Distance Learning Degree in Game Art and Design: Program Info

Dec 03, 2019

Essential Information

While rare, online game art and design programs are available and typically result in certificates or bachelor's degrees. Certificate programs are offered at different levels and may focus on a specific aspect of game art and design, like 3-D modeling or character animation. Bachelor's degree programs typically focus on either game design or game art, and many also offer concentrations.

Bachelor's degree programs dedicated to game art and design may require applicants to submit a portfolio prior to acceptance or before graduation. Students pursuing either certificates or degrees may need to purchase special software to fulfill curriculum requirements for these programs.

Certificate in Game Art and Design

Several institutions offer online certificate programs in game art and design. These are suitable for individuals with no background or training in this field, as well as those who already hold bachelor's degrees in related areas. Programs may be offered through art schools or computer science departments and include training in computer art and programming, graphic design and program scripting.

The curriculum typically includes classes in computer language, basic math, artificial intelligence and physics, in addition to computer art and animation courses. Although less common, options are increasingly available for those who are only interested in the art and design aspect of video game development.

Program Information and Requirements

Program length is dependent on the number and types of topics covered. For example, a comprehensive training program would require more courses than one focusing on digital art and design. Each course can range from 4-6 weeks or last for a complete semester. Some classes may be offered through the continuing education department of a school, while others might be part of both a campus-based and online degree program. Distance learning programs cover the same material, but do not generally require any in-person attendance.

Students in design programs may need to purchase and install animation software packages. Working with the software may also require more computer processing strength and memory than found in the standard system.

Course Topics

Whether built into a more comprehensive computer programming certificate program, or as part of a more concise option focusing on art and design, the classes described below may be found in an online game art and design certificate program. They provide students with the transferable skills they need to work in graphic arts, marketing and website design.


Through the practice of computer modeling, students learn to move objects around on a canvas. A course in animation can also show them how to design effective characters with expressive facial features, interesting landscapes and motion graphics.

Digital Media

Learning to design and manipulate visuals and information onscreen is a key part of a game art and design certificate program. This training can also be used in other industries, such as for online business training or artistic purposes.

Bachelor's Degree in Game Art and Design

A limited number of schools offer online degree programs that can lead to a Bachelor of Arts in Game Art or Bachelor of Arts in Game Design and Development, among other titles. Specialized majors and minors in interactive design and game development are also available. In general, the programs emphasize the major components of 3-D game art and production, including character and narrative development, animation, modeling and special effects. Students can also learn how these different elements are integrated within a game engine.

Program Information and Requirements

In general, an online program in game art and design that follows a traditional school calendar can require 120 credits, or about four years to complete. Online programs with a less traditional format allow students to complete individual courses in as little as four weeks (or about three years of consecutive study for a 32-class program). Additional requirements can allow for projects in game development and a portfolio. Software requirements may include the purchase of specific design programs, such as 3dsMax, though some schools allow students online access to the specific programs they need to complete their courses.

Course Topics

The following descriptions cover just a few of the topics that can be found in an undergraduate game art curriculum. A few might be included in the core curriculum, while others are offered as electives.

Introduction to Game Development

In this hands-on approach to the game industry, aspiring artists and designers become familiar with game genres, as well as the different roles and responsibilities found in a development team. They also have the chance to learn about the major companies, controversial issues and individuals in the industry and work on a group project.

Character Design and Creation

A course in character design and creation can help students advance the skills they learned in a lighting, modeling and shading course. Topics include preproduction character art and development, such as the creation of character sheets. The course culminates in the creation of a fully developed and textured 3-D model that can be used in a high-resolution game or motion picture.

Design of Virtual Game Environments

This is a comprehensive course of study that touches upon all aspects of electronic game and interactive design as they relate to virtual environments and experiences. Course content emphasizes topics in play mechanics, rule design and social interaction, as well as how the audio, tactile and visual elements contribute to the user's experience. Topics in cybernetics, human-computer interaction and system theory are covered. Students also learn how to document and play-test games.

Visual Effects

Future game artists observe real-world behavior and events, such as fire and smoke, and learn how to recreate them in a 3-D virtual environment. Three-dimensional dynamic particles and rigid and soft body simulations will also be covered.

Career Information

A certificate or degree in game design from an accredited school can help prospective job candidates stand out in the crowd. However, in this industry, a quality portfolio may carry more weight than educational accomplishments. The average annual salary for multimedia artists and animators was $72,520, according to data reported in May 2018 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ('').

A bachelor's degree in a relevant area is typically required to obtain most jobs in game art and design. Professionals who work in the field can include programmers, artists, animators, game designers and producers. While designers used to be involved in every part of the process, as the industry matures, specialization is becoming more common. In addition, specialized sound consultants and quality testers might have separate job titles. The average annual salary for a programmer was $93,251, according to Gamasutra 2014 survey statistics. The salary for a game designer averaged $73,864, while a quality tester had an average salary of $54,833. One way to begin in this field is to volunteer as a beta tester for software.

Continuing Education

As with any computer-related industry, keeping up with current software packages and technology developments is essential. Although rare, online Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts in Interactive Design and Game Development may be of interest to students who want to take their skills to the next level. Course topics mirror those found at the undergraduate level, with additional training available in programming. Students should be aware in advance that a master's program may require an internship and/or a thesis.

As the popularity of video games has skyrocketed, the interest in online programs in game art and design have also increased. Programs are available at the certificate and bachelor's degree level, and emphasize subjects such as animation, digital media, character design and visual effects.

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