UCF, EA Sports create a partnership built for the future (2024)

John Madden‘s presence can be felt in almost every corner of the Electronic Arts building in Orlando’s Creative Village.

From various posters papering the walls to a monolithic mural of the late NFL coach and legendary broadcaster in the central stairwell, Madden is as much a part of the 175,940 square-foot facility that houses EA Sports as it is in the DNA of his namesake video game, Madden NFL.

While most gamers associate Madden NFL with EA Sports after it first debuted in 1996, it’s not the only video game the company produces. Major titles such as NBA Live, EA Sports PGA Tour, Madden NFL Mobile and NBA Live Mobile also are created and produced in Central Florida.

However, one of the most anticipated returns to the market is that of the EA Sports College Football video game franchise. The latest game, College Football 25, is expected to debut this summer.

The game means so much more for some of the 1,000 personnel at the EA Orlando studios. Many are UCF graduates of the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy. Some people would be surprised by the school’s partnership with the athletic department as a living lab for the game.

UCF, EA Sports create a partnership built for the future (1)

Building a relationship

It’s about a 10-minute walk from the EA Sports offices in downtown Orlando to UCF’s Communication and Media building that houses the FIEA program.

There, you can find the next generation of workers in the interactive entertainment industry.

The FIEA was created as a collaboration between EA Sports, UCF and Orlando city leaders. It was spearheaded by then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who sought to develop a talent base for high-wage jobs in the state.

“When we created the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy in 2004, that was a starting relationship point that has only grown,” said Daryl Holt, senior vice president and group general manager of Tiburon Studios and American Football. “It’s now an incredibly important pipeline for us for talent locally, for EA Orlando studio, and for studios worldwide.”

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According to EA Sports, approximately 10% of Tiburon’s game development team graduated from FIEA, and as of 2023 seven interns are UCF students.

“Many FIEA graduates are working on different products and experiences with students worldwide,” Holt said.

Ben Noel has been involved in both parts of the partnership.

Noel worked at Electronic Arts before spearheading the FIEA program as its executive director. He recalls the impetus behind creating the partnership between the two entities.

“Hiring people was always the biggest problem back then,” he said. “Money was not an issue, but it’s not easy to just hire 1,000 people. Governor Bush said to hire people, and we said, ‘We’ve run out of people [with specialty degrees].’

“That was the goal: How can we drive industry if we partner with the people and businesses?”

The FIEA program began with just 12 students and has grown into classes of 75 students, each competing in a 16-month master’s degree program. Many of those students work to become artists, producers and programmers.

“They’re putting in the time, the investment in the curriculum and the instructors into the program,” said Holt. “It’s to drive something world class, that those graduates are successful in the industry.”

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While many of those graduates have gone on to work at EA Sports, some have helped produce notable games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption and Halo Infinite.

Still, there’s a sense of pride in having something like a popular video game produced in Central Florida.

Noel occasionally teaches at OCPS’ Academic Center for Excellence school and loves to give his students a quick test.

“I would ask, ‘Do you know where Madden Football is built?’ In the first couple of years, they would say, ‘EA Sports,’” said Noel. “I would say, ‘That’s very good. Do you know physically where it’s built?’ They had no idea. I would say, ‘It’s built in Maitland.’

“The last two years, I go and ask the same question, ‘You know where your Madden Football game is built?’ And they will go, ‘Yep, right across the street.’”

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If it’s in the game, it’s in the game

College Football 25 is expected to debut this summer.

It was shelved for more than a decade after the company settled a lawsuit by former college football players seeking monetary compensation for their name, image and likeness.

As part of that settlement, EA Sports agreed not to produce the game.

The recent change to the NIL landscape, however, has allowed the company to take a different approach. In February, EA Sports announced it was securing individual contracts with current college football players.

“The interest generated from the players themselves was another point of inspiration for us,” said Holt. “It’s great that they want to be a part of it.”

According to Matt Brown of Extra Points, sources said the company is tentatively targeting May 16 for its first reveal, with a tentative release date of July 19.

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EA Sports has always prided itself on the authenticity of its games, so when it was announced that College Football 25 was making a comeback research was needed to keep things realistic.

“We’re going to work extensively with universities around the country to acquire the details and assets that we need to build,” said Holt.

One of those universities was UCF, which became the perfect test lab for the designers.

“That’s part of our partnership, and the mentality [we have] with UCF is to call them and say, ‘Hey, what about this? Or what about the opportunity to do X, Y, or Z?’” Holt said. “It’s always enjoyable to talk to UCF about the if type of possibilities.”

