University of Utah's top-ranked video game design program expanding

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The University of Utah's video game design department — top-ranked nationally — will offer its own graduate degree next fall.

Entertainment Arts and Engineering won approval Friday to streamline and consolidate its two-year master's degree program under its own roof.

Program leaders started graduate classes in 2010, but students earned master's degrees in computer sciences or film and media with a concentration in video game design.

"We did it as an experiment," Executive Director Robert Kessler said at the Utah Board of Regents meeting Friday. "It's been a great experiment, and what we are asking is to take that temporary degree and turn it into a master's."

All 16 members of the first graduating class were employed when they completed their degrees last May, making a median income of $97,000. There are a total of 60 students in the program now, and demand in the profession is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next seven years, he said.

The current degree was ranked No. 2 among graduate programs in the country by the Princeton Review earlier this month. Among undergraduate programs, the U.'s was named the best in the country.

The new version of the graduate degree will give video game program leaders more control over admissions and number of credit hours, Kessler said, and they've got their eye onNo. 1-ranked University of Southern California. "We'll always be trying," he said.

Students can focus on one of three areas: art-oriented game design, programming-centric game engineering, or project management-like game production.

Students in each discipline work together in groups to build games.

"The way we teach," Kessler said, "students learn to work with people who don't think the way they do."