MADISON, Wis. -

University of Wisconsin-Madison will lose two of its top researchers to the University of California-Irvine.

Husband and wife team Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire are leaders in the field of video game development. In a matter of weeks, the two are taking their talents to California due to what they say is a very unsupportive environment on the UW campus.

When they leave, much of what they’ve built at the university will be dissolved.

Fifteen years ago, you would have had a hard time finding a lecture about gaming on any campus. Today, though, thanks to Steinkuehler, that's changed.

“Our courses are very popular. We have a waiting list as long as the enrollment list,” Steinkuehler said of the gaming studies program at UW.

She and Squire are pioneers in the study and development of video games.

“When I moved into games, people said that my career was over. It was like, 'Oh, games are so strange and such a niche audience,’ and it turns out history has proven that wrong,” Steinkhueler said.

The two run the Games, Learning and Society Center on campus, which has not only brought in millions of dollars through public and private grants, but has helped launch businesses and train researchers around the world.

“There weren't a lot of centers when we first started. Of course, now there are 406 programs in game design and game studies across the state,” Steinkuehler said.

“Everywhere from Taiwan, New Mexico, to New York, there's Badgers everywhere,” Squire added.

The duo believes those achievements wouldn't have been possible without the university's academic freedoms.

“To peruse things that maybe seemed a little more higher risk but then you look back 10 years later and it turns out it's really paid off,” Squire said.

Recently though, with a multimillion-dollar budget cut and less protection under tenure, they've sensed a scary change.

“People who are here at the UW talk about this sort of dark cloud that's kind of covering everything,“ Squire said.

“The conversation between state politics and the university has soured on a level that we've never really seen before,” Steinkuehler said.

The climate on campus has changed so much that they've decided to pack up and leave, dismantling the Games, Learning and Society Center and the other endeavors they’ve spent years developing. Both said it is a decision they wish they didn't have to make.

“I have one career and I have two kids and there is a point at which I just became no longer willing to wait it out,” Steinkuehler said.

They’ll begin their work at UC-Irvine this coming January. The UW is well aware of the loss and released a statement about it to News 3.

“Government funding for academic research is highly competitive and likely to remain so. That's why it's important for UW-Madison to attract and retain world-class researchers. This past year we worked hard to do so, investing $23.6 million on retention packages, primarily for research support. Support from state leaders is also critical. Moving forward, we are seeking to build stronger relationships between policymakers and faculty, recognizing that we share a common goal of helping the people of Wisconsin.”