Best Game Design Schools Online & On-Campus
The world of video game design is highly complex. Behind the scenes of the world’s most popular games–like MarioKart or Call of Duty–are vast amounts of technological training and insane creativity. These are crucial aspects of the game-making process. Accessibility and comfort make online schooling an ideal route toward success in this field. Students work on their own schedules and at their own pace, and students with extraneous circumstances not conducive to the traditional college experience find these online programs very gratifying and convenient.
When pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in game design, it is important to look at the different areas of design and decide what a student thinks will fit their interests the best. There are a plethora of responsibilities and skill sets required within the game creating world. Designers specialize in PC or mobile device apps. They may need to learn design skills for AAA game franchises that produce for big brand gaming consoles, as well. Students may need to specialize in game language translation, game program mechanics, video graphic design, and much more. These demands of the industry can be met through online game design schools that offer courses in these specific areas of study.
Online game design schools look for students who already have a creative interest in art and technology. Visit the US Department of Education website to make sure your school is accredited. Searches run by the school, name, or specialty.
Students can take online classes that build their creative capabilities and earn them a professional certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s level degree. All courses are taught by experienced instructors whose main priority is to help students on their way to an eccentric but successful career in game design.
Online Game Design and Career Fast Facts
- Top-paying game design companies = 1. Valve Corporation ($119, 735-$131,205), 2. Microsoft Corporation ($101,078 – $119,525), 3. Naughty Dog Inc ($60,960 – $147,320)
- Best cities for game designers = 1. Montreal, 2. Austin, 3. Toronto
- Salary range (2019) = $37,421 to $100,830
- Tuition and fees range = $7,000 to $40,000 (per year, depending on degree earned)
EDsmart assesses online game design programs based on data that covers four main areas:
- Cost (average net price)
- Academic quality (graduation rate)
- Student satisfaction (retention rate)
- Salary After Attending (the median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid, at 10 years after entering the school)
This ranking aims to help students assess the affordability and value of top online game design schools so they can make informed decisions about which college to attend.
Best Game Design Schools Online & On-Campus
1. University of California-Irvine
Average Net Price: $13,376
Retention Rate: 93%
Graduation Rate: 86%
Salary After Attending: $58,400
The University of California-Irvine has the highest retention and graduation rates in the nation, as well as the highest post-attendance salary.
UC Irvine offers a major Computer Game Science major with a focus in the areas of designing and building computer games, along with other types of media. Computer science and information serve as the baseline of academic study, along with physics, media studies, film, math, and statistics. These subjects are required for the completion of the degree.
Students graduate with a bachelor of science in Computer Game Studies via the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences. Students also get some hands-on experience as they work through the curriculum. UCI ranks #3 in California and #17 nationally alongside other universities that offer similar degree programs, some of which include Computer Game Science and Computer Science, along with a minor in Digital Arts. Jobs in game design, software engineering, and programming are in high demand, so after graduating, students find careers easily.
2. University of Texas-Dallas
Average Net Price: $14,763
Retention Rate: 87%
Graduation Rate: 68%
Salary After Attending: $53,100
The Dallas Campus of the University of Texas offers a comprehensive study via the Game Development and Design Program. It is an interdisciplinary undergraduate program run by both the Computer Science and Arts and the Entertainment Technologies departments. Combined with hands-on experience, students will have time to work with local organizations and mobile game studios that evaluate student portfolios regularly before hiring graduates.
Students are awarded a bachelor’s of science for completing their studies through UT’s GDD/Arts and Technology program. The Princeton Review recently recognized the establishment as one of the top 25 schools for game design, ranking it at #21 in the nation.
3. California State University-Monterey Bay
Average Net Price: $11,167
Retention Rate: 80%
Graduation Rate: 58%
Salary After Attending: $44,800
CSU offers the second most affordable online game design degree program on our list.
CSU has a reputation for producing problem-solving graduates. Studying under the university’s Game Research Lab, students do highly technical hands-on coursework. Photography, web design and visual design are classes incorporated into the game development program. Because they are integral to the computer science program, CSU concentrates on data science, game development, and software engineering. Computer Science bachelor’s students get to compete with their peers in industries that produce cutting edge technology.
