Advice from the IGDA on Choosing an Academic Game Program

by Susan Gold, former Chairperson of the IGDA Education SIG, and Jason Della Rocca, former Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association.

The International Game Developers Association ( means a lot of things to a lot of people. As a professional organization, it has a mission to advance the careers and enhance the lives of those working in the game industry. And as a part of this mission, the IGDA is interested in how they can help young people who want to make game development their careers. Today many students are looking at game programs as a way to learn the skills necessary for a career in games and are confused by the variety of programs available. How do you choose the right program?

The IGDA’s Education Special Interest Group has developed curriculum framework recommendations that schools all over the world are looking to for guidance, and they are good place for potential students to find guidance as well. These recommendations advise schools that are starting a program to consider offering courses in a number of topic areas that are important to game studies. These include the following:

  • Critical game studies
  • Games and society
  • Game design
  • Game programming
  • Visual design
  • Audio design
  • Interactive storytelling
  • Game production
  • Business of gaming

Depending on what part of game development you want to go into, you will want to focus on different requirements. For example, if you want to be a programmer, you’ll want to make sure the program offers a strong set of game programming courses. Or if you want to be a visual designer, make sure there are plenty of courses on visual design for games. You can find more information on these core topic areas at

Much of your decision will depend on your own focus and talents; however, there are some qualities of game studies that you’ll want to make sure your potential school offers no matter what area of emphasis you are interested in. These include the following:

  • Teamwork
  • Rapid prototyping and the iterative process
  • Give students serious responsibilities
  • Facilitate collaborative learning, especially across disciplines
  • Pedagogical model capable of handling the intrinsic complexities of multidisciplinary work

We also encourage students to make sure their program encourages internships or apprenticeships, not only to make sure that they know what they are getting into after graduation, but to see what the real pressures are of working in the game industry. There are several common qualities and skills—no matter what type of degree you get—that lead to success in not only landing a job, but keeping that job. These include being a great team player, communication, and professionalism. An internship is a good way to practice these on-the-job skills. When you are applying to a game program, be sure to ask if they have an internship program already established.

Parents of prospective students often ask us which school is the best game school. This is not a question that has a simple answer. Some schools are at well-known institutions and have great connections with the industry. Others are small and found at local community colleges. Where you get your education depends on your own focus and opportunities, and it might be constrained by money or location. The most important thing is that you learn as much as you can wherever you are. Being curious and dedicated and working hard on your game design skills are more important than where your degree is from.

Many of the game designers and developers today didn’t graduate from a game school. Game design legend Will Wright never even got a university degree. Other developers graduated with a degree in a related field, but they gained their understanding of games by playing and making them. If they were interested in how people played, they watched people playing games; they took human behavior courses and applied the knowledge to their observations and to their games.

The fact that there are schools that have game-specific degrees is a great opportunity if it is available to you, but it is not a requirement to have a game degree to be a great designer or developer. Knowing what you want to do and finding an educational environment that allows you to explore and grow is the best program for the future game developer. And, if you are not able to attend a school with a game-specific degree, the curriculum framework outlines almost every type of course you would need to take to be a well-rounded member of the game industry. So if you can’t go to a school with a degree program, perhaps you can craft your own game program out of the courses available to you at your own school.

For more details on the IGDA curriculum guidelines, check out