EA Gives Millions to USC for Gaming Developers

Game giant Electronic Arts is giving the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media Division a multimillion-dollar donation to advance interactive media education and produce professionals for the next generation of gaming.

The money — which is part of EA’s global education and talent development effort — will fund two USC interactive media programs: a three-year master’s degree program under the school’s Cinema-Television Interactive Media Division and an endowed faculty chair.

Announcement of the donation brought praise from industry observers as well as USC alumni, including filmmaker George Lucas.

“It’s astonishing how quickly games have become an essential part of the entertainment arts, and there is no better place than USC to nurture the creative and conceptual thinkers who will take the medium to places we can only imagine,” said Lucas, founder of LucasArts. “USC is a major force in cinema education, and thanks to Electronic Arts, it can become a leader in interactive arts education as well.”

Silver Screen to Silicon

USC’s track record as a producer of film, television, gaming and other entertainment media greats is evident in the CNTV school’s Board of Councilors, which includes Lucas, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, John Wells, Robert Zemeckis and, now, EA president Don Mattrick.

“The school’s rich storytelling tradition and longstanding commitment to technological experimentation make it an ideal partner for EA,” Mattrick said. “This is an excellent opportunity for EA to invest in the future of the industry by providing today’s students with the skills and knowledge they will need to push technology and entertainment forward.”

EA said its gift will fuel the growth of the Interactive Media Division’s gaming component and enable the USC school to “define and expand this nascent, multifaceted field.”

The money will enable the creation of an intra-USC gaming community that will bring together creative and technical expertise in cinema and television, the arts and technical sciences, EA said. The company’s gift also will provide students with real-world experience through internships and work-study programs with EA, including at its newest Los Angeles campus, the company added.

Select Universities

Michael Cai, an analyst with gaming industry researcher Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld that only about 10 universities in the United States have programs devoted to games and software development.

Cai, who pointed to Dallas, Texas, as a hotbed of gaming-industry education and training, also referred to a report out of China that found although companies are offering very high salaries to attract game developers there, they are unable to find any.

EA said its support at USC will spawn the creation of a curriculum and research lab to explore the boundaries of interactive entertainment and study the emerging discipline of game development.

Preparing for Placement

Parks Associates’ Cai said that despite the dot-com bubble burst, gaming development jobs were among the hottest in technology about two years ago.

“Everywhere we looked, the demand for game experts was really high,” he said.

While that shortage of expertise helped drive up game prices, Cai noted that at the end of last year, game publishers and distributors suffered from the economic slump and the job market cooled down.

Cai indicated EA might be working to avoid another gaming labor shortage by investing in the USC gaming curriculum now. “They’re trying to get the best brains from the beginning,” he said.

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