Do you have an interest in video games and computer science? What about art, animation, and design? If so, consider our list of the best online schools for game design to help you put your interests to good use in a rewarding career in the video game industry!
From developing a knack for graphic design to perfecting your programming skills, online game design degrees can give you the tools to enter the fast-paced and lucrative gaming industry. As multiple gaming platforms continue to grow in popularity, more game designers are in demand than ever. Additionally, since game design is an ever-evolving field, this degree can open up multiple innovative career paths. If you’re a creative “ideas” person who loves technology, this degree could be an excellent choice!
What is a Game Design Degree?
Video game design is a complex field involving idea generation, design aesthetics, programming, and other elements of computer art. Whether you’re interested in designing games for smartphone apps or traditional consoles, you must first have a passion for gaming and technology. Out of your passion for playing video games can spring a professional toolkit of skills that enables you to do something you love as a career.
So, how do you get qualified for game design?
Your first step is to find high-quality game design degree programs. In some cases, you might find entry-level jobs with an associate’s degree under your belt. This two-year (full-time; three or more years part-time) game design program introduces you to the fundamentals of game design, including computer programming, graphic design, and game development. You’ll also complete general education requirements in subjects like math, science, and information technology.
More commonly, game designers have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, or a BFA. These programs take about four years to complete and usually require that you take anywhere from 120-134 semester credits. In addition to the general education courses and basic game design courses mentioned above, a BFA requires you to complete upper-level game design coursework. This might include:
- Scripting for Video Games
- User interface (UI) and User experience (UX) design
- Art History
- Game Monetization
- Game Software Development
- Digital Arts
- Project Management
Furthermore, you’ll acquire storytelling, illustration, and interactive media production skills, often using hands-on experience in a game design lab. Many online bachelor’s degree programs in game design also touch on technical skills like prototyping, programming languages, and art history to give you a well-rounded education. You might even learn about artificial intelligence, web design, or software engineering.
Some game designers continue their education and pursue a master of fine arts (MFA) in game design. Though not always necessary, an MFA is a good idea if you want higher-level positions in the game design industry. For example, by completing a master’s degree, you might qualify for positions as a senior developer or programmer. Alternatively, you might only qualify for positions as a junior developer with a BFA.
A master’s degree usually requires an additional two or three years of schooling beyond your bachelor’s program. Graduate studies take another step in difficulty and complexity and allow you to focus your studies on any number of specializations. For example, you might specialize in scripting, animation, or game engines. Likewise, you might take courses that develop your game design and development skills, like 3D animation.
Of course, by completing a degree in game design, you’ll develop a range of skills that are attractive to gaming companies and other potential employers. With a degree in game design, you’ll be eligible for careers in everything from video game programming to graphic design to animation – and more!
How Much Can You Earn With a Game Design or Development Degree?
If your game design or game development program leads you to become a multimedia artist and animator, you can make nearly $80,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If your skills and interests lead you to become a software developer for video games, your salary can be over $109,000 per year. Of course, your salary will be based partly on your experience, education, and skill level in game design and video game development.
Moreover, how much you earn often depends on where you live and work. For example, the BLS reports that Connecticut has the highest average pay for special effects artists and animators at $120,150 per year. This is $20,000 more per year than second-place California. So, geographic location can have a significant effect on your salary. Your place of employment can affect your pay as well. The BLS notes that the information services industry pays the most, with careers in research and development, employment services, and professional and commercial equipment rounding out the top four. In each case, these industries pay an average of more than $100,000 per year to artists and animators.
No matter which area of game design you choose, you’ll need to build an impressive portfolio. A portfolio lets you show potential employers your specific skills and abilities – something that’s difficult to do with a simple resume. By building a solid portfolio of your very best work, you have a visual representation of your skills that potential employers can use to determine if you’re a right fit. As important as it is to get a good education, it’s just as important to show what you’ve learned in your professional portfolio.
What is Required for Online Game Design Degree Programs?
Admission requirements vary depending on which game design schools to which you’re applying. For example, to apply for a bachelor degree program in game design, you’ll likely have to show proof of a high school diploma or a GED. In some cases, you’ll also need to first complete an associate degree. Furthermore, some programs require proof of English language proficiency, while others cater to international learners. Some schools require you to have a certain GPA, like a 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, satisfactory scores on the SAT or ACT, and letters of recommendation from teachers or employers.
Fortunately, for an undergraduate degree, most colleges don’t require online students like you to have a portfolio or past experience with animation and programming to be admitted. However, if you plan to pursue a master’s degree, a portfolio from your undergraduate studies or professional work is almost a certain requirement of admission.
Additionally, master’s-level game design programs typically require you to submit a CV or resume, several letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors, and evidence of related work history.
Graduation requirements vary somewhat, too. As noted earlier, some undergraduate game software development programs require 120 credits, while others require the completion of 124, 128, or 132 credits or more. Some of the below programs require internships or final projects, too. Still, these requirements help you build impressive design portfolios to show to potential employers.
What Are the Best Game Design Online Schools?
OSR uses six data points to rank the best gaming degrees online: three school-wide and three program-specific. For school-wide factors, OSR uses student satisfaction, admission rates, and the number of programs the school offers online. For program-specific factors, OSR checks the median debt of graduates from that program, how many degrees are offered within that program’s umbrella department, and what percentage of students at that school graduated from that department.
