Please click here if you do not see a Nav Frame at left

FAQ 44:
Deciding Between Regular College and "Game College"

Originally written: October, 2004 (most recent update: April, 2014)

NOTES:
This article in particular should be read with the realization that the game educational world is changing and varied. This article was written in 2004. Since that time some "game schools" have made significant changes in their curricula. Some game schools now offer bachelors degrees that are shorter than 4 years. And there was quite a big controversy in 2010 about private for-profit colleges and whether or not they serve their students as opposed to the schools' own interests.
A school that offers a variety of degree programs, a large number of which are NOT related to games, is not a "game school" as that term is used herein.
Since this article was originally written, I have been teaching about testing, designing, and producing video games at a mainstream university that also offers game programs. If a game school offered me a teaching position, I might take it. But that wouldn't change my advice that a regular bachelors' degree is the advisable step after high school. Not everyone in the game industry agrees that college is necessary. this April 22, 2014 article on GamesIndustry.biz expresses a variety of opinions on the matter.
Many of my articles here on Sloperama are primarily aimed at aspiring game designers (as opposed to aspiring game programmers or artists), but many of the concepts described herein also apply to those who aspire to other types of jobs in the game industry. This article is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome.



Judging by the questions I get, what I wrote in FAQ 25 and FAQ 34 still don't cover everything satisfactorily. I still see people (even those who've read those previous articles) asking about going to a game school as opposed to getting their degree at a mainstream institution.

Remember the decision grids in FAQ 25? Well, here is the decision grid between "regular college" and "game college." NOTE: Game programming schools vary. Some of them may offer a full 4-year degree, and some of them just want to take your money and give you a crash course. Same thing for game art schools. This grid discusses "typical" (for-profit) game programming schools and "typical" (for-profit) game art schools. You are strongly advised to do your own research - make your own decision grid, using the facts you discover for the schools you are strongly considering.

Explanation

1. Distance from home - You need to factor in the distance. As mentioned in FAQ 25.
2. Cost - If you're rolling in dough, then you don't need to worry about cost, and you can just delete this line altogether. But if you aren't rich, you need to factor in the cost to decide what's best for you. "Game schools" (those that specialize in games) are, for the most part, for-profit schools. You should read up on the for-profit education controversy. My August 2011 IGDA column, The Games Game, is about choosing wisely and within your means.
3. Scholarship? - If you aren't rich, you need to factor into your decision whether or not you can get a scholarship. Do your research, find out if your chosen schools have scholarship programs or not.
4. Game Programming - If what you want to become is a game programmer, you would benefit by some game-specific programming education. If you want to be a game designer or artist, game programming may not be essential for you.
5. Generic Programming - If you want to be a game programmer, you should get a CS degree (Computer Science). At the very least, you must have a solid grounding in the basics of programming. Find out if your chosen school offers basic programming courses or not.
6. Game Graphics - If you want to be a game artist, you would benefit by some game-specific art education. If you want to be a game programmer, and are not artistic, you don't need these courses. It depends on YOUR particular needs.
7. Generic Art Classes - If you want to be a game artist, you must have a solid grounding in art. Do your research. Find out if your chosen school offers basic classes. History of art, art appreciation, how to draw, how to sculpt - basic stuff is important (are you surprised?).
8. General Education (Liberal Arts) - If you want to be an independent adult living in the real world and in the world of business, you need a general education. You also need a liberal arts education if you want to be a game designer. If you find a "game school" that also teaches a full curriculum (psychology, English, foreign languages, science, math, literature, history, sociology, etc.), then great. Go for it. If not, well, believe it or not, you need all that stuff. Especially if you eventually decide the game biz isn't for you after all - a regular advanced-learning degree can serve you well, in the biz or out there in the regular world.
A reader said it better when he wrote me in November 2007:

