Our 2017 rankings of the Top 10 game design schools on the West Coast. We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California (USC) offers game design program through the Viterbi School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, Interactive Media & Games Division. Dornsife programs are offered in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts.
Viterbi School of Engineering offerings include a BS in Computer Science – CSCI (Games), an MS in Computer Science (Game Development), and a PhD in Computer Science with a Game Design and Development or Virtual Reality research area. A Minor in Computer Science and a Progressive Degree Program (PDP) are also available.
The Progressive Degree Program allows exceptional undergraduate students to “start graduate-level classes during their senior year and request a reduction in the units required for the Master’s degree.” This “allows students to earn the MS in Computer Science with one or two additional semesters of study.” The PDP is available for the MS in Computer Science (Game Development).
The Interactive Media & Games Division offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment, an intensive three-year MFA in Interactive Media and an MFA in Interactive Media (Games and Health), and an MA in Media Arts, Games and Health. The Division’s extensive list of minors in 2-D Art for Games, 3-D Art for Games, Game Animation, Game Audio, Game Design, Game Entrepreneurism, Game Studies, Game User Research, Video Game Design and Management, and Video Game Programming.
In addition to a wide variety of program options for aspiring game designers, USC is home to the GamePipe Laboratory. Sponsored by Intel, Sony, and other technology companies, the Lab produces a "Demo Day," which allows students to showcase their work. The semiannual event attracts game industry reps, reporters, faculty, students, and hundreds of spectators from across the country.
About USC: University of Southern California was established in 1880. It home to 44,000 students enrolled in over 500 degree programs across 18 colleges and schools.
2. Digipen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington
DigiPen Institute of Technology offers a number of programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a BA in Game Design, a BS in Computer Science and Game Design, a BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (BS in RTIS), a five-year BS in RTIS/MS in Computer Science, and a Minor in Game Design.
Although the BS in RTIS offers “extensive training in mathematics and physics,” per Digipen, students in the program also “work both individually and collaboratively to learn the fundamentals of Game Design, Production, and Programming. Additionally, they write game design documents and technical design documents, learn how to schedule tools and techniques, and participate in the full production of several games.” The Game Design programs at Digipen Institute of Technology are offered through the Department of Game Software Design and Production.
About DigiPen: DigiPen Institute of Technology was founded in 1988. The school is home to 1,084 students from across the U.S. and 45 countries. The school offers 10 programs leading to a BA, BFA, BS, MS, or MFA in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science.
3. University of California - Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
The University of California - Santa Cruz (UCSC) is home to the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE). The BSOE Department of Computer Science (CS) offers several programs for aspiring game designers. Options include a BS in Computer Science: Computer Game Design, an MS in Games & Playable Media, and MS and PhD degrees in Computer Science with a Research Focus in Computer Games.
The UCSC Art Department houses the Arts Division, which offers an MFA in Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) with a Playable Media Research Option. UCSC is also home to The Center for Games and Playable Media. Established in 2010, the Center houses the schools “five games-related research labs including the Expressive Intelligence Studio — one of the largest technical game research groups in the world.”
About UCSC: The University of California - Santa Cruz opened in 1965. Current enrollment is 17,335 students. The school offers more than 100 degree programs across 10 colleges
4. University of California - Irvine, Irvine, California
Established in 1965, the University of California - Irvine (UC Irvine) is home to 30,600 students enrolled 100-plus programs across more than a dozen schools. The Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences offers a BS in Computer Game Science (CGS). According to the School, throughout the major CGS students will “gain hands-on experience in creating a variety of digital games, for entertainment purposes, but also for education, training and engendering social change.”
Working in teams, students “will employ a variety of different programming languages, game platforms and hardware.” Overall, the program “strongly emphasizes the technical aspects of creating games, as well as working in teams to design and implement them.”
About UC Irvine: University of California - Irvine was established in 1965. Current enrollment is 30,600 students. The school offers 100-plus programs across more than a dozen schools.
5. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to the School of Arts and Architecture, Department of Design Media Arts (DMA). DMA offers BA and MA degrees in Design Media Arts. The DMA program highlights game design study, interactivity and games, video and animation, visual communication, and more. With support from the School of Theater, Film, and Television, DMA also houses the UCLA Game Lab. The primary function of the Lab is as “a research and production space for collaborative teams to pursue focused work on gaming projects.” It supports exploration of Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres, while emphasizing the “conceptual risk-taking and development of new modes of expression and form through gaming.”
