Should You Get a Degree in Game Programming or Computer Science?

Feb 15, 2017

Developer working on Game Programming |

For anyone who has imagined a job that includes video games as part of his or her daily responsibilities, we have some good news: a career in video game programming is an actual, post-college job and a dream come true for avid fans. If making a living by creating video games and game components sounds like fun, this could be the job for you.

At the same time, there are serious skills required, as well as education that must be pursued, before you can jump into a career as a video game designer or programmer. Collaborators work together from the pre-production process all the way through to the implementation, and the in-between process requires focus, dedication, and an eye for the latest trends.

Starting Down the Path to Becoming a Game Programmer

There may be some misconceptions surrounding the idea of a career in video game programming. When you have a better understanding of what the industry is like, you can be better prepared to make a decision.

Game Programming: An Alternative to Computer Science 

Computer science is the study of computer systems, and professionals in this field deal with software design, theory, and application. Computer scientists study concepts related to artificial intelligence, database systems, and computer security. As technology advances, they develop new mobile apps and exciting websites.

Game programmers, or video game designers, are responsible for writing the basic blueprint of video games. In addition to other responsibilities, game programmers work to create:

  • Video game themes
  • Rules of play
  • Overall game concepts

Image of a developer working on game programming |

A programmer’s objective is to make the game an out-of-this-world, amazing experience that is both interactive and entertaining. With an estimated $100 billion in revenues in 2015, the video game industry is a promising career field—not to mention a fun one!

Video Game Development Requires Both Brains and Teamwork

Check out some of the highest-grossing video games of all time, according to Business Insider:

  • Space Invaders ($13.9 billion)
  • Street Fighter ($10.6 billion)
  • Wii Sports ($6 billion)
  • Donkey Kong ($4.4 billion)

The common factor across the board for all these games? Somewhere behind the scenes was a team of game developers thinking up the concepts and laying the groundwork to make the games come to life. Their specialized trade and the finished product is the reason so many exciting games are created each year, and why gamers wait in line for the latest editions to hit store shelves.

A team of video game developers may include creative directors who design the overall look of the game, audio engineers who create the soundtrack, game artists to create the visual elements like scenery and characters, and a game programmer to write the code. This is not a solo effort, and it takes teamwork to create the end result and present it to the public.

Image of a Gamer developer testing new game with colleague |

Higher Education is a Must

Before beginning a career in the field of designing video games, you will need to secure a degree in game programming, like the ones offered through Academy of Art University in San Francisco, DePaul University in Chicago, or the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. An undergraduate degree like this can prepare an individual for a career as a game programmer, 3D modeler, or concept artist, among others.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not list game programming specifically in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, it does provide a summary for careers in Multimedia Art and Animation. In 2015, the median pay for that particular field was $63,970 per year and the employment was expected to grow in the coming years. After earning a bachelor’s degree, multimedia artists may be able to find employment in creating animation and visual effects for video games.

Prepare Yourself for a Career in Game Programming

The best thing you can do is to look into the future and prepare yourself now; do some research on the area of video game programming you are most interested in and find out what education is required. When you are ready to enroll in a college course of study, choose an accredited program that will arm you with the right tools. Who knows? You could be the mastermind behind the next bestselling video game!

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