Studying Video Game Design

I’m interested in studying video game design. What can you tell me?

Video game design and development is the process of creating interactive stories that users can participate in. In a video game design program, you will learn how to develop games that can be played on computers, game consoles and mobile devices. Video game production requires that many people with an array of skills work together toward a single vision. You can study general game design or a specific concentration like animation or programming. Either way, you will learn about the game development process and gain skills in scripting, graphics and design. Game design job candidates are primarily judged on their experience and the quality of their portfolio, so you should expect to start in a junior position before you become a designer. And although some talented designers manage to enter the field without formal education, a degree improves your job prospects. You can study video game design at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Andrew Gould

Andrew Gould

Student, Bachelor of Arts in Game Design,Champlain College

“If you want to succeed in the field of game design as a student and a professional, you need to be flexible and be able to adapt to new situations.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Te Wan Kim

Te Wan Kim

Student, Bachelor of Science in Computer Game Design,University of California, Santa Cruz

“I chose to study computer game design because I have always had a passion for video games. When it came time to decide what I wanted to study, there was no other field that interested me. I decided that because I love video games I might enjoy designing them. Now that I am in my program, there is nothing else I would rather do.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Roy Baron

Roy Baron

Student, Bachelor of Science in Game Design,Champlain College

“I thought I was going into English because I like to tell stories. But then I found game design and I realized that it offered a way for me to let people experience and interact with my artistic vision. I get to take my drive for writing stories and my eternal love for video games and combine them in the creation of an experience for people.”Read the Full Interview

Video Game Designer Overview

Video Game Designer,Matthew Lee JohnstonWatch His Story
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What exactly is a video game designer?

Video game designers are multimedia professionals who produce the content, mechanics and technical aspects of video games. Creating a video game takes a team of people who specialize in different parts of the design process, which includes pre-production, production and post-production. Video game designers can be grouped into the following broad categories:

Game Designers

Game designers brainstorm the concepts for games during pre-production. They decide their game’s setting, major characters, storyline and game mechanics, which are the rules of the game. After the planning phase, designers compile all of their ideas into a detailed game design document that other members of the design staff can follow during production. Specific positions within game design include creative director, lead designer, level designer and writer.

Artists

Artists are part of the design production staff. They create the audio and visual components of video games. Visual artists use digital and traditional methods like 3D modeling, animation software, sculpting and graphic design to illustrate their ideas about the game’s aesthetic, or visual style. Some artistic jobs in this field include art directors, animators and modelers. Games also require sound designers, who record and implement sound effects and background music.

Programmers

Programmers write code that tells computers what to do during production. They use programming languages like Lua, C++, Perl and Python to convert game design specifications into lines of code that tell the computer how to handle the rules of the game and the way that the graphics should appear. During post-production, programmers fix errors in coding so that games run smoothly. Examples of programming jobs in video game design include graphics programmer, network programmer and user interface programmer.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Jim Whitehead

Jim Whitehead

Professor of Computer Science,University of California, Santa Cruz

“Average game consumers might just think that a game is fun, but designers need to notice when a game has an interesting storyline or a technical advancement that they can apply in a new game.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Arseny Lebedev

Arseny Lebedev

Managing Director,Signus Labs

“I started working in video game design when I was in college, and I really like the balance between casual and professional environments that can be found in this industry.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if video game design would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a video game designer. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I like to play video games.

Video game designers should be passionate and knowledgeable about the products that they develop. If you love to immerse yourself in games, you will probably enjoy a career in video game design.

I am creative and can think in unconventional ways.

Game designers produce innovative storylines and game concepts that intrigue users. Creativity is necessary if you want to contribute new ideas to a video game design team.

I enjoy using the latest technology.

In order to create video games, designers rely on computers and highly specialized software. You will need to understand and appreciate the capabilities of technology if you want to succeed in game design and development.

I work well under pressure.

The video game design industry is driven by deadlines. Near the end of a project, you may need to work under stressful circumstances as production deadlines approach.

I am patient and I do not give up easily.

It can take up to 2 years to complete a video game project. If you dislike working on long-term projects, you may burn out or get bored with the video game design process.

I pay close attention to detail.

Video game designers are responsible for imagining every aspect of the gaming universe that they create, from choosing color schemes and background music to implementing user-friendly interface designs. If you tend to overlook details, your games will appear sloppy and unprofessional.

