Associate's degree programs introduce students to the processes of video game design. While enrolled in a bachelor's degree program, students can work in teams and create a video game through collaborative efforts. Business coursework may be included in the curriculum as well. Applicants to master's degree programs must hold a bachelor's degree in a related field and have completed programming prerequisites prior to enrollment. Unlike many bachelor's programs, graduate programs may offer areas of specialization. Advanced team game development and game engine programming are some areas of exploration.
Associate Degree in Game Development or Design
An associate degree program in game design or development introduces students to basic vocational skills. The programs prepare students for entry-level jobs in software development and video game programming, as well as other areas of digital simulation. Students may be exposed to development for several video game systems or game types. Most programs have room for electives that let students explore an area of special interest. A high school diploma or an approved substitute is the only prerequisite for application to the programs.
Certain computer programing languages are basic to most degree programs, as well as courses in 2D and 3D design. Coursework often includes:
- Programming logic
- 2D game design and modeling
- 3D game design and modeling
Bachelor's Degree in Game Design or Development
Most companies that develop video games have individuals from several areas of expertise work together to develop a game. As a result, many bachelor's programs train students to work collaboratively on game development teams. Bachelor's degree programs also often emphasize the technical skills needed to deliver games on a number of platforms such as handheld devices, cell phones, Xbox and Nintendo. Many programs introduce business subjects like marketing and intellectual property law.
A high school diploma or its equivalent is usually the only prerequisite for applying to a bachelor's program. Occasionally a course has prerequisites that sometimes can be completed when the student is in high school.
In addition to the courses listed for the associate degree programs, bachelor's program coursework might include:
- Advanced 3D programming
- Developing online games
- Discrete math
- Game design algorithms and data structures
- Game design principles
- Games and artificial intelligence
Master's Degree in Game Development or Technology
A master's degree is not required for most game development jobs. However, there are several reasons students may wish to pursue a master's degree in game development or technology. If their undergraduate background is not in engineering or computer science, but they wish to design games, a master's program is a logical choice. Adding a specialization is another valid reason to earn a master's degree in game design.
Most schools require applicants to have a bachelor's degree from a regionally-accredited school with at least a 3.0 GPA, as well as sufficient background in computer programming. At times this background is defined as 2-3 courses in C++, two courses in computer systems, Java data structure, linear algebra and calculus. Students who do not hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or engineering may require an additional year of prerequisite coursework to earn the degree.
There is some course overlap between the master's and bachelor's degree programs. However, courses that may be unique to the master's program include:
- Advanced team game development
- Computational geometry
- Developing multiplayer games
- Game engine programming
- Game theory and practice
- GPU programming
Many employers are more interested in the amount of experience job applicants have than in their degrees. Graduates with knowledge and experience levels of associate programs are eligible for entry-level jobs such as:
- Assistant programmer
- Level-two game designer
- Quality assurance engineer
Graduates with bachelor's degrees in game design are qualified for more jobs than those with only associate degrees. Potential titles include:
- Game developer
- Prototype engineer in game design
- System developer
- Software engineer
- Level designer
Graduates of associate programs in game design can gain more knowledge and experience if they next earn a bachelor's degree. U.S. government statistics show that most often the education requirements for video game designers is a background in computer graphics, but a majority of animator jobs require a bachelor's degree (onetcenter.org). Bachelor's program graduates may also wish to earn a master's degree to pursue a specialization.
Rapid technology changes in all computer-related topics require all video game designers to regularly take courses or attend seminars to keep up with the field. These are offered through colleges and universities, as well as a professional association such as the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates that job growth for software developers, a category that incorporates video game designers, will be much faster than average from 2014 to 2024, at 17%. However, they expect a 6% growth for animators and multimedia artists during that period. In 2015, the BLS reported a median hourly wage of $47.24 for applications software developers and $30.76 for multimedia artists and animators.
Aspiring video game designers can pursue degrees at the associate's level to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for entry-level jobs in the industry. Bachelor's and master's degrees, while not necessarily required, allow enrollees to further develop their skills and access more specialized careers.