Our 2017 rankings of the top 5 gaming school programs in California. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
Established in 1880 and home to 44,000 students, University of Southern California (USC) offers game design programs through several colleges and schools. They include 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.
2. University of California - Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
Founded in 1965 and home to more than 17,000 students, the University of California - Santa Cruz (UCSC) houses the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE). The Department of Computer Science (CS) within BSOE 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.”
3. University of California - Irvine, Irvine, California
Established in 1965, the University of California - Irvine (UC Irvine) is home to more than 30,000 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.”
4. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
Founded in 1919, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is home to more than 43,000 students, enrolled 124 undergraduate majors, 98 master’s programs, and 109 doctoral and professional programs across UCLA College and 12 professional schools. The School of Arts and Architecture, Department of Design Media Arts (DMA), offers both 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.”
5. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Established in 1961, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) is home to more than 600 students. The school offers more than a dozen art and design programs leading to a BFA or MFA. Options for aspiring game designers include a BFA with an Emphasis in Game Art, 3D Character, or 3D Environment, and an MFA in Art of Game Design.
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.