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Best Online Game Design Bachelor's Degree Programs

Mar 04, 2021

Online Game Design Degree Overview

In recent years, more universities have offered options to complete their programs online at all levels. While some degree programs may focus entirely on game design, it is not uncommon to see it as a specialization under a broader degree program such as software development. Game design degree programs often offer a multifaceted curriculum, with students learning about development, storytelling, art, animation, UI design, and marketing. For this reason, it is important to note that some programs may require a portfolio for entry.

Online Associate Degrees in Game Design

While not as popular as bachelor's degree programs, there are some colleges that offer online associate degree programs in game design. Other programs are hybrid programs where some of the coursework can be completed online and other classes are required to be completed on-campus. Typically two years in length, or 60 credit hours, these programs offer courses that will get you acquainted with the fundamentals of game design and could be helpful for acquiring prerequisites needed to continue education in the field. Common degree program titles include Associate of Science or Associate of Arts in Game Programming and Design, Game Design and Interactive Media, or in Simulation and Game Development. Alongside typical general education classes, examples of courses taught in an associate-level program are entry-level programming, 3D modeling, game production, animation, and level design.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Game Design

Many universities are offering BA/BS degree programs in game design online. These programs are usually around four years (or 120 credit hours) in length and can either be specialized or more generalized in their curriculum. A Bachelor of Arts program may focus more on the artistic side of game design, with classes in 2D and 3D art, animation, character design, writing, and level design. A Bachelor of Science program may focus more on the backend side of things with more of an emphasis on coding and scripting. However, many programs incorporate coursework from both and may require a portfolio for entry. Some examples of degree program titles at this level are Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Arts in Game Art and Development, Game Design, Game Programming, and Interactive Media among others.

Online Master's Degrees in Game Design

For those looking to pursue game design at the graduate level, there are some online options. An online master's degree program may allow students to work while furthering their education in game design. This can also be an excellent way for existing game designers to advance their careers. These programs typically build upon skills learned at the undergraduate level and thus may require you to have a bachelor's degree and/or experience in a related field as a prerequisite for acceptance.

During their time in the online master's program, a student can expect to hone their acquired skills with focuses ranging from game engineering to art and animation. Many universities have specialized topics including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and mobile gaming. Graduate program titles can be specializations that fall under a Master's of Science in Computer Science or be more specific like a Master's of Science or a Master's of Arts in Game Programming, Game Development, or Game Art. Like other master's degree programs, students are usually expected to complete a thesis. The program is usually completed in around two years.

Online Certificates in Game Design

If you already have a background in some of the skills used in the games industry or if you are looking to acquire new skills to help direct your career towards game design, then an online certificate may be a good fit. While there are some free online courses in game design available, certificate programs provide more in-depth study, while still being shorter than degree programs; most can be completed in under a year. There is even at least one video game design and development certificate program that is fully online, can be started at any time, and is around 500 hours in length. A certificate in game design will give you the core concepts you need to begin developing games and many of them require no prerequisites.

Game Design Specializations/Concentrations

Game design offers a variety of specializations. The primary concentrations you may see are focused on software engineering, virtual reality, and art. Software engineering focuses on coding and many of the backend aspects of game design. Students who are more interested in math and the technical side of development may enjoy this specialization. As virtual reality is becoming more and more popular, several universities are starting to offer degree programs that specialize in developing games for this technology. An art concentration can offer many of its own specializations ranging from 3D modeling and animation to concept art and level design.

Curriculum/Coursework for a Game Design Degree

Typical coursework for a game design degree encompasses many different topics. These generally include courses focusing on math, game design, animation, simulation, and production. If interested in the marketing side of game design, students may also take classes in business and communications. In addition to program-specific classes, students are also expected to take standard general education classes, in topics such as writing and the natural sciences, unless otherwise specified. Some of these degree programs may conclude with a final capstone project and/or an internship experience for hands-on learning. Other common course topics for online bachelor's degree programs in the field of game design may include:

  • Character design
  • 3D art
  • Game mechanics
  • Interactive design
  • Programming
  • Animation

Difference Between Computer Science & Game Design Degree Programs

While they do share many similarities, there are key differences between a degree program in computer science and one in game design. For one, a computer science program focuses on programming in multiple languages and for many different applications. A computer science degree allows for a broader range of career types and those with the degree are typically able to find work in just about any industry. Almost every university offers a computer science degree and thus is more widely available than a game design program. The skills learned in a computer science degree program can also, in many cases, translate into a career on the more technical side of game design. A degree in game design also teaches many of the principles of computer science, however, it is more specialized. In many cases, the degree incorporates the arts in addition to the technical aspect of game design.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Game Design?

