What degree do I need to be a Video Game Programmer?

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DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What is Video Game Programming?

Video game programming is all about languages – meaning the internal software that allows users to interact with the particular game. Programming or scripting language is the code game programmers use to produce the desired settings and mechanics of the game. Various languages are applicable depending on the game device it is intended for—for example, a PC, console, or smartphone. After learning how to code, game developers can gradually master these programming languages:

JavaScript:  Primarily used along with HTML5 game development for browser-based and mobile games. One of the drawbacks is its limitations on 3D graphics, which forces developers to rely on 2D.

HTML5:  This language allows multi-player experiences and 3D graphics, and it is relatively easy to learn for budding video game developers. It can also be built into a website and published for all to see.

C++:  Most console and Windows games use this language, and it’s crucial for game designers and programmers. Anyone creating a game for Windows Xbox needs to know this programming language to reach millions of potential players. It is one of the quickest programming languages, capable of running several complex tasks simultaneously in a video game.

Python:  It is a talented programming language with applications outside of video games, for example, cybersecurity, music and movie streaming services, and data science. Python is a high-level (easy to understand), object-oriented (based on data) language launched in 1992, used in data analytics, artificial intelligence, web development, video game development, finance, SEO (search engine optimization), and more.

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The languages above are not a complete list. Other players in programming are:

  • Future game programmers may also explore Objective C – used for iOS platform games;
  • Lua has gained a foothold as a multi-platform scripting language;
  • Papyrus, a newcomer, developed by Bethesda Studios for their Creation Engine;
  • Squirrel is another high-level object-oriented programming language able to solve complex real-time problems that demand a lot of bandwidth.

Therefore, video game programming requires proficiency in different languages, which should be reflected in programs devoted to video game development or design.

Game development is a blanket term consisting of game design and game programming – the two terms are not synonymous. There’s a distinct difference. The former is responsible for the game’s creative design, meaning the artistic side of game development. Some factors involved in game design are the characters, rules, goals of the game, story, scenery, all with the intent to lure gamers. A substantial team of designers exists in titan gaming companies like Electronic Arts, each with their specific assignment. For example, individuals working on the plot, others on the controls, audio design, and others on the visual experience.

In companies like Nintendo, Activision Blizzard, Sony Computer Entertainment, and Take-Two Interactive Software may have these positions for designers:

  • Lead Designer: Works in a management capacity to oversee the game development
  • Game Mechanics Designer: Focuses on the game’s balance (challenges) and its rule system; examples are – driving a vehicle, fighting enemies, climbing, and exploration.
  • Environmental Designer: Creates different scenarios and settings for the game

The programmer’s responsibilities rest on the technological know-how – implementing the designer’s ideas and bringing them to life using computer code, aka programming languages. This phase is the scientific aspect of the video game creation process. Like game designers, in a large studio environment, each programmer might be dedicated to a specific function, like sound or characters’ actions. Regardless of the size of the gaming department, the designer and programmer will collaborate to create a successful enterprise for the gaming community.

The programmer involves taking the design specifications of the game, integrating the art and sound, and translating it all into a playable experience. To accomplish this, the programmer relies on computer skills, mainly through using mathematics, logic, and programming languages, as mentioned above, like C/C++. They must work hand-in-hand with the game artists, musicians, and designers as they combine their talents to bring the game to fruition.

Game Programmer Education

Computer wizard would be a suitable moniker for anyone pursuing a degree that requires mathematics and proficiency in computer languages. In the years leading up to choosing the appropriate college program, the prospective game programmer has undoubtedly demonstrated an interest and aptitude for this complex field. During the high school years, students should take trigonometry, physics, and calculus to prepare for the rigors of studying coding.

Thus, the student should research for those colleges or universities offering programs in game design and programming. Determine if the school provides training in computer science basics with a variety of courses in game programming or development. Does the school have a specialty area in 3D graphics since that is the way more games are evolving? Are there courses in computer languages, such as C++, Java, and scripting?

Entry-level jobs might be available with an associate degree, of which City Colleges of Chicago has an Associate of Applied Science in Game Design and Development. The study plan touches on game development and design, production, testing, and graphics. Examples of the courses are Creating the Art of the Game, Motion Graphics, Design, Game Programming, and Game Producing. The only language studied is C# used in websites, mobile apps, games, and others.

Another possibility is an associate degree in computer programming that teaches JavaScript, Java, HTML5, and SQL. However, some programs produce business application programmers, systems analysts, website developers, and not game programmers. Cochise College, a two-year school, has two campuses and four centers in Southern Arizona. One of the offerings is an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming that consists of a Programming in Virtual Reality Development Concentration. The former includes instruction in Programming Logic, C, and Java Programming; the latter teaches Virtual Reality Programming Logic and VR Development in Unity. Graduate of the VR option will be able to construct virtual environments using the Unity game engine platform.

Community and technical colleges offer an associate degree in Simulation and Game Development, namely the North Carolina Community College System, with several institutions across the state. Their Associate of Applied Science includes 3D Modeling, Design, and the programming languages: C++, Java, and C#.

