Electronic Arts, the world’s largest independent game publisher, has a new sports racing development studio up and running in Morrisville, providing a major boost to the Triangle’s growing video game industry.

A team of seven game developers, lead by Ryan Stradling, is at work on NASCAR 09 for PlayStation 2. The team will grow to 25 within 12 months and the long-term goal is to staff 50 employees to focus on a number of game titles over the next few years.

After next summer, when NASCAR 09 ships, the team will expand its NASCAR game development to the next-generation of consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. EA made all three versions of NASCAR 08 (PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360) in its Orlando, Fla., EA Tiburon Studio, which is also home to its Madden, NFL Tour and NCAA Football franchises.

By moving NASCAR development to North Carolina, which is considered the home of the sport, the team should get better access to the racing teams and drivers. EA holds the exclusive NASCAR videogame license.

“The Triangle is a great location for game development due to great schools in the area (Duke, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest),” said Dave Tinson, who heads up EA Sports public relations. “There is a thriving high-tech industry and growing game development presence as well. As compared to Orlando, RTP has a comparable to favorable cost of living and high quality of life. Not everyone we talk to in the Southeast wants to make their home in Orlando. It is a key to our long-term success and growth to have another location in the broader region. It is a two-hour, direct flight to Orlando, and it’s in the same time zone.”

Tinson said the new studio team will comprise veterans from the EA Tiburon studio transferring to the Triangle, a few local veterans and university hires. The goal is to grow the studio slowly and organically to allow the team to establish success, its own identity and culture and franchise ownership.

“Ryan Stradling, our leader in North Carolina, has been behind much of the recruiting,” said Tinson, who went to school at UNC. “Our recruiting team in Orlando has also been very involved in sourcing candidates, as has our University Relations group. The Triangle is a great location for talent, with proven game studios, divisions of top tech companies (Lenovo, IBM and others), and excellent access to university talent. This is a key reason for us moving to this area.”

Tinson said that RTP is already on the map as a key location for game development. EA is hoping to enjoy the same benefits that Epic Games, Red Storm Entertainment, Vicious Cycle, and others in the area already realize: great quality of life and access to great talent.

“Growing a team from employee No. 1 is a very different proposition than acquiring an existing business,” said Tinson. “We will grow deliberately and methodically and build on successes. Right now, the team is in start-up mode and will deliver its first product within its first year of operation. We are already planning for what is next.”

EA, which recently purchased game studios Pandemic Studios and Bioware Corp. for $620 million in cash and up to $155 million in equity, has over 6,100 employees around the globe. In fiscal 2007, EA posted revenue of $3.09 billion and had 24 titles that sold over 1 million copies.

Editor’s note: John Gaudiosi, a widely published columnist about the video game industry, writes the Gaming Guru blog for WRAL.com and covers the game industry for WRAL Local Tech Wire.