Game and Simulation Arts FAQ

Choosing a major and university can be an overwhelming task. Many factors should inform your options before making your final decision. We get a lot of interest from students all over the country about our Game and Simulation Arts major and it is by far the largest major in our department and one of the largest at the university. Even still, it isn’t for everyone. We often tell students considering gaming for their major and vocation that we are quite serious about games and they should expect to work very hard to develop the skills and aptitudes to find success in the field.

When meeting with or receiving emails from prospective students, there are some common themes and questions. Here is the start of our FAQ:

I want to be a character artist, will your degree help prepare me?

This is one of the most commonly sought after roles for students looking for a career in gaming. While the Game and Simulation Arts major can help prepare you for a career in gaming which might include character art, typically there is not one person that is the character artist/designer. Instead, there are several people:

At some companies, this list isn’t even the end of it, especially for featured characters.

By following the Game and Simulation Arts major, you will gain experience in game art and design, including lots of experience with the various aspects of 3D design and production as well as options for concept art and character design.

For students interested in 2D illustration and concept art, using digital and/or traditional materials, we also have a major dedicated to just that.

Both majors, Gaming as well as Illustration/Concept Art, have full-time faculty with many years of professional experience working for significant and well-known companies.

For students really focused on working on character art/design, the roles that are closest to what most student are thinking of is that of the concept artist or character modeler. For both of those roles, the best place to get started is learning how to draw humans, animals, and environments accurately (as opposed to stylisticly like manga).

What percentage of graduates with this major get a job in the game art/design field? What companies generally recruit from Shawnee State?

SSU doesn’t have an official method of tracking students once they leave SSU and a lot of factors play a role in gaining employment after graduation. Willingness to move and portfolio readiness are two of the biggest contributors. Many of our students have gone on to work and game companies including many of the major developers.

Game development studios are located all around the country and world but not so much in small town Ohio. For students local to SSU, this will likely mean moving away. For students not local to SSU, this may not seem like that big of an issue, but for others it can be. Remote work is becoming more common but that is typically for more senior staff and requires even more readiness on the second issue: the portfolio.

Portfolio readiness is probably the most important issue when looking for a job in gaming, or any visual arts field. Developing a high quality portolio will be one of the major focal points for your time at SSU. The faculty will help guide you as you build your work. The bar is set high, but it is reachable. No one starts creating AAA art day one and no one gets there without studying, learning, practicing, and interating. There is no secret other than to work hard and get guidance from experienced mentors, the good news is that it can be a lot of fun.

We regularly invite professionals from various companies to our annual gaming conference and students have had a lot of success securing internships that lead to or are springboards for full-time jobs after graduation. To name just a few, we have had representatives from: [list coming soon]

The list of companies employing our graduates is even broader and include many AAA studios.

Is a portfolio required for admission to the Gaming Arts program?

Shawnee State University is an open enrollment university and, at this point, the gaming program is also open enrollment. This might change if the demand for the program should exceed our ability to staff. We are currently planning to implement a sophomore review that will have some requirements but we are still working out the details. Those details will be clearly posted once fully determined.

What’s the average salary for graduates in this field? What is the typical career growth?

The best source for this information is going to be salary surveys and internet resources. Salaries in game design reflect the demand and high skill requirements often leading to pay that is higher than the US average income. ZipRecruiter lists these salaries (February 2021) as ranging between $51k and $400k with the national average at $130k. This is a little skewed by some high earners as about 70% of those polled make under $114k and half of that group made under $82k.

Location, role, and experience obviously also play a huge role. Salaries tend to be a bit higher in the higher cost-of-living cities and a bit lower in the mid-west. As you would expect, more senior roles pay better and those entering into the field for the first time should expect to earn on the lower end of the scale (of course, right). Additionally, jobs that lean toward the technical end tend to pay a little more as well.

Assuming a moderate amount of success, one could expect salary growth toward the average and possibly further. Bonuses, royalties, stocks, and other profit sharing can also make a big difference in total earnings.

SSU is focused on helping students prepare for the first job in the gaming field, and that tends to be the most difficult to get. There are many factors that go into preparing for a career in the arts and, like any vocation focused on entertainment, the industry can be competitive to break into. If you want to get a job in gaming, work at it, find out what you need to know and get good at that. The faculty at SSU have a lot of experience making games and can help.

What sort of computer do I need as a major in the program?

Students applying for the Game and Simulation Arts or Graphic Design programs will have access to three art computer studios equipped with high-end Apple computers with the latest software. Generally speaking, students will be able to complete class assignments using the studio computers.

For students wishing to purchase computers specific to their studies in digital arts, info is located here:

What makes Shawnee State University unique?

Most of this information is pretty general to the gaming industry and can be supplemented with a quick web search (google already knows you’re thinking of it anyway). What makes SSU unique and why have we consistently placed on the Princeton Review’s top gaming programs in the US? Well, lots of reasons.

Game Design, Gaming Arts, Game and Simulation Arts? Which degree is it?

At SSU, these are all the same degree, though arts” and design” are technically different branches of study. Our degree includes aspects of both art and design and when we are talking about the degree, we tend to be pretty fluid as to how we describe it.

It can be a bit confusing but this is a reflection of our enthusiasm toward the subjects. Just know that art and design are both important and you will have some time to explore both during your time in the program.

What do I need to know before beginning Shawnee State’s gaming program?

More than anything, your attitude and work ethic will be the biggest determiners of success in the program. Certainly students already familiar with a 3D application, drawing skills, and experience with a game engine have an advantage, but not by much. The way students apply themselves seems to make the biggest difference in the long run.

Gaming is an industry that employs a wide range of skills and incorporates broad areas of interests. Our primary focus areas at SSU are game design and documentation, 3D design, and art production. Additionally we also have opportunities to get involved with music production, illustration, concept art (illustration and concept art is also a separate major), programming (also an opportunity for a major or minor), motion capture, creative writing, and many other subjects.

If you would like to do some preparation before beginning at SSU, our best advice is just to begin… begin drawing, begin looking at games critically, begin investigating some of the software and tools, and begin writing. Momentum is really important and having a creative practice already in place can help you to integrate quicker with the subjects and projects you will encounter in college.

Are there tools that I could begin to familiarize myself with before coming into the program.

We utilize a lot of different software in the gaming arts program but the primary ones are Maya, Photoshop, and Unreal. Both Maya and Unreal are available for no cost for student use. While it is not necessary to be familiar with this software prior to the gaming course here at SSU, many students are interested and extra preparation never hurts.

If you have any further questions, or would like to arrange a time to visit, contact and we can talk more about the possibilities.

Note: the lawyers would probably get a bit nervous reading all of this and would appreciate if I added that a degree, any degree including one in gaming, is an indicator of a certain field of study and not a guarantee for employment. That part is up to you. That is true of SSU and any other university.