Take the 2-minute tour ×
Game Development Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and independent game developers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm at the point in my life where I'm starting to look at schools, and was hearing a lot of mixed things about schools such as Digipen or Fullsail that target game development specifically. As someone who is planning on becoming a programmer and getting into the games industry, would getting a game development degree be better than a traditional computer science degree?

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by Byte56 Jan 31 at 22:34

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

26 Answers 26

up vote 86 down vote accepted

Schooling isn't going to get you a job.

If you're good at what you do, and you care about it, you don't need a degree.

A game-focused degree is good at helping you getting your foot in the door since a lot of those schools have teachers or advisors who are actually in the industry. It'll also help you by providing you useful team experience.

Also, and this is very important, a Computer Science degree is not about programming. You might have a class here and there that might be useful, but the degree as a whole is not about good programming practices or really anything pragmatic that you would need on a day to day basis. (Note: this may vary based on your school.)

That being said, getting a CS degree usually implies going to a non-game-focused school, which also implies getting a more well rounded education, which might pay off int the end. Also a lot of regular schools have game development programs these days which could get you some connections to the local industry.

At least in my experience, getting a certificate from one of these game development colleges is almost worthless on its own. Unless you have side projects or have some kind of way of proving that you care about whatever field you're interested in other than just going to school, you'll be going in the "maybe someday I'll get around to these people" pile of resumes (hint: I won't).

Edit: since I really didn't answer the question, basically my opinion is this:

If you have the motivation to work on games in your spare time, do that and get a traditional education. It'll pay off in more ways than if you just went to more of a niche school.

If you're the kind of person that works better when somebody is telling them to do something, or if you need to feel like your money is on the line, try to go for a game dev school instead.

If your sole focus in life is to get into the game industry (it shouldn't be), and you're smart and motivated enough, try taking a year and working on things in your spare time (mods, solo projects, demos, whatever) and bypassing both options.

share|improve this answer
66  
Saying that a degree is no a substitute for hardwork does not mean that you would not benefit intellectually and financially if you have one. In addition to the general value a well rounded education brings, a CS degree is a necessary requirement to get through many HR filters in the larger industry. My advice would be get a more general education and spend your free time working on games. –  Alex Schearer Jul 26 '10 at 20:30
7  
Not only that, companies do often ask for a degree or similar experience. Getting experience takes a while. Also, companies do like to see good coding practices, problem decomposition skills and algorthm knowledge. A lot of that is taught in schools (I know, I dropped out of a few of em). Also, your co-workers might be university grads and they expect you to understand them on a certain level. Lastly, if you want to work abroad, the degree becomes suddenly VERY important, even if you have 15 years industry experience. –  Kaj Jul 27 '10 at 6:49
3  
@Kaj - in my experience, I've found that interviewers were more impressed by an actual demo of my work (which I happened to have online) than by my degree, which (imho) comes from a fairly large, respectable tier 1 research university. Then, after two or three years of actual work, my degree is fairly irrelevant compared to the work experience I have. If I had to look for a job tomorrow, I would sell myself on the contributions I've made to my previous employers, and the degree would be a one-liner on my resume. –  weiji Jul 27 '10 at 16:12
4  
I can not say anything else than that I agree completely with this answer. "Experience" is the keyword here. Get it in whatever way you see fits you the best. –  Zolomon Jul 30 '10 at 19:07
2  
As long as that experience also shows you can finish a project. Unfinished demos scream that you lose interest after the fun discovery phase is over, and companies kinda need you when the interesting stuff is out of the way too, as a fair part of game development is boring finaling. –  Kaj Aug 10 '10 at 6:12

It all depends on what you want to do in the long run. Do you want to be a programmer or a designer? Do you actually want to start a company yourself? Is there a type of company you want to work for?

I'll guess that you want to be a programmer, that way this post won't be 10 pages long.

If your focus is game programming, go for the CS degree. Then on your own, apply it to game programming (side projects for example). A "Game Design" or "Game Design and Development" program will not be focused enough on actual programming.

Also know that there is a difference between learning "programming" and learning "computer science". CS is more about computational thinking, problem solving, logic, and even a bit of philosophy. And keep this in mind:

Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes. --Edsger Dijkstra

If you plan to start your own company, and focus on programming, i'd still suggest CS, but with either a minor in business, or business as a second degree altogether.