In addition to producing games and research, the lab “functions as a center that develops public programming around critical issues in gaming, including: public lectures, workshops, exhibitions, a visiting artist program, and an annual public festival at the Hammer Museum.”
About UCLA: Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, the University of California Los Angeles is home to 43,301 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The UCLA College and 12 professional schools offer more than 5,000 courses in 124 undergraduate majors, 98 master’s programs, 109 doctoral and professional programs, and 91 minors.
6. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) offers a BFA with an Emphasis in Game Art, 3D Character, or 3D Environment. An MFA in Art of Game Design is also available. The “project-based and highly collaborative” BFA program features graduate and undergraduate partnerships, such as with USC’s graduate program, GamePipe. The MFA program allows students to complete their first year by taking evening and weekend online classes, ending with a six-week intensive at the LCAD campus in Laguna Beach.
The program takes two years to complete and graduates will have the skills needed to produce playable game prototypes, develop business planning and budgeting practices in keeping with current game industry practices, and create marketing and branding strategies specific to the gaming industry.
About LCAD: Established in 1961 as the “Laguna Beach School of Art,” Laguna College of Art and Design is home to an estimated 613 students. The school offers more than a dozen art and design programs leading to a BFA or MFA.
7. Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Hollywood, California
Gnomon School of Visual Effects offers a four-year Digital Production BFA, a three-year Entertainment and Digital Production Certificate, and a two-year Digital Production for Entertainment Certificate. Gnomon also offers single courses such as Game Creation, Game Design, Anatomy of Games, Animation for Games, Character Creation for Games, Creature Design, Texturing and Shading for Games, Visual Effects for Games, and Props and Weapons for Games. Students can mix and match courses to meet their career goals.
About Gnomon: Gnomon School of Visual Effects was established in 1997. The school is home to more than 100 students enrolled in a variety of digital arts programs and courses.
8. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Design (OTIS) offers a BA in Digital Media with a Game & Entertainment Design Major. A Minor in Digital Media is also available. Per the school, students in the Game & Entertainment Design Major “develop their skills in concept art and visual development, learning the principles and processes involved in creating the first visual representations of characters, environments, and props for films and games.”
Students will also acquire the skills to “design the gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters of interactive games, apps, and websites. Using the most advanced CGI technologies, students acquire the techniques to create stunning visual effects for films, commercials, and videos.” All OTIS students have access to nine labs and shops from audio/video to the model shop.
About OTIS: Established in 1918 by founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis, Otis College of Art and Design is home to 1,070 full-time students from 38 states and 34 countries. The school offers more than a dozen interdisciplinary art and design programs from Animation and Motion Design to Sculpture and Toy Design.
9. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
The School of Game Development at Academy of Art University offers a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. Options include AA, BFA, BS, and MFA degrees in Game Development. According to the school, these multidisciplinary programs provide a “well-rounded education in the arts with an emphasis on understanding and applying techniques including 3D modeling, animation and lighting in video game production.”
The Game Development programs at academy of Art prepare students for positions such as game designer, 3D modeler, concept artist, UI/UX designer, and many others.
About Academy of Art: Academy of Art University was established in 1929. It is home to an estimated 13,800 students enrolled in dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs through several schools and a number of departments. Game Development, Animation & Visual Effects, Communications & Media Technologies, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Motion Pictures & Television, Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media, and Illustration are just a few.
10. Woodbury University, Burbank, California
The School of Media, Culture & Design at Woodbury University offers a BFA in Game Art & Design. Because the School “promotes cross-disciplinarity as a core attribute of the school.” BFA students may study in other areas such as Animation, Media Technology, Filmmaking and others. Concentrations are also available and include Game Design or Game Art.
Regardless of concentration, per the School, the Game Art & Design program teaches how to “conceptualize and develop video games from scratch.” In addition to game design, students will study Animation, Computer Technology, Sound Design, and Story Development.
About Woodbury: Founded in 1884, Woodbury University is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in Southern California. The school is home to 1,552 students enrolled in 20 programs across three schools. They include the School of Architecture, the School of Business, and the School of Media, Culture & Design.