The video game industry is the land of opportunity for today's creative technology designers and developers. Entertainment Software Association President Michael D. Gallagher sums up the industry's appeal for workers: "The video game industry is one of those important, high-tech economic drivers. Our industry generates over $25 billion in annual revenue, and directly and indirectly employs more than 120,000 people with an average salary for direct employees of $90,000." Online degrees in video game development offer entry into this lucrative and growing creative field.
Choosing the Right Video Game Development Degree
Today's video game designers generally need a bachelor's degree in the field, though an associate degree can qualify talented designers with a well-developed portfolio. Online degree options include:
- Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science: These two-year career-focused programs feature applied training and hands-on project work.
- Bachelor of Science: This four-year degree adds more advanced courses in general education and computer technology instruction to the applied curriculum, producing a more comprehensive and versatile foundation for gaming careers.
- Master of Science: The two-year graduate degree is an increasingly common qualification providing advanced instruction and project work under the mentorship of an industry professional.
Online technology degrees in video game development deliver courses via some of the same multimedia technologies that students use to bring games to life. Online programs often incorporate an internship or job practicum to encourage students to apply their knowledge in real-world development scenarios.
What to Expect in a Video Game Development Program
Online degrees in video game development include courses in specialized programming skills and key coding languages such as C++ and C#. Game designers learn to develop games for console systems, personal computers, mobile devices, simulation training systems and computer-based casino games. Specialty areas in video game development include:
- Multiplayer online game programming
- Military or aircraft simulation programming
- Crime scene investigation development
- Corporate training software design
Courses cover the fundamentals of game design, programming and development. Courses may focus on artificial intelligence for computer games, computer graphics and animation, game engine programming, object-oriented and 3D modeling, architecture and design for multiplayer games, and simulation and modeling.
Careers in Video Game Development
Trained video game designers and other digital artists can expect the best opportunities among all creative careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that "demand for multimedia artists and animators will increase as consumers continue to demand more realistic video games" and other digital entertainment. Other industries supporting game development graduates include scientific research and military employers who rely on animators and programmers to develop graphic simulation software.
A degree in video game development can lead to a variety of roles in gaming, including:
- Lead designer
- Game mechanics designer
- Game developer
- Art director or creative director
- Concept artist
- Levels specialist
- 3D or computer graphics specialist
- QA tester
- Audio developer
Art directors and game developers, who are responsible for overseeing the game design project, command the highest salaries. The BLS reports a 2010 median salary of $94,100 for art directors and $63,440 for multimedia artists and animators. An annual salary survey by Game Developer magazine found an average 2009 salary of $75,573 for game developers. The survey found that programmers and audio developers also commanded higher-end salaries in 2009, at $54,975 and $59,643, respectively.
Video game development at a glance:
- Salary: The average game developer salary was $75,573 in 2009 (GDmag.com)
- Education: A bachelor's degree provided a significant salary boost for game programmers, audio developers, producers and business managers(GDmag.com, 2009).
- Top locations for game developers: California and Washington are hiring hotspots for gaming (GDmag.com, 2009)
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Video Game Development
Those who enter the world of video game development and design can look forward to using their artistic skills and computer savvy to make a mark on the simulation software industry. Some video game developers might find work with large or small studios, including those that release popular video games for consoles or online play, while others might engage in freelance work for individual or corporate clients.
Video game development bachelor's degree programs offer students an opportunity to enhance their skills through learning a wide variety of software and animation techniques. During their course of study, students typically build a firm foundation of computer programming skills, delve into artificial intelligence and embark on specialties that can prepare them for particular roles in video game development and design firms. Most entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree, but some management positions may call for a master's as well.
What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Video Game Development Entail?
An online bachelor's degree in video game development typically requires four years of full-time study to complete, though some accelerated programs may cut that time down to three. Coursework includes a strong emphasis on writing and communication, mathematics, computer languages, software engineering, animation and multimedia, simulation design, practical game design and more. Below are a sampling of the courses students can expect to take in a video game development program:
- Structure of Game Design: This course focuses on reusable game technology, analysis of algorithms, tools popular in the gaming industry, computer platforms and programming languages, psychological concepts of interactivity, programming logic, and design.
- Physics Engine Development: An understanding of the movement of objects in the video game space is a key component of this course, including linear algebra, Newtonian mechanics, collisions between objects, the behavior of momentum and energy, data structures, algorithms and the like.
- Artificial Intelligence: This course explores design of intelligent behaviors and reactions, character realism, autonomous movement, decision making, learning through dynamic programming, path finding and decision-making, and other points that make the characters on the screen come to life.
- Operating Systems: A deep understanding of various operating systems and how they relate to video game design is a crucial element of this course, which delves into application programming interfaces, process management, virtual memory systems, file systems, synchronization, resource management, virtual memory systems and more.
- Programming: This course is often taught in stages, moving a student from simple fundamentals to more complex instruction. The programming component often includes basic programming languages, data structures, key algorithms, debugging, linked lists, dynamic memory and more. These techniques are often the fundamental basics of the bachelor's degree program.
As with most bachelor's degree programs, students may be required to successfully complete core requirements in math, English, and natural and social sciences along with elective courses. The online bachelor's degree in video game development often includes a game project, undertaken as a team effort with other enrolled students. This team project demonstrates a clear grasp of the concepts taught during the core coursework, and often results in a portfolio piece that students can use when applying for positions as video game developers.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Video Game Development
Graduates of these programs typically pursue careers in video game design, software design, or multimedia and animation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates demand for multimedia artists and animators to rise 6 percent nationwide from 2012 to 2022, and employment of software developers to increase 22 percent over the same period. As consumers continue to demand more realistic video games, those with experience in video game design techniques, especially special effects such as 3D animation, are expected to be in high demand. And with mobile app use rising at a steady pace, the BLS expects those with experience developing mobile applications to be in favor with employers.
"Multimedia Artists and Animators," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm
"Software Developers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Computer-and-Information-Technology/Software-developers.htm
"Work for Play: Careers in Video Game Development," Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011, http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2011/fall/art01.pdf