Now, if you are already a strong programmer(and/or computer scientest) and have some money to blow (or plan on starting a successful company, [and have already researched enough on how to do that]), then you can look into a school like Full-Sail to acquire more focused skills.

share|improve this answer

I faced the same question a few years ago and chose to do games development. I think there is a lot of confusion here on what a games development degree involves. For my course and most games courses the title is similar to "Computing with games development" which as the name suggests means you major in computer science and minor in games development. In my course this meant 1 to two(max) modules a semester for games development. I did exactly the same degree as my friends in the "Computing with software development" and "Computer Science" courses with the exception of those one or two modules (usually is was only one games module).

When we did our FYP's or other major projects I had to do a project relating to games development but the software development class could do anything software related including a games project and the computer science class could do ANYTHING computer related. So even if you choose to do CS it doesn't mean you can't continue to learn games development using what you know from CS.

The reason the courses are designed like this is to give everyone regardless of course a good general degree in computing. I have met people in courses absolutely specific to games design and their employment opportunities are significantly reduced because of this.

From my experience, because I didn't do a games intensive degree I wasn't ready to go straight from graduation to a games development job but I have been able to get a job as a software engineer, if I want to get into the games development industry I just need to get working on some side projects to build up a portfolio (honestly though, I would wager that with a bit of luck I could bag an entry level job at a games company). The experience of working at a software development company will help me get that first games job and in the mean time I'm learning a lot about general software development.

My advice, if you choose to do a games course, make sure it isn't absolutely specific to games development, courses that will enable you to work in an industry other than just games will be much more beneficial.

share|improve this answer

My take is to look for a traditional 4-year college that has a game development division of it computer science or computer engineering division. Maybe it just has a professor that's in the industry. Maybe you could do a thesis or independent study in game design. Your best bet will be to do a lot of research like this into some 4year schools that you have the grades to get into - you want to see if they have a backdoor/side door into game development.

share|improve this answer

Do a computer science degree. If the course is worth its salt you'll be well-qualified for a job in the games industry and if the worst comes to the worst and you don't manage to get a job in the games industry (or decide it's not for you - I know plenty of people who've changed their minds about their career between starting and finishing their degree) you'll also be well-qualified for a multitude of other jobs. The same cannot be said about a specific games programming degree.

There are a lot of things you can do that will increase your job prospects a lot more than doing a specific degree. One of the biggest things I look for when I'm recruiting programmers (admittedly not for the computer games industry) is evidence of a passion for the subject. Students who turn up to most lectures, do the coursework and get reasonable marks in the exam are ten a penny. The really good candidates are those who've done something extra, like working on a personal project in their spare time, going out and getting work experience in the holidays and just generally putting in more than minimal effort.

Do a computer science degree, but keep working on game-related stuff in your spare time. Pester local (and remote!) game companies for work experience in the university holidays (the worst they can say is no). Work on a small game that you enhance over the years - you may even be able to get some university use out of it for your dissertation. If you then go to a games company looking for a job, and can show them the game that you built up on your own, the technologies you taught yourself to make it, the fact that you spent three months doing unit tests for game company X instead of having a summer holiday as well as knowing all the fundamentals from a computer science degree, they'll be a lot more interested in hiring you than if you just freewheeled through a games development degree. (Who knows - game company X might have really liked you from your unit testing, and feel you're ready to do some full-time programming for them.)

share|improve this answer

Major in Computer Science, with a specialization in Game Development... UC Irvine has such a program, if you have the grades and SAT scores for UCI, go for it. Also UCI is located in southern california, where so many top game dev companies are... which helps a lot in landing a great job in the field.

share|improve this answer

The problem with computer sciences, and especially with learning how to program, is that it is an applied science: the theory doesn't lead to a lot of applications...

You can learn theory about maths without doing a lot of exercises, but there are no way you can be good at programming without coding: all the problem is about getting something to program so you can train, and that, the gamedev school will give you.

Programming will earn you money because you solve problem and create applications: the theory is easy, but the technique and practice to achieve work is harder to obtain...

CS is good to learn the basics, but NOTHING replaces DOING something.