I work well in a group and can be a team player.

Game design projects are composed of teams that handle design, programming, art and testing. If you don’t like to collaborate with others, you may not fit well into a game design company.

I communicate clearly when I speak and write.

Video game designers constantly communicate with other game design professionals and executives during projects. You must present your ideas clearly and write accurate technical specifications so that your team shares an artistic vision.

I am flexible and open to other people’s ideas.

Creative endeavors like video game design projects often change direction as priorities shift or budgets are adjusted. You need to be able to adapt and allow your ideas to evolve as your project progresses.

I am comfortable working unpredictable hours.

Video game designers and developers sometimes work long hours to meet project deadlines. If you are not comfortable working nights and weekends, you may not be an ideal fit for this career.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful video game designer.

By my assessment, a career in video game design is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career in video game design may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career in video game design. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if video game design is the right choice for me?

Informal Education

The educational requirements for a career in video game design vary by job. For instance, programmers usually need a bachelors degree and artists should attend an art institute for at least 2 years to earn an associates degree. On the other hand, designers may not need formal education. However, talent and experience are vital in this field. If you choose not to earn a degree in game design or a related field, you will need to build a portfolio on your own that showcases your game design work. Your portfolio is very important to potential employers because it demonstrates your ability to design and the experience you have gained in the industry.

Video Game Design Professions

What video game design professions can I choose from?

Many skilled professionals work together to produce a video game. Some of the video game design professions that you can choose from include:

Education Required:

Associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years) recommended

Average Salary:

$61,900 (Lowest 10% earned less than $45,200; highest 10% earned more than $77,500)

Work Environment:

Video game publishing companies

Job Description:

Video game designers imagine new games and assemble their ideas into a game design document that describes a game’s plot, setting, characters and rules. After testing prototype versions of the game, designers refine their concepts. In addition, they must be knowledgeable about other aspects of game development like programming and 3D modeling so that they can write design specifications for artists and programmers.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years) recommended

Average Salary:

$52,000

Work Environment:

Video game publishing companies

Job Description:

Writers produce all the written content in a game, like character dialogue and story narration. For instance, they prepare scripts in role-playing games that allow characters to hold conversations. Some writers are given more responsibility and they can work with designers to develop storylines and characters.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years) recommended

Average Salary:

$77,000

Work Environment:

Video game publishing companies

Job Description:

Animators use computers to create the illusion of moving images that are used in film, television, advertisements and video games. They use a combination of digital and traditional techniques. For instance, animators must be proficient working with 3D graphic design software tools and with physical models that can be manipulated to simulate movement.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years) recommended

Average Salary:

$55,000

Work Environment:

Video game publishing companies

Job Description:

Sound designers record and process the audio elements of video games. At the start of game development, they work with game designers to create the overall sound for games. Then they record specific sound effects, dialogue and background music that complements a game’s storyline.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$79,000 (Lowest 10% earned less than $54,600; highest 10% earned more than $105,700)

Work Environment:

Video game publishing companies

Job Description:

Programmers write code that controls the technical aspects of games. They use advanced mathematics and programming languages like C++, Python, Perl, Assembly and Lua to translate game design plans into code that tells computers what actions should occur as well as how the game should look and function.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years) or masters (2 to 3 years of graduate school) recommended

Average Salary:

$54,000 (Lowest 10% earned less than $43,800; highest 10% earned more than $65,000)

Work Environment:

Video game publishing companies

Job Description:

Producers manage the administrative tasks of game design studios. They organize meetings, control project budgets and make sure that different departments stay on schedule. They also help maintain clear lines of communication between game developers and executive management in large studios.

Education Required:

High school diploma

Average Salary:

$22,000

Work Environment:

Video game publishing companies

Job Description:

Quality assurance game testers play prototype versions of video games to test them for problems at different stages of the game development process. They look for art glitches, software bugs and problems with gameplay, like levels that are not accessible or controls that do not work properly. Quality assurance testing is a common way for aspiring video game designers to start out in the field.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for video game designers?

The number of nationwide job openings for video game designers is expected to increase from the 73,800 game designers that were employed in the United States in 2009, according to the Michigan Jobs & Career Portal. In fact, the gaming industry is expected to sell more than $11.7 billion in 2012. However, prospective game designers should expect to face competition from overseas software developers. Overall, video game designers who have a bachelors degree and animation experience will have the best job opportunities.
Profession Employment Projected Average Growth

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

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Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a video game designer?

