Useful tips on studying game development abroad

icon_feature1“Games are hobbies, not a profession,” mother yelled theatrically on hearing my ‘audacious’ plan of enrolling in a game design school as part of my education. This should have surprised me, but surprisingly, it didn’t. What actually astonished me was how little time it took to convince her that making games is a real business; a multi-billion dollar industry flourishing in all its glory.

As to what made my mother change her mind, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe it was my innocent face pleading with her or maybe she likes her son being different from others. If I had to choose, I’d say that the times we are living in proved to be the biggest contributor to her decision. The global nature of today’s society ensures that everyone’s on the same page, albeit not literally. My mother must have researched on the internet or called up a student counsellor, which resulted in her realising that my audacious plan was not so audacious after all.

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Most dreams are achievable today, you just have to wake up to realise it. The point I’m trying to make is, if anyone wants to make games for a living, this is the best time to pursue it. As for me, I’m on my way to Digipen this September for an Arts degree in Game Design; the first step in a long journey. My college applications necessitated a lot of research, thus giving me insights into the workings and functioning of the gaming industry and what would be expected of me. Here are some of my findings that might be useful to anyone interested in doing the same.

No matter how talented you are at playing and even understanding games, grasping how the industry works, keeping in mind everything from creativity to commerciality, is a must. Playing games and making games are different arts and may not necessarily be connected.

As the industry grows, specialised schools that provide game development degrees for undergraduates are starting to come up. They are dedicated degree courses that typically last 3-4 years and teach you the art and skills required to make your very own game someday. But it’s not that easy. Game universities are not like normal universities in terms of size, education, workload and even people. If you’re under the impression that as a student, learning how to make games involves sitting in front of the television and playing all day, alas, you are wrong. In fact, the effort required at times is so overwhelming that you might not even get a chance to play at all. When deadlines loom, a student is required to put in more than 16 hours a day. Many students quit after the first year itself because of burnout and the inability to cope with the curriculum.

But after everything, if you believe that this is what you want to do, nothing should and nothing will stop you. Unfortunately for us Indians though, there aren’t any reputed colleges here that provide game development courses. Therefore, I’ve made a little list of the top colleges around the world that specialise in this field for prospective students.

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Game Development courses are basically of two types:

Arts in Game Design
This course is for the creative people. For people who are more interested in the artistic side of the game rather than the technical side. Typically, there aren’t any special pre-requisites needed for this course but you need to have a good hand at drawing. These are some of the potential job titles for graduates of this course:

  • Level Designer
  • Environmental Artist
  • Modeller
  • Game Designer
  • Character Modeller
  • Character Animator
  • Artist

Science in Game Design
This course is for the technical folks. For geeks (I mean that in a good way), who like maths and coding and are more interested in the programming aspect of the game. It is a computer science degree with emphasis placed solely on games. So you will probably be dealing with numbers and math throughout your course, but if you like it, then this is the course for you. Some of the potential job titles for graduates of this course:

  • AI Programmer
  • 3D Programmer
  • Game Designer
  • Game Programmer
  • Level Designer
  • Game Tester
  • Game Developer

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Now let’s move on to the institutes.

Digipen Institute of Technology
Often dubbed as the Harvard of game design institutes, Digipen has a reputation of churning out the best game developers, but is also known for its rigorous work schedule. This premier institute gets more than 20,000-plus queries each year and after doing their research about the rigours of the course, eventually around 1,000 candidates fight for just over 250 slots. That’s a 25% acceptance rate! So getting in is not that easy. Digipen currently has 2 campuses; one in the US and the other in Singapore. Website

Full Sail
Digipen and Full Sail have been often compared to each other. Both have a high placement rate and both have campuses in the US. While Digipen predominantly offers courses related to games, Full Sail also provides a number of courses in the entertainment field. The university was named as one of the ‘Top Five Game Design Schools’ in the world by the Electronic Gaming Monthly, hence, its reputation is unprecedented. Website

Guildhall at SMU
Guildhall is another leading institute that offers courses in game development. For undergraduates, it currently offers an innovative five-year dual degree in Computer Science or a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts. It has been just over 5 years since the beginning of the above courses and the college has so far let out over 300 polished students in the market. The institute is well known in the industry. Website

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Getting into these universities is not that easy. Generally, a very good math score is required for students interested in the Science courses, whereas, the Art students will need to submit an art portfolio. Apart from this, there aren’t any special pre-requisites needed, except for the fact that you need to have completed at least 12 years of formal education. Different universities have different requirements, so be sure to check with them before applying.

Now, some may argue that going to a regular university for a traditional Computer Science or Arts degree would also serve the purpose; it’s also cheaper and the campuses are much bigger. So why put in the extra effort and money and go to a specialised institute?

Institutes like Digipen and Full Sail, in addition to offering quality courses that focus on games and games only, mainly help you build contacts in the industry. Digipen has close ties with Nintendo, as its US campus is located in the Nintendo of America premises. The faculty of these institutes consist of industry professionals and veterans. Besides, you also have friends who will graduate with you. So, you can have a nice big network set up by the time you graduate.

Also note that most of these institutes have a very high placement rate, therefore, the chances of you getting a job is very high. So if you’re really sure that this is what you want to do, then a specialised school is the way to go, because gaming is an art that requires discipline. And now you have ways to learn this discipline.

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