Either go to the gamedev school or find a good project to do, but the latter choice is risky...

share|improve this answer
    
Programming without the theory can lead to very poorly designed and/or performing programs. As a programmer, your job is to solve a problem. Without the theory a computer science degree gives (should give), you don't really have a solid set of tools to solve problems unless you learn it by yourself. You are correct when you say nothing beats practice to prepare you for actually making a program, but practice without theory is not a very efficient way to get better. joelonsoftware.com/articles/ThePerilsofJavaSchools.html Is a very good article :) –  Chewy Gumball Oct 28 '10 at 20:27
    
Of course theory is relevant, but I'm a lot concerned about theory, and any programmer should be; moreover the theory is not that much complicated (especially compared to some fields of mathematics). –  jokoon Oct 29 '10 at 6:47
    
I think the real difference would be whether you are able to come up with better solutions than already exist. Learning how to use something already created is easier than creating it yourself. I also find that you can learn how something works easily, but knowing WHY it works is harder and leads to a much deeper understanding which lets you modify things faster and more error free. –  Chewy Gumball Nov 3 '10 at 23:06
    
I prefer "how it works" compared to "why it works", even if it means the same... I like to think about "don't reinvent the wheel", and take care of what is important when there is a need for an application, not try to understand how a kernel is made, or how a compiler is made. There are some differences between a autodidact and a student who gets a degree. Either you explore knowledge yourself as an adventure, or you just follow a guide so you can learn about points the guide decided to teach you. The quality of both way can very a lot, but it's essentially politics and opinions. –  jokoon Nov 4 '10 at 10:46
    
I always found learning the theory to be more challenging and take longer to assimilate. Doing the practical work is usually a piece of cake compared to the topics your learn in Computer Science. Then again, this is my experience and it can vary between students and schools. –  user2812 Nov 5 '10 at 14:23

I would recommend going through a CS, Software Engineering or similar program. Back in university, we had game companies like EA who came about twice per year to recruit coops and new grads. The school didn't provide any game degrees at that time and they were targeting CS and Soft Eng students.

There are some courses in university like Computer Graphics which you can take to create basic games, ray tracers and other graphical projects from scratch. Do extremely well in those projects and you can use them as a portfolio to sell yourself to game companies.

If you manage to get in the game industry and not enjoy it, you can always count on your CS or Soft Eng degree to find other development jobs in different fields.

share|improve this answer

From my personal experience in a game design education, what really matters isn't the specific degree, but your dedication to learning and improving your programming skills and demonstrating your talents. I've met a lot of people with degrees not specifically game deign oriented like fine arts, networking, and computer science, who apply them in the industry. I say find a school that teaches you what you'd like to learn, then apply those skills to making a game by yourself or with friends. It will demonstrate your technical skills along with passion for video games.

share|improve this answer

Although there is already an accepted answer, I chose to write this answer to expound upon some of the previously discussed points, as well as address a few errors I noticed in other answers.

Accreditation

First and foremost, there are two kinds of accreditation in the United States:

  • Regional - This is the process traditional colleges and universities go through
  • National - This is the process specialty and vocational school go through

There's a lot of information out there that goes into detail about the different processes, but here is what you need to know:

  • If you get a degree at a nationally accredited school, you can pursue a degree at regionally accredited institution (and vice versa).
  • If, for whatever reason, you decide to transfer from a nationally accredited school to any other school (nationally or regionally accredited), before you have your degree, the new school does not have to accept any of your credits.

What to look for in an institution/degree

There are a ton of schools out there that offer game development education (traditional and specialty), and a lot of them aren't worth 2 cents. Be sure to do your research and learn as much as you can about a school before committing to it.

  • Degree or Certificate? - When you graduate, will you get a degree or certificate?
  • Professors - What are their backgrounds? Do they seem qualified to teach the subjects in their curriculum?
  • Curriculum - Are the majority of the courses based on theory or application? Specifically look for courses that teach software architecture, rendering (Direct X or OpenGL), artificial intelligence, calculus, and trigonometry
  • Students - How many students find jobs? What companies? Ask to see sample projects completed by students, and examples of what those students contributed to the finished product.
  • Industry - Does the school seem connected to the industry? Are there game/software/simulation companies in the area? Do guest speakers visit the school? Is there a local IGDA chapter?

General tips

  • Experience is more important than formal education - In this industry, talent is everything, that is why it is important to...
  • Work on games outside of school - It doesn't matter if you're going to a traditional or specialty school (or what kind of degree you're pursuing), you should make a serious effort to work on game projects in your spare time.
  • Network, network, network!

