If you want to design video games for a living, you have a lot of fantastic educational opportunities. Getting your online game design degree will allow you to get the skills you need while working at your own pace. The type of program you need will generally depend on your career goals. Explore our guide to discover all the best online colleges for game design in 2023.
Online Game Design Degrees
The video game industry is now a massive entertainment sector. According to Investopedia, “In 2020, the gaming industry generated $155 billion in revenue. By 2025, analysts predict the industry will generate more than $260 billion.” If you like the idea of getting involved in this lucrative field, consider an online game design degree.
Though the occasional self-taught video game developer manages to succeed by themselves, most designers can benefit from education. Going to school gives you the tools you need to succeed in the gaming industry. Not only can you learn about the technical aspects of game design, but you can also discover the theory behind games and the strategies behind game marketing.
Thanks to modern technology, you don’t have to uproot your whole life to go to college. Instead, you can learn online. Online colleges allow you to create your own schedule, and they can be more affordable than in-person classes. How do you choose an online college? This helpful guide will go over all your options so that you can discover the right school for your needs. Whether you want to join a renowned studio or create your own indie game, there is a high-quality online college for you.
There are several different pathways when looking for an online college for game design. Game developers can benefit from general Computer Science majors or Digital Art majors. However, a more specialized program lets you learn tasks that will be more relevant to your career. Since you are not limited to colleges within a specific location, it makes sense to choose your program before you choose a college. That allows you to decide what you want to study and then find a school that provides the right specialization.
To find your specialization, start by considering whether you plan on working in a specific part of the gaming industry. There are animation and modeling programs that are ideal for people who want to create video game art. Another helpful specialization to focus on is programming which you can use to design the software behind the game. Of course, some game designers want to craft whole games instead of getting hired to manage just one aspect of a game. In these cases, consider looking at specializations that include marketing, project management, and other game production skills.
Game Design Career and Salary Information
For every college student, one of the essential things to consider is cost. Though it is vital to find a degree that interests you and helps you progress in your field, you need to take expenses into account. Ideally, your degree’s cost should be less than the amount you would make working in your chosen field for a few years.
How much can you expect to earn with a gaming design degree? This usually depends on your career path and your choices after graduation. Here are the average salaries for some common careers you can enter after going to an online college for game design.
Entry-level Designer: If you’re new to the field and working on a project under a manager, your average salary will be around $40,000 to $60,000 per year.
Senior Game Designer: Salaries are higher for experienced designers who can lead projects. These workers make an average of $90,000 per year.
Level Designer: These designers work as part of a team and create individual levels in a game. They make an average of $60,000 per year.
Lead UI/UX Designer: This type of designer works on game user interface. Working as the team lead for a big studio can earn you around $116,000 per year.
Lead Game Writer: If you’re crafting the full storyline for a game, this can be quite lucrative. These game designers make an average of $75,000 per year.
Graphic Designer: If you primarily focus on the visual side of the game, your salary will depend on the amount of work you take on. Game graphics designers make between $55,000 to $85,000.
Indie Game Designer: When you work on a game independently and release it yourself, your salary has a lot of variety. The average independent developer makes around $12,000 per year. Those who hit it big and create a popular game can make up to $172,000 annually.
Game Design Curriculum and Courses
When selecting the best school for online game design, it is essential to closely examine a major’s curriculum and courses. The right program for your needs will depend on your current skills and career goals.
Any game designer needs to have a thorough understanding of programming and mathematics. If you are already self-taught, you might want to pick a course that doesn’t focus on this area. However, if you have yet to do much programming, a tech-heavy online game design major might be better because it can teach you all the necessary skills. These computer science classes are also essential for learning digital design and graphics modeling.
The other essential areas you need to cover in online game design are art and storytelling. Prospective game designers who plan on working with a team who can handle things like graphics won’t require an art-intensive course. However, make sure the degree contains at least a few creative classes, so you can understand the basics when talking with team members. If you want to do game art and plot yourself, you will need a major focusing more on the creative side. These majors include various artistic theory classes, philosophy classes, and other conceptual classes.
Ultimately, there is a lot of variety in prospective online game design curricula. Before signing up for any program, read its course list and see if it has everything you need. Here is a list of some popular courses you may want to consider when picking your online game design school:
- Applied Physics
- Data Structures
- 3D Modeling and Simulation
- Business Fundamentals
- Digital Communication
- Literature and Writing
- Digital Design
- Studio Art
- Computer Literacy
Admissions Requirements for Game Design at Online Colleges
Often online schools can accept more students making the application process less competitive. This leads many people to assume that online schools are less strict about enrollment. There are still very clear requirements for all applicants aiming to attend an online college for game design.
The first requirement is simply having a high school education or a GED certification. Your previous grades and test scores might not matter at some schools, but others may only select students with top grades. Typically, schools with more in-demand gaming programs will require high grades. Meanwhile, schools with open admission policies won’t be concerned with your past academic record.
Usually, online universities will require you to take the SAT, ACT, or another standardized test. That being said, many colleges and community colleges will not require game design applicants to take these tests. Extracurricular requirements aren’t common in schools with online degrees for game design. However, volunteer work or past work in the tech and gaming industries might make the administration team look more favorably on your application.