The amount of time that it takes to become a video game designer depends on the amount of education that you want to pursue. Your job prospects will be best if you earn a bachelors degree, which takes about 4 years. But you can also become a game designer with an associates degree, which normally requires about 2 years of study. You can also earn a certificate, which students normally complete in 6 months to a year. However, you will probably have to spend several years working your way up to a designer position if you choose not to earn a degree.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while studying video game design?

You can expect to gain both knowledge and skills through your video game design program.

KNOWLEDGE

Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are the rules that designers create for video games. This subject teaches video game design students how games operate and emphasizes how game mechanics relate to user experience. It teaches students how to create games that are fundamentally logical and that abide by consistent rules of gameplay.

Narrative Design

Narrative design is the process of developing storylines for video games. This subject discusses methods for scripting interesting characters that inhabit unique settings. It also addresses how to write compelling plots that users will want to immerse themselves in. Finally, this subject teaches how to weave these narrative elements together to design intriguing gaming worlds.

Applied Mathematics

Video game design relies on the application of advanced mathematical principles to simulate game processes. Some mathematics skills that video game design students use to create game content include calculus, linear equations, functions, algebra and algorithm design and implementation.

Marketing

Video game design is a lucrative business for major corporations. Marketing teaches game design students how to identity target users and develop games to fit their tastes. It also discusses how to pitch new game concepts to executives and how to create a viable business model that minimizes production costs and maximizes profits.

History of Gaming

The history of gaming explores the evolution of video games over the last 4 decades from rudimentary arcade games to modern consoles and wireless gaming systems. This topic also explores the current gaming market as well as the unique features of the most influential games that set the standards for video game development.

SKILLS

Programming Languages

Video game developers use programming languages to write code that instructs computers to perform various functions in your game. In your video game design curriculum, you will become fluent in the grammar, structure and theory of various programming languages that are used in the industry like Lua, C++, Perl and Python.

Graphic Design Software

Graphic design skills are an important part of your video game design curriculum. You will be trained to use graphic design software like the Adobe Suite, which includes Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator, to create digital art and 3D images. In particular, you will learn animation skills like texture mapping, level design and modeling.

Communication

Video game design is a joint effort, so you will need excellent communication skills to interact with other professionals who are involved in your game development projects. Your video game design classes will teach you to present your ideas clearly and to write technical documents like design specifications and user manuals.

Problem Solving

Through your video game design classes, you will learn problem solving skills that will help you to adapt to changes in your design plan. You will practice analyzing problems from many different points of view so that you can determine the best way to handle technical, design and personnel issues that arise during the game development process.

Project Management

In order to successfully design a video game, you need to follow a production schedule, work within your means and cooperate with others. Therefore, your video game design curriculum will teach you how to budget your time and money by using collaborative project management tools that track variables like expenses, tasks and time.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of video game design?

Most people choose to earn video game design credentials at the undergraduate level through certificates or associates and bachelors degrees. But a few schools also offer masters degree programs in video game design for students who want to pursue graduate study in this field.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Certificate
  • Associate’s
  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s

Certificate

If you are interested in game design but you do not want to pursue a full degree, you can earn a certificate. Certificate programs introduce you to the fundamental concepts of game design, but they will not qualify you to work at a game development company.

What are the different types of certificates that I can earn in video game design?

You can earn an undergraduate certificate in general video game design and development, which will teach you the basics of the trade. Or, you can earn a certificate in a specific area of game design, like programming or animation. A certificate is a good choice for video game hobbyists who want to see what a career in game design would be like.

How long will I have to study to earn my certificate in video game design?

Most video game design certificates require students to complete 15 to 20 credits. Students are usually able to complete certificate programs in 6 months to a year.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my certificate in video game design?

Your video game design certificate courses will vary according to the focus of your program. If you choose to earn a certificate in general game design and development, you will take classes about the history of gaming, graphic design, animation and prototyping. On the other hand, if you earn a certificate in animation or programming, you will take more specific courses in those areas. For example, you might take 3D modeling and texture mapping for an animation certificate. And a programming certificate will offer courses like C++ programming, software engineering and programming logic.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a certificate in video game design?

