What It Means to Have a College Degree in “Virtual Worlds”


  Metaverse Professor Dick Riedl, , Appalachian State

We've talked about how over 250 American colleges are now offering degrees in game programming, content creation, and virtual worlds.

Courses in game art and virtual development fill up as quick as Faculty add them to the roster.

But more than a few of our readers commented and e-mailed with the same question: What exactly does having a degree in virtual worlds MEAN?

Easy as A B C#

Virtual world studies branch off into two specializations – game/content development, and graphic design. The development branch focuses on learning the programming tools necessary to build and customize future virtual worlds, while graphic design and "game art" degrees prepare students for the beast of giving color and spirit to the world.

But it's not that simple.

The courses themselves are demanding, and many ambitious gamers will find themselves on the slim end of the qualifications curve. To be considered for a certificate in game design at AFTRS, the applicant must show proficiency in:

  • Computer programming
  • A working knowledge of two or more software tools such as:
    Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Flash, Unity, After Effects, Autodesk Maya,
    Second Life, modelling tools: Half Life, Unreal or programming skills
    in: Java, C#, LSL, ActionScript, Lingo

Full degree programs at South Dakota State University and UC Irvine require backgrounds in advanced math, some previous experience working with mesh or other texture mapping, and a knowledge of industry-standard creation tools used in virtual worlds. Think of it as applied science.

Booming Job Market

The video game industry is one of the few American job markets that has grown during the recession. Gamasutra's job board shows at least 70 openings for game art designers, 47 for game and designers, and over 80 positions for programmers and coders. Compare this to the Foreign Policy Association's field-leading job board, which hosts only 73 offerings for the entire field of international relations.

Average salaries also track those of other technology-dependent fields, with entry-level applicants looking to earn anywhere from $45,000 – $70,000 depending on the prestige of the parent company.

However, relocating may be required to use your new virtual world degree — the bulk of jobs are located, predictably, in California and New York.

For those with the technical qualifications and the desire to fight in a competitive market for a position developing the next generation's virtual environments, graduate schools are increasingly receiving grant money and providing fellowships for the advanced study of everything from economics to education in the Metaverse.

Where do you see virtual education in five years?