The commercial games industry is growing faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. For the 2009-2012 period, growth in the industry was 9.7%, while growth for the U.S. economy was just 2.4%. Further, direct employment in the games industry grew at an annual rate of 9%, while total U.S. employment increased at an annual rate of just 0.724%.
This booming industry has added $6.2 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with 146,000 jobs (both direct and indirect) depending on it. Worldwide revenues are expected to reach $107 billion in 2017, and the current U.S. industry directly employs more than 42,000 people in 36 states. It’s no wonder professionals in the industry averaged close to $95,000 in 2012, which is more than double the National Average Wage Index (AWI) for that year.
As you may have guessed, there has never been a better time to choose a career in the games industry, and colleges across the America have taken notice. Many schools now offer competitive degree programs in just about every area of game design and development and at every level. And because more game designers than ever before opt to work overseas, some schools, such as Becker College (Worcester, MA), even offer a Japanese Culture Specialization within their game design program.
Game programming, game design, game audio, game development, game management and production, art and design, writing for games, game and interactive media, computer science, software development, and software engineering are just a few of the programs that can help graduates land a lucrative position in the games industry fairly quickly—even at the bachelor’s level. Aim for an advanced degree, and the chances of landing an even higher paying position greatly increase. Why? Because advanced degrees are in high demand in just about every professional career field.
Employers know that candidates with an advanced degree have certain skills that go beyond technology and creativity. Critical thinking, complex problem solving, and correct decision-making are three of the most desired skills employer’s look for. PhDs excel in all three areas. Employers also recognize that PhDs have the skills needed to organize and lead teams, teach, manage, and conduct research. While these skills are important in the academic world, they are also an asset at the higher levels at most major game studios, software development firms, and interactive media companies.
A games PhD will continue to work for graduates well after they’ve landed their dream job too. In fact, stability and salary growth are practically guaranteed at this level. Here’s why:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate for PhD and Professional Degree holders is a mere 1.7% and 1.5%, respectively, and the rate for master’s degree holders is 2.4%. Compare this to 2.8%, 3.8%, and 5% for bachelor’s degree holders, associate degree holders, and those with some college, but no degree, respectively. Further, projected employment growth in the broader technology sector is an impressive 17% to 19% for the 2014-2024 decade, and salaries increased from a median average salary of $90,060-$99,000 in 2013 to $100,690 for 2015. In general, though, PhDs simply earn more. According to the BLS, the median weekly salary for PhDs is $1,623 and $1,341 per week for master’s degree holders. Bachelor’s degree holders average $1,137 per week, while associate’s degree holders and those with some college but no degree average $798 and $738 per week, respectively.
If you consider all of this and examine the average and upper level earnings for software developers overall (possibly $153,710-$159,850 per year according to the BLS and $220,000 for the highest paid game designer salary or $310,000 for the highest programmer salary, as reported by the International Game Developer Association-IGDA) and compare them to average tuition rates for PhD programs, the clear conclusion is this: an investment in a Games PhD is a good one. Let’s take a look at average tuition costs for good measure.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average tuition for a doctorate degree at a public school was $10,725 each year for 2013-2014 school year. Private school tuition was $22,607 annually. A typical doctoral program takes five years to complete (full-time). This brings the total cost of the degree to around $53,625-$113,035, depending on whether the program is at a public or private school.
Fortunately, a number of public and private schools offer PhD programs that can help prepare students for higher-level positions in the games industry. Below are several that are at the top of their game.
Games PhD Programs
Michigan State University (MSU), College of Communication Arts and Sciences, PhD Media and Information Studies (Games and Meaningful Play)
University of California Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz), Center for Games and Playable Media (CGPM), PhD Computer Science with a Focus on Games
Cornell University, The Game Design Initiative at Cornell (GDIAC), PhD Computer Science/Game Design Research Topic
University of Southern California (USC), Viterbi School of Engineering, PhD Computer Science/Game Design Research or Specialized Area
University of Essex York, University of Essex, and Goldsmiths University of London (partnership), EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Games Intelligence (IGGI), PhD in IGGI
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