18 Video Game Design Courses to Know

These educational resources help aspiring game designers launch their careers.

Written by Hal Koss
18 Video Game Design Courses to Know
Image: Shutterstock
Matthew Urwin | Jun 08, 2022

Before Mario ever squeezed through a pipe, or Pac Man gobbled glowing dots or angry birds fashioned themselves into projectiles, somewhere a designer had to dream it all up.

Take Hideo Kojima. Often praised as a video game auteur, he has overseen the creative direction of several successful titles, including the massively popular Death Stranding, which PC Gamer called “a brilliant hiking and mountaineering simulator, and every piece of rough terrain you encounter is a puzzle to be solved.” 

Each little decision and detail presented to the player in the game — from wonky rules to diverse levels to branching storylines — stems from Kojima’s vision. Like all game designers, he’s responsible for conceiving and directing the structure and mechanics of his games, shaping the narrative, appearance and feel.

Game Design Courses to Know

  • Ashcan Digital Academy
  • California Institute of Arts
  • Game Art Institute
  • Udemy
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Michigan State University
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • School of Game Design
  • Skillshare
  • University of Pennsylvania

Game design is different from game development, which is more concerned with the nuts and bolts of making a game work. That’s not to say game design requires no technical savvy, because it often does. Proficiency in programming languages is particularly helpful when a designer needs to communicate their vision to a game’s developers — or if they want to develop their own game.

Luckily, numerous resources are available to help aspiring designers break into the industry, expand their portfolios or bootstrap their own games. 

These 18 courses fit that bill.

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Top Video Game Design Courses

Rochester Institute of Technology’s RITX Series

Professors from Rochester Institute of Design’s School of Interactive Games and Media teach these edX courses, which cover topics like the history of game design, criteria for determining video game audiences and advanced tools like Unreal Engine. These edX classes can be taken in any order, and students can progress at their own speed — though each course has its own estimate for completion time to help students set an appropriate pace.

Cost: Free to audit

Ashcan Digital Academy’s Digital Game Concept Design Course

Ashcan Digital Art is an NYC-based art institution offering an array of courses for aspiring creative professionals — including this class on game concept design. Over the course of seven to eight four-hour sessions, students conceive an original story idea and then design characters, environments and other assets to inhabit their game. Along the way, students receive mentorship from instructors and work toward developing a school- or job-ready portfolio.

Cost: $1,085 for the summer session; $950 for the winter and spring session


California Institute of Arts’ Game Design: Arts and Concepts Specialization

In this sequence of five Coursera courses taught by CalArts faculty, students are introduced to the fundamental principles of story and narrative development, as well as world and character design. Classes are geared toward beginners who want to hone their storytelling abilities and get some essential design concepts under their belt. The program, which takes roughly six months to complete at a two-hour-per-week clip, concludes with a capstone project in which students create a game design document outlining all the elements of their very own game.

Cost: Free (with Coursera account)


Michigan State University’s Game Design and Development Specialization

This five-course program is intended for students at an intermediate level and imparts foundational design concepts, development tools and industry insight. It’s offered through the Michigan State University game program, which the Princeton Review ranks among its top 10 game design programs in the United States. Students can gain valuable programming experience using the Unity 3D game engine and prepare for roles like game designer, technical artist and producer. Expect to complete this course in five months at a pace of four hours per week.

Cost: Free (with Coursera account)


Unreal Engine 5 C++ Developer: Learn C++ & Make Video Games 

Those seeking to create immersive experiences similar to that of Fortnite can learn the ins and outs of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine tool in this Udemy course. Participants will become skilled at implementing concise code using C++ while enhancing gameplay with Unreal Engine frameworks and AI tools. With over 29 hours of online modules, students can navigate this in-depth game design course at their own pace.     

Cost: $109.99

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MasterClass’ Will Wright Teaches Game Design and Theory

Sometimes it’s best to pull up a seat next to a wise sage and just let them talk. In this video lecture series from MasterClass, students learn at the feet of Will Wright, the original designer of The Sims and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Game Developers Choice Awards. He’ll walk students through 21 lessons, imparting personal strategies and foundational theories for storytelling, game mechanics and how to appeal to the psychology of players.

Cost: $180 annually for a MasterClass plan


School of Game Design’s Become a Game Designer the Complete Series Coding to Design

Replete with 85 hours of on-demand video, 12 articles and 18 downloadable resources, this course on Udemy teaches the ins and outs of game design, development and digital painting. Students enjoy access to popular game-making tools like the Unity engine, Maya, Photoshop, 3DS Max and Mudbox while receiving instruction from veterans who have worked in the industry for over 15 years.

