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UCF Graduate Game-Design Program Celebrates 10 Years of Success

This week the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, UCF’s graduate game-design program, celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a series of events for FIEA alumni and students.

FIEA’s first class of 12 students started Aug. 22, 2005. Since then, the program has enrolled more than 500 students and is the largest graduate program in UCF’s College of Arts & Humanities. It was named the No. 2 graduate game design program in the world this year by the Princeton Review.

The commemorative events include tailgating before the UCF football game on Thursday, a private party for FIEA alumni and guests Friday, and a FIEA student gaming tournament Saturday. Faculty, students and staff will be available to talk to media during all these events.

The program’s economic impact is apparent here and across the globe. More than 125 companies have hired FIEA’s 421 alumni, including brands such as Rovio, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Sony, Blizzard, Bungie, Cartoon Network, Disney and Marvel. About 45 percent of graduates stay in Florida to work, mostly at local companies such as Iron Galaxy Orlando, n-Space, Electronic Arts and Lockheed Martin. Students who graduated in 2013 had a mean base salary of $60,359.

“Ten years ago we created a unique graduate program to serve an industry and area in need of talented employees,” said FIEA executive director Ben Noel. “Today, through hard work and great collaborations we’re hoping to train the next generation of game developers, filmmakers, artists and digital entrepreneurs. I couldn’t be more proud of our graduates and what they’ve accomplished so far.”

The program started from a unique partnership between UCF, the State of Florida and Electronic Arts. It was created in May 2004, when the Florida Legislature provided $4.2 million in start-up funding. Electronic Arts helped with the formation of the program and in the early development of the curriculum. On Aug. 24, 55 more grad students started the program as part of FIEA’s 12th class.

“With one out of every seven of our current, core product-development-team members coming from the FIEA program, we can certainly state that UCF’s decision to create FIEA to respond to the needs of our growing industry has paid dividends greater than we imagined,” said EA Studios vice president and group chief operating officer Daryl Holt. “We turned to UCF because of the university’s commitment to partnership and its track record of excellence. The entire digital media community benefits from this commitment, as do graduates who are becoming leaders in the field and helping cement Central Florida’s position as an industry leader.”

In 2005, the City of Orlando leased UCF space at the former Orlando Expo Center at 500 W. Livingston St. (now Bentley Street) to house FIEA and other digital media programs. The building was renamed UCF’s Center for Emerging Media in 2010.

“We are proud to celebrate FIEA’s 10-year anniversary,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “For our city to continue to thrive, we must attract and retain top talent, and FIEA’s success over the last 10 years has played an essential role in developing the jobs of the future. FIEA provides a pipeline of incredible talent to Orlando’s gaming, entertainment and simulation companies, which has resulted in tremendous growth for this industry.”

Rogier van Etten, a technical artist at local video game developer Iron Galaxy Orlando, said: “FIEA not only sharpened my programming and art skills but it also taught me how to work on large teams of creative people. It certainly helped get me where I am today in my career.”

In 2014, the school opened FIEA Ventures, a state-of-the-art digital media workspace designed for encouraging start-up companies in a creative environment. The program is available exclusively to FIEA alumni and provides start-ups with office and meeting space, a 20-seat theater, mentorships, equipment, and access to technology and expertise. Tenants also have access to the building’s audio, motion capture and films studios, collectively called Studio 500.

For a full agenda of the week’s events as well as historical photos, go to www.fiea.ucf.edu/anniversary [1].

FIEA Ventures and FIEA are located in UCF’s Center For Emerging Media, 500 Bentley St., Orlando. For more information, visit www.fiea.ucf.edu.