SALT LAKE CITY — Students at the University of Utah are designing the games of the future with the implementation of a new master's program that puts its students ahead of the gaming curve.
Rachel Liker, a game design student at the U., spent a lot of her childhood dodging her parents to playing video games next door.
"I played Mario at my neighbor's house because my parents didn't actually let us have game consoles when we were growing up," she said.
The secret hours Liker spent collecting coins and mashing mushrooms on her friend's Nintendo as a kid paid off. When Liker grew up, she found her outlet for that interest.
"(It) sort of blossomed into a love of design and just being interested in how these things work," she said. "I don't feel like I'm done learning."
A decision by the Utah Board of Regents in late March will give Liker and her fellow gamers at the U. a chance to do just that this fall, thanks to the creation of the only video game design and engineering master's degree program in the state.
"We can customize the curriculum to really meet the needs of both the students and the industry," said Bob Kessler, director of the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program.
We can customize the curriculum to really meet the needs of both the students and the industry.
–Bob Kessler, Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program
For the past two years, students at the U. could only earn a master's in computer programming or film and media design with an emphasis in video game design. The new degree program changes that.
"When you say, ‘I've got a master's of entertainment arts and engineering,' people know that it's exactly in this domain, as opposed to, ‘I just have a master's degree,'" Kessler said.
Video game development is a growing industry in Utah. In 2005 the industry generated nearly $54 million for the state's economy. By 2011, that had grown to almost $113 million. That's good news at the U., which has the top undergraduate video game design program in the nation, according to Princeton Review, and the second rated master's program.
Kessler said those rankings carry plenty of weight with the video game developers based in Utah and elsewhere.
"They're going to be out here beating down our door for our students, which we've already seen," Kessler said. "So I think it's going to be a good symbiotic relationship."
More than 100 students have already applied for a spot in this new master's degree program, and about 45 students are expected to be accepted.