Studies in game programming are offered at the associate's, bachelor's and master's levels. An undergraduate degree is typically sufficient for entry-level opportunities in the field, while a master's could be required for advancement purposes.
Associate's and bachelor's degree students have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of game design, animation, graphics and user interfaces. Students will learn how to develop games for mobile, Internet and personal computer applications. Math and physics courses are commonly taken in these programs. Master's-level studies focus more on project management techniques and game architecture, and could offer areas of concentration. Many programs provide students with hands-on training opportunities in lab courses. Voluntary certification in the field is available.
Associate Degree in Game Programming
An associate degree program in game programming engages the entire video game design and development process, with the most emphasis on the writing program code. Course topics cover programming languages, graphics, user interaction and animation. Students learn to devise a game concept, develop a prototype, write code and test for usability. An associate's degree is typically earned in two years.
Liberal arts electives in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences are often required in associate's degree programs. The following are possible course topics that address game programming.
- Game programming introduction
- Game design introduction
- Animation and movement
- 2-Dimensional graphics and programming
- Web gaming
Bachelor's Degree in Game Programming
A bachelor's degree program in game programming is a four-year curriculum that emphasizes a team approach to video game creation and the integration of game design, development and programming. Artificial intelligence, linear algebra, computer graphics, 3-dimensional modeling and game physics are among the topics explored in programming courses. Course content also considers the differences between writing code for such hardware platforms as phones, PDAs, game consoles and personal computers.
Bachelor's degree programs include a general education component that may require courses in communications and the social sciences. Some programs have students complete a capstone game development project that synthesizes material learned in the major courses. Common courses in the program include:
- Game math and physics
- Game engine development
- Game hardware technology
- 3-D graphics and programming
- Internet game development
Master's Degree in Game Programming
Advanced concepts and the latest techniques in graphics, visualization and artificial intelligence (AI) are the focus of a master's degree program in game programming. Storytelling, project management, software engineering and networking are also taught. As in undergraduate programs, master's level programming students engage in the entire game design and development process. A master's degree can be earned in 2 to 3 years.
Game programming master's degree programs may be organized into foundation and advanced courses that cover a wider scope of programming topics and elective courses that allow students to focus on specific areas, such as game engines or lighting effects. Additional coursework includes:
- Game project management
- Multiplayer game architecture
- Game AI and machine learning
- Advanced graphics
Popular Career Options
An undergraduate degree is sufficient for entry-level technical positions in the video game industry. Job possibilities include:
- Game tester
- Level designer
- Junior game programmer
- Mobile game designer
Game programmers who earn a master's degree are qualified for advanced positions on game development projects. The following are some of the jobs open to senior-level programmers on game development teams.
- Lead programmer
- Graphics, physics or game engine programmer
- Porting programmer
- Network programmer
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Earning a bachelor's degree in computer game programming qualifies graduates for entry-level positions in the video games industry as programmers, developers and designers, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies as computer software developers (www.bls.gov).
Industries such as aerospace, aviation, education, healthcare and the military that require simulation and visualization software provide further career opportunities.
Over the years 2014-2024, employment of software developers is projected to increase 17%, according to the BLS. The BLS additionally reported that, as of May 2015, applications software developers, which include game designers, earned median yearly salaries of $98,260.
Continuing Education Information
At present, there are no certifications for game programmers. However, the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals offers the Certified Computing Professional (CCP) credential to people who earn a bachelor's degree, work full time for two years in programming and pass three certification exams with a 70% score or higher. Certification exams consist of a core exam and two specialty exams. Specialty exams related to programming include object oriented analysis and design, procedural programming and systems programming.
Associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees are available in game programming. Many graduates use these programs as a way to gain entry-level employment in the game development industry, but jobs are also available in government and the private sector developing cutting edge visualization tools.