If you have an questions, or would like me to clarify any of the points made, feel free to leave a comment. :)

share|improve this answer

If anything I would go for a computer science degree; I'm doing it myself. But I am also pursuing a game development concentration. Whatever school you are planning to attend, you may want to investigate if they have this option; I highly recommend it! I will graduate with a computer science degree and all the same courses as any other CS major, so if I choose not to enter the game industry I still have all the education of anyone else with a CS degree. But I am also taking some game-related courses, which give me focused knowledge in game development.

For example I am currently enrolled in a general game development course which is taught by the president and CTO of a local game company, so I'm gaining a lot of practical and real-world knowledge from him (as opposed to some other CS courses which can go deep into theory at times). But I'm also taking a course in software engineering, in which I am practicing Java and proper software engineering methods which apply to all areas of computer science.

At the very least, do your research about the school you're planning on attending. Find out who the professors are and look them up; do they know their stuff? Are they in the industry or have connections? Are they IGDA members? Look at the list of courses and see if it appeals to you. Check out the area around the school and see if there are any game companies. All of these factors play a big part in figuring out whether the school has a genuinely great game development degree/concentration, or if it's just a gimmick because game development is the latest "cool" thing.

share|improve this answer

If anything I would go for a computer science degree; I'm doing it myself. But I am also pursuing a game development concentration. Whatever school you are planning to attend, you may want to investigate if they have this option; I highly recommend it! I will graduate with a computer science degree and all the same courses as any other CS major, so if I choose not to enter the game industry I still have all the education of anyone else with a CS degree. But I am also taking some game-related courses, which give me focused knowledge in game development.

For example I am currently enrolled in a general game development course which is taught by the president and CTO of a local game company, so I'm gaining a lot of practical and real-world knowledge from him (as opposed to some other CS courses which can go deep into theory at times). But I'm also taking a course in software engineering, in which I am practicing Java and proper software engineering methods which apply to all areas of computer science.

At the very least, do your research about the school you're planning on attending. Find out who the professors are and look them up; do they know their stuff? Are they in the industry or have connections? Are they IGDA members? Look at the list of courses and see if it appeals to you. Check out the area around the school and see if there are any game companies. All of these factors play a big part in figuring out whether the school has a genuinely great game development degree/concentration, or if it's just a gimmick because game development is the latest "cool" thing.

share|improve this answer

Get the CS Degree is what my reaction tells me.

If you really want to game develop, you'll be doing your small projects during your education. When you're finished you've got an extremely robust education that will function as a CV booster and competence base you can build on. And one day if you don't want to game develop anymore you've probably got a wider spectrum of possible careers with the CS degree.

But in the end, it depends more on you as a person than on your degree. If you can convince your employer that you're good enough it won't matter much what degree you have. Unless the company needs to brag to their clients about how many degrees their employees have (which is actually the case with some consultant companies at least).

Don't forget about the possibility to make it as an entrepreneur. It is hard but it can pay itself.

share|improve this answer
    
Someone does not agree obviously. Care to argument as to why this was downvoted? –  Phil Oct 18 '10 at 16:24

Full Sail is accredited by a different accreditation board than traditional universities. This means that credits earned at Full Sail will not transfer to traditional universities. So, if you want to get a MS or PhD, you'll have to start from scratch.

share|improve this answer
    
This is not entirely correct. If you get a degree at a nationally accredited school, you can pursue a degree at regionally accredited institution (and vice versa). The case I believe you are referring to is if, for whatever reason, you decide to transfer from a nationally accredited school to any other school (nationally or regionally accredited), before you have your degree, the new school does not have to accept any of your credits. –  Ari Patrick Oct 17 '10 at 22:07
    
This is true. I work with some people from Full Sail and if they want to enroll in a Master's Program at the local state university they must earn a Bachelor's degree from another school. –  zooropa Dec 14 '11 at 18:06

Working for one of the major console companies I can attest to the fact that HR will most of the time automatically filter people without degree's before sending the CVs to the managers. Something to keep in mind.

In terms of degree choice, currently people doing Game Courses are generally looked "down upon" compared to CS courses. This isn't fair, and certainly isn't a reflection of what the Game Courses teach. But as they are relatively new and most people hiring wouldn't have had the choice, so still believe in a strong CS background. Of course, ymmv.

