|1||University of Southern California||California|
|2||New York University||New York|
|3||DigiPen Institute of Technology||Washington|
|5||Savannah College of Art and Design||Georgia|
|6||University of Texas at Dallas||Texas|
|7||The New School/Parsons||New York|
|8||Academy of Art University||California|
|9||Texas A&M University||Texas|
|10||The Ohio State University||Ohio|
Below are the Top 10 Game Design schools and colleges offering Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree programs for 2019. For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
The Interactive Media & Games Division at University of Southern California (USC) is part of USC Cinematic Arts. The Division offers an intensive three-year MFA in Interactive Media and an MFA in Interactive Media (Games and Health). The Interactive Media MFA prepares students for creative careers in the emerging field of interactive entertainment. The program requires 50 units of which 26 are requirements and 24 are electives chosen from a number of core area groupings.
Students must take at least six units of expression studios, studying a breadth of skills involved in creating Interactive Media, at least two units of professionalization electives, two units of electives building technical skills and another six units of electives crafting a specialization in the field. Students are also expected to engage in an internship or professional work environment during the summer following their second semester. Students are required to complete an advanced interactive project, which they design and produce in CTIN 594a and CTIN 594b Master's Thesis.
The MFA program is competitive, admitting just 15 students in the fall semester.
The MFA in Interactive Media with an Emphasis in Games and Health is administered in conjunction with the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center. Some initiatives for the program include Games for Health, Social and Sensorimotor Play, Healthy Brain Architecture, Storytelling for Mobile Health (mHealth), The Future of Heallth Care, and Sports and Exercise for Wellness.
The Emphasis for the 50 credit hour degree is to “to provide specialized training and hands-on experience to enrolled MFA students toward design, development and evaluation of interactive entertainment for health and happiness.”
Students in both programs have access to the GamePipe Laboratory. Sponsored by Intel, Sony, and other technology companies, the Lab produces a "Demo Day," which allows students to showcase their work. The semiannual event attracts game industry reps, reporters, faculty, students, and hundreds of spectators from across the country.
2. New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts, New York, New York
Tisch School of the Arts (Tisch) at New York University (NYU) is home to the NYU Game Center, Department of Game Design, which offers a graduate program known as The Game Center MFA. This two-year degree kicks off with the annual GAME CENTER BOOT CAMP, which hthe school describes as “a week of socializing and intensive programming workshops immediately before school begins.” The Boot Camp “gets everyone comfortable with each other and with making games. Then the first semester begins. Every MFA student takes the same courses during their first term.”
Students will study the “design and development of games in a context of advanced critical literacy, with the goal of becoming game designers and developers, artists and curators, critics and scholars.” Students in the program will gain hands-on experience by taking studio courses and participating in play labs. Sample courses include Game Design, Game Production, Game Studies, and Game History. A wide range of electives allows students to “explore everything from Game Journalism to Games and Players (a class on the psychology and emotions of game play).”
Classes and events for all Game Center programs take place at the Media and Games Network (MAGNET) at the NYU Brooklyn campus. MAGNET also houses the Game Center Open Library, which is "the largest collection of games held by any university in the world."
3. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology offers an MFA in Digital Arts that the school says allows students to “make the jump from traditional to digital media” and equip themselves “with the 2D and 3D art skills most relevant to today’s careers in games, animation, and other visual media production environments.” Students in the program will “gain familiarity with the tools and techniques most commonly used for digital painting, 3D sculpting, and more,” and they will tailor their elective coursework in order to focus on the skills and specializations that matter most. Students will also build a professional portfolio via the MFA Thesis Project.
In addition to the Thesis project, students will have the opportunity to collaborate with peers on team-based student projects, including games and films, as part of elective coursework. These projects give students firsthand experience creating 2D and 3D digital assets in a setting that reflects the professional studio environment.