9. Game Design Classes - Guess what, precious few schools actually offer a B.A. in "Game Design" in the proper sense (some schools say "game design" when they actually mean "game programming" - and some schools say "game design" when they actually mean "game graphics"). It would be useful to at least have some classes in game design, even if you're going to be a programmer or artist. (If you're going to program your own original game, you NEED to study game design.) Research your chosen school to make sure they offer what YOU need for YOUR chosen career direction. If you want to prepare for a career in game DESIGN, see FAQ 3.
10. Business Topics - If you hope to someday own your own game development company, or even just manage the process of producing games, you should take some business classes. Maybe get an M.B.A. Check to see if your chosen school offers this or not (if you have these ultimate goals).
11. Will hirers be impressed - This is a stupid question, but it's a Frequently Asked Question. So I included it here. You should not worry about impressing anybody by what school is listed on your resume. Nobody will be "impressed" by any school! But for argument's sake, I ran this through the grid. I put a Yes only under Ivy League and big-name state schools. In general, those are the only two that will "impress" anybody. In fact, though, a hirer will be impressed if you worked your own way through a community college and then went to a small state school. But the entries in this line vastly oversimplify things. A hirer who went to a small state school will probably be reluctant to hire what he might consider a snotty "richer-than-thou" Ivy Leaguer. And I put a No under all the other schools - this is because no, where you got your degree really doesn't matter. As I wrote in FAQ 25 (you already read that, right? RIGHT?). Hirers are "impressed" by an impressive candidate with an impressive portfolio - they aren't impressed by a candidate having gone to the "right" (note quotation marks) school. There is no such thing as "the right school." Get that through your head! Please!
12. Are any of these colleges better than high school? - Some idiots think they can skip college and just get a job. So I put this line in. (Of course, if you genuinely can not attend any college, you shouldn't even be reading this. You should only agonize over decisions when you actually have choices, thus actually have decisions to make.) But the answer to the stupid question, "is college worth it" is - YES, YES, YES.
13. Do I get a 4-year Bachelors degree at this type of college? - I suppose you can get a 4-year Bachelors' at the usual generic community college. I've heard that folks use CCs to get a couple years of credits and then transfer to a bigger school. And maybe some of the game schools might possibly offer a 4-year Bachelors' degree. Do your own research. Find out if your chosen schools offer this or not.
14. Does a degree from this school get me into the biz sooner? - Some idiots think there's a fast route into the biz. So I put this line in. NONE of these schools can guarantee you a job quicker than any other path. Skipping college and building a portfolio? That'll probably take just as long, if not longer - and since you aren't trained as a teacher, you won't teach yourself all the right stuff. Some of these schools may have job placement programs - do your research! Find out!
15. Lots of girl students there? - A dumb question that male students are likely to ask. There are female students at the game schools - but whereas the M:F ratio might be 1:1 at regular colleges, the ratio is more like 9:1 or 10:1 at game schools. (Based on the game industry ratio per the 2003 Salary Survey at www.gamasutra.com. You can get the latest salary survey at gamecareerguide.com, type "salary survey" in the site's Search box.) There'll probably be more female students at an art school than a programming school.
16. Does this type of school prepare the student for adult life? - You need to go to a regular college after finishing high school. Then, after you have your Bachelors', if you can afford it, go to a game school. Read FAQ 25.
Total score - This article was changed in December 2005 to accommodate comments from folks who are familiar with some particular game schools. Before, I only added the Yeses, except the one about female students. But for this re-do, I changed the score calculation. To add up the score, I count a Yes as 1 point. A questionable Yes is a half point. A No is minus 1, and a "probably not" (N?) is a minus half point. Oh, and I completely disregarded the answers to the two stupid questions (marked in red).
I was interested to see my own results (YOUR calculation will vary) - I knew that the regular colleges would score higher than the game colleges, because I highly value the mainstream 4-year Bachelors' degree. But it surprised me to see that I scored the local community college highest. Analyzing it, I see that it's mainly because CCs cost a lot less than the other two mainstream school types.
And I scored the game art school the lowest, mainly because I assume they do not offer a mainstream education or a 4-year degree, or classes in game design or business. Besides, how good could a school be if they don't have me teaching there? (^_^) I could be wrong in some of my assumptions, and my priorities may not agree with yours. You need to do your own grid.

The upshot - You need to get a regular college/uni education after finishing high school. The mainstream Bachelors' will stand you in good stead, whether you are going to work in the game biz for your whole life or move on to something else after a few years. The best approach, if you can afford it, is to go to a game school after you have your B.A. If you find a game school that offers a full regular education as well as game courses, all the better. But if you have to choose between regular college and game college, my advice is that you choose the regular mainstream institution. ESPECIALLY if you want to become a game designer (as opposed to a programmer or artist). Read FAQ 3 to learn more about preparing to become a game designer, FAQ 34 about choosing a degree program, and read FAQ 25 for more about choosing the school that's right for YOU.


Want to hear other people's opinions? Read http://scientificninja.com/advice/on-game-schools and this December 2007 article: Schooling Game Programmers: Specialized Degrees vs. Computer Science by Marie Ferrer in GameCareerGuide. Also read http://arstechnica.com/journals/thumbs.ars/2008/08/26/why-your-gaming-degree-may-be-a-waste-of-time.

A new site that lets site visitors review colleges -- http://www.unigo.com .



Got a question about this lesson? Just ask me. I'll answer on the Game Biz Q&A Bulletin Board.

Click here to go to the previous lesson.

Click here to go to the next article.

If you want lists of game schools, see my Game Biz Links page.

Click here to return to the School-A-Rama main page.

Updates to these articles are logged at log.html.

© 2004-2014 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.