The University of Central Florida excels as one of the nation’s top talent pipelines for a rapidly growing gaming industry that fuels Central Florida’s economy and is projected to be worth more than $300 billion worldwide by 2026.

In UCF’s undergraduate and graduate game design programs, talented students learn from world-class faculty with strong industry experience, and they graduate well-prepared for success in their careers.

That’s a main reason why The Princeton Review and PC Gamer consistently recognize the programs to be among the best in the world. This year, UCF’s graduate game design program, the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA), ranks No. 2 — its fourth consecutive year in the top two.

The undergraduate program within UCF’s Nicholson School for Communication and Media —the games and interactive media program (GaIM) — climbed seven spots since last year to rank No. 6 in the world, its highest ranking ever.

The annual rankings of undergraduate and graduate institutions offering the best programs in game design cover the U.S., Canada and five European countries.

The two 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.

FIEA has graduated 940 students, many of whom created video games together in an industry-like setting before graduating.  In 2022, 88% of FIEA graduates were hired. About half of FIEA graduates stay in Central Florida after graduation, with the mean starting salary topping $71,000 for gaming grads. Top employers include Electronic Arts, Iron Galaxy Studios, Epic Games, Ubisoft Red Storm and Microsoft Games.

“For nearly 15 years, UCF’s FIEA graduate video game development program has been one of the top five programs in the world. … This foundation has allowed us to become the leading area in the U.S. that’s building the Metaverse,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said during his “State of Downtown” address in December. Dyer also said Orlando has the highest concentration of game developer licenses in the country.

“We are pleased that The Princeton Review has again ranked us among the top programs globally,” said FIEA Executive Director Ben Noel. “This past year, FIEA had record numbers of students complete high-quality internships and start their careers with many of the top gaming companies in Central Florida and throughout our country. We are fulfilling our mission to provide top talent to the digital media industry and drive economic growth for Florida.”

Like FIEA, GaIM at UCF’s Nicholson School for Communication and Media has earned national recognition — in large part due to its faculty, many of whom have both industry and academic experience. In 2022, 79% of undergraduates in the program were hired, with a mean salary of $52,036.

“GaIM faculty undertake cutting-edge work in games and interactive media, including immersive storytelling, virtual and augmented reality, and accessibility in games — expertise they funnel into their course offerings and mentorship of our students,” says Professor Natalie Underberg-Goode, assistant director of the program.

GaIM undergraduate courses cover video game design and production, web and social platforms, and interactive experiences that combine art, storytelling, design and technology.

The Princeton Review ranks top college programs for video game design after surveying administrators at 150 institutions offering game design coursework and/or degrees. The survey covers a wide range of topics, from academic rigor to faculty credentials and graduates’ career outcomes.

“We are so happy to see the hard work and accomplishments of our students, faculty, and University being recognized. It is such an honor to be part of this,” said Associate Professor Peter Smith, deputy assistant director and graduate coordinator in the GaIM program.