Best Online Game Design Programs

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Video game technology has evolved immensely over the past three decades ― and not surprisingly, the video game industry has experienced significant growth. Today’s games come in a wide range of formats, including consoles, computer programs, web-based platforms and smart device apps. A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that video game sales exceed $10 billion on an annual basis, and roughly 32,000 men and women across the country are employed in this industry. Most designers specialize in niche areas of game development, such as initial storyboarding and scriptwork, computer-based modeling, animation, coding and quality assurance testing.

Video game design has become a popular academic choice for college students with an interest in technology, art and graphic design. Some programs follow a generalized curriculum, while others allow students to pursue a concentration track in their specific areas of interest. Internship opportunities are common, and many video game design bachelor’s programs culminate in a capstone project or portfolio presentation. A large number of today’s students are choosing to earn their bachelor’s degree in video game design online. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to the same postdegree employment offers. The asynchronous (or self-paced) schedule of many online programs is also ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare responsibilities and other commitments that may interfere with campus-based learning.

Learn more about what you can do with an online bachelor’s degree in video game design and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.

WILL AN ONLINE VIDEO GAME DESIGN BACHELOR’S PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

Bachelor’s in video game design programs provide a comprehensive overview of this cutting edge-field. Students take courses in game conceptualization, drawing and animation, computer programming and other related fields. Once they have completed their core course requirements, many students are allowed to earn a concentration in the areas that interest them most. They can also further boost their career standing with an internship, where they will receive supervised onsite training from experienced industry professionals. Those who earn a specialized degree and complete an internship will be well-positioned to enter the competitive job market for video game designers.

WILL AN ONLINE VIDEO GAME DESIGN BACHELOR’S PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

Online bachelor’s in video game design degree programs offer a flexible alternative to classroom-based education. Students will be able to access course lectures and readings, participate in moderated virtual discussions with other students, submit assignments, take exams and contact their professors from the comfort of their home computer. Current technology also allows them to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other devices with Wi-Fi capabilities. For added convenience, online students can typically coordinate internships at sites near their current residence. Web-based portfolio and capstone advising services are also widely available for distance learners.

WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY VIDEO GAME DESIGN BACHELOR’S DEGREE?

Most careers in video game design are attainable with a bachelor’s degree or less. Specific job titles will vary by the student’s degree specialization and fields of expertise. Artistic students may be drawn to careers in video game art, animation or design. Alternatively, graduates with tech skills often find their calling in video game design with careers in software development or computer programming. Other pathways include scriptwriting, music composition and marketing.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE VIDEO GAME DESIGN BACHELOR’S PROGRAMS?

Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online bachelor’s degree in video game design programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online bachelor’s in video game design, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific bachelor’s degree requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1

Savannah College of Art and Design

 5/565.04%Savannah, GA

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The Program

Students at Savannah College of Art and Design can pursue an online BA in Digital Media with a concentration in game development. This online design program provides a foundation in art and drawing. Additionally, students receive advanced training in subjects like interactive design, typography and game development. The instructors at SCAD pride themselves on cultivating the next developments in human-machine interaction and aim to share new ways for students and end-users to experience the physical and virtual world.

The Platform

SCAD eLearning courses are asynchronous, and require students to participate in virtual classrooms via the Blackboard course management system. Online, students review, critique and discuss their assignments and the work of their peers; some classes include field trips and other special activities outside of discussion and live-collaboration. Due to the technology required to render and design the course material involved with this major, students should review the technical requirements associated with their program prior to enrolling. Courses are 10 weeks in length, and distance learners can begin during any quarter of the school year.

Quick Facts

  • 93% of alumni reported that they were employed, pursuing further education or both within 10 months of graduation.
  • The college was named among the Top Schools to Study Video Game Design for 2013 by Princeton Review.
  • SCAD student game developers won the inaugural game design competition hosted by the prestigious organization E3.
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2

Franklin University

 3/513.64%Columbus, OH

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The Program

The well-rounded BA in Interactive Media Design at Franklin University instructs students on the design, creation and promotion of all varieties of interactive media. This program equips students to handle front-end development, project management and skills in both design and technology, with a curriculum intended to imitate an actual design firm. Collaboration and a team dynamic are stressed, even online, as students learn and become proficient at using products such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash. Designed for transfer students, this program is perfect for those who already have as many as 84 credit hours of related design and media courses. Over the course of this two-year degree, students study topics such as graphic, mobile and web design; interactive media; mobile application development; and collaborative project management.

