7 Degrees for Aspiring Video Game Designers

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Video game designers possess a unique combination of skills: they’re both artists, who build worlds, tell stories, and create characters, and technicians, who bring their ideas to life through programming and coding. Designing video games is a dream of many gamers, as it is an exciting, creative, and
well-compensated career—but it’s also a competitive one. Keep reading to learn about gaming degrees and how they can help you land one of these coveted positions. 

 

How to Become a Videogame Designer

 

Video game designers require a broad spectrum of skills and while everyone’s career path is a bit different, many video games designers will take similar steps toward landing their dream job.  

 

Earn a Gaming Degree

 

It’s common for video game designers to have bachelor’s degrees. Some colleges and universities offer specific degrees in game design, but numerous degrees can provide a pathway into the field, such as computer science, computer engineering, software engineering, graphic design, digital arts, and animation.

 

Intern 

 

Interning while earning a video game degree is a great step toward getting a job after college—it provides first-hand insight into the field, instills industry-specific skills, and helps build a professional network. Your work as an intern can even land you a credit on a game title and add work to your portfolio. 

 

Build a Portfolio

 

A robust portfolio is one of the best ways a candidate for a video game design job can separate themselves from the competition. A portfolio containing everything from screenshots of games and videos of gameplay to links to working games helps highlight an applicant’s skills and experience and makes them more attractive to employers. 

 

Gain Work Experience 

 

After college, many aspiring video game designers will take entry-level positions with companies that produce video games taking on smaller roles or roles that focus on a particular aspect of video game design, such as junior designer or programmer. In these roles, budding video game designers will sharpen their skills, continue to build their expertise in all aspects of video game design, and bolster their portfolios. 

 

Learn New Skills 

 

It’s not just honing what was learned while earning a video game degree that takes place after college, video game designers must constantly refresh their skill sets. In addition to remaining “fluent” in the programming languages they already know, many video game designers will stay up to date with emerging languages along with constantly shifting standards and developments in the field. 

 

Actively Participate in the Field

 

Video game design is a complex and fast-moving industry/ Many game designers join professional associations, participate in workshops, and attend conferences to stay abreast of the latest happenings in the field, develop new skills, and grow their networks. 

 

Video Game Design vs. Video Game Development

 

Although the terms “video game design” and “video game development” are frequently used interchangeably, they are two different roles. In general, video game designers have less technical knowledge than game developers.

 

  • Video game designers are involved in the creative aspects of game creation, including story, characters, mood, and mechanics.

 

  • Video game developers help turn the vision of designers into a functional, playable game. 

 

A good analogy for describing the relationship between video game designers and video game developers is to think of the video game designer as the architect of a house, and the developers as the people who build it. 

 

Degrees for Video Game Design

 

Because video game designers require a vast array of skills, numerous majors can provide an entry point into the field. Below are seven majors commonly pursued by aspiring video game designers. 

 

Game Design 

 

Arguably the most obvious gaming degree, game design majors pursue a comprehensive curriculum covering the many aspects involved with designing a video game, from start to finish. Students studying game design will learn about:

 

  • Animation 
  • Data structures 
  • Design theory 
  • Game logic 
  • Gaming theory 
  • Graphic design 
  • Mechanics 
  • Programming languages
  • Storytelling

 

In general, game design majors graduate with fundamental computer skills complemented by a wide breadth of knowledge in a variety of fields. 

 

Computer Science

 

Computer science majors learn foundation skills that can be applied to any number of fields, including video game design. Computer science majors learn how to use computers to do many things, from solving problems to processing information to entertaining. Students graduating with a degree in computer science will have an understanding of algorithms, programming languages, and operating systems—all of which video game designers need to have a working knowledge of. 

