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  • Academics for Game Designers

    - Michael McCoy


     How to Pick a Game Development School


    So you’ve made the decision to attend a school with a dedicated game development program, but how to choose the right one? It’s a difficult task, but not impossible. First and foremost: Ignore the hype and do your research. Many new and/or untested programs pour thousands of dollars into slick marketing campaigns to draw the uninformed. Your best defense is knowledge.


    Is the school accredited? If you want your education to have long term-value, make sure your school is properly accredited. This ensures that the program is of sound value and administered by professionals. Think of it as a guarantee that your money is well spent. Go to the schools website and search for “accreditation”. Contact the school by phone and ask them directly. Finally if all else fails, go to the United States Government Accreditation Website and search for the school (


    Is it an undergraduate or graduate program? This is a great indicator of difficulty and intensity of the program. Undergraduate programs move at a slower pace than graduate programs and usually last 3-4 years. Graduate programs, on the other hand, are shorter (1.5 – 2 years) and generally more intense.

    Undergraduate programs cater to students directly out of high school as well as those with additional education. Graduate programs cater to students with education beyond high school, but are not always exclusive to that type of student (do your research and find out if you’re eligible for enrollment…don’t assume anything). Students entering graduate programs directly from high school will most likely have difficulties with the workload and intensity. Students enrolling in graduate programs with a Bachelors degree can earn a Master’s degree upon completion of the program.

    Finally, degrees from graduate level programs have more weight during interviews than those from undergraduate programs. Don’t get me wrong, both are extremely valuable, it’s just you usually get a little extra credit for attending a graduate level program.


    What’s its reputation and placement rate? A quick search on the internet should give you a general idea of a schools reputation. Call schools and ask them where their graduates are working. If possible, talk to former and current students and ask their opinions. Many schools have public forums that facilitate this.

    How successful are the graduates from the school? What’s the placement rate of graduates? Make sure the school is committed and capable of placing you in the industry once you graduate or you’ll face the tough road on your own.


    Is it industry or academia driven? What is the driving force behind the school? In my opinion, the best way to learn how to succeed in an industry is from those who work in it. They not only know firsthand how to make games, but also have valuable contacts that can help you battle your way into the industry.

    Other questions to ask are “How is the games industry involved with the curriculum? How often do they review it? How involved are they?” Any school isolated from the industry can only stay current from a very brief time. What you want is a school that continually adjusts it’s curriculum in conjunction with changes in the industry.


    Does it stress team game work? Lots of schools educate programmers, artists, and/or designers, but do they stress team game production? Working in teams is an essential element in the games industry and is an essential part of game development education. In order to accomplish this task the school must include individuals from programming, art, and design.

    During team game projects, you observe how the myriad of different specialized workers function in a game team and learn how to work with them. Secondly, your initial team experiences occur within the safe school environment, where you learn from your mistakes instead of paying dearly for them. Finally, when you graduate, you’ll have a couple of team projects/games under your belt giving you valuable titles on your resume.




    With the arrival of dedicated game development schools, breaking into the game industry is proving ever more difficult. The number and quality of applicants increases with each passing year. Whether you intend to roll the dice and dive boldly into the industry or take the methodical, more surefire approach, of attending a game development school, courses like those listed above, better prepare you for the task ahead.

    Study, excel, join the Cockroach Club! I look forward to meeting and working with you!


    Michael McCoy teaches Level Design and Programming for Level Design at The Guildhall at SMU. His titles include iF-22, iF-22 Persian Gulf, iF/A-18, Shadow Company, Batman Gotham City Racers, Dukes of Hazzard I and II, Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, and Rainbow Six 3 Xbox.


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