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Gaming: Serious business at University of Maryland, Baltimore County

University offers students a game development track in computer science
University Business, May 2015
At UMBC’s Imaging Research Center, students get hands-on experience using technologies to create 3D visualizations, interactive installations and immersive media experiences. (Photos courtesy of Marlayna Demond for UMBC)
At UMBC’s Imaging Research Center, students get hands-on experience using technologies to create 3D visualizations, interactive installations and immersive media experiences. (Photos courtesy of Marlayna Demond for UMBC)

Bolstering student interest in STEM subjects is a priority for many schools, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is finding success on an unusual path.

The university offers students interested in the gaming industry a game development track in computer science, as well as an animation and interactive media concentration in visual arts. While a similar program at another

University of Maryland school has folded (the University of Maryland University College no longer offers a certificate in gaming development), the concentrations are thriving at UMBC.

Julia Ross, dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology at UMBC, identifies Baltimore as a particularly active hub in the $21 billion gaming industry, with many game developers in the area. This, along with the university’s strong visual arts and computer science departments, creates a prime incubator for nurturing gaming talent.

She also says that many students who aren’t in the gaming program are members of the school’s Game Developers Club. There is heavy campus interest in a business now worth more than both the music and movie sectors.

Associate professor Marc Olano, who leads the game development track, recently brought a team of students to compete in the national finals of the Microsoft Imagine World Cup, a global student technology competition.

Olano says the track also focuses on the entrepreneurial aspects of game development. The market has shifted from solely large-scale distribution to the breakout of indie developers who have found success self-publishing games through digital venues, mainly the Apple and Windows stores.

The program is forging new relationships between the university and the Baltimore gaming community. Developers from local companies—including Breakaway Games, Day One Studios (now a part of Wargaming West), Firaxis and Zenimax—have taught classes at UMBC, while graduates of the program have found work at these and other regional game developers. ­—S.B.

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