 

While lacking the specificity of a degree in game design, a computer science degree offers more career flexibility, which is useful if you have trouble breaking into game design or if the video game market experiences a downturn. Computer science majors work in a variety of industries and positions outside of video game design, including:

 

  • Cloud computing engineer
  • Database engineer 
  • Data scientist
  • Information security analyst 
  • Mobile application designer/developer
  • Programmer
  • Software development 
  • Web developer

 

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Computer Engineering

 

Computer engineers are taught how to make computers work; how to make them smarter, faster, and more efficient; and how to develop hardware and software. A computer engineering degree is based on a foundation of science and math classes, such as general chemistry, calculus, and physics. As computer engineering students progress, many programs allow them to narrow their area of interest and focus on certain aspects within the field. 

 

Computer engineering provides an excellent pathway into video game design. The understanding that computer engineers have of both hardware and software allows them to understand the limitations of what they’re creating while their engineering background makes them natural problem solvers—a vital skill when debugging a game. 

 

Software Engineering

 

Those possessing a degree in software engineering understand how to create and maintain software. Software engineering majors will take foundational science and math classes like general chemistry, physics, and calculus, along with more major-specific coursework like programming languages, operating systems, and computer languages.

 

Software engineers work with a variety of programming languages, which makes them well-suited to careers in video game design. Furthermore, their understanding of various platforms is key for making games functional in various applications—for example, on different systems, on the web, or on mobile.

 

Graphic Design

 

A graphic design program teaches students to create clear, powerful visual communications for use in a wide variety of mediums—from print to video to the web. As technology continues to progress, so do the skills required for a successful career as a graphic designer. As the simple two-dimensional images of yesterday’s print ads are replaced by the 3D, interactive, and animated materials used on today’s sophisticated platforms, a degree in graphic design becomes utile.

 

Graphic designers can play a variety of roles in video game design. Their design background makes them ideal candidates for selecting the color palette for a game, while their work with promotional materials makes them well suited to do everything from designing a logo and a game’s packaging to conceptualizing and creating marketing materials. 

 

Digital Arts

 

Digital art programs blend art and technology to create digital materials for use across a variety of applications. Digital art students typically graduate with hands-on experience using tools such as ProTools, Final Cut Studio, and the Adobe Creative Suite which allows them to hit the ground running in their professional careers. In addition to the first-hand experience with popular programs, digital art majors take classes such as:

 

  • Animation
  • Computer graphics
  • Digital illustration 
  • Drawing
  • Graphic design
  • Photography
  • Sound production
  • Web design

 

Similar to video game design, digital art is a field where creativity and technology meet; digital art degree holders are commonly involved in creating video games performing tasks such as creating images or effects. 

 

Animation

 

Students graduating with an animation degree are familiar with both digital and analog animation techniques. Additionally, students learn about character development, story creation, and how to take a project from conception to post-production and will take classes varying from storytelling to life drawing to 3D modeling. 

 

An animation major’s knowledge of how to develop a digital asset from beginning to end is extremely valuable in the video game design industry. Other skills that make animation degree holders beneficial to video game designers are their design sense, computer savvy, and creativity. 

 

How to Find the Right College as a Gamer

 

Most major colleges and universities offer a degree that leads to a career in video game design. For those aspiring to become video game designers, this means they’ll have to use other factors to determine the “right” college for them. Fit (how a school aligns with a student’s expectations of the college experience) is an important consideration when choosing a college. Some characteristics that help determine fit include:

 

  • Location: Close to home or far away? In the city or in the country? A school’s location should meet the ideal experience.

 

  • Size: Whether it’s a big school where you can get lost or a small school that provides individual attention, there is a college for every preference. 

 

  • Cost: College is expensive and the expense is a big concern for many college-bound students—in-state vs. out-of-state, the financial package offered, and a no-loan policy are just some of the things cost-conscious college students should consider. 

 

  • Sports: From big-time football programs to renowned eSports programs, competition is an important part of many student’s college experiences, both as participants as well as spectators. If you’re as good at playing video games as you are designing them, you might even land a scholarship. 

 

CollegeVine can help you build your college list. Our school search tool allows you to search schools using a variety of filters, allowing you to find schools that meet your own unique requirements. Once you build your list, our free chancing calculator will tell you your odds of acceptance at over 600 colleges and universities.

 

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Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

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