If you are sure you want to get into the games industry as a programmer, than the best advice I can give to you is to do a joint CS + Math degree (if you have the ability). It will facilitate (in my experience) a job as a graduate much quicker.

share|improve this answer

Here's the pros for each side as far as I know:

CS Degree:

  • You'll get a broader education and meet a wider variety of people. This is probably more important than you realize.
  • You'll have the opportunity to change majors more drastically if you discover a new passion.
  • It's likely much cheaper.
  • Your degree will be useful outside of games. The odds of you spending your entire career in the game industry are very slim.

Game school degree:

  • You'll get more hands-on experience with game tech.
  • You'll be around other people that want to do exactly what you want.
  • You'll (hopefully) get some industry connections.
  • You'll learn more practical game-oriented stuff. (But keep in mind that what you're learning here has a painfully short expiration date.)

I would strongly discourage you from going to Full Sail. I worked in the game industry in Orlando for eight years and I can count the number of Full Sail grads we hired on one hand. It's fantastically expensive and is very unlikely to be worth your money.

share|improve this answer
    
Munificent, other than the cost, which I admit is quite expensive, can you expound on why you strongly discourage people from attending Full Sail? As a grad myself, I would be interested in hearing your points. –  Ari Patrick Oct 17 '10 at 22:11
2  
From what I've heard, students are taught a cookie-cutter approach to making a game: here's you implement shadows, here's a BSP, with relatively little high-level concepts. If you take a student outside of those specific things, they're lost. To me that's backwards, it's easy to learn specific techniques on your own if you have a solid foundation in the principles. –  munificent Oct 19 '10 at 0:34

Everyone you will be competing against for jobs knows something about making games. You need to think about what kind of value you bring to the table that is not about making games. Whether that's a strong knowledge of computer science or software engineering, Expressionism, classical antiquity, French cooking, or cognitive psychology is up to you. Game companies have more than enough people that know games - know games, but know something else too, because that's how you're going to surprise people and make something that stands out.

share|improve this answer

I think it massively depends on the quality of the course - in either case. A 'generic' CS degree that covers a wide range of topics and disciplines is infinitely more valuable than a 'games programming' course that teaches you about XNA. Whereas a games development course that focuses on computer science with additional modules in games programming (fundamentals of graphics, writing high performance code etc) would be an excellent choice.

To be honest you are more likely to get hired by what you taught yourself outside of the course than what you learned on it. Most companies require some kind of demo, if it isn't flashy enough you won't be noticed. I haven't yet found a company that hires people without experience and without a degree - it is pretty much required for someone to even look at your CV.

Getting into the games industry is brutally hard when you have no experience. You either have to be miles ahead of the pack, have the contacts or just darn lucky (or in most cases all three). Because of this, many people just don't make it in. For this reason, I would suggest making sure your degree is equally value to those outside the industry.

While you are at university though, learn how to code in your spare time. Write some simple games in XNA, learn about shaders and LEARN C++.

You will not get a job in professional games development without C++ unless you are very lucky. Where I work the single most important skill a programmer needs after good communication skills and general aptitude is C++. We don't use XNA, DirectX or OpenGL - most places have their own APIs, libraries or use toolchains like UE3 so these are irrelevant in anything but learning the concepts.

Also network like crazy with people in the industry - see if there are any studios near you, speak to friends of friends, try and get an internship, strike up a rapport with someone important there - anything to get someone on the inside to know your name.

share|improve this answer

My only concern with getting a gaming-specific degree is that it might hinder you from getting out of the industry and into another programming field if you ever had the need to (bad gaming economy, given the choice to re-locate or lose your job/get another programming job in the area, etc.). A computer science degree is more generic and well rounded and should let you be able to get into about any field of programming. You're most likely going to have job training no matter where you end up anyways.

share|improve this answer

Something nobody has mentioned yet, which I'd like to add, is networking. No, not the thing you do with Cat-5 cable, the whole "interacting with people" thing.

The traditional degree is arguably "better" than the game development school degree.

But you will miss out on a huge opportunity to network with other people who are in, have been in, or want to get into the industry. People who would otherwise become friends, mentors, co-workers, co-founders, employers, employees, etc.

So if you do go for a traditional degree, you have to be prepared to miss out on that, and try to compensate for it as best you can.

share|improve this answer
1  
Of course the opposite is true, too. If you attend a traditional school you will have a chance to network with people in other industries. I'd even argue that it's harder to meet lawyers as a computer scientist than it is at as college freshman, whereas it's quite easy to attend GDC and get to know game developers. –  Alex Schearer Jul 27 '10 at 5:36

Both have tradeoffs. Short answer: the trade school can make you marginally more relevant to the game industry, but marginally less relevant to the rest of the world. Since the average career length of a game developer is 5.5 years (we looooves our burnout), going trade school only is essentially a life commitment to the game industry (unless you're prepared to go back for a more conventional undergrad later).