The six statistics are displayed by each of the online game design schools. The sliding bar under each statistic represents how that school compares to other U.S. institutions. “Not reported” means a school did not release that information to the U.S. Department of Education. A more detailed description of the OSR process can be found on the methodology page.
Now let’s explore our rankings of the best online game design schools!
Academy of Art University20-Year ROI$753,855
- Tuition: $20,952(in state) / $20,952(out of state)
- Online program
- Emphasis on 3D modeling, animation, and lighting in video game production
- Courses taught by world-class and dedicated faculty
School WideStudent Satisfaction77%Programs offered online32
Program LevelMedian Debt$31,000Programs in Department12Popularity at School71.74%100%OSR Score
At the top of our list of game design schools online is the Academy of Art University. Based in San Francisco, the Academy of Art University offers a 132-credit hour online program with 42 units of major studies, 36 credits of core studies, and 54 credits of liberal arts and elective courses. This program focuses on video game design, art, and professional readiness.
You’ll take a Games Portfolio Preparation course and a Collaborative Project interdisciplinary course. You’ll also have the option to participate in an internship. When you graduate, you’ll leave with a professional demo reel or portfolio that showcases your work. You can use your portfolio when applying for jobs or applying for advanced degree programs in game design.
Full Sail University20-Year ROI$773,128
- Tuition: $19,929(in state) / $19,929(out of state)
- Courses are offered both online and on-campus
- Credits also apply to an associate degree so students can continue onto a bachelor degree at a later date
- All students have access to Full Sail’s state-of-the-art campus and technology services
School WideStudent Satisfaction78%Programs offered online24
Program LevelMedian Debt$27,000Programs in Department6Popularity at School41.62%86%OSR Score
Next in our ranking of the best online colleges for game design is Full Sail University. Located in Winter Park, Florida, Full Sail University’s 120-credit hour Game Design Bachelor of Science program is available on-campus or online. If you choose the on-campus track, you can complete your degree in as little as 20 months. Online students typically need about 29 months to complete this degree.
Upon enrollment, you’ll find this program includes high-level game design and production courses that take you deep into the game development pipeline. Courses include:
- Technical Writing
- Level Design
- Game Mechanics
- Project and Portfolio: Game Design
- Game Balancing
After completion, graduates of this program often find entry-level industry positions in various fields. This includes game design, quality-assurance testing, and level design. Careers in game scripting and various other jobs in field of game design are also attainable.
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design20-Year ROI$648,048
- Tuition: $16,268(in state) / $16,268(out of state)
- Course schedules are flexible and offered only online
- Faculty includes highly experienced animators, designers, and technical artists
- Students develop highly-specialized animation skills
School WideStudent Satisfaction75%Programs offered online9
Program LevelMedian Debt$30,838Programs in Department2Popularity at School54.47%80%OSR Score
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design offers a unique 123-credit hour online game design degree that culminates in a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Game Art. This degree focuses on the graphics of game art and the mechanics of design. Required courses include:
- 15 credit hours of art history
- 30 credit hours of liberal arts courses
- 24 credit hours of foundations courses
- 48 credit hours of core curriculum courses
- 6 credit hours of studio elective courses
You’re also introduced to creative and technical writing, visual storytelling, and lighting as part of your education in building games. You’ll proceed through your courses in RMCAD’s proprietary learning management system. This system gives you easy access to course materials while maintaining a flexible environment in which you can acquire the necessary game design skills.
Savannah College of Art and Design20-Year ROI$697,731
- Tuition: $35,910(in state) / $35,910(out of state)
- This degree is available online as part of their popular eLearning program
- There are multiple on-campus locations in the U.S. and internationally
- All professors are highly-experienced in their field
School WideStudent Satisfaction75%Admission Rate93%Programs offered online5
Program LevelMedian Debt$25,000Programs in Department4Popularity at School55.35%72%OSR Score
Savannah College of Art and Design, which has campuses around the world and online, is a great choice if you’re highly creative and adventurous. You can choose between a 180-credit online or on-campus Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media with a concentration in game development or interactive design. Whether you’re interested in programming or aesthetics, SCAD has a program that suits your unique needs.
Required courses include:
- Introduction to Interactive Design and Game Development
- Core Principles of Game Design
- Digital Design Aesthetics
- Applied Principles of Game Art
Additionally, you must complete either a business-focused elective course, an undergraduate internship, or a 500-level SCADPro elective course. There are 20 required credits of foundational courses, too. This includes classes in drawing, design, and color theory.
Liberty University20-Year ROI$718,609
- Tuition: $15,734(in state) / $15,734(out of state)
- The entire degree can be completed online
- Courses begin and end on an 8-week schedule
- All professors have real-world experience in game design
School WideStudent Satisfaction73%Admission Rate30%Programs offered online23
Program LevelMedian Debt$25,000Programs in Department1Popularity at School1.48%68%OSR Score
Liberty University is the final entry on our list of online game design college possibilities. Liberty is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and has long been a leader in online education.
This Bachelor of Science in Information Technology with a focus on Gaming Design requires the completion of 120 credits to graduate. It takes 3.5 years for most students to finish this degree. Required courses include:
- Introduction to 3D Graphics
- Web Architecture and Development
- Principles of Macroeconomics
- Digital Imaging
To help you save money, Liberty allows you to transfer up to 75 percent of the total credits needed to graduate. Likewise, Liberty provides e-textbooks for all your courses at no charge.