Courses such as Calculus I & II and Computer Science Capstone are part of degree completion. However, students do have the option to choose from a wide range of electives, such as internet programming, database systems, data science, and graphics programming. Overall, CSU ranks at #34 among the Best Regional Colleges on the West Coast.
4. Lewis University
Average Net Price: $19,793
Retention Rate: 80%
Graduation Rate: 64%
Salary After Attending: $48,800
Lewis University is a private Lasallian Catholic institution based in Romeoville, Illinois. Its Game and Simulation Program concentrates on network, software, and security sciences. Classes include artificial intelligence, computer science, mobile application development, and engineering courses. Game and Simulation Programming is one of the seven concentrations under Computer Science where coursework is similar to other game programming studies.
Lewis University ranks at #77 among the Best Catholic Colleges in America.
5. DePaul University
Average Net Price: $30,502
Retention Rate: 84%
Graduation Rate: 72%
Salary After Attending: $53,300
Like Lewis University, DePaul University is another private Catholic institution based in Chicago, Illinois. DePaul offers students a game design program that teaches the details and fundamentals of game design. This program prepares students for work in the interactive media and computer gaming fields. Students collaborate with creative teams of writers, audio designers, artists, and programmers as they gain knowledge of the entire game development process from initial idea development to prototyping, documentation, implementation, and testing.
Some of the required classes include animation, game sound design, programming, and scripting. The campus offers four easily-accessible gaming labs: the gameplay lab, the augmented reality lab, the playtest and usability lab, and the development and research lab.
DePaul University ranks at #17 among the Best Catholic Colleges in America as well as #10 among the best schools that offer quality information technology programs.
6. Saint Edwards University
Average Net Price: $22,968
Retention Rate: 80%
Graduation Rate: 64%
Salary After Attending: $46,500
Based in Austin, Texas, Saint Edwards is a private Catholic university that offers a highly comprehensive game design program. Course credits contribute to a BA in Video Game Development. Major courses like Interactive Storytelling, Introduction to Game Audio, and Game Design Studio I are integral parts of the curriculum. Large video game developers, such as Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, NCSoft, and Aspyr Media, often hire Saint Edwards graduates.
The school currently ranks #54 among Best Catholic Colleges in America and is the third-largest hub of game development in the country.
7. Fitchburg State University
Average Net Price: $16,009
Retention Rate: 76%
Graduation Rate: 57%
Salary After Attending: $45,700
Based in Massachusetts, Fitchburg State University offers the first game design program of its kind to prospective students pursuing a major in game design in the Northeastern region of the country. Fitchburg also offers it as a minor program for students studying different majors. The university offers unique opportunities for game design students to study abroad and master the global industry. In 2018, at least 18 students were chosen to study at specific companies in Japan and learn firsthand how the video game industry operates.
Students attain skills that pertain to visual art and game design, as well as the foundation of game programming. FSU is known to be one of the top value colleges in the nation, and as such, ranks at #43 among Best Value Colleges.
8. Abilene Christian University
Average Net Price: $26,037
Retention Rate: 76%
Graduation Rate: 62%
Salary After Attending: $43,000
A private Christian university based in Abilene, Texas, the institution was initially founded in 1906 as the Childers Classical Institute. It offers game design via the Digital Entertainment Technology program. This program pushes students to create digital content like apps, movies, and video games as a central component of the coursework. The program splits off into three specific tracks: game development, digital design, and film and media production. The number of hours required will vary based on which track students choose.
Overall, ACU sits at #63 among the Best Design Colleges in America.
9. Lindenwood University
Average Net Price: $17,548
Retention Rate: 72%
Graduation Rate: 50%
Salary After Attending: $41,300
Lindenwood University is a private liberal arts institution based in Saint Charles, Missouri. Students can participate in an accelerated online study program where they will earn credits at a faster pace. The university offers a bachelor of arts degree via the Game Design program. Students have the option of studying online or through a composite format that combines online and on-site classroom instruction. Some of the most significant course concepts include concept design, game development, and 3D animation.
