Artists, computer programmers, and imaginative storytellers who enjoy video games and gamification can launch their careers in a field they love with an associate degree in game design. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for art and design professions stands at $45,250, higher than the average for all occupations. Plus, according to Payscale, experienced game designers can earn 50% more than the average professional in the industry.
Perhaps most important, the majority of video game designers report a high rate of personal satisfaction with their jobs. By the time a student completes a degree in video game design, they have learned to use new computer languages and software, become skilled in theories and practices of design, and built a professional portfolio usable in a job search. If you are the kind of person who loves technology, art, and storytelling, you may find your niche in video game design.
Should I Get an Associate Degree in Game Design?
Earning an associate degree in game design can be the first step toward a lucrative and personally rewarding career in multimedia and the visual arts. People who love video games, art, and visual storytelling make great candidates for a game design degree. Not only do moviemakers and entertainers need game designers, but educational curriculum publishers, healthcare institutions, and software publishers also employ students versed in game design.
For recent high school graduates, attending classes on campus may be the best approach to earning an associate degree in game design. Students can develop relationships with faculty members, network at career fairs, and receive valuable introductions to alumni and game design professionals. Professionals who are currently in the workplace and cannot take time off for a degree, however, can certainly avail themselves of many excellent online options. Most schools offer the same career services to digital students.
Students enrolled in a game design degree learn skills in creative presentation, media technology, development analytics, world building, and systems thinking. They also compile a portfolio of their work throughout the program, useful for landing internships or jobs after graduation. After graduation, students can continue their education with a relevant bachelor's in game design degree or move directly into a game design career.
What Can I Do With an Associate in Game Design?
Besides employment as a game designer or programmer, graduates with an associate degree in game design can serve in other artistic professions. People with an eye for design and the skills to create appealing works of art can develop their own small art studios or engage in freelance employment with industrial, corporate, or publishing clients.
- Multimedia Artist and Animator
These artists create the sound and visual effects that help bring to life video games, movies, and television shows. Multimedia artists and animators use computer programs to create models for their projects. They also research, develop storyboards, and work with a larger artistic team to create characters, designs, and backgrounds.
Median Annual Salary: $70,530
- Craft and Fine Artist
Craftspeople and fine artists work with diverse mediums, including glass, beads, textiles, or pottery, to create pieces of art for display and sale. These professionals usually rent or own studio space.
Median Annual Salary: $49,160
Photographers use their skill behind a camera to record events and tell stories. They may use drones, photo-enhancing software, and digital cameras to do their work. More than 68% of photographers are self employed, providing wedding photos, scientific photos, commercial photos, and pictures for the news.
Median Annual Salary: $32,490
- Graphic Designer
Graphic designers create a visual representation of information that keeps customers informed and engaged with a business. They may draw their material by hand or use computer software. Most designers are self-employed and work with both clients and art directors to understand the scope of a project and how to execute it successfully.
Median Annual Salary: $48,700
How to Choose an Associate Program in Game Design
Earning a game design associate degree requires many hours of study and thousands of dollars in tuition and related costs. Some students take out educational loans, work extra jobs, delay weddings or vacations, and make other sacrifices. It only makes sense for students to want the best choice possible for their degrees. Applicants should seriously review each of their potential schools' lists of courses, projects, and practicums. Some colleges may offer a game design concentration as an option for a student pursuing a computer science degree, rather than a separate game design degree.
Most students are concerned about how much a degree costs and what financial aid packages they can receive. It's important to remember that a degree costs more than just the tuition per credit hour. Students also pay for housing, meals, books, parking, and transportation while living on campus or commuting to campus. When applying to a degree, students to need to consider all factors that make up the degree and then look at what they can reasonably afford. On campus students may not need to pay technology fees, but students in online game design programs can save money by living at home.
While there is no one right way to select an associate degree in game design, students who consider all these factors stand a good chance of making the wisest choice for their career goals.
Associate in Game Design Program Admissions
Each school sets its own admissions standards, and they vary widely between institutions. Applicants who want to attend a highly competitive college need to meet more stringent criteria, for example, than those who attend a less competitive one.
Some schools accept applications on a rolling deadline, and some set a strict deadline to receive applications for each semester. Since application fees, transcripts, and recommendations can take a lot of time and money, students should probably not apply to more than eight schools for an associate degree in game design. Applicants usually determine their top schools by considering cost, length of the program, concentration options, technology, reputation, and financial aid offerings.
While there is no one right way to select a college, students should keep all these factors in mind as well as considering whether to pursue an online or on campus degree. Below are some of the commonly requested admission materials for an associate in game design.
- Application: Most schools require students to fill out an online application. More than 800 schools accept Common App, which is a single application service.
- Transcripts: Applicants need to submit high school transcripts or high school equivalency test scores. Schools have different fees and processes for this service.
- Application Fee: The average cost of an application fee falls between $30 and $50. Some schools waive this fee for select students or apply it to tuition costs after enrollment.