The Platform

Franklin uses the BlueQuill learning management system, designed with school's unique needs and student community in mind. This virtual classroom offers a collaborative and interactive environment for distance learners. Students can access the platform via desktop or mobile devices, making learning, connecting and cooperating with instructors and peers easy and flexible. Courses vary in length from 6, 12 and 15 weeks.

Testimonial

"I was a graphic designer previously [and I had to] work alone, so having to learn how to work well in a group and [with] different personalities and nationalities—I've had it all here at Franklin. Businesses love when they hear that [a graduate comes] from Franklin, because it's up to date, we have the latest technology and they know that." - Tamara Allen

Quick Facts

  • Classrooms at Franklin University have a student-teacher ratio of 13:1.
  • In 2012-13, 69% of undergraduates and 65% of graduate students earned their degree entirely online according to College Navigator.
  • This program is unavailable in Alabama.
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3

Southern New Hampshire University

 4/5N/AManchester, NH

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The Program

Students can pursue SNHU's online BS in Game Design and Development as either a degree completion program or a concentration of the business studies degree. Through classes focused on development, design, consumer behavior and marketing, this 120-credit program immerses students in the creative and business sides of the gaming industries.

The Platform

Southern New Hampshire uses the Blackboard LMS to provide students and faculty with access to online course materials, discussion boards and tools for submitting assignments and taking exams. By logging in to the mySNHU portal, students can view class and school announcements, their school email and other online resources.

Quick Facts

  • Prospective students with previous college experience can transfer up to 90 credits to an SNHU program.
  • Online students have 24/7 access to technical support; they are also able to connect to SNHU's library and bookstore.
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4

Sheridan Technical College

 1/552.2%Hollywood, FL

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The Program

The six-month, Game/Simulation/Animation/Visual Design certificate program requires the completion of 534 hours of study. The courses, which students may attend online in a trimester format, provide practical, hands-on experience in game development and simulation, as well as graphic design principles. By the program's end, students can expect to produce a variety of simulations, development methodologies, 2D and 3D animations and storyboards. Furthermore, graduates will be prepared to achieve the Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) Certification in Photoshop. All students who plan to enroll must receive a passing score in an adult assessment called the TABE. A link to this test, as well an orientation tutorial, are available online.

The Platform

Online students are required to obtain the software necessary to complete their program, as well as a broadband internet connection. Students access their courses online via the Desire2Learn learning management system, which serves all of Broward County's public schools. Depending on the availability of the class or program in question, Sheridan College accepts new students every nine weeks.

Quick Facts

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5

Guilford Technical Community College

 1/512.08%Jamestown, NC

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The Program

The Associate of Applied Science in Simulation and Game Development aims to illustrate the implications of interactive media on the economy, society and culture. The curriculum covers a broad base of game development knowledge, and students learn the programming skills needed to create interactive media for both educational and consumer purposes. Graduates are prepared for a broad range of career opportunities in the healthcare field, corporate training environment, government organizations and the entertainment industry. This 70-credit program can be completed over the course of two years, including two summer semesters. Classes are offered in a prescribed order to ensure that each semester builds appropriately upon the last.

The Platform

All online students must complete an eLearning Orientation during the first week of classes to familiarize themselves with GTCC's online resources. Almost all courses are offered entirely asynchronously, though some instructors may require students to participate in proctored exams online or at a testing center. Students can expect to log on to their courses, hosted by Moodle, once a day to read and download materials, view multimedia tutorials and lectures and participate in discussions.

Quick Facts

  • Residents of some states may not qualify for the program.
  • Almost half of the students at GTCC are mature learners aged 25 and older.
  • 81% of full-time beginning undergraduates received some form of financial aid in 2012-13; 72% of all undergraduates were awarded some form of scholarship during that same school year.
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Timeline
4 to 5 years
Program Costs
$8,000 to $30,000 in annual tuition
Related Areas of Study
Software Development, Computer Programming, Web Design, Graphic Design, Art, Animation, Creative Writing, Music, Theater, Marketing and Advertising, General Business
Accreditation
There is no programmatic accreditation for this major field of study at the undergraduate level. Students should defer to the regional/national accreditation of their four-year college or university.

