At a time of “great growth” in the game industry in Kentucky and beyond, Eastern Kentucky University’s game design program ranks 47th internationally, according to The Princeton Review.
The Princeton Review (www.PrincetonReview.com) determined its rankings based on a survey it conducted in 2016 of 150 institutions offering game design coursework and/or degrees in the United States, Canada, and some other countries.
The company's 40-question survey asked schools to report on everything from their academic offerings and lab facilities to their graduates’ starting salaries and career achievements. Among criteria The Princeton Review weighed to make its selections: each school's academics, facilities, career services, and technology.
“Many schools put ‘game’ in a course title, and these courses typically become popular with strong enrollment,” said Dr. George Landon, director of the EKU Gaming Institute (gaming.eku.edu). “However, the Princeton Review recognizes that a few game courses are not enough to prepare students for the game industry and can even mislead prospective students. The top-50 label demonstrates that we are consistently providing our students a world-class education in game development.”
Landon said he believed the program’s “close ties” with the game industry within and beyond Kentucky played a part in the high ranking. “We have also added new faculty. Jonathan Hale, an adjunct instructor, has extensive expertise in 2D and 3D game art and animation.”
EKU, which ranked 50th on the list a year ago, boasts one of the newer programs on the list. The Gaming Institute was established in 2014, whereas many of the game design programs on the top-50 list have been established for 10-20 years.
Home to the Commonwealth’s first bachelor’s degree program in game design, EKU hosted the Commonwealth’s first-ever game design conference last year. The Institute partnered with the Richmond office of the Kentucky Innovation Network, RunJumpDev of Lexington and Tech Base 10 to present Vector, a celebration of developers from the Midwest and southeastern U.S. and an opportunity for them to network with leaders and peers in the field of game design and development.
Another Vector conference – and this year it’s an Idea Festival event, as well – is scheduled for April 21-22 on the Richmond campus.
“This 2-day event will more than double the activities from last year,” Landon said. “We'll have the student showcase again this year as well as talks from Ubisoft, Bungie, Google, Devolver Digital and more. We will also have a $500 game idea pitch contest, sponsored by California-based publisher Black Shell Media, and we will be offering the Unity Certification Exam (an industry certification offered for the first time in our region). Also, on Friday night, we will have a concert from the Minecraft composer, C418, and Saturday afternoon, we will be screening ‘Lost Arcade’ and have a talk from its director, Kurt Vincent.
“Events like the Vector conference are helping establish us as a premier site for game-related education.”
In 2015, Eastern added a cutting-edge motion capture studio to its facilities in the Wallace Building. With the addition of the studio, the University now employs the same technology that Hollywood and game studios use to capture actor performance in movies and games.
“Game design is an exciting field, and programs are springing up in colleges all over the world,” said Robert Franek, editor in chief for the Princeton Review. “We want to help students find the best program for their needs and interests. The top schools on our list have outstanding faculties and great facilities, which will give students the skills and experience they need to pursue in this dynamic and burgeoning field.”
As a young program, EKU can’t yet count many alumni. But that will soon change, with 137 Interactive Media majors today, a number that continues to grow and include more out-of-state students.
“There is great growth in the game industry, and Kentucky is experiencing this first hand,” Landon said. “EKU has been fortunate to be at the center of this. The job market is very strong. I am not aware of any of our graduates who are actively seeking employment who are unable to find good, high-paying jobs. Game-related jobs in Kentucky are steadily increasing, as many small independent studios are forming across the state.
“I receive multiple e-mails and phone calls every week from high schools, parents and students asking about EKU’s game program,” Landon added. “Outside of Kentucky, we are the ‘Kentucky game school,’ and it’s our work outside the classroom that has helped get the word out.”
Eastern has sent a total of 10 students to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, California, the past three years, and Vector has introduced the University to game developers from Illinois to Virginia.
The Interactive Multimedia option within the baccalaureate degree in computer science at EKU develops students’ expertise in game design, 3-D modeling and animation, graphics programming, and multimedia systems. The Gaming Institute focuses on the design, development, and publication of video games within an academic context. Beginning this fall, the program will offer a new minor in game content design that is specifically targeted at students interested in developing content for games, but may not be interested in writing code and programming them.
Graduates of the program receive a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a concentration in interactive media. “The requirements for this degree help make them very well rounded in technical areas. At this point, most of our graduates obtain jobs as software engineers and programmers. Other students extend their experience by adding minors and free electives to become better artists, and some of these students added freelance game art as a career supplement.”
For the fifth consecutive year, The Princeton Review teamed up with PC Gamer (www.pcgamer.com), a monthly magazine published by Future plc as its reporting partner on the project. PC Gamer features the list in its May issue, available on newsstands March 28.
The Princeton Review developed its “Top Schools to Study Game Design” project in 2009 with assistance from a national advisory board that helped design the survey instrument and methodology. Board members included administrators and faculty from respected game design programs, as well as professionals from some of the top gaming companies.