Cost: $129.99


LinkedIn Learning’s Game Design Foundations

In this online video tutorial, veteran game designer Brenda Romero covers the fundamentals of game design. She shares her strategies for coming up with game ideas and defining the core loop of the game. This quick video series, free for LinkedIn Learning members, is geared toward students seeking inspiration and practical wisdom as they look to jumpstart their game design career. 

Cost: Free (with LinkedIn subscription)


Skillshare’s Unreal Engine: Intro to Game Design

Skillshare introduces newcomers to the basics of Unreal Engine 4 — the same game engine used to build Fortnite — in this game design intro course. Over the duration of 76 video lessons totaling about 11 hours, students learn how to create a game design document and build their own shooting gallery game — no prior coding experience needed. The course is taught by Greg Wondra, who has designed games for 2K Sports and Nickelodeon.

Cost: Free (with Skillshare account)


Georgia Tech’s Accessible Gamification

During this edX course — which is spread over five weeks — students learn the basics of gamification, digital accessibility requirements and the design patterns underpinning popular games. Students analyze a series of games such as Space Sims and Arkanoids , getting a firm handle on what makes a successful game tick. While this introductory-level course is self-paced, it’s recommended students set aside two hours a week for homework and reflection.

Cost: Free ($49 with certificate)

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Harvard University: CS 50: Introduction to Game Development  

This edX course may be the ideal option for beginners who desire a fun introduction to the world of gaming. Harvard University professors explore various design elements of Super Mario Bros., Pokémon and other legendary games through frameworks like Unity and programming languages like C#. This course typically takes 12 weeks to complete for those who put in six to nine hours of work per week.

Cost: Free (with option to upgrade)  


Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Serious Gaming

Students interested in creating serious games — that is, games with applications in sectors like education, health, engineering and defense, rather than for commercial entertainment — will benefit from this Coursera course. The nine-hour, six-part primer teaches students the elemental theories of serious games, drawing upon recent research and real-world examples of how serious games are used today.

Cost: Free (with Coursera account)


Emilio Padulo’s Level Design MasterClass

This Udemy course is geared toward students interested in becoming professional level designers. Throughout more than 24 hours of video material on conceiving, designing and building a level, students are guided through lessons on game composition, scale and architecture.

Cost: $119.99


UC San Diego: Creating Virtual Reality (VR) Apps 

For those who want to see what the future of gaming holds in store, UC San Diego dives into the realm of virtual reality (VR) in this VR course. Over a period of six weeks, students will study topics such as time warping, lens distortion and motion prediction. Participants will apply their knowledge to Unity 3D, leveraging this cross-platform 3D engine to create VR games, engineering simulations and more.  

Cost: Free (with option to upgrade)


University of Pennsylvania’s Gamification

It’s time for some game theory. Aspiring designers who want to learn the psychological principles of gamification can take this 17-hour Coursera course, taught by a professor of legal studies and business ethics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. While it offers no training in game design per se, it does orient students to the theoretical elements that make up a successful game.

Cost: Free (with Coursera account)


Ed2Go’s Digital Game Artist Certificate

This specialized course is for aspiring game artists eager to get a lot of hands-on practical training. Under the tutelage of seasoned game artist Christian Bradley, students learn how to use popular 2D and 3D software, modeling and texture techniques, character and environmental design, and essential principles for design and concept art. The course takes roughly 18 months, or 600 hours, to complete. 

Cost: $2,595


Narrative Design Master Class: Write Stories for Video Games

Aspiring game designers have the opportunity to round out their skill sets with this Udemy course. Organized by Emilio Padulo, this online class helps students enhance their gaming experiences through elements like story concepts, character development and world-building. It usually takes six to seven hours to finish the course, but students can go further into sections with accessible articles and downloadable resources.

Cost: $119.99

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Game Art Institute’s Game Artist Immersive

Game Art Institute’s bootcamp is aimed at students looking to specialize in art design — and develop a job-ready portfolio in the process. Clocking in at over 300 total hours, the program consists of daily, real-time online classes stretched across 12 weeks. Students enjoy free access to professional design software (like Maya, ZBrush, Houdini and Substance Painter and Substance Designer), and learn how to use the Unreal engine to create 3D characters and environments.

Cost: $6,997

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