Florida woos EA with game development academy

State allocates millions to train game designers of the future; Electronic Arts commits personnel, makes soft promise to employ grads.

There are more than 400 Electronic Arts staffers who learned the hard way that consolidation can hurt. This number represents the sum total of EA staffers affected by recent decisions to fold far-flung satellite operations into "hub locations," where game development, design, and testing take place. In February, EA shuttered its Walnut Creek-based Maxis Studios (in California), moving interested employees to the company's Redwood Shores, California, headquarters, and in March, the Austin-based Origin Systems was likewise closed.

While the company made efforts to relocate a high number of staffers to its Redwood Shores campus, the impact on the local community is lasting. So in spite of a stated commitment to maintain--and grow--EA's central Florida-located Tiburon Studios, the state of Florida is taking no chances.

Electronic Arts' Vice President of Corporate Communications Jeff Brown today confirmed that "the state of Florida has committed $4.2 million to finance curriculum for game development."

The grant will flow from the state's general fund to the University of Central Florida (UCF), a public institution located in Orlando, which is just eight miles from EA's Tiburon Studios in Maitland. The grant was formally approved by Florida Governor Jeb Bush on May 28. Tiburon Studios, home to approximately 500 EA employees, is where the Madden NFL, NFL Street, and NASCAR franchises are developed.

According to the Orlando Business Journal, the university plans to build a state-of-the-art facility in downtown Orlando. The facility would train about 100 graduates a year, many of them bound for the Tiburon shop--which is exactly what EA is looking for. "We've made it clear we intend to stay in Florida, and we want to grow in Florida," said Brown. "It would be a lot easier for us if we could hire local people for these highly skilled jobs rather than having to relocate people from other parts of the world." While the grant carries no guarantees that it will solidify EA's commitment to its Florida operations, the grant appears to be a move in the right direction. Said Brown, "It's very likely we will be hiring these people when they finish the program."

The new institution will be called The Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, and, according to UCF sources, it will open in the fall of 2005. To be considered for enrollment, students need to have already secured undergraduate degrees in disciplines such as computer science, art, or digital media. The curriculum will mint fully trained game designers and game creators after they complete a 16-month program--to be designed with the help of the school's neighbor to the north, Electronic Arts. "Since EA is right there, we have committed personnel and will help them work on their curriculum," said Brown. "And we will certainly support their programs."

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