About 3 billion people worldwide play digital games, according to industry research, and the field is only growing.
This is why pursuing a degree in game design, which combines art and technical work, can potentially open the doors to a long and satisfying career.
Jim Huntley, professor and head of marketing for the University of Southern California’s games program, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degree courses, says he enjoys watching people enjoy the games he helped invent. . “You can see their faces light up,” he says.
Digital games can be made and played on many types of electronic devices, including personal computers, mobile devices, and handheld game consoles. This category of games also includes video games that require a TV, game console, and remote control.
Huntley especially appreciates times when a player is happy with an aspect or feature of a game they contributed to that was inspired by a game they admired, he says. “I remember how enthusiastic and excited I was when something similar… happened to me with this other game, and it’s always a pleasure to pass on that enthusiasm.”
However, some game developers warn that the process of producing a game can be frustrating at times and a career in gaming isn’t for everyone.
“Really make sure it’s something you want to do for eight hours a day,” says Miriam Harries, advanced game designer at Schell Games, a Pittsburgh-based game development company.
How to know if a career in game design is a good choice
While it’s possible for anyone to make a good game on their own, game development usually involves a diverse team of people.
“It’s a lot more collaborative than a lot of people expect,” Harries says. “If you’re not a good collaborator, you won’t get very far, and you won’t have fun.”
The field of game design requires a wide range of skills, employing both creative and scientific professionals. For example, some of the roles in game companies include:
- Artist or animator
- Sound engineer
- creative director
- Database or data manager
- game designer
- machine learning engineer
- game tester
- Programmer or software developer
- User experience designer
- Technical support specialist or manager
- voice actor
“Working in games is not one career path, but many different career paths,” says Jessica Hammer, acting associate director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. “Everything you do in games is going to be deeply interdisciplinary, but you have to be able to work with people who make art even if you’re not an artist. You have to be able to work with programmers even if you’re not a programmer.”
A key indicator that someone is a good candidate for a game design program is if they’ve created a game in the past or have developed a detailed vision for a game, Huntley says. “These are the candidates that stand out for us because we can tell from the time they’ve invested to that point that they’re serious.”
The Value of a Game Design Degree
Formal training in game design isn’t necessary to enter the gaming industry, experts say, noting that the best reason to pursue a game-related degree is to learn from skilled game developers and hone your skills. creative or scientific skills that are valuable in industry.
“The most important thing you’re going to walk away with isn’t your degree, it’s your wallet,” says Hammer, who conducts research on transformational games designed to influence a person’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors. “Our programs are a way for you to build a compelling, high-quality portfolio with a ton of expert support in all areas of gaming.”
Some game design schools focus on multiple aspects of game design and offer general degrees, while others focus on a particular aspect of game development, such as game animation. According to experts, one of the main ways to judge the quality of a game design program is to see if the program’s alumni have a high placement rate in the gaming industry.
Here are the top five undergraduate game design programs, according to U.S. News ranking of those programs. This ranking is based on the number of nominations received from academic institutions that responded to a US News survey.
Job Outlook for Game Developers
Aspiring game designers rarely appreciate the sheer size of the gaming industry and the number of job options it offers, says Huntley. In fact, the international game industry is larger and generates more revenue than the global film industry.
“There’s a misperception that games are kind of a fad,” Huntley says.
But the gaming industry is growing rapidly.
A study released by market research and analytics firm Newzoo in May 2022 predicted that global revenue generated by gaming companies would top $200 billion in 2022. In contrast, global film industry revenue has reached $100 billion for the first time in 2019, the Motion Picture Association reported.
The median annual salary for US video game designers was $79,890 in 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects employment in the field in 2030 will be 10-15% higher than what it was in 2020.
While a career creating digital games is a dream come true for many, would-be game developers shouldn’t be so impressed that they forget to inquire about working conditions when choosing employers, say the experts.
“One of the things you want to be careful about is making sure you have standards for yourself about how you’re willing to be treated in a job,” Hammer says.
According to Harries, the best part of the game development field is being surrounded by fascinating colleagues. “I work with some really great, creative people, and it’s super fun,” she says.