Lindenwood graduates typically start with a salary of $58,000/yr on average. Alumni often work as game artists, designers, and programmers. Other professions, such as concept artist, modeler, engine programmer, art director, and audio programmer, are also viable career options. Overall, Lindenwood ranks at #25 among the Best Value Colleges in Missouri.
10. University of Baltimore
Average Net Price: $21,329
Retention Rate: 70%
Graduation Rate: 35%
Salary After Attending: $58,000
The University of Baltimore is a public institution centered in the midtown urban hub. It works under the administration of the city-wide university system and, like many other schools, offers a game design program that features the more creative side of the industry. This program was founded in 2003 and currently sits as the oldest and most prominent game design program available within the state. Baltimore’s hybrid Simulation and Game Design program makes coursework available both online and on-campus. General game development studies branch into two specific disciplines: technical art and coding, or development. These two disciplines make Baltimore’s similar to other game design programs across the country, where each program runs comprehensive, detail-oriented courses. Coding, mathematics, information technology, and art creation are a few examples of the more rigorous subjects.
This university ranks at #6 among Top Public Universities in the state.
11. Savannah College of Art and Design
Average Net Price: $40,694
Retention Rate: 84%
Graduation Rate: 66%
Salary After Attending: $36,400
Savannah College of Arts and Design is a private, non-profit institution that offers a comprehensive course of study through the Interactive Design and Game Development program. Students have easy access to the expertise of instructors and professors that work on campus. Not only do they award degrees in both Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia, but there are SCAD students working as far away as Hong Kong.
The school gained notoriety when its team of game development students won the top prize at the E3 College Game Competition two years in a row. SCAD also received recognition in the Animation Career Review and The Princeton Review.
12. Dakota State University
Average Net Price: $16,940
Retention Rate: 72%
Graduation Rate: 38%
Salary After Attending: $38,700
Madison, South Dakota is home to Dakota State University. This public institution was founded back in 1881, initially functioning as a teacher training school. Today, it offers students the chance to pursue their passion through the game design program. Courses delve into the history of gaming and its effects on culture. Studies revolve around both the scientific and the technical aspects of game design. However, students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of clubs, such as E-Sports Club, Gaming Club, and Game Design Club, that make for a fun and interactive learning experience. By the time they graduate, DSU students will have gained practical communication skills and a strong sense of teamwork.
In 2018, Quantum Entanglement Entertainment created a video called “Quantum Tunnel” that explained why The Princeton Review recognizes Dakota State’s exemplary programs.
13. Liberty University
Average Net Price: $27,573
Retention Rate: 83%
Graduation Rate: 49%
Salary After Attending: $36,700
Liberty University is a private institution that makes its home in Lynchburg, Virginia. Students in this school’s game design program gain acute programming and game development skills from instructors who have worked within the industry. Ultimately, Liberty’s mission is to help students succeed in their education, as well as their future careers within the gaming industry. Students who complete the essential requirements graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Information Technology – Gaming Design.
Liberty University ranks at #2 among the Best Online Colleges in America. The university is also recognized by AffordableColleges.com as the #1 Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s Degree Program for Game Design in the nation. According to BestColleges.com, Liberty also qualifies as a top 10 school, with one of the best online programs in the country overall.
14. Southwestern College
Average Net Price: $22,291
Retention Rate: 61%
Graduation Rate: 39%
Salary After Attending: $46,400
Situated in Chula Vista, California, Southwestern College is a public institution that hosts nearly 19,000 students. Gaming design falls under the university’s Computer Science/Digital Arts program. Its affordable price and community college status make it incomparable to some of the more dollar-heavy colleges on this listing. The program offers up to a $5,000 grant for students that are interested in studying one of the three disciplines in the program: digital arts, computer science, and game development. Southwestern offers both graduate and undergraduate degrees through the gaming design program.
Overall, Southwestern ranks at #124 among the Best Colleges in the Midwest.
