Online Masters Degree in Game Design and Development: Program Info

Dec 03, 2019

Essential Information

Students interested in pursuing master's-level instruction in game design and development have several online options. A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Game Design is available, as well as an MFA or a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Interactive Design and Game Development. Both MFA and M.A. programs are offered entirely online, though internships may need to be completed in person. Some schools also offer an online orientation to familiarize students with the online learning format. These graduate programs may prepare students for positions as game designers, multi-media artists and computer programmers. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree in a similar field and a portfolio of design work.

Master's Degree in Game Design and Development

Students looking to enter a master's degree program in game design and development must have first completed a bachelor's degree program in a similar field and must also present a portfolio showcasing their design skills. Generally, the Master of Fine Arts is a more career-oriented degree that prepares students to enter the workforce, while the Master of Arts is more scholastic in nature. The M.A. can lead to a doctorate, but the MFA is usually considered terminal. Graduates of both programs possess the artistic ability, technical skills and grasp of theory necessary to create digital (and sometimes non-digital) games and simulations.

Information and Requirements

The number of semester hours needed to complete a Master of Arts in Game Design and Development program is typically 30; however, the Master of Fine Arts program may require 60-63 hours. This difference is due to the larger number of electives and the internship required of the MFA, which usually takes four years to complete; the M.A. commonly takes two.

Online courses are accessed through a learning management system such as Blackboard. Classes are generally 100% asynchronous, which means that all materials can be viewed and worked on at any time, as long as certain deadlines are met. Students interact with their instructors and peers through online discussion boards and e-mails.

Common Game Design and Development Courses

The master's degree program typically consists of a combination of studio courses, directed study, academic study and electives. Students are expected to complete a senior thesis, such as a design for one level of a computer game, as the culmination of their learning experience.

Elements of Video Games

This course familiarizes students with the historical background and professional approach of the video game industry. Important people and companies are spotlighted, as well as milestone games and the technological advancements that allowed their manufacture. Students also learn about crucial game design documentation processes and techniques.

Character Design

Students learn how to develop effective video game characters both visually and conceptually. The process of converting a 2-D model drawing to a fully realized 3-D character is examined, as are techniques in mapping, skeletal setups and facial animations. Ethical concerns involved with character creation and artistic license are also discussed.

Level Design

The creation of virtual environments is the focus of this class. Students learn how to construct 3-D worlds and translate them to specific game engines. Important topics such as pacing, game mechanics and player progress are studied.

Career Information

Graduates of a master's degree program in game design and development can seek employment as multi-media artists, computer programmers, software developers or game designers for video game companies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May of 2018 there were 28,560 people employed as multi-media artists with a mean annual salary of $78,230 ( The occupational growth for multi-media artists was expected to be 4% between the years of 2018 and 2028, which is as fast as average for all occupations.

The BLS also reports that 230,470 people were employed as computer programmers in May of 2018, with a mean annual salary of $89,580. Employment between 2018-2028 for computer programming was expected to decline 7%. In 2018, there were 1,365,500 software developers employed, and these professionals earned a median salary of $105,590 as of May 2018.

Continuing Education Information

Students interested in furthering their education can do so through various doctorate programs in computer science, remote sensing or geographic information systems. A master's degree program in game design and development provides the acute knowledge of computer software as well as the necessary skills in simulation, visualization and 3-D modeling necessary to pursue doctorate programs such as these. The availability of such programs online is limited due to the advanced nature of all doctorate-level coursework.

Online master's programs in game design and development can prepare students for work in programming, multimedia and software development. Students must complete a thesis or final project, and they may be required to participate in internships.

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