Game design certificates are generally for people who want to explore the field before committing to a degree program, so they will not qualify you for a professional job in the field of game development. However, you could become a quality assurance tester, who plays games to test them for bugs before they are released to the public.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my certificate in video game design?

If you want to earn a game design certificate, you should first look for schools that offer the specialization that interests you. You should also look for programs that provide you with the software and technology to create high quality games. In the video game design field, it is essential that you having working knowledge of the most recent technology so that you will be a competitive job applicant who can produce relevant and interesting games.

What about getting an online certificate in video game design?

A handful of schools have online video game design certificates, and these are reasonable options if you are an independent learner who is motivated to stay on task. Online video game design certificates serve as an introduction to the field. Therefore, you can learn about the theory of game design and practice basic development techniques through an online program. However, if you decide to earn certificate online, you should compare the courses that are offered to some offline programs to make sure that the skills you gain are comparable to traditional students.

Associates Degree

A variety of video game design programs are offered at the associates level. Associates degrees tend to focus on a specific aspect of game development like design or programming rather than exposing you to the whole development process. Keep in mind that some schools list their video game design programs by alternate names like Game Design and Simulation or Game Design and Animation.

What are the different types of associates degrees that I can earn in video game design?

Associate of Arts AA

An AA degree in video game design offers many design courses that focus on developing artistic skills. The AA is a good choice if you want to be an artist or graphic designer or if you plan to transfer to a bachelors degree program.

Associate of Science AS

An AS degree in video game design has more technical classes than the AA to teach you skills in programming and scripting. The AS is a good option if you want to be a programmer or transfer into a bachelors program.

Associate of Applied Science AAS

An AAS degree in video game design offers hands-on courses that focus on technical job skills. The AAS is a terminal degree, which means it is the best option if you want to start working in video game design as soon as you graduate.

How long will I have to study to earn my associates degree in video game design?

Associates degrees in video game design usually require students to complete 60 to 72 credit hours. Most students finish their degrees in 2 years of study.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my associates degree in video game design?

The exact courses that you will take in an associates degree program in video game design will vary according to your school and the specialization that you choose to pursue. However, in any game design program, you will take classes that help you develop your artistic and computer skills. Some of the art classes that you are likely to take include 2D and 3D modeling, animation and photo editing. You will also take more technical classes like computer programming, level design and game production.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with an associates degree in video game design?

If you earn an associates degree in video game design, you will be qualified for entry-level positions at game design companies. You may be able to work on a team of game designers or as a digital artist or modeler. You will also be able to work as a quality assurance game tester.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my associates degree in video game design?

If you are considering earning an associates degree in video game design, you should look for schools that offer internships and state of the art computers and design equipment. You should only attend schools with high quality technical equipment because you need to gain hands-on practice using the latest gaming techniques. You should also look for schools that place students in internships, because video game design is a very competitive field. Your job prospects will be much better if you gain some work experience as an intern before you enter the job market.

What about getting an online associates degree in video game design?

As of 2012, no schools offer online video game design associates degrees, although this could change in the future. However, even if online video game design associates degrees do become available, you should only consider earning your credentials through an online school if it offers an internship. That way you can gain hands-on work experience through collaborating with other professionals, which you will not get in an online video game design program.

Bachelors Degree

A bachelors degree in video game design will prepare you for nearly all jobs in this field. You will learn about the different aspects of the video game development process and you will develop your own game aesthetic, or visual style, through your art and computer classes.

What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in video game design?

Bachelor of Arts BA

The BA in video game design offers liberal arts classes in addition to coursework in game design to give you a broad education. The BA is a good option if you want to work in the field or continue on to graduate school.

Bachelor of Science BS

The BS in game design provides more scientific and mathematical courses to give you a strong technical background. The BS is the best choice if you want to become a programmer.

Bachelor of Fine Arts BFA

The BFA in game design has more fine arts and design classes to help you develop your game design aesthetic. The BFA is best if you want to be an artist, writer or lead game designer.

How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in video game design?

Bachelors degrees in video game design typically require students to earn 120 to 130 credit hours. Most students are able to finish their bachelors degree programs in about 4 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in video game design?

