Thursday, January 12, 2012

Video Game Development School

Happy 2012, everyone! It's a new year and for a lot of us a new year signifies new beginnings. Some of you may be graduating from high school or college this year, others may be looking for a career change and are considering game development. For those of you who are thinking about going to school for game development, I've put together some guidelines and a list of several relevant schools here to help jumpstart your research efforts.

Keep in mind that many, many universities and trade schools other than the ones on the list below offer game development courses (or other relevant courses, such as 3D Art). If you are not close to any of the game dev schools you want to attend but are unable to relocate, check with your local universities and colleges to see if they offer any relevant classes (they might!).

Also keep in mind that there is a wealth of education available online, including downloadable tutorials, forums, videos, blogs, etc. Although schools can provide a great foundation and networking opportunities, you can also enhance your studies and/or teach yourself these skills through books and online research, regardless of where you are geographically or in life. If you are already attending school, you should be working to teach yourself and improve your skills in your own time, regardless.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Start Applying To Game Development Schools:

- What do I expect to get out of school? Working in the video game industry as a developer can be extremely rewarding on intellectual, creative, and even emotional levels. If you are pursuing a career in games, you are in for an amazing experience with some of the most talented, creative, and bright people in technology and entertainment. Regardless, it's not a bad idea to deeply research the career you are interested in and make sure that your expectations are realistic. If possible, talk to professional developers who do what you want to do. Attend industry events, watch "behind the scenes" videos, read developer blogs, etc.

Sure you want to pursue a career in games and are thinking about school? It's best to research options as much as possible. You will have a lot of factors to consider, including a school's reputation, cost, location, financial aid options, industry relations, job placement assistance, on-line vs in-person, curriculum, and student body, to name a few. You may even decide that attending school is not the best option for you and that would would rather teach yourself.

Whatever you decide, know that there is a lot of competition for jobs in the video game industry, so make sure that you willing to work hard and are getting into this for the right reasons. Those who choose to study video game development because they think it will be "easy" are in for a rude awakening. A degree from a video game development or art school does not ensure a job. Make sure that you are serious about your commitment to your craft. The very passionate are more likely to find both school and working in games to be enriching and deeply rewarding experiences.

Not sure if you want to dive headfirst into a degree program? Try taking individual classes to start. There are on-line classes available and many schools offer extension courses. Experiment with on-line tutorials, books, and videos. These options could be especially useful for those of you who already have full time jobs but are considering a career change.

- How driven am I? How hard am I willing to work?  Just because video games are fun to play doesn't mean that they aren't extremely challenging to create. Even the most naturally gifted developers have put in loads of time and effort to enhance their skills and they continue to do so for the rest of their careers. This is not going to be an easy ride, and once you get to the end of your training, the competition is going to be scary. A degree does not guarantee a career and not everyone in your class is going to find a job in the industry. You will need to work very hard on your skills to ensure that you are one of the ones who does.

- How much time am I willing to dedicate? Video games aren't made in a day and your training is going to require a lot of time and effort as well. Ready for some late nights? If your answer was, "Uhhh, how late is 'late,' exactly?" then you are in for a reality check.  This is going to be a lot of hard, time-consuming work. But the good news is, the work should be a lot of fun, and the time put in is an investment in your future. If you are passionate about what you do, you're going to look forward to putting in those extra hours. Keep in mind that once you land a job at a game company, chances are you will be required to work overtime at some point (perhaps even on a frequent basis).

- Am I open to relocation? Some of you may be young, single, and ready to move to a new town at the drop of a hat. Others may have family or financial commitments, or other roots laid firmly in the ground. Unless you live in an area where there is a concentration of game studios, you may need to really consider whether or not you are flexible in terms of relocating for work. This is an industry where people do move for work all the time, and the more flexible you are in terms of location, the more likely you are to find work. Once you are established you may have more options, but it can be tough to land a first job. You will be competing with candidates that are local as well as those who are willing to pack up and move out.

- How much money am I willing to invest? Private trade schools can be really expensive. Research and compare costs as well as finiancial aid options. Make sure you know what you are getting into. If you know you are only going to take school half-seriously, think twice about whether or not you really want a hefty amount of debt at the end of it all.