Even if the college you’re interested in doesn’t have testing requirements to enroll, you might need to pass some requirements to join the school’s game design program. These are typically placement tests you take as soon as you enroll. They’ll determine your current education level and help you figure out your next steps. In some cases, you might need to take certain math courses or maintain certain grades to move from the general education track to the school’s program for game designers.
Accreditation for Online Game Design Degree Programs
As you look at online game design colleges, make sure to check the school’s accreditation. Accreditation helps ensure both in-person and online college programs are regulated. This process involves a board of educators and nearby schools reviewing the institution’s courses and teachers. They see whether the school is meeting minimum educational standards and decide whether or not the school should be accredited. As the Maryland Higher Education Commission explains, “With an accredited institution, a student has some assurance of receiving a quality education.”
There are both broad, national accrediting bodies and specialized accrediting organizations. Some specialized groups that may accredit online gaming design schools include the National Association of Schools of Art and Design or the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Take the time to learn which accrediting organization provided the credentials for the school you want to attend.
Why do you need to make sure a school is accredited? First of all, it helps to guarantee quality. All accredited schools have proved that they teach their students effectively and fairly. Picking an accredited school ensures that you are choosing a school that will teach you the skills you need. Secondly, many hiring organizations only accept applicants from accredited schools. If you apply for a game design position that requires a four-year degree, the job may decline applicants with degrees from unaccredited schools.
Financial Aid & Scholarships for Game Design at Online Colleges
For the most part, online game design students have access to the same financial aid as other students. Online schools typically accept the FAFSA funds that other schools will take. To get FAFSA, you usually start by filling out an application through the government student aid website. This will let you find affordable loans and even get grants that cover some of the costs of schooling.
Don’t forget that there are a lot of other ways to pay for your school. Determined students who are willing to spend a lot of time looking around for scholarships and grants can find a variety of assistance options. Start by checking with your desired school to see if they have any programs you can take advantage of. Next, check with state and local governments to see if there are any scholarships students can apply for. Finally, look to see if there are any industry-specific scholarships. Many big gaming companies offer scholarships to encourage bright minds to join their industry, and if you’re a gamer, you can potentially get a scholarship as an esports player. Some of the top scholarships to look for include:
Entertainment Software Association Scholarships: These are open to women, LGBTQ people, and minorities who want to work in the gaming industry.
Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Foundation Scholarships: These scholarships are backed by Intel, and the application is open to anyone who is interested in the video game industry and has a GPA of 3.3 or higher.
AIGA Worldstudio Scholarships: Any students interested in design who have a disadvantaged background can apply for this scholarship. You also need a minimum GPA of 2.0.
IGDA Foundation Scholarships: This scholarship offers internships and networking assistance to prospective game designers and developers.
What Can You Do With a Game Design Degree from an Online College?
There are a lot of exciting career opportunities open to those who get an online game design degree. The skills you get in a game design program allow you to begin the process of creating your own game. Many people plan on making their own custom game that they can then sell to a publisher or release on an indie gaming platform.
You can also use your degree to join a large game developer. Many development teams require prospective workers to have a college degree, and a degree focused on game design will make you very competitive. You can apply for jobs doing everything from planning game levels to creating game art. This can be a rewarding opportunity to work with a team and be part of a big project.
If you decide that the gaming industry isn’t for you, an online game design degree is still helpful. This type of degree gives you a broad range of creative and technological skills. Many people with these degrees go on to work in the software industry as traditional programmers, software developers, or IT specialists. You can also pivot this degree towards a career in film and television. The modeling skills can help you become a concept artist or special effects artist.
How Much Does a Degree in Game Design Cost from an Online College?
Degree costs vary quite a bit depending on which school you choose for your online game design degree. Some schools charge the same for online and in-person classes, but the majority of schools have fewer fees for online college. Ultimately, the average cost for an online game design degree is $51,091.
Keep in mind that this figure includes a lot of variables. Public schools are usually much cheaper than private ones. The typical Bachelor of Science in Game Design at a public school will cost $37,920. If you choose a private university online, expect to pay around $58,560 for your total degree. You also may need to pay more if you attend an out-of-state school.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Degree in Game Design?
The majority of online game design programs require a four-year bachelor’s degree. Some two-year programs do exist, but these are rather rare. Most online schools find that students need four years to complete the various coursework associated with an online game design degree.
Though these degrees are called four-year degrees, that is not a strict timeline. Often you can take all the required coursework at your own pace. Some students prefer to take things slow. If desired, you can just do three or four classes per semester, take two semesters a year, and finish your degree in around five or six years. If you have more free time to learn and want your degree faster, you can take approximately five or six classes per semester and enroll in three semesters a year. By taking the maximum number of courses possible, you can get your bachelor’s in as little as two years at some online colleges.
Are There Affordable Online Degrees in Game Design?
