Video game design programs rising in national rankings

Andre Thomas

Bill Jenks

Texas A&M’s stature among universities offering video game design programs continued to rise in new [lists] ( published by The Princeton Review, a leading test preparation and college admission services company.

In the new lists, published March 15, 2016, Texas A&M’s game design program ranked 14th among graduate schools, up from 22nd in 2015. The university’s undergraduate game design program debuted in this year’s rankings at number 38. Among public institutions in the graduate school list, Texas A&M ranked 8th.

The recognitions come just two years after the university’s Department of Visualization created gaming-oriented study options in its [master of science] ( and [master of fine arts] ( degrees and enhanced game design curricula at the undergraduate level.

"For students aspiring to work in game design, the 58 schools that made one or both of our 2016 lists offer extraordinary opportunities to hone one's talents for a successful career in this burgeoning field," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's senior vice president/publisher.  "The faculties at these schools are outstanding. Their facilities are awesome. And their alumni include legions of the industry's most prominent game designers, developers, artists, and entrepreneurs."

Students at Texas A&M sharpen their game-making skills in the [Learning Interactive Visualization Experience Lab] ( , founded by André Thomas, a visualization lecturer who joined the Texas A&M faculty after leading graphics development, planning and implementation of football videogames at EA Sports.

“I could not be more thrilled to see the success the programs are having,” said Thomas. “Former students are gaining sought-after jobs in the industry and faculty are working closely with industry partners to ensure the program remains relevant and up to date.”

He leads classes in the lab, located in Building A of the Langford Architecture Center, that teach game design — a planning process that entails creating a storyline and player activities; game development — a technical exercise involving programming and coding the game’s interactivity and environment, including artwork, music and sound effects — and a studio course focused on player-game interaction problems.

Skills that students develop in the lab will continue to be in increasing demand, as the multibillion-dollar gaming industry continues to shatter sales records every year; world videogame sales reached $93 billion in 2013, up from $79 billion in 2012. The market is expected to reach $107 billion in 2017.

“The department also offers design courses, art courses and technical courses for graduate and undergraduate students that are not necessarily specific to gaming, but teach students color theory, artistic and other skills that are required for a successful career in gaming,” said Thomas.

The university’s rapid rise in the stature of its video game education offerings are a testament to Thomas’ efforts, said Bill Jenks, assistant head of the Department of Visualization.

“He’s helped the department’s gaming focus to grow in entertainment and educational gaming genres,” said Jenks.

LIVE Lab students also work with industry partners including [EA] ( , [Epic Games] ( and [Side Effects Software] ( , whose professionals mentor student game development teams and provide guest lecturers.

The LIVE Lab has also hosted successful Game Jams in 2014 and 2015 . At the 48-hour marathon events, student teams compete to develop the best video games from scratch.

Students who are LIVE Lab veterans captured top honors in a Game Jam at Kansas State University in 2016 .

For its rankings, The Princeton Review chose schools based on its 2015 survey of 150 institutions in the U.S., Canada and abroad offering game design degree programs or courses.  The 40-question survey gathered data on everything from the schools' game design academic offerings and lab facilities to their graduates’ starting salaries and career achievements. More than 40 data points in four areas — academics, faculty, technology, and careers — were analyzed to tally the lists.

posted March 24, 2016