Things To Do While You're In School Besides Attending Classes and Doing Homework:

- Make friends. Hey, this is college after all! You should be having fun. But the people you meet will also help you grow in your field. Work together and teach each other tricks of the trade. Your fellow classmates may prove to be useful sources of information, referrals and references for future jobs, and overall valuable members of your professional (and personal) network.

- Work on personal projects and teach yourself. Even if your teachers are game development geniuses, the only person you can depend on for success is yourself. The more mileage you put in during your spare time, the better you will be at your chosen profession. Becoming a better artist/designer/animator/coder/etc will make you more employable and better prepared for a job that requires professional level work. I really cannot stress enough how important it is to put in extra time on projects outside of your classwork. Most developers will tell you the same thing.

- Take relevant jobs and internships. The whole purpose of school is to help prepare you for the working world, so if you have the opportunity to intern or otherwise gain work experience in your field while you are in school, by all means go for it (or at the very least give it serious consideration). An internship may lead to a full time job at the place you are interning, and any professional development experience on your resume is going to be more appealling to hiring managers than none at all.

Relevant Schools:

A couple disclaimers...

- I have not personally attended any of these schools and am not endorsing any in particular. These are some of the more well-known schools and I have hired and/or work with alumni from many of them. However, this is just meant to be a place for you to get started with your own research. It will be up to you to determine which school is right for you, whether it be a school that is on this list, one that is not on this list, or any school at all!

- This is a very incomplete list. These are only several of the many schools that offer game development training. I am not including schools outside of N. America, smaller programs and/or those that I am not very familiar with. But feel free to let me know if you think I have left any important schools off the list!

In alphabetical order...

Academy of Art University
San Francisco, CA
3D art, animation, vfx, etc.

From their website: "Academy of Art University transforms aspiring students into professional artists and designers. Building a strong foundation, instructors at the art school guide students to cultivate their individual style and prepare them to do what they love for a living "

Animation Mentor
Online only
Animation specific

From their website: "Our Character Animation Program teaches you the art and craft of animation. You learn directly from the best and largest pool of course instructors and mentors in a production and studio environment and you graduate ready to pursue any animation discipline . Our program also offers dedicated Career Services, Student Care, and more to help you be successful in pursuing your animation dreams."

Art Center College of Design
Pasadena, CA
Concept and 3D art (entertainment art, industrial design, etc).

From their website: Learn to create. Influence change. This is our mission at Art Center College of Design. For more than 80 years, we’ve achieved an international reputation for our rigorous, transdisciplinary curriculum, faculty of professionals, strong ties to industry and a commitment to socially responsible design. At Art Center, we prepare artists and designers to be make a positive impact in their chosen fields—as well as the world at large.

Art Institutes
Many locations nationwide
Game art, animation, and design

From their website: "Here, our instructors will use their current gaming industry experience to create a learning environment that resembles the world you’ll be entering. Traditional and digital art fundamentals such as drawing, color, design, and computer applications will give you the background you need to start learning the techniques of animation, storyboarding, 2D and 3D modeling, lighting effects, and texture mapping. And you’ll also learn how to apply the principles of gaming, balance and usability to plan and devise game rules and mechanics; create the entire gaming experience; and develop games that can be used in industry-standard engines through every stage of the production pipeline."

Digipen Institute of Technology
Redmond, WA (also Singapore and Spain)
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "DigiPen Institute of Technology is a dedicated, world-renowned leader in education and research in computer interactive technologies. DigiPen has a unique approach to education, with a hands-on, project-based curriculum designed to reinforce core academic and foundational coursework in the areas of computer engineering, software development, production animation, and game design."

Entertainment Technology Center - Carnegie Mellon
Pittsburgh, PA
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "The Entertainment Technology Center (ETC-Global) at Carnegie Mellon University offers a two-year Masters of Entertainment Technology degree, jointly conferred by Carnegie Mellon University's College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science. Carnegie Mellon is relatively unique among universities in being able to offer this kind of degree, as we have both top-quality fine arts and technology programs."

