culture, and society

Overall, as a game design student at Rensselaer you will get the opportunity to play an active role in research and education. Rensselaer is also a designated New York State Center of Excellence in Digital Game Development. This means that the school works each and every day to help support and grow the digital gaming sector in the state of New York. 

 There are many different areas among the gaming industry, with different schools focusing on different aspects! Which of these programs seemed most appealing to you?

Matt Lyons
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