Video Game vs Computer Science Degree

My daughter was accepted for fall 2020 to:
University of Utah - Games
UC Merced - CS
Chico State - Computer Animation & Game Development

She’s been torn lately between which major to go with as she’s read that there can be more job opportunities with CS and a side emphasis in game design than straight video game design. I thought I’d reach out to see if anyone has experience with these schools and majors.

We’re still waiting on UCI, UCSC, UCR, and UCD. We are visiting UU and Chico in April - we toured Merced last July. We are So. California and she did get the WUE for UU.


There are definitely more job opportunities as a CS major than as a video game design major. No question.

Video game companies hire plenty of CS majors.

On the other hand, companies hiring CS majors in general may pass on a video game major because the latter may leave quickly as soon as a video game job is offered.

The video game industry is also a stressful one, in that there are very hard deadlines to getting the product out in time for the buying season. It is also a very unstable one, since a company may be doing well from its most recent hit game, but then crash if the next game falls below sales expectations.

Looking at the Utah curriculum, it is indeed very video game specific. No math beyond Calc 1. Art, graphic design, “ethics in game”. If a student is dead set on video game development a a career, it certainly will provide a head start.

But there’s none of the traditional CS disciplines - algorithms, data structures, discrete math, linear algebra, physics, computer architecture, etc. - skills applicable cross-industry.

It’s a bit like an engineering technology degree vs. an engineering degree, but more narrowly focused.

I would be concerned about flexibility to move around in a career with a Games major. But, having said that, there’s a lot to be said about studying something that really interests you. If the desire is truly software development, game design, graphics, etc., then all of the theoretical underpinnings may be unnecessary.

A game developer still needs to know the usual CS topics:

  • Operating systems: every computer program interacts with the operating system, and knowing how operating systems behave matters.
  • Algorithms: like for any computer program, being too slow or too hungry for resources is a bad thing.
  • Networking: many games these days are networked and distributed.
  • Databases: many games these days must store and retrieve large amounts of data for the state of the game.
  • Security: games need to prevent cheating.

Thank you to everyone who gave their input!

In the end, my daughter was declined at UCI and UCD, wait-listed at UCSC (accepted wait-list but was told final decision may not be until July 1st), and accepted for an alternate major (English) at UCR - she’s not going to accept their offer. She’s decided that she wants a UC over CSU so Chico State is out too.

With financial aid offers from both schools, UC Merced came in at $15k less a year than UU so based on that (and all of your suggestions above) it looks like she’s going to be a Bobcat! I’m just glad all of the waiting is over. With school and AP testing still being worked out, we all need some closure right now.