15. Southern Arkansas University
Average Net Price: $12,778
Retention Rate: 66%
Graduation Rate: 36%
Salary After Attending: $35,700
Based in the city of Magnolia, Southern Arkansas University ranks as one of the most prestigious public institutions in the state. Through its Game and Animation Design program, this school provides one of the most affordable, high-quality educations in the field of game design. The campus maintains a lively yet comfortable atmosphere, and students have the opportunity to collaborate closely with their professors. SAU’s courses guide students through the principles of game design with comprehensive exercises on complicated development processes and various coding languages.
Overall, Southern Arkansas University ranks at #618 among Colleges with the Best Professors in America.
16. Wilmington University
Average Net Price: $14,600
Retention Rate: 62%
Graduation Rate: 29%
Salary After Attending: $42,500
Wilmington University is a private, non-profit doctoral research school in New Castle, Delaware. It runs a prestigious Game Design and Development program, operating as one of the only institutions to offer this program in the northeastern United States. The curriculum is designed to encourage students toward specific fields, depending on their strengths and interests. Game design, video and film, and graphic design are just a few of the courses that contribute toward a BS in Game Design and Development.
Wilmington University ranks at #3 among Best Value Colleges in Delaware.
17. Laguna College of Art and Design
Average Net Price: $36,095
Retention Rate: 85%
Graduation Rate: 49%
Salary After Attending: $32,900
The Laguna College of Art and Design is a private institution located in the heart of sunny Laguna Beach, California. It offers game art and game design courses. The school collaborates with several masters of the media industry, including Walt Disney Animation Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, and Riot Games. The school’s Game Art program allows students to team up with experienced professors working within the game design industry. While in the program, students build individualized profiles through a series of comprehensive, detail-oriented projects that ultimately contribute to their success in the game design world.
Laguna College of Art and Design ranks at #13 among the Best Colleges for Design in the nation.
18. University of Advancing Technology
Average Net Price: $19,713
Retention Rate: 57%
Graduation Rate: 21%
Salary After Attending: $46,400
The University of Advancing Technology is a private for-profit institution located in Tempe, Arizona. Technology is central to UAT’s general education requirements. The university’s game design program enables students to earn a bachelor’s in game design. Other degrees that are available through the program include game art and animation, as well as game programming. Both are highly technical fields of study.
The game arts and animation courses focus more on the artistic aspects of game design, while game programming trains students to develop code for PC, console, mobile, and web-based games. C++ programming, DirectX/Open GL development, artificial intelligence, interactive storytelling, and interface design are concepts students learn through these two programs. Based on the prolific nature of the school’s programs, UAT students are widely known for graduating with dual degrees.
19. Davenport University
Average Net Price: $16,972
Retention Rate: 70%
Graduation Rate: 43%
Salary After Attending: $30,700
Davenport is another private university with multiple campuses scattered across Michigan. Gaming development falls under the school’s computer science curriculum, where students study gaming, simulation, and artificial intelligence. The course is designed to expose students to game theory, 3D and 2D development, simulation, modeling, and many other technical fields. Students get involved in multiple projects with application specs, prototyping, design, implementation, and documentation before the release of the final product. Davenport offers course credit for any certifications that students may have in programs like Security +, Microsoft Office: Word, Cisco Network Administrator Security, and other industrial-level systems.
Overall, Davenport ranks at #47 among the Best Colleges for Information Technology in America.
20. Middle Georgia State University
Average Net Price: $9,743
Retention Rate: 67%
Graduation Rate: 18%
Salary After Attending: $31,500
Middle Georgia State University offers the most affordable online game design degree program on our list.
Located in the central city of Macon, Middle Georgia State University is a major public institution that spans five campuses within the state. MGSU’s School of Computing runs an integrated media and game design program, and the IT program branches off into multiple disciplines. Students train in digital media development, 3D modeling, animation, and graphic imaging, and specialized courses in the IT and computational intelligence fields are offered as optional electives. All courses contribute to a BS in Information Technology.
Overall, MGSU ranks at #55 among the Best Regional Colleges in the country.
21. Academy of Art University
Average Net Price: $33,012
Retention Rate: 73%
Graduation Rate: 38%
Salary After Attending: $38,600
Academy of Art University is a private, for-profit school located in San Francisco, California. The school’s game design coursework divides into two specific disciplines: development and programming. Academy of Art students collaborate with experienced instructors, training in animation, 3D modeling, programming, and UI/UX design, all of which develop crucial skills for future careers. Professions in this particular field often include concept artists, gameplay or systems programmers, and game designers. All of these positions offer rewarding work for aspiring creatives within the game design industry.