Job Placement

Industry projections indicate a strong job outlook for video game designers in the years to come, particularly in software development, computer programming and other tech-based subdivisions. Using current data from U.S. News & World Report, the following table explores unemployment rates for some of the most common job titles in video game design.

Occupation Unemployment Rate (2016)
Software Developer 2.5%
Computer Programmer 2.5%
Web Developer 3.4%
Marketing Manager 3.5%
Art Director 4.8%
Public Relations Specialist 5.7%

Source: U.S. News & World Report

The average unemployment rate of all careers listed is 3.73%. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for all occupations currently sits at 4.9%

Earning a Living

Like employment rates, earning potential in the video game industry largely depends on an employee’s bachelor’s degree field of study and areas) of expertise. The table below features salary expectations at two career benchmarks for students who major in tech and creative fields associated with video game design.

Bachelor’s Degree Field Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)
Software Engineering $64,700 $98,100
Computer Programming $50,500 $82,600
Multimedia and Web Design $42,300 $66,500
Film, Video and Media Studies $39,600 $66,300
Creative Writing $38,900 $65,900
Illustration $39,000/td>

$62,800
Graphic Design $40,000 $60,500

Source: The 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

All seven bachelor’s degree majors listed on the table experience at least 51% salary growth between the entry-level and mid-career stages. Film, video and media studies degree-holders saw the highest rate of growth: a salary increase of 67.4% after 10 years on the job. Computer programming majors placed second with a 63.6% growth rate.

In addition to undergraduate major, annual earnings and career salary growth also depend on the employee’s specific job title. Other factors to consider include company/organization size and city/state of employment. The next table looks at career salary projections for five of the most popular pathways in video game design.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Video Game Designer $54,064 $66,902 $77,345 $92,103
Computer Programmer $53,264 $67,599 $78,285 $85,243
Art Director $50,784 $62,445 $70,137 $69,013
Animator $48,048 $59,131 $63,265 $61,279
User Interface Designer $59,280 $71,975 $79,512 $75,147

Source: PayScale

Of the five careers listed, video game designers experienced the highest rate of career salary growth: a 70.4% earnings increase between the entry-level and late-career stages. Computer programmers ranked second, with a 60.0% increase in salary after 20 years on the job. Career salary growth for art directors, animators and user interface designers ranged from 26% to 36%, despite slight dips in earnings for each occupation between the experienced and late-career benchmarks.

Career and Further Education Opportunities

Students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in video game design will be qualified for dozens of entry-level positions, although job eligibility will depend on a candidate’s areas of expertise. Four of the most common career pathways in video game design are outlined below.

Software Developers: Software developers design, create and evaluate a wide range of computer-based programs, including games. Once they have completed the conceptualization stage, they use models and diagrams to instruct computer programmers on proper coding sequences. They also perform a wide range of tests to ensure their program is functional and user-friendly.

Web Developers: Web developers oversee construction of websites, from initial back-end coding and conceptualization to finishing layout touches like graphics and multimedia. They also run tests to measure how much traffic a site can handle and ensure all tools and widgets are working properly. Web developers often generate site content, as well.

Art Directors: In the video game industry, art directors oversee all visual components of a given project. They manage teams of artists, graphics developers, animators and other creative technicians. They may also help design cover art, promotional brochures and other marketing materials.

Multimedia Artists and Animators: These creative professionals are behind the visual components of video games and other forms of media. Their work is done at many stages, including conceptualization, drawing, storyboarding, three-dimensional modeling, animation and motion-capture effects.

Occupation Median Annual Salary Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)
Software Developers $100,690 17% (+186,600 jobs)
Web Developers $64,970 27% (+39,500 jobs)
Art Directors $89,760 2% (+1,800 jobs)
Multimedia Artists and Animators $63,970 6% (+3,900 jobs)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to video game design is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for professional video game designers. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • International Game Developers Association: Officially established in 1994, the IGDA today hosts professional and academic chapters in more than 100 cities worldwide. Student members can take part in the IGDA Scholars program, while organizations can receive certain benefits as studio affiliates or partners.
  • Entertainment Software Association: The ESA specializes in areas like content protection, advertising, consumer outreach and intellectual property advocacy. The website includes job listings, information about video game policy and an online newsroom.
  • Video Game Development Association: The VGDA offers professional development opportunities in niche areas of gaming design like art and visuals, animation and story conceptualization. The association’s website also features an extensive blog highlighting various industry trends and projections.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE COLLEGE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.