In your video game design bachelors degree program, you will take courses in programming, game design theory and digital art. You are likely to take classes that teach you programming languages like C++ and Java along with level design and user interface design. You will also take classes in animation, 3D modeling, graphic design and drawing. Finally, you will take some advanced mathematics courses like calculus and trigonometry.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in video game design?

You will be qualified for many jobs in the game design industry after you earn a bachelors degree in video game design. Depending on your area of focus, you could work as a game designer, programmer or artist. But you should keep in mind that video game design is a very competitive industry, so you will need to build an outstanding portfolio if you want to be noticed by large companies.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my bachelors degree in video game design?

If you want to study video game design at the bachelors degree level, you should look for schools that offer internship programs and high quality computer equipment. It can be difficult to find work in video game design, but an internship will help you gain valuable experience that will enhance your resume. In addition, you should investigate the quality of the design labs that you will have access to. You will want to work with top of the line programs and equipment so that you can practice using recent technology.

What about getting an online bachelors degree in video game design?

Several schools offer quality video game design bachelors degrees online. Online video game design programs are attractive options for some students, but there are a few items to consider before you decide to go to school online. First, make sure that your online program will give you access to the same specialized software and computer equipment that you would be able to use in an on-campus program. Otherwise, your hardware and software costs will be very expensive. Second, check to see if the online program that you are considering offers an internship. If it does not, you will have a tough time networking with video game design professionals and you may have trouble getting a job without work experience.

Masters Degree

Masters degrees in video game design are not very common, but a few schools do offer graduate programs in this field. Game design masters degree programs generally require students to choose a specific track to study in greater depth, like programming, graphics or content development.

What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in video game design?

Master of Arts MA

The MA in game design offers classes that help students develop specific skillsets in the track that they choose. The MA is a good choice if you want to obtain a senior position at a game development company.

Master of Science MS

The MS in game design has more business classes that are designed to train students for leadership roles. The MS is the best option if you want to become an executive who manages design teams at a video game design company.

Master of Fine Arts MFA

The MFA in game design offers fine arts classes to help artists perfect their craft. This is the best choice if you want to be a video game artist, animator or graphic designer.

How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree in video game design?

Most masters degrees in game design require students to complete 30 to 45 credit hours. Students are usually able to finish their game design masters degrees in 2 to 3 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree in video game design?

If you choose to earn a masters degree in video game design, your courses will vary according to the type of degree that you choose to pursue. An MA degree will have project-based classes that require you to work with your peers. You will complete team projects that help you develop your programming, graphics and narrative skills. On the other hand, an MS degree will train you for leadership roles in a game development company, so you will take classes about project management, business and marketing. And an MFA will emphasize creative development through classes like prototyping, effects animation and 3D modeling.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree in video game design?

A masters degree in video game design qualifies you for management positions in the game development industry. You can become a producer or executive, or you can lead teams of designers and artists.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my masters degree in video game design?

If you want to earn a masters degree in video game design, you should keep your career goals in mind when you are deciding which school to attend. Some programs are more focused on business and management, while others are intended to help you develop your professional skills as an artist or designer. Make sure you investigate the curriculum of the schools that you are considering to be sure they will offer you the education that you want.

What are the requirements for admission to a masters degree program in video game design?

You need to have a bachelors degree to be admitted into a graduate-level game design program, but your bachelors degree does not have to be in video game design. However, it should be in a related field like computer science, interactive media or digital design.

What about getting an online masters degree in video game design?

A few schools offer online video game design masters degrees, but as of 2012 the only online video game design programs that are available at the masters level are MS degrees. An MS degree focuses on business management, so there is no reason that you should not pursue this masters degree online. However, if you want to earn an MA or an MFA, which emphasize the development of professional and artistic skills, you should not attend an online video game design school. Graduate study of the arts requires constant interaction with professors who coach you as you hone your skills. But you will not be able to collaborate effectively with your professors or peers in an online program.

Questions & Answers

Select a category to find answers to your questions

Resources

What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree or certificate in video game design?

Gamasutra – The Art and Business of Making Games

Game Creation Resources

Game Dev – Game Developer Community

Gamespot – So You Wanna Be a Game Designer

IGDA – International Game Developers Association

Michigan Jobs & Career Portal – Video Game Designer

NASAD – National Association of Schools of Art and Design

O*NET Online – Video Game Designers

Work for Play – Careers in Video Game Development

Working So Others Can Play – Jobs in Video Game Development