UCSC offers professional degree in games and playable media

Based at UCSC's Silicon Valley Center in Santa Clara, new master's degree program focuses on integrating technical innovation and design innovation

Center for Games and Playable Media logo

The University of California, Santa Cruz, has established a new master's (M.S.) degree program in Games and Playable Media offered from the UCSC Silicon Valley site in Santa Clara. This innovative professional degree program will give students a strong background in advanced technologies used in the development of computer games and other interactive media.

The one-year (12-month) program, administered by the Department of Computer Science in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz, is designed for students who already have a solid foundation in computer science and an understanding of computer games. Jim Whitehead, professor and chair of computer science, said students in the program will learn all aspects of game development.

"Students will develop strong design skills as well as strong technical implementation skills," Whitehead said. "They will learn to be independent game makers, and they can go on to work in the game industry or for the growing number of companies outside the game industry that are looking for people with the combination of technical and design skills needed to create compelling interactive experiences."

The new degree program builds on UCSC's strength as a leading center for computer game research and education. The campus's Center for Games and Playable Media houses five games-related research labs, including the Expressive Intelligence Studio, one of the largest technical game research groups in the world. In 2006, the Baskin School of Engineering began offering the first undergraduate degree in computer game design in the UC system. UCSC also has two graduate programs with an emphasis on games, the digital arts and new media M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in computer science with a games focus. These graduate programs are consistently ranked among the top 10 in the nation by the Princeton Review.

Basing the new master's program in Silicon Valley, which has the largest concentration of game companies in the world, allows for deep interactions between students and game industry innovators. Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an associate professor of computer science who helped design the program, said he expects to have industry insiders leading workshops and critiquing student projects.

"All of the required classes will be taught in Silicon Valley, and enough electives that students could complete the entire degree there. They can also choose from a wide variety of electives taught on the UCSC campus," Wardrip-Fruin said.

Program staff, including a program director and creative director, as well as a dedicated game development lab for students, will all be housed in the UCSC Silicon Valley Center in Santa Clara. The Baskin School of Engineering also offers a professional M.S. in technology and information management at the Silicon Valley Center.

The M.S. degree in games and playable media is designed to meet the needs not only of recent graduates from technically strong undergraduate game programs, but also people with computer science experience who may be working in information technology and want to retrain for the game industry, or people working in the game industry who want to change roles.

The program will prepare students for work in both small, independent game studios and large companies. Wardrip-Fruin said the program was designed with a broad view of the professional opportunities. "We have a series of professional development classes to teach students what they need to know to start their own studio, or to join an existing indie studio or a major game studio, and also what they need to bring games into other contexts," he said. "Many companies are looking to hire people with a background in games because they understand things like audience engagement. That's why we call it games and playable media, to include a broad range of experiences that invite and encourage play."

The computer games industry has grown rapidly in recent decades, with U.S. consumers purchasing $25 billion of computer games and equipment in 2011. The Entertainment Software Association estimates that 40 percent of nationwide game industry employment is in California. The state is home to many of the largest computer game companies as well as some of the most innovative small studios and independent game developers. UCSC's new M.S. degree in games and playable media will help meet the demand for technically sophisticated game developers, said Wardrip-Fruin.

"Historically, computer games were created by individuals or small teams, and that's what this degree is about--allowing people in small groups or as individuals to make creative interventions in the game field and learn how to make a career out of that," he said.

More information about the M.S. in Games and Playable Media is available online.