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With companies such as Big Fish, PopCap, Nintendo, Microsoft and Valve, Seattle is a well established center for video game development. Now, a new school is opening its doors here to train the next generation in skills such as animation and computer game design. The Academy of Interactive Entertainment announced today that it has signed a lease at Seattle Center, with plans to welcome its first students in June.

The AIE previously announced its intentions to come to Seattle, but at the time it wasn’t clear where it planned to establish its facility. Locating at Seattle Center could bring some additional energy to the former site of the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, home to the Space Needle, Opera House and Key Arena. We have a call into the school to see how much space it plans to take and to find out exactly where it is locating.

Seattle has quietly emerged as a hotbed for video game education. In addition to AIE, the DigiPen Institute of technology has been operating in the area since 1998, opening a new campus in Redmond last summer.

In fact, AIE’s new Seattle outpost is led by former DigiPen faculty member Christopher Erhardt. AIE plans to offer 2-year advanced diplomas and 1-year certificates in game development, targeting the casual and social game sectors. Courses will include screen & media, computer animation and digital post production F/X.

AIE already operates schools in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, Australia, and the Seattle operation marks its first expansion in North America.

The Seattle area currently boasts more than 150 game companies, and having a talented pool of young developers and designers from which to draw could help bolster the industry here, said Kristina Hudson, Director of enterpriseSeattle’s Washington Interactive Network

“In the next few years, we have the unique opportunity to be the global center of game and interactive media development and IP creation, if we stay competitive with our education, taxes, and incentives,” she said.

UPDATE: AIE’s Christopher Erhardt tells GeekWire that the new school will open with about 5,000 square feet of space on the fourth floor of the Center House, with plans to expand in the building early next year. It plans to start operations in June by hosting a week long Cybercamp for kids between the ages of 15 and 18. Cost is $295, and teenagers walk away with a game that they’ve actually created.

In September, AIE plans to open for full time students with three classes in screen & media, games programming and games art. Each class will be capped at 25 students, as Erhardt said it is the organization’s goal to always have a 25 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio.

He said they chose Seattle Center because of its location in the middle of the city, making it easier for students to arrive on public transportation. He added that it was also part of “giving back and doing good in Seattle.”

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