What Does it Mean to Study Game Design?
An Arts & Humanities degree in game design is the specialized study of the visual creations for electronic games – video games, PC games, arcade games, and handheld systems. It differs from a design degree in that it deals with game design only, but it is a necessary specialization because of the complexity of creating games.
The electronic games industry generates billions of dollars in annual revenue and is one of the leading popular forms of entertainment for people under 18. This trend is expected to continue, and the demand for new, more sophisticated games is not expected to slow. Game design involves everything from accounting, designing and visual and sound design to programming, testing, and marketing.
You’ve likely decided to get into this career based on your keen interest and great ideas for electronic games. An online degree in multimedia design can turn your interest into an employable skill set.
Types of Computer and Video Game Design Degrees
As more and more children of the video age grow up, the competition for game designers increases. Give yourself an edge in the market by taking on-campus or online college courses in game software development, game art & design, and more. Your bachelor’s degree in game design also allows you to develop a varied portfolio, which is as important (if not more) as a resume and references.
Fun and fantasy are the reasons why electronic gaming is so popular, so your own passion for playing is a key part of your own success. But strong creativity, artistic talent, design skills, computer expertise and problem-solving abilities are also critical qualities in this field.
Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees
You can start your online education with any art, design theory or design-focused associate degree and advance to a bachelor’s degree. Game design programs focus on teaching basic art and design skills, then go into designing game play and background, creating characters and environments, and applying your knowledge of video and computer games to evaluate products. You’ll be part of the planning team that chooses each game setting, story line and characters — as you would be in a real working environment. By knowing how each part of the team contributes to the final product, you can create better designs from the outset.
You’ll be using computer applications and sophisticated software to create your artwork. Your curriculum may include animation and life study to help you with realistic modeling of your characters. Most professionals in the industry do formal study and extra research after they have their degrees, to keep current with what the other game art design teams are producing.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Game Design?
The development departments in a game company divide up the processes of creating new games according to the specialties of the team. These teams can include designers, programmers, visual artists, and sound and production specialists. The leaders of each specialist group will communicate closely with the other leaders and the overall team lead to keep the product on track with the original plan.
The design team works on the original vision of the game, including the background story and plot, characters, environment, weapons or props, scoring system, special effects, and sound. The clarity of the original concept and the ability to stick to it, while making allowances for necessary changes, helps to guide the work of all the other teams, not least of which is the art team.
Video Game Art
The art team is responsible for creating a dynamic, enticing and satisfying visual experience for the end user. They are expected to maintain the original concept of each game, so their communications with the design team are crucial.
Members of the art team can include the director, lead and junior artist, and the art technician. Each team member is generally expected to have a BA from design school, with hands-on experience and a strong interest in electronic gaming. Each position includes attention to details such as modeling, lighting, texturizing, palette integrity, and interfacing.
The art director attends all the planning meetings and is responsible for every detail in the visual presentation, and understanding how it will work with the sound and production components. S/he then communicates all this information to the artists and technicians, who will take those concepts and rough drawings and start producing the visuals.
As with major animation projects, such as films, one set of artists – the leads or animators – does the main visuals, drawing on their digital art backgrounds with the aid of programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Painter, or 3D studio Max or Maya. The juniors or assistants do the “fills” and any of the other digital work the lead does, if they have the proficiency. The technician manages all the downloading functions and the cropping, sizing, and manipulation of the color palette to produce a suitable visual product.
Earnings for the art team vary with responsibility, training, and years of experience. Based on 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, art directors in the video industry earn a mean annual wage of $114,290, and salaries can range from $45,060 – $168,040; multimedia artists and animators can make $35,510 – $112,030, with a mean annual wage of $73,950; and less-specialized artists can earn $26,770 – $99,170, with the mean annual wage for those working in the computer industry at $64,130. Prospects for advancement are very good if you have talent, work well on the team, and continue to maintain your knowledge in the field through extra education.
Video Game Design Industry Associations
Several organizations and conferences give students and professionals in the gaming industry a chance to network, test new products, and advance their careers.
The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences is dedicated to serving the entertainment software industry. Their board includes senior executives from the major videogame companies, including Sony, Nintendo, EA, Microsoft, Atari, Activision, and Ubisoft. Current members represent fields such as: art and graphics, animation, interactive design, production, software engineering, sound design, testing and quality assurance, video and special effects, editorial and storyline writing, as well as the business segment of the industry. The basic qualification for voting membership is two years of full-time experience on a design team, plus a named credit on a game that has been published in North America. Students and team members with less than two years’ worth of experience can join as non-voting members.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is a nonprofit membership digital game creation organization that advocates globally to effect change to benefit that community. They offer personal and career development programs and support to members.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos090
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, April 15, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271011
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, April 15, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271014
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, April 15, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271019