The horizon expands at the undergraduate level for choices in colleges offering game development and game programming. A bachelor’s degree will provide more job opportunities in the gaming industry that started in 1972 with Pong. It was a two-player arcade game that had each person slide a small bar to deflect a moving ball back to the opponent—an extraordinarily archaic and primitive game design by current standards.

The gaming industry is a veritable gold mine. Today, over 456 million people are playing eSports, and more than 2.5 billion people play games globally – about 33% of the world’s population! China and the United States generate the most revenue from the gaming industry, with $40.8 (USD) and $36.92 billion, respectively. In 2021, mobile games were almost 50% of the worldwide video game revenue, and growth could reach 57% in 2021. Video game profits could attain $180 billion in 2021, with console games taking 22% of the profits.

The statistics above should entice students with a penchant for computer languages to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Consider choosing one with a Game Studio to complete games from inception to finished product. Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, has a game development program ranked as one of the Top 20 Game Design Schools by The Princeton Review.

Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Game Programming at Champlain study Game Design, Production, Game Business, Game Art, and Game Sound Design in one of its six game labs. Starting in the first semester, students become immersed in game development and programming, then proceed to Advanced Programming and 3D Math during the Spring semester. By the third year, students have classes in graphics, animation programming, and game studio.

Digital Simulation and Gaming Engineering Technology Bachelor of Science is available at Shawnee State College in Portsmouth, Ohio. Graduates will have the qualification to work in game programming, simulation, and design as the coursework takes the game programmer’s perspective. The program consists of 27 hours of Computer Engineering Technology and 33 hours of Simulation and Gaming Engineering courses. Students take Game Programming I & II, Computer Graphics I & II, Realtime Interactive, and Digital Simulation Design Lab I & II.

The assortment of computer classes allows graduates to seek employment in other areas of computer science, like software engineering, multimedia programming, simulation programming, and development engineering.

Individuals endowed with artistry and creativity should add Full Sail University to their menu of schools because it has Game Design, Digital Marketing, Film Production, Digital Arts and Design, Creative Writing, Game Art, and Game Development. Students in the latter will design, develop, and produce a playable game applying their knowledge of Computer Graphics, Computer Architecture, Artificial Intelligence, and Software Engineering.

Part of the curriculum at Full Sail includes Systems Programming, 3D Content Creation, Engine Development, Game Integration, Programming, and Video Game Development. Students have the choice of learning on-campus (Winter Park, Florida) or online.

Many schools also have a Masters in Science (M.S.) in Game Design and Development or Game Programming. These master’s programs could be considered a terminal degree in the game development and programming field.  Comparable to a baccalaureate, these programs delve further into artificial intelligence, object-oriented systems design and analysis, principles of database design, and computer simulation and modeling.

The College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University in Chicago has a Master of Science in Game Programming online or on-campus. Courses that highlight software engineering, artificial intelligence, animation, networking, and computer graphics result in 93% of master’s graduates finding employment within six months. Upon closer examination of the classes, they lack programming but are plentiful in animation, graphics, AI, mobile app development, and software testing & development.

The Master of Science in Computer Science with a concentration in Game Development at USC-Viterbi is another example of few classes in programming languages. The curriculum focuses on interactive and game design, game engine development, computer animation, game consoles, and experiments in interactivity. This course structure is indicative of most graduate degree programs as they emphasize creating, designing, AI, and mobile gaming without teaching programming languages. Perhaps these programs rely on undergraduate curricula to provide this training.


While earning a degree in game programming, you may want to seek an internship. Epic Games is one source for high school graduates with zero to three years of work experience in a tech job or gaming industry. Epic internships can last from three to twelve months year-round. It is an impressive way to gain experience and bolster your resume upon graduation.

Employment sites like Glassdoor are a source of internships across the United States. You’ll have to do some digging because there is a range of internships unrelated to gaming if you type in game developer intern—for example, data science intern, iOS Developer, Software Quality Assurance, and Systems Engineer.

Game Programmer Employment

Regardless of the degree, you want the years of study to manifest into a satisfying job. Surprisingly, given the billions of profits in the gaming industry, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t report on the occupation of video game programmers. The nearest profession is Computer Programmers, who have a projected decline in employment of 9% through 2029. Therefore, it’s challenging to obtain an accurate picture of the potential job market for game developers or programmers. GameDesigning lists the average income of game programmers at $64,900 – about the same as game designers. Whereas the site states the salary range for game developers is between $45,000 and $100,000.

Indeed, a well-known employment site reported a 65% drop in job postings from 2014 to 2017 despite revenue growth in the gaming industry.  However, the interest in video game jobs remained constant. One hypothesis for the higher profits is that the top gaming companies, such as Electronic Arts, Activision, Epic Games, and Blizzard Entertainment, are gaining a more significant share of the pie. Fewer employers equate to fewer job openings regardless of how much growth in the gaming industry.

To be more marketable, you could take the programmer exam available by Unity to earn a Certified Professional designation. The certification is for software developers, software engineers, and gameplay programmers. Before applying for the exam, you need two-plus years of work in game or 3D interactive programming using Unity before applying for the exam. Unity also offers online learning with live and on-demand sessions for creators at all skill levels.

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