Is that philosophy degree that you defended for years against the backhanded compliments of your family and friends still not paying off? Did the four years at your College/University/Institute seem like an incomprehensible waste of time? Have you recently experienced any… Wait, this isn’t right.
Having survived the rigors of graduating with a seemingly less than valuable degree (e.g., English, History, and all other forms of education that don’t seem to be supported by the government), finding out that there are a multitude of graduate programs, tailored specifically for “gamers” is, well, rather exciting. To think, there are various schools teaching, or better yet, instructing, graduate level students about the process of game production, art, and programming. But first you have to find a school that can offer you something unique, excellent, or a combination of the two; this is where FIEA comes into play.
FIEA is part of the graduate school of Arts and Humanities at the University of Central Florida — A sunny and rather large university situated in the center of Florida, obviously. FIEA has been in operation since 2004, with the first class being accepted in 2005 and subsequently graduating in 2006. Since 2006, each graduating class, or cohort, has worked worked on keystone projects, ( kind of like a big senior project/thesis) which is eventually showcased in front of faculty, staff, and peers. To help me better understand what it takes to graduate from FIEA, I recently contacted Todd Deery, the admissions specialist.
GameAspect -How long have you been with FIEA — what did you do before FIEA?
TD - I have been with FIEA since we enrolled our first class in 2005. Before I worked at UCF, I taught and worked in the marketing department at Valencia Community College. I also have worked at ad agencies, written travel books and newspaper articles, and edited books.
- With FIEA being founded in 2004, and having your first graduating class in 2006, how do you feel that FIEA has already achieved the number 2 rank amongst graduate “gaming” programs?
Well, I think one of our strengths is our focus. We are here to prepare the best student programmers, artists and producers for the videogame industry. We are very industry based and project based. Another strength is our faculty. All of our faculty are not only great professors, but have 15-20 years’ experience in games and films. They’ve shipped more than 45 AAA titles and are passionate about preparing the next generation of game developers.
- Do the three fields incorporated at FIEA evenly prepare the students for the rigors of working in the industry, or are certain areas looked upon more importantly?
All three tracks at FIEA are complete, comprehensive tracks. For example, when some schools say production, what they really mean is just game design. At FIEA, our production track teaches you all the roles a producer can play, like game design, level design, manager, team lead, and marketing producer. Students in all three tracks get an equally good graduate education. And also, all students are allowed to minor in one of the other tracks so that they get an even more integrated knowledge of what the other students are doing.
- The Job market is in a sluggish state at the moment and hearing about massive layoffs throughout the gaming industry is a real world challenge. How do you prepare your students for the supposed decrease in the gaming market?
We do a lot to help them. We provide resume workshops, cover letter workshops and mock interviews. We also provide dozens of speakers throughout the year from industry and they cover what they look for in applicants, what type of work they do, etc.
We also bring in industry twice a year to interview our students for internships and jobs.
I also would caution against thinking the game market is going to be too bleak. Lots of research says otherwise. For example, IBISWorld forecasts that revenue will grow at an annualized rate of 7.5% to $16.1 billion over the five years to 2017.
- Why the emphasis on such small numbers of students?
We are trying to be good and not necessarily large. Our project-based curriculum requires a lot of faculty-to-student and student-to-student learning and you just can’t maintain that with a large class. We all know every student by name and background and we think this creates a real feeling of loyalty to the school and the work that the students produce.
- Do you have any preferences when it comes to undergraduate students and their skill set?
Yes, we do. It depends on the track that they are applying for. But in general, the things we look for in any FIEA student is a passion for games, a strong work ethic, ability to lead and think, and of course good undergraduate grades and a strong portfolio. Every student applying to FIEA submits a portfolio, no matter which track they are applying for.
- Is there an equal emphasis on mobile/casual games, or do you focus more heavily on triple A titles?
Mobile and casual is a big part of our first semester here and can be part of our Venture Track, an entrepreneurial class in the fourth semester. Our second and third semester the students strive to make a slice of more AAA-leaning title that has that polish and fully fleshed out gameplay.
- Masters in Interactive Entertainment… What exactly is that that?
It’s the degree you get when you graduate. It means you are highly capable of working on a team and creating engaging interactive content for games, simulation, advertising or any other industry.
- What would it take to make FIEA the number one ranked graduate program in the country?
I don’t know. We don’t really worry too much about the rankings. We think we’re good at what we do and we’ll let others rank us.
- How important are guest speakers to FIEA. Who have been the most notable?
It’s a big part of our curriculum at FIEA because it brings in those outside perspectives and ideas. We’ve had speakers from Crytek, LucasArts, EA, Microsoft, Rhythm & Hues, Kabam, Blizzard, Zynga, Dreamworks, Steambot, Neversoft, Epic and Activision. Probably Bryan Walker, Tom Chilton and Manny Fragelus have been three of our biggest recent speakers.