Most online bachelor's degrees in game design require the student to complete 120 credit hours of coursework. This usually takes about four years, but can take longer or shorter depending on the specific program and how many credits a student decides to pursue each semester. Some schools may offer accelerated programs. For example, there is at least one online bachelor's degree program in game design that allows students to finish in as little as 29 months. Online programs tend to offer both synchronous and asynchronous classes depending on the particular course. Most bachelor's programs follow a cohort, but programs at other levels can be self-paced or even both.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Game Design Degrees

It is important while doing research for a game design program that a student ensures the university is accredited. An accredited university means that the program meets the standards of and has been thoroughly vetted by the U.S. Department of Education. This can affect whether or not a student receives financial aid or if they can transfer courses to other schools. It also means that the student has a better chance at a quality education. Schools that offer online bachelor's degree programs in game design may be regionally accredited by groups like the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) or the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Game Design Licensure & Certification

A career in game design does not require any particular license or certification. However, your resume may be enhanced by completing a certification in some programming languages like Java and C++. This shows your potential employer that you understand the fundamentals of the language. There are also some organizations that offer professional certifications for the field. For instance, the organization Unity offers a Certified Associate designation for game developers that requires students to have some experience in game design and pass an exam. Professional certification may also increase job prospects and help students stand out to employers.

Game Design Career Information

There are several career options for those pursuing game design, including becoming a video game designer. Depending on the program pursued, graduates may be able to find a job in game programming, animation, art, UI design, production, and more. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for multimedia artists and animators as of 2019 was $75,270. The job outlook for these roles from 2019-2029 was 4%, which is average among all industries. Most game designers work in an office environment with a team, but there is also a strong possibility for remote roles.

How to Become a Game Software Developer

To become a game software developer, you will want to possess a bachelor's degree with a focus in game development or software engineering. The typical duties of a game software developer focus on the technical side of game design. They are primarily responsible for the coding and implementation of that code in the game design process. Thus, it is important that a prospective developer has a strong grasp of relevant programming languages and software. The developer is also expected to remain on top of relevant innovations in the field and therefore be learning new skills as required. Keeping a portfolio of coding or game design projects is recommended for this position. Game software developers will usually work in an office setting with some positions offering remote work or a mix of both. Game software developer salaries vary by employer, location, and other factors, but PayScale.com reported that the median salary for this position was $64,530, as of April 2020.

How to Become a Game Artist

To become a game artist, it is recommended that you have a bachelor's degree in game design with a focus in animation or game art. Game artists are typically responsible for the creation of a game's artwork from conception to completion. This may include sketching, digital painting, 3D modeling, and animation. They may create characters, props, levels, and more. In order to secure a position as a game artist, you must have a portfolio of work demonstrating your artistic abilities. Game artists work with a team and thus are typically expected to be in an office environment. According to the BLS, the salary range for a game artist can range from around $40,000 to $75,000 depending on experience and location.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Game Design Degrees

If you have decided to pursue a game design degree, it's essential to fill out the FAFSA to begin your financial aid process. Your eligibility for federal grants is typically dependent on several factors. You must be a United States citizen, have a valid social security number, be able to show financial need and have graduated high school or have a GED certificate. Additionally, you must make sure the program you are enrolling in is accredited.

Aside from federal financial aid and loans, students can also seek out scholarships. Many schools may offer their own scholarships and some may be for students looking to participate in specific programs, such as game design. Some major tech companies also offer scholarships for students looking to go into game design.

The Microsoft Imagine Cup is one scholarship where students enter projects and compete to earn rewards. To apply, all you have to do is register on their website. PixelPlex also offers a $2,000 scholarship for students who are working on a STEM degree. All you have to do to enter is write and submit a compelling essay on one of their given topics. The deadline for entry is December 5th.

Professional Organizations in Game Design

There are several opportunities for networking with other game designers within professional organizations. One of the most prominent organizations in this field is the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). IGDA is the world's largest organization of its kind with over 150 chapters and it is focused on networking, professional development, and making the game design industry a better place overall. There is a membership fee of $30 per year for students and $60 for professionals. Aside from the global community that IGDA provides, there are also other benefits to becoming a member, including discounts on software and access to a large knowledge database.

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