There have been a lot of writings on this subject. My favorite:

http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson44.htm - and really, everything else on Tom Sloper's site. He writes in a no-nonsense style and is not afraid to be very clear about the up and down sides of the industry.

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/298/choosing_a_.php - and really, everything else on GameCareerGuide. This is the whole POINT of the site, as a resource guide for people looking to enter the industry.

And really, type "choosing a game school" into Google and you'll find more advice than you can possibly read before matriculation :)

share|improve this answer

I see there's already an accepted answer, but I thought I'd throw in my two cents, because I disagree with the top-rated answers and I actually do evaluate and hire applicants for programming positions. (Not to imply that others don't! Just that it's something I spend a fair amount of time thinking about..)

First, I agree with Tetrad that if you're passionate and good at what you do, you don't need a degree. I left school shortly before finishing, myself. But having a Computer Science degree definitely is a big plus for any candidate. Tetrad mentions that computer science programs are not about programming. That's true to a point, but that's like saying that going to school for carpentry isn't just about swinging hammers. Looking at it that way, I'm not just looking to hire programmers, I'm looking to hire engineers. I want you to be able to not just write code, but to create well-built systems. A comp sci degree will help you out a lot in that way.

To address the question of whether a game development degree or a comp sci degree is better, I generally prefer to see comp sci degrees, myself. It depends on the program, however - I've heard good things about RPI's program, as coderanger mentioned. But several designers I've worked with have gone for the general "game development" degrees that teach a hybrid of design and programming, and after talking to them, I'm wary of how in-depth the programming portions of those programs are. Then again, applicants coming from those schools tend to have demos or other examples of their work, whereas people coming from comp sci degrees often don't - being able to look at someone's code is a big bonus.

I realize I haven't directly answered your question, but I hope that helps you with your decision.

share|improve this answer
    
We must've gone to different schools, because my undergrad CS program was a joke w.r.t. engineering systems. I agree, good engineers are critical, but from my understanding that's more the area of Software Engineering rather than Computer Science. It also heavily depends on good critical thinking skills, which as far as I'm concerned is more of a question of aptitude than schooling. –  Tetrad Jul 27 '10 at 3:23
1  
I certainly agree about needing critical thinking skills, I'd even go beyond that to say innate talent in general. (I saw may fair share of smart people just not able to hit the 'pointer epiphany' in school..) And some schools certainly can have terrible programs. Anything that involves that much of your time/money is certainly worth plenty of research and planning. As Tetrad said, schooling isn't going to get you a job - school should be less of a credential to show employers that you finished and more an opportunity to prepare for that job as much as possible. :) –  justinian Jul 27 '10 at 4:27
1  
Interesting perspective. Swinging hammers metaphor, lol. –  bobobobo Oct 30 '10 at 14:10

If you can find a degree like the one at Digipen where you learn to build games from the bottom-up in C++, I would recommend taking it. To have a shot in the traditional gamedev world you need to know C++ really well, but if games are your passion and your life, you may get bored on a non-gaming degree and potentially drop-out - I know I would! Especially CS, where you barely learn to program. Any employer that would hire a CS graduate over a more highly skilled programmer from a gaming degree isn't worth working for.

Of course, if want to sidestep the traditional games career path entirely you could just get a copy of Unity or Flash and start making games. In the indie world qualifications are worth nothing and talent is everything!

share|improve this answer
    
It's a lot easier to learn to knock out working code on your own time than it is to learn the subject matter of computer science. Given the choice between a self-taught programmer with a CS degee and a self-taught computer scientist with a game degree - all other appearances being basically equal, like a demo or test results or whatever - I would put far more stock in the former. –  user744 Jul 27 '10 at 20:08

There is a difference between game design and game programming. Now, a lot of game companies use different API's, so having the skills to adjust to a new coding environment is a great skill to have, or you'll be very sorry.

I have seen programs that also teach you a specific set of tools and resources. This specification is great for a while.

As a programmer for the industry its better to just get a CS degree. And, you'll learn design by simply being in the industry and perhaps work up to the position of being designer if you are also creative. However, A lot of leading game designers have degrees from finance to mechanical engineering. So, it doesn't really matter too much what degree you really get, but by the end of the day buddy its really rare to be a lead designer without working up, and landing a programming job with a solid CS background is definitely the best way to go.

