Your Guide to Game Design Degrees

Written by Coursera • Updated on

It's possible to earn a degree in game design at several different levels. Find out more about different game design degrees, and which is best for your overall goals.

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Game design combines artistry and technical proficiency. Because of the skills this type of career often requires, many companies prefer applicants who have a formal degree, usually at least a bachelor’s. 

It’s possible to earn different types of degrees in game design, such as associate, bachelor’s, or master’s. By doing so, you can gain or advance key skills, learn more about computer science, and develop the technical know-how needed to work in the industry. As a career, game designers (what the US Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “special effects animators”) earned a median salary of $78,790 in 2021, and the role is expected to hold steady with 5 percent growth over the next decade [1].

This article will cover the types of degrees you can earn when you’re interested in game design and how to choose the best program for your needs. 

Associate in game design 

In an Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Fine Arts program, you may have the choice between majoring in game design, which focuses on the process of creating a game, or game development, which focuses on programming and testing games. Not every community college or technical school offers these majors, so it’s best to search for institutions in your area that do. 

Associate degree programs take around two years of full-time study, though some institutions may offer accelerated options of intensive study so you can earn your degree faster. 

Coursework

At the associate level, your coursework may include an introduction to programming, narrative storytelling, and game design. You may also learn how to use some of the software programs often used in game design, such as Unreal Engine. 

Sample courses: 

  • Intro to design

  • Intro to programming

  • Graphic design tools

  • Intro to modeling

  • Video game art

  • Quality assurance

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course

Introduction to Game Design

Welcome! This course is an introduction to the primary concepts of gaming, and an exploration of how these basic concepts affect the way gamers interact ...

4.7

(2,571 ratings)

95,847 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Video Game Development, Gameplay, Video Game Design, Game Design

Job possibilities 

Many companies in the gaming industry prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree, but having your associate degree can be a valuable credential while you gain important experience. With an associate degree, you can get started in several types of junior roles, gaining the necessary expertise to further your career. 

Job titleAverage annual US salary (Glassdoor)
Game tester$41,056
Gaming artist$42,639
Quality assurance (QA) analyst$70,729

Bachelor’s in game design

At the bachelor’s degree level, you can earn your Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in game design, game development, or interactive media. Instead of a BFA, some schools will offer a Bachelor of Science. In that case, your program may emphasize more of the technical aspects of game development, such as programming, rather than art and story development. 

Similarly, some schools may offer game design as a concentration you can take while earning your degree in computer science. In that instance, you may focus on the technical aspects of game design, such as the technologies and algorithms used in creating games.

A bachelor’s degree takes four to five years of full-time study, and the cost varies depending on whether you attend a public or private institution. Learn more about the total cost of college

Coursework

Your coursework will involve a mixture of computer programming and principles of game design that emphasize aspects like environment, character development, and progression. When you work on developing characters and environments, you may also take some natural science courses, such as physics, to understand the principles of motion.

Sample courses:

  • Computer graphics

  • Introduction to artificial intelligence (AI)

  • Writing and editing music

  • Online and mobile gaming

  • Platform analysis

  • Story design

  • Game design studio 

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specialization

Game Design: Art and Concepts

Create Imaginative Games. Design a video game for independent distribution in just four courses.

4.7

(2,254 ratings)

35,041 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Interactive Storytelling, Game Design Document, Video Game Design, Game Design, Video Game Development, Gameplay, Level Design, Art

Alternative majors

When you’re interested in a game design career, you have a few different options when it comes to college majors

  • Computer science: Given the technical proficiency required to build a game, majoring in computer science can provide you with a strong programming foundation. 

  • Graphic design: Graphic designers work with technology to create visuals, and a graphic design major emphasizes key creative and technical skills.  

  • Animation: A degree in animation emphasizes 2D and 3D modeling, motion graphics, and other fundamentals that can be useful for game design.

Learn more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate

Job possibilities 

Many employers prefer–and even require–a bachelor’s degree for many entry-level jobs in the gaming industry. With your bachelor’s, you may qualify for the following roles: 

Job titlesAverage annual US salary (Glassdoor)
Narrative designer$64,618
Multimedia programmer$72,105
Video game project manager$74,957
Game designer$77,864
Game engineer$85,076

Master’s in game design

At the master’s degree level, you can earn a Master of Fine Arts or Master of Science in game design. Each program categorizes its programs differently, calling it interactive design, interactive media, game design, or game development. What you study with each specialty will depend on the program, so it’s a good idea to review the coursework and make sure it aligns with your educational goals. 

Some programs prefer (but don’t necessarily require) applicants to have some programming experience, while others do not expect you to have any previous game design experience. Instead, they look to see if you’re passionate about games and creativity. Make sure to review the prerequisites and application requirements for each program you’re interested in attending.  

Depending on the length of your program, a master’s degree takes between two and three years to earn when you can attend full-time. 

Coursework

Designed to advance your knowledge of game design and help you pursue senior roles in the industry, a master’s degree in game design or interactive media emphasizes software development and coding, as well as advanced game theory, design, and production. 

As part of your program, you will likely complete a thesis project, which typically entails creating a game. 

Sample courses:

  • Research and practice

  • Gameplay scripting

  • Virtual world building

  • Art direction

  • Digital sculpting

  • Interactive design 

  • Information architecture 

  • Audio for games

  • 3D modeling for games

  • UI/UX for games

Learn more: Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?

Job possibilities 

While many senior roles in the game industry may not require a master’s degree, earning one can be an excellent way to advance your knowledge and skill set while earning a notable credential to distinguish yourself from other job candidates.  

Job titleAverage annual US salary (Glassdoor)
Art director$98,069
Senior game engineer$91,170
Senior game designer$98,780

How to pick the best game design degree for you 

What you learn in a degree program is important. Think about your larger reasons for enrolling and what you hope to accomplish through your program. It’s also helpful to think through the following parameters: 

Career goals 

What are your career goals? What type of degree will best help you achieve them? For example, a bachelor’s degree in computer science may be a strong choice if you want to go into game engineering. However, if you’ve worked in game design for a few years and want to advance your career to take on more managerial responsibility, then it may be worth considering a master’s degree.  

Coursework 

Each degree requires different coursework. As you research potential programs, take time to review the core curriculum and elective courses that are available to take. Will you learn what you need to? Are there any gaps that another program might better fill? 

Hands-on training

Most game design degree programs emphasize hands-on training, expecting you to work independently and collaboratively to complete a game project. This type of training can be important when it comes to developing a portfolio. Make sure you understand what kind of hands-on experience you’ll gain in a program and how it aligns with your larger goals. 

Resources 

Lastly, the available resources, including both time and money, will often determine the type of degree you pursue. Perhaps it’s best to start with an associate degree program before entering the workforce to gain experience and later return to complete your bachelor’s degree. 

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Next steps 

Earning your degree online can offer more flexibility than in-person learning. The Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of London on Coursera offers concentrations in game development and 3D graphics and animation. Experience what the degree is like for yourself with an open course like Introduction to Computer Programming.

Or learn about the fundamentals of designing games with individual courses, such as Introduction to Game Design from CalArts or Game Design and Development with Unity 2020 Specialization from Michigan State University. 

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Special Effects Artists and Animators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm.” Accessed September 15, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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