Students will graduate from the MFA program with “extensive” 3D production experience, a “deep” understanding of the 3D graphics production pipeline, “strong” research skills, and a specialization in modeling, sculpting, or character art.
DigiPen student games have won 57 Independent Games Festival awards (more than any other school) and to date, more than 550 companies around the world have hired DigiPen graduates. DigiPen alumni have been credited on more than 1,000 commercial game titles.
4. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University offers an MFA in Game Design through the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM). Launched as a cohort-based program in Fall 2017, the MFA “prepares students to advance the frontier of games by exploring emerging theories and applying them to practice,” says the school. “The games students create throughout their degree will be challenged by peers and faculty in critiques.” Course highlights include Art Games Bootcamp, Game Design Workshop, Games with a Purpose Bootcamp, Incubation Studio, and Game Development Practicum. Students will also complete a Thesis.
All students have access to the DePaul Game Experience (DGE), which allows a select group of students to work on a game to submit to the Student IGF Competition. Past DGE teams have made entries that were finalists in the IGDA student competition. Students in all Game Design programs also have access to the Deep Games Laboratory and all CDM labs, including several that intersect with the program specifically, including game development and research, gameplay, virtual reality, and playtest and usability labs.
The Deep Games Laboratory is a cross-disciplinary design, research, development, and assessment game lab housed in CDM that focuses on games exploring the human experience.
Recent DePaul Game Program graduates have gone on to work at Disney Interactive Studios, NeatherRealm Studios, Owlchemy Labs, Firaxis, Wargaming, Phosphor Games, Carbine Studios, Scientific Games, and many others. Several grads have gone on to form their own gaming companies, including Young Horses, whose indie hit Octodad was developed at DePaul.
5. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers an MFA in Interactive Design and Game Development (IDGD) through the School of Digital Media. The MFA program is offered at the Hong Kong and Savannah campuses and through eLearning. Course highlights include Environments for Games, Visual Interface and Information Design, Character Development, Scripting for Interactivity, Game Design Documentation, Contemporary Art, Human-Centered Interactive Design, and Interactive Design and Media Applications.
Interactive Design and Game Development Portfolio and Business Practices is also part of the program as well as Thesis Studio I & II, and a Graduate Internship. Students will have access to networking and employment opportunities through visiting professionals each quarter who interview for positions and review portfolios. Recent visitors include representatives from Zynga, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Crystal Dynamics and Activision.
Graduates have been recruited by Epic Games, Sucker Punch Productions, Firaxis Games, and many others.
6. University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas
The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) houses the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC). Created in 2015, the School merged two long-running programs at UT Dallas: the program in Arts and Technology and the program in Emerging Media and Communication. ATEC serves more than 1,500 students, including 100 MA and MFA students and 40 doctoral students.
Per the school, the MFA in ATEC “fosters collaboration across disciplines, blending art, technology, humanists, scientists, roboticists, programmers, designers, and innovators.” Students are admitted into one of three pathways including Game Development, Creative Practice, or Animation.
In the Game Development MFA pathway, “students study the structure, content, and design of games and engage in game design practices suitable for academic, educational, experimental, independent, and commercial applications.” Research areas for graduate students include Game Studies, Game Development, Interaction Design, Computer Animation, and more.
The MFA program is a good pathway whether students are interested in teaching arts- and technology-related courses in colleges and universities or working in a professional studio or design practice. Graduate students may also choose to pursue additional research opportunities.
Career opportunities include, but are not limited to, the application of 3-D computer animation, modeling and simulation, data visualization, virtual environments, sound design, digital fabrication, interactive narrative, and/or game design in studio arts, creative industries, cultural institutions, or education.
