Most game development shops employ people to work on different parts of a game. For instance there are graphic designers who make the visual components of the game, the backgrounds, the player avatars, the weapons, etc. There are also programmers (also called software engineers or developers) on the team who write the code that makes the game work, such as the scoring model, the levels, and the rules of play. Then there are animators who build cut scenes, and animations such as explosions and movements of NPC's.
All of these positions on the team require different types of education. For example, graphic designers and animators usually have a bachelor's degree in some kind of graphic arts major. Programmers usually have a computer science degree, or they may have a math degree with a concentration in programming.
There are some people who make it in the game industry on pure talent. They usually write a successful game all on their own and it gets noticed by a game development studio. These are rare exceptions, but they do happen. It will benefit you to have written some games when you interview for your first job in the game industry, and even to be able to demonstrate it. If you are a graphic designer, it will help to have designed game assets such as avatars, NPCs, or props. You should be able to show those in a portfolio during your interview.
I hope this helps you. Good luck!
I think a good place to start researching this would be with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS maintains an online database where you can see not only pay information, but also learn more about what job skills/degrees/certifications would be useful, what the outlook for the industry is expected to be over the next ten years, and even dive into the employment and pay data by state or geographic location.
The BLS considers video game developers to be part of the Software Developer occupation, so below is the education criteria they suggest for anyone interested in becoming a software developer:
"Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree, typically in computer science, software engineering, or a related field. Computer science degree programs are the most common, because they tend to cover a broad range of topics. Students should focus on classes related to building software to better prepare themselves for work in the occupation. Many students gain experience in software development by completing an internship at a software company while in college. For some positions, employers may prefer that applicants have a master’s degree.
Although writing code is not their first priority, developers must have a strong background in computer programming. They usually gain this experience in school. Throughout their career, developers must keep up to date on new tools and computer languages.
Software developers also need skills related to the industry in which they work. Developers working in a bank, for example, should have knowledge of finance so that they can understand a bank’s computing needs."
I highly encourage you to take a look at the data yourself; you can find the statistics for Software Developers here: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm
Even if you do get a degree, if you're seriously considering a games career then I'd recommend prioritizing your coding skills and personal projects/portfolio over grades.
Also make sure you understand how to work with game engines and related software that's widely used in the games creation process.
1. Games development is relatively young industry that combines technology and entertainment and it does not follow traditional pattern of getting schooled first.
There is no hard requirement to get this or that diploma but it's very useful to go to a college to understand if games development is really for you and if it is, then what area of it would you like to focus on.
Think about it as an academic knowledge that will help you to make choices but be ready to do some real work while studying - nothing beats experience. Unless you will turn out very lucky or very gifted, your entry into the industry is going to be by showing off your work to potential employers - be it a finished story board, or maybe fully designed level, a mod for a game you play a lot, smart, memory saving code for application of graphics effect on surface X, proven QA experience in games, etc.
2. As already mentioned in Walt's Answer, game design branches into several directions that will require additional education / experience in other fields.
For example, narrative / story design would benefit from major in English or any culture-oriented field. Graphics design is closely connected to coding, same for level design. UI/UX design is often connected to Product Management and so on.
Having said that, there are two general areas every designer must get familiar with:
- programming or at least technical acumen. Designers spend a lot of time using various building tools / editors - the more experienced the designer, the more tweaking to his/her tooling set is added. Some just go ahead and write their own tool sets.
- Quality Assurance (QA). In the end, the output of designer's work is a piece of code (content) and that needs to go through functionality check before it lands anywhere close to main development branch. A sloppy designer who does not keep his / her quality standards high will be mostly creating bugs.