"I pretty much grew up playing games, and I've wanted to be in the industry since I was 7 years old."
Matt Dabrowski is a senior at the University of Southern California. When he graduates, he won't be putting down his controller for a job in the "real world." He and hundreds of others are going to work making video games.
"It's a 31 billion-dollar-a-year industry worldwide," says Dr. Tim Langdell (search), professor in USC's Information Technology Program. "It is the only major industry that doesn't have a major educational program for it."
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But that's changing. Top-notch schools such as USC are now offering bachelor's and even master's degrees in video game design. The programs — combinations of computer programming and movie-making — are aimed at filling cubicles in a flourishing field.
"It is pervasive in our society," says Dr. Randolph Hall (search), engineering professor and technology coordinator at USC. "Kids care about it. Kids are going to be both consumers and, in the future, developers and workers in this industry."
"There's a new term out there," explains Peter Navin, head of human resources at Electronic Arts, one of the largest video-game makers. "They're calling them 'jobbies,' and it's folks who are marrying their hobby and their job together."
Companies such as Electronic Arts and Sony are actively recruiting on campuses across the country, snapping up rookie talent for a business that makes as much — and spends as much — as Hollywood.
"What these academic programs allow us is the opportunity to get somebody who already has the best practices and the curriculum and the education behind them, where they can just get into a team and contribute right away," says Michael Lustenberger (search), director of marketing at Sony Online Entertainment, which makes and runs the hugely popular EverQuest massively multiplayer online role-playing games.
"A lot of it is a connections game, apparently," says Dabrowski, "so hopefully I'll be able to get some decent connections here."
One professor says that in the last two years, every one of his students who's wanted a video-game job has gotten one. With starting salaries approaching six figures, it's anything but child's play.