Choosing the right game school can be overwhelming. There are many out there, and many factors to consider: faculty, placement numbers, awards and reputation. I’d like to help narrow down your choices by focusing on the best cities to consider for game school.
Obviously not everyone is able to move for college/university, and it can make a lot of sense to stay at home. If you are able to relocate, I’d recommend choosing one of the cities listed below.
My criteria for creating the list were, in order of priority:
1. Game industry presence (studio numbers gathered from here)
2. Game schools available
3. Cost of living (using data from here) – note that the figures I am using are relative to the cost of living in New York City. Lower is better.
4. Additional resources (conferences, organizations etc.)
It may seem counter-intuitive that I am prioritizing Industry presence over School Quality, but this was very deliberate. School quality is very difficult to assess. There are some resources, such as the Princeton Review Guide, which attempt to rank School Quality, but many reviews you will find are either from student comments (which are not always reliable) or biased articles heavily influenced by advertising.
Cities with a heavy game industry presence are your best bet for the following reasons:
1. Better teachers – more local studios means a regular pool of skilled teachers, and teachers who are still working, and are up-to-date on the latest industry trends and technologies
2. Better employment opportunities – internship opportunities, summer jobs as a game tester, and better turnout at school ‘Industry Nights’.
3. Better events – conferences such as GDC or Siggraph are invaluable for learning and networking, and going to school in the same city means it is easy to volunteer and attend.
Remember that even if you are already attending a game school, or have already graduated, these are also excellent cities to consider moving to to convert your education into a job in the industry.
Cost of Living and Rent: 96% of NYC
Okay, so you’ll need to brush up on your french to consider studying in France, but if you are bilingual there are many reasons to consider Paris. First, the city boasts some major studios, including the worldwide headquarters of both Ubisoft and Gameloft, along with a host of mid-sized independent studios making innovative and high quality games, including Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls), Cyanide (Blood Bowl 2) and Dontnod (Remember Me).
The second major reason to consider Paris is that it has some of the best (if not the best) art and animation schools in the world (Gobelins student reels will blow your mind). When combined with many of the best art museums, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and the National Museum of Modern Art, you could be in for an absolute world-class art education.
Cost of Living and Rent: 70% of NYC
When I started this list, I was a bit nervous that my current hometown of Toronto wasn’t going to make the cut; I wanted to make sure the ranking was as unbiased as possible, and there is some steep competition. In the end, after staring at a spreadsheet of collected data, I am confident that Toronto deserves it’s spot on the list.
I must admit, it is difficult for me to stay unbiased in my description – I grew up close to Toronto, went to school at both Seneca College (for 3D Animation) and Max the Mutt (for Classical Animation), and work here at Ubisoft Toronto. This having been said, I think it is a great city to consider; it has a lot of options for schools, a strong indie scene, including studios like Capybara Games (Below, Sword & Sworcery) and Drinkbox Games (Guacamelee), and, thanks to strong tax incentives, growing AAA studios such as Ubisoft Toronto and Rockstar Toronto.
Cost of Living and Rent: 68% of NYC
As written up by Kotaku last year, Chicago has a booming indie scene, and much of it is thanks to the strength of the Game Design program at DePaul University. Chicago also boasts several larger independent developers, including Netherrealm (Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us) and Wargaming West (World of Tanks for Xbox 360).
Cost of Living and Rent: 58% of NYC
Montreal features some heavyweight AAA studios: it is home of Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Batman: Arkham Origins. Additionally, it is the most affordable city on this list.
While a fluency with french is a benefit in Montreal, unlike Paris it isn’t necessarily required to study and work there – most of the studios and schools above support both English and French. In fact, why not take advantage of the bilingual nature of the city and become fluent in french while learning how to make games?
Cost of Living and Rent: 76% of NYC
I lived and worked in Vancouver for 8 years, and absolutely loved it there. The Mercer 2014 Quality of Living survey rated Vancouver the best city to live in in North America (and 5th best in the world), and a lot of game studios seem to have come to the same conclusion. While the Vancouver game industry has declined in size a bit over the past few years, it is still going strong. Microsoft’s Black Tusk studios was recently announced as the new home of the Gears of War Franchise, Capcom Vancouver recently released the hit Dead Rising 3, and EA Canada is responsible for one of the biggest gaming franchises in history (FIFA).
Vancouver is also the only city on this list with 2 schools on the Princeton Review’s Top 25 Undergraduate Schools for Video Game Design: Art Institute of Vancouver and Vancouver Film School.
Cost of Living and Rent: 65% of NYC
Thanks to strong tax incentives, a relatively low-cost of living, and a thriving culture, Austin’s industry has been rapidly expanding over the past few years. At the moment only California has more game jobs than Texas, and the vast majority of those jobs are in Austin.
Austin also has some very exciting schools, including the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at University of Texas, which is extremely selective (20 students per year), but features free tuition and was created by some industry legends, including Warren Spector and Blizzard COO Paul Sams.
Cost of Living and Rent: 74% of NYC
Seattle is a powerhouse in the games industry. Microsoft, Amazon and Nintendo are all headquartered here, and the city features many of the premier game developers in the world: Bungie (Halo, Destiny), Valve (Half-Life, DOTA 2, TF2), Sucker Punch (Infamous), Turn 10 (Forza) and ArenaNet (Guild Wars 2).
On a personal note, PAX Prime is one of my favorite game conventions of the year; while it doesn’t really have a development focus, it is a ton of fun and a great place to meet and hang out with developers and gamers alike.
Cost of Living and Rent: 105% of NYC
While the British games industry suffered a rapid decline a few years ago, London, and in particular the nearby commuter town of Guildford, still has a very strong industry. Though the cost of living is the highest of all cities on this list, the schools are typically less expensive than in North America, particularly if you are from the EU (but probably even if you are from the States).
There are also a lot of other perks to living in London: tons of culture (most major museums are free), very inexpensive flights to Europe, and lots of events and opportunities for networking.
Cost of Living and Rent: 95% of NYC
San Francisco, and the nearby ‘Silicon Valley’, has more game studios than any other region on earth, and is also home to the premier game conference of the year, GDC. Additionally, San Francisco is a major hotbed for new tech startups, which often results in innovative companies like Oculus VR.
The only thing holding San Francisco back from the top spot is the cost of living, which is high and has soared over the past few years. This particularly affects rent, which can make it difficult for students to afford to live in the Bay area. If you’re comfortable splitting an apartment with a couple of roommates, or can afford the price tag, San Francisco is worth some serious consideration.
Cost of Living and Rent: 64% of NYC
Los Angeles has long been ‘The Entertainment Capital of the World’, and this certainly spreads to the games industry. Activision’s corporate headquarters are here, as well as the main development studios for World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, God of War, Uncharted, Titanfall and many other AAA (or maybe even AAAA) games.
Combine this with some of the biggest gaming events of the year, amazing weather, a decent cost of living, and the top rated game school on Princeton Review’s list (University of Southern California) for the past 4 years running, and LA takes the crown as the city I would most highly recommend to students interested in relocating for an education in Game Development.
I know there are many great cities that didn’t make the cut for the top 10 – please let me know your favourites in the comments below. Also, I’d like to offer a caveat, that while I am familiar with a number of the schools, there are many that I have only researched online, and cannot vouch for their quality – if you feel that I have missed a strong school, or have had a poor experience at one of the schools that I have linked please let me know and I will amend the list.