What Is Game Design?

career planning
Let us help you find your best fit university!Find your school
By Azara Lantra
Last updated on December 11, 2023

Video games are not just for fun! With a major in video game design or video game development, you can turn your passion for video games into a rewarding career.

Facing the screen, a man and woman are playing a video game while a group of friends watches behind them.

For many international students who are passionate about video games, pursuing a career in game design and video game development in the US is a dream come true. 

It is also a smart career move: video games play a significant role in shaping global culture. With more than three billion gamers around the world, the video game industry is constantly evolving and growing — current estimates expect the video game market to reach $390 billion by 2028.

So, if you are interested in turning your love for video games into a rewarding career, it all starts with a game design degree. Read on to find out what exactly is video game design, how to find game design colleges and video game internships, and career options for future video game designers.

What Are the Differences Between Video Game Design and Video Game Development?

Video game design is the process of developing a blueprint for a video game. For example, if you are planning to build a house, you would not start construction without understanding the type of house you would like to build first or which materials you need. Similarly, video game design focuses on a wide variety of components, like generating ideas and concepts to bring the story to life, developing the story behind the characters and their appearances, and designing the rules and objectives of the game.

Once you have the design of a video game, then you need to actually build it. This is where the study of video game development comes in. 

Think of it this way: if video game design is the blueprint for the game, video game development is the actual construction process. Video game development includes a greater focus on coding and programming skills, in comparison to video game design which focuses on creativity and art.

How Much Can You Earn in a Career as a Video Game Designer or Video Game Developer?

While creating games for a living can be rewarding and fun, it is also important to understand the long-term earning potential of a career in video game design and development. The average pay for industry professionals depends on which area of game design you focus on. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median pay for a multimedia artist and animator working in the video game industry was $98,950 in May 2022. 

When it comes to an entry-level job role, the average pay for a video game designer is $59,629. For a video game developer, the average pay is $61,986. With five to nine years of experience working in the industry, you could earn up to $78,000 as a video game designer!

How to Study Video Game Design in the US

Before deciding where to apply in the US or what to choose for your major, identify which aspects of developing a video game you are interested in and passionate about. Building a video game from start to finish is a complex process — it involves teams of artists, animators, designers, writers, producers, and programmers to bring the game from concept to finished product. Most importantly, if you pursue a career in video game design and development, you are responsible for creating fun — and that is harder than it sounds!

Decide on a Career Path

Most video game designer and development jobs are divided into three career paths:

  1. Video game designer—focuses on the theory and design of video games. Video game designers develop rough outlines of gameplay mechanics, come up with storylines, and ensure these concepts are followed through by the rest of the team.

  2. Game artist—responsible for the visual elements of the game, such as developing storyboards and drawing the characters and backgrounds. If you are a creative person and enjoy the visual arts, this role may be right for you.

  3. Game developer—this role is both technical and creative, as game developers are responsible for the functionality of the game. If you major in video game development, you will study subjects like computer science and software engineering and will learn a range of programming languages, such as C++ and Java.

As an international student, the career path you choose will help you decide what to look for in university degree programs, which skills you will need to succeed in the video game industry, and the education requirements employers prefer.

Understand Which Degree Programs Are Required

For a career in video game design, there are no fixed educational criteria, such as degree programs or certifications, that are required for everyone. But if you are planning to apply to a large studio with limited positions, having a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in video game design can be an added advantage. Many universities have strong ties to leading game development companies which can help when looking for video game internships.

The education requirements for a multimedia designer and animator in the field of video game design is a bachelor’s degree in computer graphics, art, or a related subject, and a portfolio to showcase your skills. This means that your bachelor’s or master’s does not have to be strictly in video game design — as long as it includes skills potential employers are looking for. For example, a video game developer has to possess knowledge about multiple programming languages. So, a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software development can provide you with a similar skillset.

Many schools offer dedicated degree programs for video game design and development to train students specifically for jobs in the video game industry. Curriculum typically includes subjects like programming, animation, and art to provide a well-rounded education and practical experience in game design. 

After understanding the education requirements that employers are looking for, you can then identify the courses you have to take.

Look Into the Courses That You Will Be Studying

You may be wondering which subjects you will have to take if you are planning to study video game design in the US. Depending on your career path, video game design and development will have both technical and art requirements. Courses will differ based on the university program you choose.

Here are some examples of classes you could take while studying video game design and development:

  • C++ and Java

  • Sound Design

  • Computer Graphics Programming

  • 2D Animation

  • Digital Illustration

  • Graphic Design

  • Special/Visual Effects

  • 3D Art and Animation

  • Creative Writing

  • History of Games

  • Applied Game Physics

Choose a University Program

Many universities take a unique approach to structuring their curriculum for video game design, so it is important to research and find out what works for you.

For example, the University of Central Florida has divided their programs into three tracks: production/design, programming, and art. This lets you pick courses based on which aspects of the game development process interest you most. 

The bachelor of science in games degree program at the University of Utah covers both technical and art requirements of video game design. Elective courses can focus on specific areas of interest such as game art, game production, technical art, and more.

Carroll University also offers a major in video game design with courses designed to teach students coding, game design thinking, graphic design, and sound production. This major can also be taken with a second major in a related field such as arts, business, computer science, communication, English, and more, giving you the chance to personalize your degree program.

To make sure game design students are prepared to excel in the industry, university programs for video game design are often hands-on. Students can expect to create at least five to six game prototypes per semester, like at the University of Central Florida, or gain real-world collaborative experience working with clients, like at the Game Studio through American University’s Game Center program.

Research each video game design and development degree program carefully, looking closely at how they approach teaching interactive game design, and decide on what works best for you. Remember, if you are unsure about which university program to choose, a Shorelight advisor can always help. 

As an international student, studying video game design in the US equips you with the necessary skills, networks, and real-world experience required for a career in the gaming industry. Good luck on your first step towards an exciting future in game design.

Talk to an advisor today about studying video game design in the US >