Overview of an Online Game Design Degree
So, is there a degree for video game design? Yes, game design schools online are widely available and are effective ways to learn the necessary skills to launch a career as a developer in the growing video game industry. These programs usually require four years of full-time study and students can complete them in 100% online learning environments.
The video game design bachelor's program teaches students how to develop digital graphics and leverage interactivity to draw players into a game. Students utilize digital tools and processes to create unique, immersive virtual environments and generate highly interactive characters. An online game development degree teaches skills in animation, illustration, programming, and visual effects.
Applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED to apply; programs may also require baseline technical skills and the submission of an art portfolio, which can be achieved through an associate degree in web design or graphic design as well as game development courses. This will bolster your chances of being accepted into one of the many online video game design degree programs.
Once accepted into one of the best online degree programs for video game design, students are required to take core courses in a variety of subjects in computer programming, artificial intelligence, digital storytelling, and digital marketing.
Can You Get a Game Design Degree Online?
Yes, online game design degree programs are readily available from universities with robust art and technology departments. Much like similar degrees in web design, art design, and graphic design, game design programs online utilize learning management systems and software tools for their coursework. This enables professors to effectively teach and interact with their students in remote environments.
Before commiting to one of the many game design schools online, it's important to consider their accreditation. This is the process that the U.S. Department of Education uses to ensure that a school's program is effective and legitimate.
All of OnlineU's video game design programs come from accredited institutions.
Game Design Courses
Video game design classes cover a wide variety of subjects, including 2D and 3D digital design, computer graphics, video game programming, storyboarding, project management, and computer game analysis.
Students learn about the overall structure of a successful video game, as well as the details of creating digital graphics for various computer and console systems.
Along with technical graphics and animation skills, students also learn about the methods for working with teams of animators and bringing a large project to completion. Many programs require students to work on a large game design project during the final semester of the degree; in some cases, students work in teams to develop a complete game.
Below are some examples of core courses found in game design bachelor's programs:
This course provides an overview of the games industry as a whole and the foundational development processes that are used to make games. Students explore the different roles and their responsibilities as well as how project managers lead teams of developers.
Visual Communication for Game Design
Visual communication encompasses the environmental, aesthetic, and interactive components of game design. Students look at both the technological and creative principles of visual communication and their importance in a player's overall experience.
Python is a programming library used in game development. Here, students will discover its engine and all its available tools used to create interactive games. This course also looks at the basics of programming as a whole, including the history of computing, memory and variables, and mathematical operations.
Creativity and Computation
In this course, students learn software literacy and gain valuable coding experience. Computational and systems thinking, quantitative reasoning, creative problem solving, and generative visual aesthetics will also be explored in this class.
The worlds of augmented reality and virtual reality are becoming more and more important, which is why this course is commonly found in game design programs. Students learn the skills and processes for developing VR and AR games as well as their related applications for headsets and smartphones.
Aside from technical computer literacy, students need to take a storytelling course to better understand narrative design and interactivity. This class covers the different types of media used in story strategies and how to build deeper connections to a player's experience.
A course in level design teaches students how to create the settings based on a game designer's vision. This includes the style and content of each individual level and how it advances the story in a meaningful and effective way.
A Career as a Game Designer
A bachelor's degree in video game design — or a related creative-technical subject — is required to land entry-level positions in game design, multimedia design, or animation. Bachelor's graduates with a strong portfolio of game design work will have the best chances of landing a job in this highly competitive field. Video game designers work in software development, computer systems design, motion picture and film production, and advertising.
Game Designer Salary
Video game designers can expect a higher-than-average salary when compared to other occupations. According to O*Net, the average game designer's median annual salary is $79,890.
In 2020, there were 199,200 professionals working in this role. While that may seem like a crowded field, it's important to note that the projected growth of game designers is 10% to 15% — higher than other occupations, with nearly 18,000 new jobs expected by 2030.
Different Roles in Video Game Programming
Within the field of video game design, there are many categories and specializations. Some people work behind the scenes coming up with concepts, fleshing out the story, and writing dialogue. They then pass these elements onto the team that will build the functional elements of the game. This team consists of designers and programmers who are skilled in various elements of video game development, and they bring ideas to life.
Below is an overview of some of the job titles you might hold if you earn a degree in video game design. (Keep in mind that you may want to be able to perform several of these tasks after you graduate in order to ensure your marketability.)
