Co-Up: The MAGIC Center's Student Startup
by Jake Krajewski | published Sep. 29th, 2015
Have you ever been struck with the inspiration to start your own company or project but lacked the means to make it happen? In June of 2015, RIT's MAGIC Center gave away $10,000 each to four groups of students to do just that. Several groups pitched their ideas and presented a prototype for evaluation and four were ultimately selected for the grant. Each group has been working on their respective project over the course of the summer and each has reached a different degree of completion.
The Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC) Center is a research center and commercial studio designed to assist students, faculty and staff in the study and production of digital media. Last June, the MAGIC Center teamed up with the Simone Center and created what it calls the "Co-Up" program, which is a mixture of a co-op and a start-up. Andrew Phelps, the director and founder of the MAGIC Center, said the program was designed for "students to take the funding... and build [their project] out over the summer." Phelps mentioned that it was important that applicants showed some form of prototype or rough draft to the board and that there would be some level of market interest or demand for the product.
"We wanted to see proposals where folks had already clearly invested some time," Phelps said.
The four accepted groups were Yes And Games with their mobile role-playing game (RPG) "Adventure With Friends" (which has now been renamed to "Adventure Guild"), a group of Game Design students creating an artistic co-operative game named "Amirelia," a group working with a faculty adviser to create a children's learning game called "Remy and the Book of Rhymes," and finally Cenify, whose company helps other companies connect their products to smartphones through Wi-Fi networks.
According to Phelps, the money was mainly used by the students to fund themselves over the summer and to purchase specialized hardware and software for their projects. He also stated that all four projects have reached their own particular levels of completeness by this point, with none of them falling through or failing. All four seem to be on track to release within the next year, with "Remy and the Book of Rhymes" already available on the Google Play Store. For a deeper look into the effects that these grants have had, Wes Rockholz and Nick Rabb of Yes And Games spoke to Reporter about their experiences since receiving the grant.
In order to apply for the grant, Rockholz prepared a prototype of the game and a business plan, and demonstrated that they had promotional assets for the game. They already had a plan of development created, so once they received the grant, they got right to work.
"I laid out milestones for the summer," Rockholz explained. "Because we had those milestones all laid out, we just hit the ground running." He went on to explain how he and Rabb came to create "Adventure Guild." He noted that strategy games currently dominate the mobile gaming market and mentioned how RPGs are not being exploited in a similar manner. Most RPGs that he saw available on the mobile platform were either poorly-ported versions of existing games or very repetitive "click and grind" RPGs that don't offer much in terms of gameplay. Yes And Games wants to create an RPG that stands out on the mobile market by blending several genres that are not being utilized in the mobile gaming market. In this case, they've blended role-playing games, social games and turn-based games together.
Some of their inspiration came from "Words with Friends," where players take turns playing a word game. In this case, they wanted to create a game where people could take turns playing an RPG. The gameplay, from what Yes And Games showed, is fairly straightforward. First, the player makes a character with a fair amount of customization already available. A player can invite their friends on adventures into dungeons and explore together, with each player being able to bring up to two characters on the adventure. After a party of players has been created, the players' characters are thrown into a dungeon. Since the game is turn-based, all human players choose their actions before the computerized opponents make their moves. However, there are still features that Yes And Games are planning to add, aside from more levels and gear.
"We want to add a kind of narrative," Rockholz said. Another feature in the works will allow players to participate in guilds, which will be large groups of players joining together to complete dungeons and earn loot as a collective team. Guilds will also earn points as they complete adventures, which will be reflected on a leaderboard instituted in place of standard player versus player gameplay found in most social mobile games today. Rabb described it as "competition through cooperation."
The actual development of the game is still ongoing. It is being made using the Unity engine and coded in the computer language C#. While Rabb and Rockholz have done a lot of work on the game itself, they've also used their grant to hire others to help with different aspects of the game, including the server that will be used to connect players together online. They also hired artists to help create their art assets, which just means the graphics used in the game. "Adventure Guild" is already in a very playable state, and Rabb and Rockholz have already done some public play-testing on their game and have more events planned for the future. They expect that a completely workable version will be available on the App Store and Android Market by March of next year, but will continue to work on and expand the game even after that. They plan to make "Adventure Guild" free to play, but will monetize it by selling certain in-game items for real money. These items will be strictly cosmetic, however, and they have no intentions of creating a game in which players can pay to get ahead of everyone else.
So far, it seems that the Co-Up Program has managed to help students create some interesting and exciting new products and games for the digital world. Phelps said that while he doesn't know if a second iteration of the Co-Up program will come to pass, he's hopeful that it will happen again and is planning on repeating the program if given the opportunity. He encourages those that don't know much about the MAGIC Center to visit and interact with it.
"As we continue to grow, there will be more of these kinds of opportunities," said Phelps.
The MAGIC Center's website can be found here.