A perfect collaboration came on Nov. 11 when the Knights hosted Oklahoma State at FBC Mortgage Stadium.

“We had the opportunity to test some new camera equipment that we’re working with, some new technology,” said Holt. “We got an incredible amount of data, not only because UCF gave us access to do that but also because of the spectacle of college football and sports.

“We got more information than we thought we would from that one interaction and continued discussing other interactions we can have.”

UCF associate athletics director Jimmy Skiles, who is in charge of brand advancement, witnessed firsthand the collaboration.

“They were using these super high-tech cameras,” said Skiles. “They’re not doing this at every school, but because we’re here local they could come out and use our stadium as a lab to shoot stuff.”

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EA Sports got everything from the Knights’ 45-3 win, from the depth of field to the coloring at various times of the day and lighting on uniforms. It also allowed the company to conduct scanning tests on the Bounce House to create an authentic experience.

“While there will be specific assets for every stadium and FBS school in the game, there’s a certain DNA thread of work that we did right at UCF that informed the totality of the production we’re making,” said Holt.

EA Sports has been working with Collegiate Licensing Company and UCF’s licensing group to request music and songs played at games. “Zombie Nation” and “Knights Will Never Die” could be part of that mix, as would any other audio components for first downs, third downs, touchdowns, takeaways and other traditional audio elements.

The company also has been working with schools on preferred uniform and helmet combinations, with each institution providing suggestions. UCF, for instance, has used multiple combinations over the years, but some are must-haves for the school.

Those could include black, white and gold helmets and any combination of jerseys and pants from the past couple of seasons.

The College Football 25 game also will allow players to experience off-the-field issues, including NIL and the transfer portal.

“It’s just another tool for educating people about UCF and the brand,” said Skiles. “To have them local and for UCF to have the relationship they do with EA Sports is another thing that makes this university so unique and such an advantage of being in a city like Orlando.”

Added Holt: “It’s truly one of the best partnerships we have in any sports with a university. It helps that it’s in our backyard in Central Florida, but everything starts with the willingness and desire to do that on both sides. That’s something we’ll continue to do.”

UCF, EA Sports create a partnership built for the future (2024)


Why was EA Sports created? ›

Formerly a marketing gimmick of Electronic Arts, in which they imitated real-life sports networks by calling themselves the "EA Sports Network" (EASN) with pictures or endorsem*nts, it soon grew up to become a sub-label on its own, releasing game series such as EA Sports FC, PGA Tour, NHL, NBA Live, and Madden NFL.

What does EA Sports FC stand for? ›

It stands for Football Club, so get ready to join the largest football club in the world. Here's what you need to know.

Why did EA stop making college games? ›

The game stopped in part because of a lawsuit surrounding name, image and likeness rights in 2013. EA Sports discontinued the game and reached a settlement with former college football players who sued the company. Then, the wait began.

When did EA become greedy? ›

During the early 2000s, when EA was in a period of fast growth, the company developed a reputation of acquiring development studios, primarily for their intellectual property (IP) assets rather than the studios' talent, and then subsequently forcing changes on the studios' work product that impacted the quality or ...

What is the legal name for EA Sports? ›

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Is EA FC worth buying? ›

Whether you're a career mode player, clubs (former pro-clubs) or Ultimate Team (former FUT) it's worth getting into. They improved a lot of mechanics compared to former FIFAs though there are still a lot of bugs to be ironed out which I'm sure will be in due time.

What teams are missing from EA FC 24? ›

Roma, Atalanta, Lazio and Napoli are not featured in EA Sports FC 24 due to their exclusivity agreements with rival game eFootball, and are instead known as Roma FC, Bergamo Calcio, Latium, and Napoli FC respectively.

What is the mission of EA games? ›

At Electronic Arts, our mission is to inspire the world to play.

What is the point of EA Play? ›

EA Play makes your games more rewarding with: Access to exclusive player benefits and a library of top titles including fan-favorite series and premium games. The chance to try out selected new-release games before launch for up to 10 hours of playtime.

What is the brief history of EA? ›

(EA), American developer and manufacturer of electronic games for personal computers (PCs) and video game consoles. Established in 1982 by William M. (“Trip”) Hawkins, Electronic Arts (EA) has a product line that includes the popular franchises The Sims, Command & Conquer, Battlefield, Mass Effect, and Madden NFL.

Why did EA choose Madden? ›

Electronic Arts (EA) founder Trip Hawkins conceived the series and approached Madden in 1984 for his endorsem*nt and expertise.

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