7. The New School/Parsons, New York, New York
The New School/Parsons houses the School of Art, Media, and Technology (AMT), which offers an MFA in Design and Technology (MFA DT). The MFA DT is a studio-based program that consists of collaborative studios and the thesis studios. Per the school, “in Collaboration Studio courses, students work on real-world projects with industry firms and nonprofits. Past partners include Red Bull, Intel, Apple, Eyebeam, gameLab, Human Rights Watch, Mozilla, NASA, the Red Cross, Samsung, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
Students also have the opportunity to work with peers in related programs including Communication Design, Photography, Fine Arts, and Illustration, and they have many elective options to choose from in order to create their own “coherent” study plan. Areas of practice include interaction design, physical computing, game design, new media art, digital fabrication, data visualization, and critical design.
Other program highlights include access to Parson’s extensive libraries, galleries, and state-of-the-art facilities and opportunities to visit industry leaders such as MTV, Nickelodeon, and Curious Pictures. Other industry partners include Apple, Atari, Human Rights Watch, MTV, Siemens, and UNESCO.
Graduates leave the Game programs at Parsons with the skills needed to pursue careers in game design, virtual reality and immersion experience design, motion graphics, animation, film, advertising, software design, hardware engineering, and graphic arts.
8. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Academy of Art University is home to the School of Game Development. Here, students can earn an MFA in Game Development. According to the school, these multidisciplinary game programs provide a “well-rounded education in the arts with an emphasis on understanding and applying techniques including 3D modeling, animation and lighting in video game production.”
Courses for the Game Development programs cover techniques in game design, game programming, concept art, 3D modeling, and animation, among others. Course highlights include History of Comics: International and Alternative Comics, 3D Character Artist, 3D Environment Modeling, Environment Concept, Game/Level Design, UX/UI, and The Power of Signs: Semiotics & The Visual Arts. The programs include internships, collaborative projects, and Games Portfolio Preparation. The MFA program requires a thesis, as well as Directed Study.
The Game Development programs at Academy of Art prepare students for positions such as Game Designer, 3D Modeler, Concept Artist, UI/UX Designer, and many others.
9. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture founded the Visualization program in 1989. It features gaming-oriented study options in the MS and MFA degrees as well as enhanced game design curricula at the undergraduate level. The MFA in Visualization in Visualization is the only program of its kind in Texas and one of only a handful of its kind in the U.S.
Per the school, the program is designed for students “seeking a computing technology-infused terminal degree in the visual arts applicable to employment in digital media fields, working as a contemporary artist, and teaching in post-secondary digital arts programs.” This non-thesis degree requires the completion of 60 hours of coursework and a satisfactory presentation of a body of work by the candidate. “A written document addressing issues pertinent to the final study is also required.”
All Visualization students have access to the Department of Visualization’s Learning Interactive Visualization Experience Lab. Established in 2014, the Lab “provides space for graduate and undergraduate students to create game prototypes while learning about game theory, the art and science of the visual image and game history. In the lab, through research and rigorous scientific process, students collaborate with specialists from visualization, educational psychology, computer science and engineering to create innovative, interactive software.”
Visualization program alumni can be found working as creative talent for Hollywood’s leading animation and special effects studios including Pixar, Blue Sky, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Industrial Light and Magic, DreamWorks Animation, Rhythm & Hues Studios and Reel FX.
10. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
The Ohio State University Department of Design offers an MFA with a Digital Animation and Interactive Media (DAIM) Track. Per the school, “in collaboration with the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD), the definition of digital animation extends beyond the traditional through the exploration of new and emerging technologies. Real time graphics and virtual environments, performance animation, game art, responsive and interactive media and installations are some of the areas in which we expand the applications of digital animation.”
The program requires 60 credit hours of study including core design courses (18 credits), thesis project and writing development (15 credits), and open electives in the themes of studio/lab (12 credits), history/theory/criticism (9 credits), and collaborative/interdisciplinary studio (6 credits). “Students work closely with a three-person thesis committee to develop their thesis topics and the vehicles best used for their development.” Most students complete the program within a period of six semesters.
Students utilize state of the art facilities, equipment, and interdisciplinary expertise in the school’s many special labs, including the ACCAD.