What is a Game Design Degree?

Aspiring video game designers learn how to create, develop, and produce video and computer games. Foundations of a game design curriculum typically include the following:

Game Theory and History - In this course, students look at the components of long popular non-digital games like checkers, chess, and cards. From their investigation, they begin to develop new game prototypes.

Pre-Production Techniques - This course takes students through the parts of the preproduction cycle: assembling a team, scheduling, documenting, prototyping, and creating concepts.

Game Production - This class presents an overview of the game industry. Students learn about the various phases of developing a game, the various roles that make up a development team, and how to manage a project.

Storytelling - Storytelling courses in game design degree programs show students how different media, including digital music and sound, can be used to effectively say what the storyteller wants to say.

Level Design - When game design students learn about level design, they learn about ‘the gameplay’ – how to develop levels for player interaction in any type of game. In developing a puzzle game, for example, the level designer is responsible for creating a game board. In the case of a world conquest game, the level designer designs a map.

Programming -This facet of game design focuses on [programming language and the basics of coding.

Game Art - In this class students study 2-D and 3-D graphics and 3-D modeling and animation.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Game Design
Some students who earn an associate degree in the field go on to further study and obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Game Design. Associate graduates typically qualify for entry-level/assistant jobs.

Associate programs in game design generally include courses like the following:

  • Character Design – how to imagine and create captivating art and characters
  • Creature Design – idea sketching; anatomy, muscles, and skeletal structures; creature heads; creature functions; finalizing designs
  • 3D Sculpting Overview – also called digital sculpting, this course introduces students to using software with brushes and tools to simulate real-life textures and objects
  • Prototyping – how to create a prototype of a game concept
  • Game Mechanics – how to design game plot, rules, and challenges that guide player interaction

Bachelor’s Degree in Game Design
This degree is the preferred credential in the industry. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Game Design, graduates have wider employment options, including jobs such as conceptual artist, game programmer, illustrator, background artist, and character/creature designer.

Coursework at the bachelor’s level expands on the subjects listed above in the associate degree section and commonly also includes:

  • Game Theory – examination of the process of designing and developing games
  • Psychology of Play
  • 2D Animation for Game Art
  • Character and 3D Modeling
  • Storytelling and Character Development – how to write for video games
  • Scene Layout
  • Computing and Programming for Game Design
  • Game Design Project Management – how to manage a game design team

Master’s Degree in Game Design
Holders of a Master’s Degree in Game Design often become game design project supervisors, game testers, and game design studio directors. Programs at this degree level teach advanced game design and production skills, as well as business skills. In game design master’s programs, students build a portfolio of projects that have them look at all aspects of constructing and developing games. They also learn about the economics of the work, the marketing of games, and leading game design teams.

Classes typically include:

  • Advanced Course in Game Design Mechanics
  • Game Usability and Testing
  • The Principles of Production and Production Management
  • Marketing for the Game Design Industry
  • Human Resource Management

Degrees Similar to Game Design

Degree programs in animation teach students how to create animation and graphics for various media, including film, television, video, and computer games. Some typical classes in the curriculum are drawing, storyboarding, digital character animation, sound design, and 3-D modeling.

Computer Graphics
This degree field teaches students how to develop graphics software. Coursework includes drawing, graphic design, digital modeling, multimedia applications, and software engineering.

Computer Programming
Majors in computer programming learn how to write programming languages, how to create the code needed to run software based on specifications received from software engineers. Course curriculum includes program testing, debugging, and customization.

Computer Science
Computer science programs teach students about computer systems and the way humans and computers interact. Coursework covers mathematics for computer science, artificial intelligence, data structures and algorithms, introduction to program design, and the theory of formal languages.

Digital Arts
As the name suggests, the curriculum for this degree is computer-focused, introducing students to web video, 3-D modeling, and animation.

Multimedia Arts
A degree program that prepares individuals to creatively and technically express ideas through the use of a variety of materials and media.

Graphic Design
This degree field is concerned with design theory, color, photography, typography, and commercial design. Visual communication is the common thread between art history and graphic design.

Web Design
This degree field teaches students the technical skills and the design concepts required to create websites.

Skills You’ll Learn

Creative / Design Concepts and Storytelling
In the work of designing games, concepts start out as storyboards. Students, therefore, learn how to be imaginative and creative, how to tell a story, and how to convey information.

Technology Skills
While game design is definitely a creative process, it is also a process that involves a lot of technology. Game design graduates typically come away from their studies with knowledge of various computer programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, and 3D animation program Autodesk Maya.

Business Skills

  • Problem-Solving
  • Teamwork
  • Business Planning

What Can You Do with a Game Design Degree?

Game Design
This is, of course, the primary occupational category for game design graduates. But as the list below shows, the skills and knowledge gained in the study of game design can be applied in other occupations, as well.

Graphic Design
Like game design, graphic design uses visual concepts to communicate, inspire, and captivate.

Multimedia Art and Animation
Multimedia artists and animators create visual effects for movies, television, mobile devices, and other media. They map out storylines and use both pen and paper and computer software to create illustrations.

Web Development
As the name implies, this sector is focused on the design and creation of websites. Like the game design field, it needs professionals with both technical and creative skills.

Software Development
Software developers test for and identify software product bugs and performance problems, with the goal of developing user-friendly applications that allow consumers to perform specific tasks.

Computer and Information Research
This field is about inventing and designing new technologies and finding new uses for existing ones.

Computer Hardware Engineering
Engineers who work in this field design, develop, and test computer equipment. They work with computer chips, circuit boards, and routers.

Computer Programming
Computer programmers write the code for computer software programs. This ‘code’ allows computers to ‘understand’ and run the software.

Computer Systems Administration
Computer systems administrators manage company computer systems. They keep these systems secure, updated, and operating efficiently.

Career Paths

Learn about your career prospects after graduation.

Read about Career Paths