Educational Paths for Game Design Associate Programs
Once a student holds one game design degree, adding another often becomes much easier. Most bachelor's programs accept all courses earned in an accredited associate degree. Earning a higher degree also pays off in salary increases. According to PayScale, game designers with a bachelor's degree earn about 50% more than those with an associate of arts degree. Below are a few possible bachelor's degree paths for students with an associate in game design.
- Game Design
Building on the concepts and principles included in an associate degree in game design, this bachelor's program focuses on game mechanics, game balancing, and prototyping. Students take courses such as the psychology of play, professional writing, game mechanics, and historical archetypes and mythology.
- Game Art and Development
This gaming degree zeroes in on the artistic side of game development. Students learn lighting, anatomy illustration, and digital painting within the context of game design theory and game art principles. At the end of the degree, students build a portfolio showing creative character design.
- Game Programming and Development
Students learn various programming languages, including C++ and Java, as well as game engine development, 3d modeling, and digital sculpting. This degree prepares students for success not only in creating video games for entertainment but also in industries such as healthcare and entertainment that rely on gaming strategies, models, and technology.
What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Game Design?
Associate degree programs in game design are dynamic degrees that can look almost unique to the individual schools offering them. The coursework, expectations, length of time, cost, and admissions criteria can vary widely between schools. Nevertheless, most programs share some commonalities, such as the number of credit hours and core courses.
Courses in an Associate Program in Game Design
Courses for an associate degree in game design may vary from school to school. Nearly all programs, however, combine classes from game theory, technology, art, design, and storytelling to create the curriculum. Many degrees culminate in a portfolio. Below is a sample of courses common in a game design degree.
- Character Design
Students learn the gaming industry's standard pipeline for character design from creating a concept to implementation within a game. The course includes discussions of concept, digital sculpting, texturing, and 3D modeling. Students learn to use specific softwares for character design and conclude the class by presenting a completed game character.
- Creature Design
Similar to character design, this course focuses on the specifics of creating, developing, and implementing a fantasy creature. Students look at the connections between live animals and their fantastical counterparts, and learn to use animal anatomy to create fantasy creatures.
- Introduction to Digital Sculpting
Digital sculpting is the use of software to shape a digital object in the same way an artist would shape a clay figure. In this course, students learn techniques such as sculpting with multiple brushes, software navigation, poly painting, and masking. Students also acquire skills with zbrush and other 3D modeling software programs.
Working with a team, students in this course learn the basics of prototyping. First, students create a small prototype of a game concept. From there, they build a larger prototype using the techniques studied in class. Finally, they refine the prototype through the team-based processes learned in class.
- Game Mechanics
The theory of games and gaming relies on systemic and mechanical principles. Students explore ideas such as conflict resolution, plausibility, challenge and reward systems, and pacing. They also discuss how games can meet the needs of a specific audience and how to incorporate feedback from test audiences.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Game Design?
Associate degree programs in game design generally require between 60 and 80 hours to complete. Full-time students can finish their degrees in two years by taking 15 or more credits per semester. The format of the program affects its length. If a school offers an associate degree in game design through a cohort model in which students take classes together as a group, the program should take less time than if students must wait on class openings each semester.
Besides choosing an accelerated degree program, students can also shorten their time on campus by taking extra credits each semester. Most schools permit full-time students to enroll in up to 18-21 credits per term. Students can also take fewer credits each semester, although this usually increases both tuition and time spent earning their degree. Learners who earned credit for prior learning, transfer courses, exams, or life experience can shorten their degrees.
How Much Is an Associate in Game Design?
The cost of earning an associate degree in game design varies from institution to institution, but generally, the cost per credit increases for out of state students or any student attending a private university. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public universities charge around $10,000 per year, whereas private universities charge approximately $24,000 per year for tuition. Prospective students should remember, however, that tuition is only one part of the overall cost of gaining a degree.
There are many other financial factors to consider. For example, at some schools, members of the military and qualifying veterans can take advantage of sizeable tuition reductions or scholarships. Some military-friendly schools even grant life experience credits to veterans. Other schools have generous transfer policies that make it less expensive for transfer students to earn a game design degree.
For on-campus students, housing costs are a big consideration. Students who live off campus should also look at rent prices near their university. Off-campus students also include commuter students, who may live at home to reduce their overall cost of education, but pay for parking. Online students may live at home, but they also have to pay technology fees.
Professional Organizations in Game Design
By joining a professional organizations, video game designers and developers can advance their careers through conferences, publications, and research. Large gaming associations offer major conferences where attendees from around the globe can network with each other, share ideas, and meet potential employers. Association members can also read and publish in journals and newsletters and participate in online trainings.
More than 30,000 members strong, the AIAS sponsors the D.I.C.E. awards and hosts the D.I.C.E. summit, an interactive conference for video game designers and industry leaders.
An organization for all professionals interested in the interactions between humans and technology, SIGCHI offers a large annual conference, travel grants for students, and three publications.
IGDA is the world's largest nonprofit professional association serving game developers. Members conduct research, advocate for the profession, and raise awareness around game development as a career.