I am sure you guys can definitely help. Some universities, like NCSU, USC, UCSC for their master's, offer courses based on gaming and game development (some call it MS in Computer Science with an emphasis on game development). I am very interested in this field and I want to give it a shot. But since a master's degree is very costly I have to factor in the future prospects as well. I want to know if this a proper course when a career is also taken into account. Any opinions or ideas? Anyone who has followed this career line?
I agree completely with mrbinary's answer. I am a student at UNC Charlotte and we have a Game Design and Development concentration with our Computer Science degree (in the Bachelor's and Masters track). Essentially you take four classes: Intro to Game Design and Development, Advanced Game Design and Development, Game Studio (a semester long project class), and an elective class pertaining to something related to games (AI, Games with a Purpose, 3D Graphics, etc.). I also work in a research lab for the University run by the professors that created the Game Design and Development concentration doing research and development of Games with a Purpose. I have many friends who have gone through the program, and I completed it halfway through.
Long story short, everyone I know that has completed the program (some bachelors, some masters) and graduated, then sought out a job in the gaming industry, have failed to get a job. Due to my research work, I have travelled to many game related conferences to present work and see other work in the field, and this discussion has come up a lot. One cool thing about these conferences is that people from industry will attend, as well as academics. What I've heard from many people in industry (and this is backed up by none of my friends who went through our degree program getting jobs in the gaming industry) is that going through a Game Development program may actually hinder your ability to get a job in the gaming industry. This is because the games industry is so diverse in terms of how they develop games. Some companies may use C++ as their language of choice, but use it within a custom engine or a custom framework. Others might use C#, others a scripting language (Lua, ActionScript, etc.), others may focus solely on mobile development and use Objective-C or Java, others may build flash games. The choice of programming languages and development environments are extremely diverse. The problem with Game programs at Universities is it gets you experience in one specific framework and methodology of game development that may not always translate to a game companies needs.
I personally think it's better not to specialize in game development for your studies. At least over here in Europe, a "normal" computer science degree gets you as far as any game development-related degree - if not further. Programming is programming, if it's for games or not. By all means, take the game-related classes at your university and (this is the important part) pursue game development as your hobby. Get some hobby projects to the point where you can show them off during interviews when you are done studying.
Are you completely sure that you want to develop games for the rest of your working life? With a game-centered degree you might have a hard time finding other jobs. On the other hand, with a "normal" degree you have the whole range of all computer science-related jobs open to you.
I have studied "normal" computer science myself and haven't had any problems yet getting a job in the games industry.
Having graduated from DigiPen, I would not recommend attempting to specialize your educational as early as your undergraduate work (I also went to a "regular" school to work towards a "regular" computer science degree prior to DigiPen). The proper place for specialization is at the graduate level, either by attending a masters or doctorate program somewhere or studying on your own -- and this seems to be what your question is about.
If you are looking for a job in the game development industry, a graduate degree probably won't help you much. It certainly will not automatically translate into a higher starting salary or a more-senior initial job offer. If anything, you may run the risk of being considered overqualified for the entry-level positions you'd be vying for.
If you study graphics or physics, there may be a place for you in some studios that want to push the boundaries in those fields, but that's kind of a gamble; such positions would be highly competitive and there will also be plenty of industry veterans looking at them.
If you are interested in the study of the industry, or want to teach or do research, a graduate degree can be useful (and indeed, is often a requirement). But if you just want a career making games, I wouldn't recommend it.
Lots of answers here, but I want to chime in with my personal experience.
I'm in the grad program at DePaul University in Chicago. They have a number of degrees, but one of them is Computer Game Development.
In my personal experience, this program is spectacular and I can personally vouch for it to anyone who is considering DePaul. The main reason is that the degree is teaching game programming from a low level. It teaches the ins and outs of C++, to the point that I'm referring to the spec rather than online tutorials. It teaches OpenGL, both fixed and programmable pipeline.
The goal of the program is to make you an excellent problem solver in the framework of video games. The people who leave this school can dig into call stacks, disassembly, and really get down into the nitty gritty.
I would be hesitant to recommend anyone get a game degree that does not teach low level programming like this. On the other hand, I think anyone who wants to get into the game industry would do extremely well for themselves if they looked for any kind of computer science degree that digs into low level stuff like that.
When you go to apply to game programs, showing an incredible knowledge of C++, and how the code you write in it translates into assembly, will really impress them. They're looking for engineers and problem solvers, not just people who have a degree that says 'Game Programming' on it.
I recently (end of 2010) graduated as a Bachelor of Games and Interactive Entertainment, Software Engineering major with a GPA over 6.5 (highest possible GPA is 7.0). My degree is not worth the paper it's printed on.
You're better off taking a vanilla software engineering degree, and taking the game-related units as your elective. (All of this is assuming you're looking at the programming side. If not, same advice applies to art and sound design).
I have received a bachelor degree in a game development course in July and I'm already working for 2-3 months in the game industry.
Maybe it's different in the USA but over here in Europe, if you know decent C++ / C# skills and know how to work with various engines, then this adds a lot of value to your skill set.
I'm not saying it's common that this happens, but it does happen.
I do believe that programmers have an easier time finding a job if you compare it to artists (except if they are really good).