Why Now is the Best Time to Study Game Design and Development

Jan 06, 2016

Video Game Design image with characters and obstacles

The game industry is booming, and if you’re considering a career in game design, there’s never been a better time to begin a program of study. According to the Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry report recently published by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), more than 150 million Americans now play video games and 63% of households contain at least one person who plays video games regularly. This growth in user base has contributed substantially to game sales; in 2014 the industry sold more than 135 million games and generated more than $22 billion in revenue.

This increase in demand has led to the creation of more jobs. Computer and video game companies now directly and indirectly employ more than 146,000 people in 36 states.

“The video game industry is helping fuel the American economy,” said ESA president and CEO Michael D. Gallagher. “From outstanding video game design programs that prepare future leaders with critical skills necessary to succeed to outstanding studios that create immersive world-leading entertainment. Our industry thrives anywhere there is talent and an environment conducive to growth.”

Infographic explains education and careers in gaming industry | EverythingCareers.com

The job outlook for new grads is promising. A survey by the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) found that in 2015, 93% of students who graduated from a game-based program reported finding a job within one year of graduating. Not only were these game program alumni able to quickly secure employment, they were hired with an average salary of $76,200 which is $24,000 more than the average national salary.

As of October 2015, there were 1,641 video game development studios and publishing companies operating 1,871 video game facilities in the United States. The majority of these are concentrated in California, which leads the list with 546 game company locations including Telltale Games, Rockstar Games, Electronic Arts, Riot Games, Blizzard Entertainment, and Zynga, just to name a few. The second most popular state for the game industry is Texas with 196 companies followed by New York with 154, Washington with 149, and Massachusetts with 92. California also boasts more game development degree programs than any other state making it a destination for prospective students hoping to make industry connections while still in school.

Infographic explains the rising demand of game designers in the US | EverythingCareers.com

San Francisco’s Academy of Art University is an attractive option for many aspiring game developers. It’s Game Development program is led by instructors who still work in the industry, giving students a unique opportunity to take advantage of their networks. The program is structured to mimic the real-world game industry with students collaborating early on in their course of study with students from other departments such as Music Production & Sound Design for New Media, Illustration, and Animation & Visual Effects.  Degree offerings include an AA, BFA, and MA in Game Development and a BS in Game Programming, which students have the option of taking both on campus and online.

Choosing the program that’s right for you depends largely on what area of game development you want to work on. If you want to work on the creative vision of a game and the components involved in designing it then look for a program focused on game design. You’ll start by learning the foundations of illustration and storytelling before studying concept art, level layouts, scripts, modeling, and animation. Career options include game designer, UI/UX designer, character concept artist, environment concept artist, 3D character modeler, and 3D environment modeler. A programming degree will prepare you for writing code to implement the ideas of game designers. If you enjoy and excel at math and want a degree that focuses more on computer science, this would be a better fit.

Besides the excellent career prospects in the game design industry, there are other benefits to choosing to study game development since game-based programs prepare students for more than just the game industry.

“Programs in game design and development allow students to build a foundation of knowledge that prepares them for success in high-tech jobs across sectors, that is why so many of our graduates go into a broad range of careers from the gaming industry, to national defense to creating their own tech startups,” said Constance Steinkuehler, executive director of HEVGA.

HEVGA reported that among graduates of game degree programs surveyed, 55.8% were currently working within the game industry while the other 44.3%  were working in the areas of education, software development, and government/security/defense. These alumni also reported overall high rates of workplace well-being: 82.9% could be classified as “thriving” in the workplace.

Another benefit of choosing to study game design and development is the strength and success of the programs themselves. Video game programs have a significantly higher retention rate than the national average. A retention rate of over 88% was reported among programs that tracked first to second year retention; compared to the 64% retention rate from freshman to sophomore years at public schools and 69.8% at private schools. Students in game design and development programs are not only passionate about the field, but are extremely dedicated to finishing their degree.

If games are what you want to do, this is the time to do it. From the large selection of game-based programs across the country, to the abundance of well-paying jobs awaiting students after graduation, those wanting to pursue a career in game development have no shortage of options.

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