If affordability is your main concern, it is wise to shop around a little. Different colleges charge vastly different amounts for an online game design degree. Some places may charge as little as $20,000, while others may charge over $100,000. In the gaming industry, there isn’t a huge focus on the prestige of your university. As long as the school is accredited and teaches you the skills you need to know, going with the cheapest possible option won’t usually harm your career.
When searching for an affordable online game design school, remember that the base price for a school can vary. Even if one school initially seems cheaper, another school might offer better scholarships that will lower your overall costs. When looking for budget-friendly options, shop close to home because many schools charge more for out-of-state students.
Is an Online Degree in Game Design Worth It?
If your goal is to work with any decent gaming company, a degree in game design is certainly worth it. The majority of game designers in the field have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Furthermore, most companies are not willing to hire you unless you have some form of official education. The gaming industry is no longer a DIY field where you can walk into a building, tell them you like games, and get hired the same day. Instead, you will need official credentials that show you are skilled in game design.
Even if your goal isn’t to work for a big-name company like Nintendo or Ubisoft, a degree is usually worth it. Designing games is very complex. You need a blend of a variety of different skills, ranging from marketing to philosophy, so it’s unlikely that you already know everything you need to make indie games. A good game design program will give you the skills you need to succeed.
The great thing about degrees from online colleges is that they come in many shapes and sizes. Some degrees focus on the tech side of things, while others focus on the artistic side. This lets you make sure you pick a degree that is worth it. If you are already comfortable coding, you can choose a program that teaches you about project management and artistic theory. If you are already an artist, you can find a degree that helps you learn math and programming. As long as you find a degree that works with your skills and goals, a game design degree is definitely worth it.
10 of the Best Schools Offering Online Game Design Programs
These colleges with online programs are listed in alphabetical order. They were chosen because they are regionally accredited and because they offer excellent online degrees.
1. Baker College (Auburn Hills, MI)
This school offers Bachelor of Science degrees in Game Software Development. Their program focuses on teaching programming, data structures, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. They also include information about design, writing, and other creative skills needed to develop games.
2. Davenport University (Grand Rapids, MI)
You can get an online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from this school. In addition to basic programming skills, they also let you pick an area of specialization for your major. The Gaming and Simulation specialization involves courses in modeling, 3D game development, physics, and globalization.
3. George Mason University (Fairfax, VA)
This school provides Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Computer Game Design. This major involves a broad blend of art, computer science, and humanities. Not only do you learn about the technology behind games, but you also learn about the concepts and theories of game design.
4. Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA)
For students who want to study game design, Kennesaw offers a hybrid Bachelor of Science that covers both Computer Game Design and Game Development. The curriculum includes programming, mathematics, writing, modeling, and media production.
5. Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO)
This school’s Bachelor of Arts degree in Game Design aims to teach students everything from video game conception to creation. In addition to studying art and programming, you also learn details about things like economics and video game hardware.
6. Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA)
SCAD is a renowned art school that has recently started offering a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media. This major begins with many art and design classes. Next, students progress to subjects like business, social sciences, and mathematics.
7. University of Advancing Technology (Tempe, AZ)
At this school, you can get a Bachelor of Arts in Game Art and Animation. This program focuses on learning artistic principles and applying them to 2D and 3D video game environments.
8. University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
A Bachelor of Arts in Digital Arts and Sciences prepares students for a broad range of production and animation jobs. Students will primarily take art classes and computer programming classes. The course also contains some mathematics and design concept courses.
9. University of Silicon Valley (San Jose, CA)
This Bachelor of Arts program offers a major in Game Design. They focus primarily on storytelling, design, and sound production. They also provide some programming and project management classes. A unique part of their program involves teaming up with students from other majors to make games.
10. Wilmington University (New Castle, DE)
You can get a Bachelor of Science in Game Design and Development at Wilmington. This tech-heavy program includes a lot of 3D modeling, programming, and video game platform classes. It also includes helpful courses like project management and marketing.
Getting Your Game Design Degree from an Online College
Once you have found some schools you are interested in, your next step will be applying. It is usual for school applications to be long and ask a lot of questions, but don’t rush. Taking the time to fill out the application clearly and correctly helps improve your chances of getting in. If you have selected a school with open enrollment, you are guaranteed acceptance as long as you have a high school diploma or a GED. For students who have chosen more competitive schools, remember to keep your options open and keep going despite the occasional rejection.
Launching into Your Online Game Design Degree Program
Once you get accepted and pay for your courses, it is easy to assume the hard part is over. However, it is important to stay focused on your game design goals. Most online game design programs are very rigorous. You cannot coast and assume you will pass your classes just because you’re a gaming expert or have gotten good grades in the past.
For most online students, the main challenge is managing their time. Since you may have fewer strict deadlines and less oversight from your teachers, you will need to manage your education actively. Many online students find it helpful to create a schedule with all their deadlines and give themselves clearly-defined times to study and do coursework. If you can stay motivated and keep on track, getting a degree from an online college is an excellent way to learn.
Don’t forget that there are a lot of valuable resources available for online students. Even though you are not on campus, you can still use campus services like counseling and libraries. It is also a good idea to take advantage of your teacher’s office hours and get to know the people in your major. Having others who can help you study and explain tricky concepts can make things a lot easier.