Some of the significant gaming development publishers centered within the state of California include Crystal Dynamics, Blizzard Entertainment, Rockstar Games, Sledgehammer Games, and Electronic Arts.
22. Southern New Hampshire University
Average Net Price: $40,617
Retention Rate: 55%
Graduation Rate: 53%
Salary After Attending: $45,400
SNHU is a private university situated between Hooksett and Manchester, New Hampshire. This school offers a comprehensive game design program that branches into two specific concentrations: game programming and development (BS) and game art and development (BA). Studies cover digital painting, 3D mesh topology, 3D modeling, software applications, artificial intelligence, and engineering–all of which are fully comprehensive and valuable for future success in the game design industry.
This school hosts courses toward both degrees year-round, meaning students can complete their studies at their own pace. Southern New Hampshire also offers one of the lowest tuition rates in the country.
23. Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
Average Net Price: $23,198
Retention Rate: 56%
Graduation Rate: 47%
Salary After Attending: $33,000
The game art program at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design combines artistic with more technical coursework, focusing jointly on developing functional, computer, and analytical skills. These skills serve as the foundation for careers in game design. Students learn about the artistic side of the industry through courses in level design, copyrights, and business ethics, and visual storytelling. The school’s online program is one of the most flexible and personalized learning accomodations. Through this environment, students develop the skills necessary for future success in the arts–as well as more technical fields–within the game design industry, and graduates earn a BA in game design.
Overall, Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design ranks at #45 among the Best Colleges for Design in America.
24. Franklin University
Average Net Price: $24,692
Retention Rate: 33%
Graduation Rate: 10%
Salary After Attending: $48,500
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Franklin University is a private, nonprofit institution that was founded in 1902. Today, it runs a wide variety of online programs, including game design studies. These fall under the school’s interactive media program, through which students can earn a BS in Interactive Media degree. The game design courses familiarize students with both technical and non-technical aspects of the game design industry through a project-based curriculum. This mode of study opens up pathways to a variety of artistic, technical, and managerial career paths for graduates.
Overall, Franklin University offers one of the most focused and comprehensive game design programs in the country.
25. Columbia College Chicago
Average Net Price: $31,597
Retention Rate: 68%
Graduation Rate: 44%
Salary After Attending: $34,400
Columbia College is a private institution located in Chicago, Illinois. There are numerous gaming classes offered at Columbia, and all contribute toward a bachelor’s in game design. Courses involve heavy creative work and collaboration with professional instructors. The game design major allows students to choose one of two specific disciplines: sound design or game development. Sound design involves creating a soundscape or musical overlay that evokes a player’s emotions and tells the narrative through music. Game development is a more technical and logistical discipline, focusing on visual design and team collaboration. For full completion of the degree, students must design a full-fledged game to be graded mostly in terms of gameplay experience and narrative but also judged as an independent work of art.
Overall, Columbia College ranks at #91 among the Best Colleges for Design in America.
26. Baker College
Average Net Price: $12,871
Retention Rate: 47%
Graduation Rate: 14%
Salary After Attending: $27,200
Baker College is a large, private, non-profit institution centered in Flint, Michigan. It offers quality education in the game design world across multiple campuses within the state and runs an online program with one of the most affordable tuition rates in the state. Through this program, students can earn bachelor’s degrees in game software development. The coursework emphasizes game design and animation, as well as current programming technologies. Students internalize the game development process from conceptual brainstorming to the final product.
Ultimately, Baker College aims to foster skills that will benefit students as they move forward on their paths to success in the gaming industry.
Game design programs offer unique opportunities for students looking to design new interactive, educational, and entertaining games. These schools offer several financial aid packages to help alleviate costs, so you’ll be able to focus on your studies with minimal stress. This specific listing is not all-inclusive, so consider speaking to your school counselor to find out which colleges best accommodate your interests and suit your preferences.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)