The bottom line: A CS degree will help in the game field. Most of the time you are working with middle wear or editing components. By the end of the day you probably never realized you worked on a game!

share|improve this answer

If you go for a Game Development Degree just know they don't hold much steam in normal programming positions. Having said that, Digipen is probably the best program you could do. They have very good relations with Valve and their student projects have won multiple IGF awards yearly.

From Digipen students I have talked to they are very hard core game programming from the very beginning with industry focused skills like C++, OpenGL, and DirectX.

If on the other hand you decide you want a more general Computer Science degree it will prepare you for general programming which is definitely not enough to land a good job as a games programmer. Even worse a lot of schools are trending toward teaching Java as their language of choice.

Joel on Software - The Perils of JavaSchools

If you ever want to blow an interview or any chance at a game programming job, just say your primarily a Java programmer.

I'm not trying to say it's impossible to land a good job as a game programmer with a CS degree but sadly a CS degree will be the least impressive thing on your resume.

Having said all of that, a CS degree definitely won't hurt. Just expect to be spending every spare moment working on side projects and creating an awesome portfolio. Those two things will land you your job. The CS degree is more of a safety net in case you end up not liking 100+ hr crunch times which last for 6 month periods =) (that's a bit extreme but not that uncommon)

share|improve this answer
    
I'm not sure about your advice concerning Java. Google and Amazon, to name two big players, both use Java extensively. Likewise if you apply to Microsoft or a Microsoft shop knowing Java will prepare you using C#. Obviously for game development Java is a non-starter but for the rest of the industry it's a good choice. –  Alex Schearer Jul 26 '10 at 20:20
1  
I was talking about Java in terms of trying to get a Game Programming position. I'm a Sun Certified Java Programmer and program Java professionally. It's a good applications/web language but a poor Game programming language. C++ is the defacto game programming language, and maybe some python, but like the article I linked to said, Java lacks a lot of the difficult programming that makes a programmer great, IE: pointers and recursion(I have yet to see a curriculum that spends much time at all on recursion that is Java based). –  David Young Jul 26 '10 at 20:43
1  
A "real" game developer (20+ years in the industry, did a lot of arcade classics and moved to console stuff) told me the only real technical reason against Java was the managed memory - with the puny hardware they were working on, they couldn't count on a JVM to control memory for them efficiently. I wouldn't knock Java like that... have you heard of Jake2 (port of Quake2) or Runescape (applet-based MMO)? Games are possible to do in Java, and there are some people doing it. –  weiji Jul 27 '10 at 18:34
1  
BTW, what's up with "Java lacks difficult programming"? That seems misdirected. Decades of collective C and C++ experience in the software industry hasn't stopped buffer overflows in everyday programs - does that mean it's appropriately difficult? Guy Steele said "We managed to drag a lot of them about halfway to Lisp" - I see it as enabling higher abstraction, and with that comes different problem spaces and their accompanying issues. I think if you're not doing difficult programming in Java, you're not really working on difficult problems. –  weiji Jul 27 '10 at 18:46
3  
Most of Joel's points about JavaSchools apply just as well to GameSchools. His point is that real education requires breadth, and his lament isn't about Java per se, it's that CS degrees are becoming more and more like trade schools - e.g. game schools - and those just aren't as good at producing thinking people, even if in the short-term it produces working people. –  user744 Jul 27 '10 at 20:13

Having a good general software engineering background is always the best way to go. I was one of the first students through RPI's game studies program (as a minor, major was still CS) and I would say I have gotten about 10x the practical value out of the non-game-related classes. As Tetrad says, the bigger issue is if you are a good programmer regardless of degrees or titles. I think at one point about 1/3 of our software team here didn't have a university degree. At least with RPI's game development classes it was mostly an excuse to get more experience building games which I probably would have done in my spare time anyway. A good, formal game design class is definitely worth looking in to though, mostly so you know more of the terminology used in the industry ("MDA", "system dynamics", "prisoner's dilemma", etc). Few schools offer a good software engineering program, so CS/Games might be the best you can do, but be sure to pay attention to things like OS and network programming too or it will most surely come back to bite you.

share|improve this answer

protected by Noctrine Jan 1 '11 at 18:41

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.