Are Game Design Degrees Worth It?

Many of us grew up wanting to be game designers. We wanted to bring our stories to life and share them with people. Or we’re playing a really bad game and we think, “This game is so bad, I’m sure I can do better.” In my day, you had to go to college and get a four-year degree to gain experience and hopefully break into the market. I almost attended Full Sail University for game design. That was until I saw the price which would have cost me about sixty-four thousand dollars plus expenses and supplies.

I decided to go for a business degree which was twenty thousand dollars cheaper.

I may be going through a midlife crisis, but I saw a Humble Bundle for learning how to make RPGs in Unity and decided to pick it up. It got me thinking. With the possibility of free coding sites, free unit licenses for individuals or small independent studios, is it worth getting a degree in game design? After much thought, my answer is… it depends.

US News estimates that the median cost of a bachelor’s degree in game design is fifty-seven thousand dollars. Meanwhile, PayScale estimates the average salary at sixty six thousand. I would like to point out that this figure is the average and it could lead to the inability to repay student loans. Additionally, future game designers have the same problem that future players face in the form of a geography problem.

Most of the big game developers are in California, Florida, New York, Canada, or overseas. For those who don’t know, I’m from Ohio and there aren’t many game studios here. I didn’t want, or really afford, to take on all that student loan debt and move to some of the most expensive places to live on a hope.

But now, with the rise of the freelance market and the ability of students to better self-educate, I think that degree has lost most of its appeal. Obviously, disciplines like animation and art may require higher education. And it’s also worth noting that many indie games don’t make a lot of money unless they go viral. The gaming market has seen many massive changes lately.

Well-known developers are bought and killed, and fewer publishers own more properties, there are fewer small businesses available for new designers to join full-time. It doesn’t help that crunch horror stories are all over the place and, speaking from experience as a correctional officer who has worked over 160 hours in one pay period, it seems miserable and does not wouldn’t want to do it. I’ve seen articles where new designers were hired just for the crunch and then let go.

The Long Dark, made with Unity.

The industry has seen a lot of instability and personally I don’t think it’s worth getting a degree. Take it from someone who started their college career trying to get a degree in digital media when the industry was crashing. College prices were rising and college salaries were falling at an astonishing rate. If you want to get into game design, I recommend learning to code through a free source like codemy or coursera and using a tool like Unity to start creating your own game. From there you can try to make a career of it elsewhere if you wish.

Personally, I want to teach myself to pursue passion projects that a AAA developer may not want to do. I want my first game to be a throwback to old Fire Emblem games. But I want to have the ability to make games like Legend of Dragoon, Dark Cloud 2, Enchanted Arms, ETC. Most companies have no appetite for these types of games. So if you want to design games for art, I think it’s imperative that you design yourself. Let me know what you all think and if you have any stories I’d love to hear them.


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