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December 16, 2008

Play-Tester Number One

Tracy Fullerton Installed As EA Endowed Professor

By Mel Cowan

It was a typical night at the Interactive Media Division workspace: tiny men with umbrellas stopped time, white gardens were splattered with black paint, and samurais ventured through the middle kingdom. The special part of the evening came as Associate Professor and Director of the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab Tracy Fullerton was named the holder of the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment.

IMD Chair Scott S. Fisher, Assistant Professor Tracy Fullerton, Dean Elizabeth M. Daley and Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello unveil the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment.
Fullerton accepted the chair at a formal ceremony held at the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts on December 9. Following a keynote address by EA CEO John Riccitiello, Fullerton took the stage to raucous applause from the packed house.

"I now have a front row seat to all of the fantastical ideas the coming years of students will dream up," said Fullerton, pointing to the classic hardwood chair that commemorates her endowed position. "That means I get to be play-tester number one for the future of interactive entertainment. Something tells me I’m not going to be disappointed."

Dean Elizabeth M. Daley spoke about Fullerton's career and her work at SCA, calling her a "dynamic force in game design and education for years."

"She has played a crucial role in the expansion of our interactive media curriculum at the school," said Daley. "Her direction of the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab has helped to set the standard for game education programs around the world."

Professor Scott S. Fisher, chair of the Interactive Media Division, took the stage and lauded the work of Fullerton, her fellow faculty members, and the students who were exhibiting work that evening. "Their passion for this field is remarkable and the results of the work are extraordinary."

Introducing Riccitiello, Fisher noted the executive’s vision for both the company and the industry. "He has overseen a re-organization that’s focused on creating incredible gameplay for the widest and wildest audience possible," said Fisher. "In doing so, he’s energized the entire industry and has given players across the spectrum something to be excited about again."

Interactive M.F.A. student Jamie Antonisse (right) demonstrates his work to Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello.
Upon taking the podium, Riccitiello wasted no time in commenting on the work of the SCA students that he'd seen prior to the ceremony. "It was a real eye-opener. I saw game mechanics that I'd never seen before," said Riccitiello. "Games that aspire to be high art in turn inspire me. Too often, ours is a business that can be thought of as a toy, when it really is a form of media."

Riccitiello spoke warmly about EA's relationship with the school. "Frankly, one of the best proponents of our industry is USC. What's happened under Dean Daley's and Tracy's and Scott's leadership has made a gigantic difference. What they're doing in providing this level of leadership is creating a cadre of artists that are going to come along with us and help us change just as much as we have over the last 10 years," said Riccitiello.

In 2004, Electronic Arts made a multi-million dollar donation to the school to advance interactive entertainment and create a launch pad for the next generation of game design. The contribution, part of EA's global educational and talent development effort, funded two new facets of the school's Interactive Media Division: the Electronic Arts Interactive Entertainment Program and the Electronic Arts Endowed Faculty Chair.

The Electronic Arts Interactive Entertainment Program and its associated Game Innovation Lab are the focal point of games study and research within the Interactive Media Division. The Electronic Arts Endowed Faculty Chair, previously held by Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Electronic Arts Bing Gordon, is one of the key catalysts that enables the school to fulfill the intensifying demand for talented game developers who are solidly grounded in visual storytelling and innovative game play.

Before and after the ceremony, interactive media students exhibited demos of their games in the Interactive Media Division labs on the second floor of the Zemeckis Center. An excited buzz permeated the space as industry members, including Riccitiello, faculty, staff and friends tried out games like The Unfinished Swan and Adventures in the Middle Kingdom, and spoke with their creators.

Students, alumni, faculty and guests mingle during the gala reception for the EA endowed chair installation on the main soundstages of the Robert Zemeckis Center.
While game designer Matt Korba, M.F.A. Interactive '08, showed onlookers how to play his Tim Burton-inspired game The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, game producer Paul Bellezza, M.F.A. Interactive '08, revealed that Fullerton had another unofficial, yet very appropriate title amongst her students.

"Tracy’s our Jedi master,” said Bellezza.