22 Apr Young electronic game developers invite users to hold the phone
Madison, Wis. – How many start-up companies can boast the competitive advantage of being first to market, have its own fan club on Facebook, and take advantage of three established technologies – electronic games, mobile phones, and global positioning systems?
One of them, PerBlue, recently took home second place and $7,000 from the 2008 G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The company, run by UW-Madison engineering students, is the developer of Parallel Kingdom, a massive multi-player online role-playing game that offers something unique. The first-to-market aspect of Parallel Kingdom is not that it is played in mobile environment – the cell phone – but that it uses GPS inside the phone to allow players to physically interact with the surrounding virtual world.
With this game, the company is coining a new term, the mobile multi-player trans-reality game (MMTRG). “There are single-player games that are played on cell phones,” said Chris Meyer, chief operating officer of PerBlue. “This is the only one that tries to link your real-world position to the game.”
In other words, people can play Parallel Kingdom when they are walking around or riding a bus. Meyer said the target market, 18- to 34-year-old mobile phone users, is wider than the college-age population. The multi-player role-playing games, which are intertwined with the virtual world, represent 40 percent of all the online games, but nobody is playing them in a mobile environment.
The first platform for Parallel Kingdom will be the Google Android mobile phone, which will be released in the fourth quarter of 2008. The initial global market for the Android is pegged at 3.4 million, but that’s just the first launching point. Apple’s iPhone is another potential platform, as are others that can meet Parallel Kingdom’s requirements for speed and GPS.
When it comes to compatible platforms, PerBlue looks at factors like processing power, touch (the interactivity of the platform), screen size, and GPS.
“I’m sure future [mobile phone] platforms will be fast enough for this,” Meyer said. “It really depends on how things pan out with operating systems.”
CEO Justin Beck said money earned from the Burrill contest, which also includes a $250 mini-prize for short business plan entry, will be used to further develop Parallel Kingdom. The game, which now is being beta tested (volunteer testers are being courted), has been submitted for the initial round of Google’s $10 million technical challenge, where the top 50 business ideas will get $25,000 in seed money. If they advance to the second round, the prize money gets richer – up to $235,000.
Beck, however, has a much larger payday in mind. He’s looking for $1.5 million in angel capital to not only further develop the game, but to capture market share once it’s launched. The Burrill competition features judges with venture capital ties, including Pehr Anderson, formerly of Silicon Pastures, and John Neis, managing director of Venture Investors. The opportunity to present the company’s business plan to such a panel was invaluable.
“To have local venture capitalists and angels see us, and have four unbiased judges evaluate us was great,” Beck said. “It was a really good test for our business plan and, obviously, they liked it a lot.”
Beck acknowledged the plan could use some tweaking here and there, but one part is pretty much etched in stone. In three to five years, PerBlue’s exit strategy is to be acquired by one of the major game developers like EA Mobile.
While a price point still is being developed for Parallel Kingdom, the company has its eye on other revenue streams. Per Blue plans to develop a game for the single-player environment, but re-branding will come when it branches off in a different direction on the same tree – developing other software for mobile phones.
Said Beck: “We’re not just about games.”
• Real computer gamers: Interactive entertainment, Wisconsin style
• Alternative reality: UW prof touts computer game learning
• Jump starting technology education
• Can Madison become a video game Mecca?
• Gaming conference explores interactive media in learning