Our 2015 rankings of the Top 20 schools on the West Coast for game design and development. We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.
For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, California
The University of Southern California was established in 1880. It is home to 43,000 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate programs, 300-plus graduate programs, and more than 150 minors. The school features a variety of game design programs at multiple degree levels. USC Games offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment and an MFA in Interactive Media through the School of Cinematic Arts, and a BS in Computer Science (Games) and an MS in Computer Science with a Specialization in Game Development through Viterbi School of Engineering. Minors include Game Animation, Game Audio, Game Design, and Game Entrepreneurism.
USC Games also produces Demo Day. According to USC, Demo Day is "the final showcase for USC Games’ joint advanced games class, a year long capstone project that brings together students from the Interactive Media & Games program, the Computer Science Games program, the Art and Music Schools, Animation program and more."
2. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology was founded in 1988. It is home to around 1,028 students from all 50 states and 45 countries. Digipen offers 10 graduate and undergraduate programs in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science. Offerings for aspiring game designers include a BA in Game Design, a BS in Computer Science and Game Design, a BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (BS in RTIS), a five-year BS in RTIS/MS in Computer Science, and a Minor in Game Design.
Please note that although the BS in RTIS offers “extensive training in mathematics and physics,” according to DigiPen, students in the program also “work both individually and collaboratively to learn the fundamentals of Game Design, Production, and Programming. Additionally, they write game design documents and technical design documents, learn how to schedule tools and techniques, and participate in the full production of several games.” The Game Design programs at Digipen Institute of Technology are offered through the Department of Game Software Design and Production.
3. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California
The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) was founded in 1919. It is home to 43,239 students enrolled in more than 125 programs through 12 colleges and schools. The School of Arts and Architecture is home to the Department of Design Media Arts (DMA) which offers one program for aspiring game designers—a BA in Design Media Arts.
With support from the School of Theater, Film, and Television, DMA also houses the UCLA Game Lab. According to UCLA, the Game Lab “supports exploration of Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres.” In addition to producing games and research, the lab “functions as a center that develops public programming around critical issues in gaming, including: public lectures, workshops, exhibitions, a visiting artist program, and an annual public festival at the Hammer Museum.”
4. University of California - Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
The University of California - Santa Cruz (UCSC) opened in 1965. The school is home to 17,200 students enrolled in more than 100 degree programs through dozens of colleges, divisions, departments, and schools. Several departments and schools offer programs for aspiring game designers. First, the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE), Department of Computer Science (CS), offers a BS in Computer Science: Computer Game Design, an MS in Games & Playable Media, and MS and PhD degrees in Computer Science with a (research) focus in Computer Games.
Next, UCSC’s Art Department houses the Arts Division. The Division offers an MFA in Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) with a Playable Media research option. Lastly, UCSC is home to The Center for Games and Playable Media. Established in 2010, the Center houses the schools “five games-related research labs including the Expressive Intelligence Studio — one of the largest technical game research groups in the world.”
5. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects was established in 1997. It is home to more than 100 students enrolled in variety of computer graphics classes and programs. Offerings for aspiring game designers include one-, two-, and three-year programs leading to a Certificate. Programs include Entertainment Design (One-Year Track), Digital Production for Entertainment (Two-Year Program), Entertainment Design and Digital Production (Three-Year Program), and Maya Fast Track (10-Week Program).
Gnomon also offers a variety of online courses ranging from Games Tools and Techniques to Character Animation, and Master Classes that “focus on different elements of the visual effects and games industries in a private forum.” Master Classes are offered exclusively online.
6. University of California - Irvine, Irvine, California
The University of California - Irvine was established in 1965. It is home to more than 29,000 students enrolled more than 100 programs through 12+ schools. The Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences offers a BS in Computer Game Science (CGS). According to the School, CGS students will “acquire a solid foundation in computer science and software development” and “learn how to create interactive and human-centered computer game designs.” Students will have the opportunity to work in teams to “design and implement new games.”
7. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
The Academy of Art University was established in 1929. It is home to more than 18,000 students enrolled in Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs through several schools. The School of Game Development offers a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. Offerings include AA, BFA, and MFA degrees in Game Development, a BS in Game Programming, and an Online Award of Completion (OAC) in Game Development.
8. Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California
The Art Center College of Design was established in 1930. The school is home to 1,829 students enrolled in more than a dozen programs. Programs for aspiring game designers include a BS in Entertainment Design with a Track in Concept Design or Character Animation. The program, along with both Tracks, can help students prepare for a career in Game Design and Animation.
9. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was founded in 1918. It is home to 1,100 students enrolled in more than a dozen art and design programs. Offerings for aspiring game designers include a BA in Digital Media with a Game & Entertainment Design Major and a Minor in Digital Media.
10. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, CA
Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) was established in 1961 as the “Laguna Beach School of Art.” It is home to just under 500 students enrolled in five undergraduate majors and three graduate programs. Programs for aspiring game designers include a BFA with the following Emphasis Areas: Game Art, 3D Character, and 3D Environment. LCAD also offers an MFA in “Art of Game.”