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Game Design Degree Vs. Computer Science

Sep 21, 2019

Game designers can come from a variety of backgrounds, including both game design and computer science degree programs. Here are a few options to consider as you choose the best path for your career in game design.

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Comparing Game Design and Computer Science Degrees

Degree programs in game design and computer science share a large chunk of core class requirements. Below are some of the important differences to consider before you decide which program to choose:

Job Title Education and Experience Requirements Average Salary (2019)** Job Growth (2018-28)*
Game Designer Bachelor's degree
Relevant experience
$63,838 (video game designer) 21% (for all software developers)
Programmer Bachelor's degree
Relevant experience
$84,280 (computer programmer) -7% (computer programmer)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Game Designers vs. Programmers

Game designers work in small teams to design, develop and program video games. Computer programmers are professionals with a deep understanding of computer systems who can apply programming skills in a variety of fields. Computer programmers can work in a game design team; however, they do not necessarily have the design and strategy skills necessary to be a part of the leadership. In contrast, game designers learn basic programming skills they can use to break into a computer programming career. Although there is a lot of shared knowledge between these careers, they are distinct. The degree you focus on should depend on your unique skill set and desired career trajectory.

Bachelor of Arts in Game Design

In a game design program, students typically learn to design, strategize, program and produce video games. Game design includes a fair amount of computer programming classes, and students study a wide variety of additional subjects (art, sound, strategy, logic, etc.) and graduate with the unique skill set necessary to create video games. Along the way, they pick up computer programming skills that they could apply to work as full-time programmers if they desire a career change. However, because they focus their studies on a wide range of topics, their computer programming skills may not be quite as deep as a student with a degree in computer science.

A game design degree may include coursework in the following areas:

  • Interactive design
  • Computer graphics
  • Building virtual worlds
  • Introduction to programming
  • Physics lab
  • Game design workshop

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

If you are interested in making games but do not want to commit to such a niche field, you might consider a degree in computer science. Computer science skills, including the ability to engineer and program software, are the basic tools necessary for building video games. However, as a computer science student, you could develop expertise in programming languages that make you a valuable employee in a wider range of industries. Also, with a general computer science degree, you can take electives and be exposed to other specializations in computer science, like artificial intelligence, human computer interaction or cyber security. If after some time exploring your options you still find that game design suits your interests, many computer science programs allow students to concentrate their electives and graduate with a minor or specialization in game design.

A computer science degree may include coursework in the following areas:

  • Data structures
  • Discrete mathematics
  • Operating systems
  • Analysis of algorithms
  • Programming languages

Related Fields

Game design and computer science share similarities to other careers. Here are just a few examples of career options for graduates:

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