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Get a Gaming Degree, Earn Big Bucks

If you have designs on the booming gaming industry, get a video game design degree from America.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   27-12-2013
Kinect Sports 2; Photo courtesy of www.xbox.com
As a kid, Rahul Srivastava spent long hours playing Nintendo’s addictive Pokemon and Super Mario Brothers video games.

“My parents thought it was unproductive because I did occasionally binge on games, but I now make a living working in the gaming industry. My love for video games stayed with me,” says Srivastava, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Game Design from DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington.

DigiPen's computer science and game design program turns students into “hybrid engineer-designers.” They are taught game design theory and pick up skills in gameplay programming, user interface programming, game design, artificial intelligence programming, and play-testing.

DigiPen Institute of Technology; Photo courtesy of www.digipen.edu

Srivastava works as a programmer in the core games industry, the one that gives you PlayStation and World of Warcraft. He cautions parents who overly fret about their children's obsessions with video games.

"This is a hyper growth industry,” says Srivastava. “Video games also require focus and make you better at multitasking and problem solving.

The size of the global video game market revenue, excluding mobile games on smart phones and tablets is $58 billion for 2013, up slightly from $57.2 billion in 2012, reported Reuters.

Battlefield 4; Photo courtesy of www.battlefield.com

It’s become a legitimate academic subject, with many universities offering degrees in video game design. You can head west, to the University of Southern California (USC), in Los Angeles. For the fourth consecutive year, test-prep company Princeton Review, known for itsannual college "best" lists,reviewed 500 schools and ranked USC as the No. 1 game design school for its graduate program. This year, the university took the second spot for its undergraduate program in the subject.

“Our students build the games of their dreams, work closely with our distinguished faculty and have the opportunity to present their work to professionals in the game design industry,” says USC GamePipe Laboratory Director Mike Zylda, a professor at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

USC uses its proximity to game studios located in and near Hollywood. Graduates Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen have created games such as flOw and Flower for the PlayStation Network.The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, released on Xbox Live, was a thesis project for students Matt Korba and Paul Bellezza.

Race Driver Grid; Photo courtesy of www.gridgame.com

The university’s Game Innovation Lab led by Professor Tracy Fullerton pursues experimental design of games rich in art, science and learning. Current projects include the Collegeology games and the 3-D video game, Walden, which mimics the meditative outdoor life described in Thoreau’s best-known work - written about his two years spent in a cabin in Walden Pond, in Concord. The game allows players to follow in the virtual footsteps of Thoreau and conduct their own experiments living in nature.

Schools have science and math requirements you need to have at least taken precalculus if you are applying for the Bachelor of Science program. It is also recommended for Bachelor of Art game design applicants. Schools look for “strong analytical thinkers” good in math, science and writing.

The Princeton Review's "Top 10” Graduate Schools in the U.S., to Study Video Game Design for 2013 are:

  1. University of Southern California (Los Angeles)
  2. University of Utah (Salt Lake City)
  3. Drexel University (Philadelphia)
  4. Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester)
  5. University of Central Florida (Orlando)
  6. DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond)
  7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge)
  8. University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz)
  9. Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah)
  10. Southern Methodist University (Plano)

Big business, big salaries

Student working on a video game design

According to Game Developer mag’s salary survey, the median salary in the video game business is $73,000. Leading video game makers like Nintendo, Capcom, Sony, Zynga, Atari, Blizzard, Take-Two Interactive, Electronic Arts, and others hire an army of video game animators, sound designers, game designers and programmers.

The average annual salary for video game makers is $83,000 - outstripping pay for video game animators, artists and sound designers. With new consoles hitting the market, there’s a premium for video game programmers - who can earn the slightly higher $85,000 a year.

NBA 2K11; Photo courtesy of www.2ksports.com

Every few years the technology changes with new consoles, better hardware and new software. Hard deadlines can mean pulling all-nighters in this profession.  It’s what they call “crunch time” in the games business - when the complexity of the aesthetic and technology of the work creates an inability to predict when the final product will be delivered.

Artists, programmers and designers, nobody is spared the steep learning curve. But it’s worth it, if you’re an avid gamer turner designer – your final product will has the potential to be played by millions of fans.

 

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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