Full Sail University
Winter Park, FL
Game art/anim, design, programming

From their website: "More than 30 years ago, Full Sail began as a dream to create a place where people could learn how to take their passion for entertainment and turn it into a career they loved. It started with music and sound, but our dream quickly grew to fit the dreams of our students until it was bigger than we could have ever imagined. Film, design, show production, games, animation, web design, the business of the entertainment world … as the years go by, the dream continues to grow, and we are humbled by the success of our graduates as well as the passion of our teachers and mentors, all of whom contribute to making this one of the most unique educational communities on the planet."

Gnomon School of Visual Effects
Hollywood, CA
Art, animation, vfx for film and games

From their website: "Gnomon School of Visual Effects is an innovative training facility that stresses the importance of creativity in computer graphics. We believe, that while technology offers new tools to create your visions, it is our ultimate goal to allow you to interact transparently with the software. At Gnomon, we know that it is not the technology that drives results, but the artist. Therefore, our instructors are industry professionals with traditional backgrounds who started using the technology to bring their imaginations to life."

Guildhall at Southern Methodist University
Plano, TX
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University is the premier graduate video game education program in the US. Many of the school’s founders are industry icons, and classes are run by industry veterans. Since 2005, the program has graduated nearly 400 students and alumni are working at more than 140 video game studios around the world. Our program offers a Master’s degree in Interactive Technology and a graduate Professional Certificate."

Ringling College of Art + Design
Sarasota, FL
3D art/animation for film and games.

From their website: "Ringling College of Art and Design is a private, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offering the Bachelor's degree  in 14 disciplines: Advertising Design, Business of Art & Design, Computer Animation, Digital Filmmaking, Fine Arts, Game Art & Design, Graphic & Interactive Communication, Illustration, Interior Design, Motion Design, Painting, Photography & Digital Imaging, Printmaking and Sculpture."

USC Gamepipe
Los Angeles, CA
Game art, design, programming

From their website: "USC covers the entire spectrum of education with respect to videogame development. If you are engineering-oriented, gameplay design-focused, or artistic, we have a degree program for you!"

Vancouver Film School
Art, animation, vfx, and design for film and games

"VFS offers 13 world-class post-secondary programs spanning every aspect of the entertainment arts. Our unique educational model balances theory and hands-on production so that, after just one year, you're prepared to launch your dream career. Faculty at VFS are established, award-winning professionals who work for top studios, and our Advisory Boards of industry leaders help shape curriculum so our programs stay current."


  1. nice job kristen! :)
    take a look at my blog im still starting out too

  2. Consider George Mason Univ in Fairfax, VA.

  3. Hi Kristen,

    Love the article and your blog. I hope you will check out the game program at Drexel University. We are on the Princeton Review's Top 10 list, and three of our students just won the Microsoft Imagine Cup for a game they designed. Check us out at or email me for information about our co-op program


    Michelle Mignot
    Drexel University

  4. My big question is, are there any Universities that have a CS degree, but it's taught in the context of game development (so straight Computer Science, but assignments and such are all game-related)?

    I think that type of program would give students the best bang for their money.

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  6. You may want to consider taking up short courses at online trade school.

  7. Kristin, thanks for your blog. Q: Is there room in the industry for a more seasoned manager, or is it all about the young techies? Any companies out there that would be interested in a professional looking to make a career change?

    1. Hal, the game industry certainly has room for more seasoned managers - I've been a manager in games for the past 7 years.

      But most game studios are small, one-team shops that don't really "need" senior managers. (At least they don't think they do!)

      You should start by looking at the big publisher/developers likeZynga, EA, Microsoft, etc. They're likely to consider hiring a manager from outside the industry. Mid-sized studios (Bethesda, Valve, etc.) probably won't consider a manager that doesn't have industry experience.

      Good luck!

      Game Industry Career Guide

  8. Thanks for this, Kristin! Great questions, especially "How hard am I willing to work?" I see so many people going into game degrees thinking it will somehow be easier than a typical degree. Not the case!

    I have a few posts that would be good for game school students starting their careers:

    Stand Out from the Crowd: Be A Rock Star
    You Can Swim With the Big Fish
    How To Build a Great Resume for Games

    Thanks again!

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  10. Shawnee State University in Portsmouth Ohio has Programs in Game Art and Programming and is a public school. And one of the Top 15 on the Princeton Review. So you don't HAVE to go to a trade school to be a game designer or programmer

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