The University of Central Florida’s graduate game design program is the best in the world for the third straight year, according to The Princeton Review and PC Gamer magazine.
The Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA) has garnered the top spot, coming in ahead of New York University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Southern California and the University of Utah. UCF’s undergraduate game design program also ranked highly at No. 13 for 2022.
“Our top rankings demonstrate that UCF’s game design programs give students exceptional, real-world experiences that prepare them for successful careers, fueling one of the cornerstone industries in our community,” UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright says. “UCF’s FIEA graduates are extremely attractive hires for the gaming industry’s leading companies — and our students thrive after graduation — because they are trained by outstanding faculty and study in an environments that mimics an actual studio, including opportunities to lead teams and manage projects.”
The programs are located at UCF Downtown in Orlando’s Creative Village, where graduate and undergraduate students learn the tools and techniques to be artists, programmers and producers in the gaming industry. The Creative Village is also home to Electronic Arts’ new office, putting students just steps away from internship and job opportunities.
“We focus on the development of top talent that will drive the next generation of developers in Florida and globally.” — Ben Noel
“We appreciate the recognition of the tremendous effort of our faculty and students,” says Ben Noel, executive director of FIEA. “The success of the alumni in the video game and simulation industries is what continues to drive the growth and evolution of the program. We focus on the development of top talent that will drive the next generation of developers in Florida and globally. Electronic Arts’ relocation a block from our program is affirmation of our success.”
Henry Bell, a FIEA student who earned his undergraduate degree in film at the University of Kansas, is leading a team of 19 student producers, artists and programmers who are developing a full-fledged video game this spring and summer as their capstone project.
“It has been an invaluable experience to get to do everything a lead would do in industry,” says Bell. “I feel so much more prepared to get a job. In addition to being able to get that professionally oriented learning, I’ve met great people who will be invaluable contacts in the industry.”
The FIEA program has over 850 graduates now employed by more than 300 companies around the world. The starting salary for graduates is over $70,000 annually. Top employers include Electronic Arts, Iron Galaxy and Epic Games.
“FIEA’s alumni network is impressive, to say the least,” says Bell. “I’ve been able to able to talk to multiple alumni who now work at major studios and our capstone teams have alumni advisors. My fellow classmates are also strong connections as they will go on to do great things, no doubt, and we will all be able to help one another in the future. I had connections before I came here, but it pales in comparison to the resources I have now.”
Gaming has become a $159 billion industry globally. Statistics from the Entertainment Software Association indicate video games and attached industries support more than 16,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in economic impact in Florida. According to WalletHub, Orlando is the sixth best city in the country for gamers, in part due to its developer opportunities. An estimated 2,000 game developers are employed in downtown Orlando, bolstering the city’s reputation as a technology and digital media hub.
“The continuing success of the graduate and undergraduate programs is evidence of the power of experiential learning in an environment that supports digital media,” says Robert Littlefield, the director of the Nicholson School of Communication and Media.
Daryl Holt, vice president and general manager, EA Tiburon (Orlando) and EA SPORTS (Austin and Madrid: “FIEA continues to be a major source of talent for our EA development studio in Orlando and an important talent pipeline for Florida’s growing experience economy. We’ve been fortunate to hire many FIEA graduates over the years and look forward to our continued partnership as neighbors in Downtown Orlando’s Creative Village, where together we are educating and inspiring next-generation electronic artists.”
Dave Lang, Founder of Iron Galaxy: “FIEA and University of Central Florida have been essential to our efforts to recruit the new talent we need to grow our studio in Orlando. Their game development curriculum has a focus on real-world applications that empowers FIEA graduates to hit the ground running from day one. We’ve seen enormous success partnering with them over the years to welcome students to an industry where they can have a positive impact on our games and the people who play them.”