Can You Get a Degree in Video Game Design?

Video Game DesignerWhile it’s possible to work in the video game industry with a computer science or multimedia art degree, a degree in video game design prepares you for the commercial reality of researching the market and designing a game based on consumer demands. A video game design degree focuses on the software engineering aspect of game development, while a game art degree focuses on 3-D animation and game asset creation.

Video game software engineering differs from the development of other types of applications in that video games don’t really fit the same software life cycle as conventional desktop applications. The video game development process is broken down into several well-defined stages, or milestones, and each stage is an improved iteration of the one before it. This iterative process gives developers flexibility in storyboarding, scoring and fleshing out a game world with characters.

What Does a Video Game Developer Do?

Depending on a game’s budget, a game developer can have a small or large role in the project. In large projects, developers work in large teams with lead developers doing top-down software engineering and assigning tasks to other developers. These tasks can involve programming game code, testing game components or importing game assets into a graphical framework such as Unity3D. In smaller independent projects, a small team of developers typically performs all the programming and testing for each iteration of the process. While it’s true that some hit games, such as Minecraft and Cave Story, have been conceived, written and developed by the same person or small group of people, these roles are almost always assigned to different people, even in independent projects.

One factor greatly affecting growth in the video game industry is mobile game development, and many large firms invest heavily in iOS, Android and Windows Mobile games. Mobile game development follows a similar software structure as conventional console game design, but the programming languages and game frameworks are different. While console and PC games use C++ for game logic, mobile platforms work within their devices’ respective frameworks, and most mobile games are developed using cross-platform frameworks such as Unreal, CryEngine or UDK. For a developer focused on video game programming, learning these frameworks is as important as learning software design theory.

Video Game Designer Salary and Job Outlook

According to CNN Money, video game designers can look forward to job growth well above average. Over the next ten years, the game industry is projected to expand by more than 27 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a game designer is $72,000, and while this amount is substantially lower than the $93,350 median salary of software developers in general, game designers have other incentives to do their job. Most game designers consider their work to be a dream job and find great satisfaction in being paid to be creative every day. The work isn’t always fun, however, and game designers often work long hours at the end of a development cycle debugging games before they’re ready for store shelves.

Related Resource: Software Engineer

As mobile devices become more powerful and companies continue to invest in mobile game development, the video game industry will continue to expand at a rapid pace. If you have a natural ability for programming, a critical eye for detail and a love of video games, continue researching a degree in video game design.