AI Programmer: The player characters are important, but so are the non-player-controlled characters (NPC), which need to be programmed with Artificial Intelligence (AI). NPCs need to behave naturally and in a way that makes sense or they become distracting.
Background Artist: Background artists build the world in which the game will take place. As a background artist, you need to have a keen understanding of the atmosphere and tone of the game as a whole, and specifically, the concept that should be conveyed at various times.
Character Artist: Becoming a character artist takes creativity, attention to detail, and a dedication to storytelling. A character's movements and gear must be realistic and facial expressions true to the world it is a part of.
Game Engine Programmer: This is one of the most vital job categories within the video game industry. Game engine programmers come up with the basic software for a game.
Level Designer: These professionals build the different levels of a game's environment for players to explore. Successful level designers must have strong skills in art, math, and design.
Physics/Environment Programmer: This aspect of video game programming focuses on the physical properties of the game world, and makes sure objects interact in a consistent way. Some programmers even develop “physics engines,” which set the rules for how everything in the world operates: how fast things fall, or what happens when two objects bump into each other.
Script Writer: Although not always considered a technical part of game design, writing is key to developing a video game. A video game writer works with the design team to come up with the dialogue and text that happens between characters. They will also write the text that video game players see as they complete levels or reach certain goals.
Sound Programmer: These designers create a game's score and sound effects. In musical games, or games where the sound effects change based on the player's proximity to them, sound designers have a very challenging job.
Tool Programmer: Game creation tool programmers design software that enables other people to create and make changes to a game. Modern games typically use several tools from the beginning to end of a project.
Can You Be a Game Designer Without a Degree?
Yes, it's possible to become a game designer without holding a bachelor's degree. Those with certificates in UX Design or computer programming may be able to secure an entry-level role. The most important consideration for employers, however, is that an applicant has a robust portfolio of computer game projects. Keep in mind, portfolios are much easier to achieve with a bachelor's degree in game design.
According to O*Net, 57% of professional game designers reported their employers required a bachelor's degree.
Certifications for Game Designers
While no certifications are officially required to become a game designer, there are many that can be helpful when starting a career in the field. Even if you take game design courses and earn an online video game design degree, having a certificate in C# Programming can have a positive impact on your employability. This certificate covers the C# programming language for the Unity game development platform. Other useful certificates include Computer Science for Game Development and any certificates you can earn that cover Python and PyGame modules.
Is a Video Game Design Degree Worth It?
Earning an online game development degree is worth it for many aspiring professionals. As mentioned, bachelor's degrees often require students to create portfolios, with most programs asking for a capstone project featuring a completed game. This experience will give students a leg up when it comes to applying for a role at a major game studio.
Below are some of the pros and cons of earning a video game design degree:
Join one of the fastest growing industries in the world. According to the Newzoo Global Games Market Report 2021, the industry will grow by 8.7% between 2019 and 2024 to become worth over $218 billion.
The work of a game designer blends creativity with technical know-how. Game design is one of the rare professions that requires the application of both artistic and analytical skills.
Take advantage of an independent work environment. Game designers don't have to work for major AAA studios. In fact, VG Insights reports that indie games make up 40% of all games sold on the Steam marketplace.
Some game designers have to endure "crunch." Crunch is a controversial work style that some game studios utilize. This approach requires their development team to work extremely long hours to complete projects very quickly.
Toxicity is a problem for some major game studios. The 2022 State of the Game Industry Report showed that 38% of professionals said their employer reached out regarding toxicity in the video game industry, but 62% said their company did not act on their concerns.
Game designing can pose health risks. Sitting in front of a computer screen for long periods of time can increase a person's risk of back and spin issues, heart disease, and weight gain.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to uplifting and supporting professional game developers. They offer membership opportunities for recent graduates of online game design degree programs that include access to software discounts and a network of fellow professionals to engage with. They have a game showcase which allows developers to promote their creations and a mentorship program that provides help to aspiring professionals.
There's also the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), an advocacy group that promotes research and collaborates on video game policy. They offer members access to the latest industry research as well as discounts and early access to the annual E3 conference.
Video game designers are privileged to work in accordance with their passion. They create artistic works through computers that millions of players around the world can enjoy. The coursework required to earn a degree can be challenging due to the complexity of computer languages and game development platforms. Once understood, however, the knowledge and skills gained in these programs can provide many opportunities to join professional games studios and earn higher-than-average salaries.