Startup Weekend seems to have evolved from a “merely” good idea to a genuine phenomenon developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem worldwide. In the runup to Global Entrepreneurship Week (12-18 November), I’m told that there were something like 70 events worldwide last weekend. And there were 7 in Mexico alone, including two (2!) in Mexico City.
I didn’t feel I could do justice to both of them, so I chose to attend the Startup Weekend Video Games. Mainly, I wanted to see what a group of smart people could do in 54 hours because I know absolutely nothing about how video games are developed. It always seemed to me like it must be a huge undertaking; the biggest game studios have enormous staffs for music, graphics, rendering, actors, and even research — to say nothing of the programming involved. What could a few people do in a couple of days?
A surprising amount, it turns out.
Melina Maqueda, one of Startup Weekend Mexico’s lead facilitators, told me that 36 people participated in the event, with 12 ideas pitched originally. These were voted on, and ultimately six teams were formed to develop projects. I attended the final pitch contest to see what they came up with.
The first team up was Basta!, an electronic take on a classic word game played in Mexico. The idea is that you are given a list of categories and a letter, and you have to come up with words for them, e.g. if the categories are name, city, animal, fruit, object, and the letter is “L” you would try to quickly come up with Levinson, lemur, lemon, leather, etc. The team’s idea was to turn this concept into a social game, to be played via Facebook Connect. The business model (which turned out to be popular amongst participants) was a Freemium model, with a paid version that included more games, more levels, etc. The judges appeared generally impressed with the concept and execution, but had concerns about the monetization model.
I’m not a destructive person by nature, but the concept of Touchzilla — you are a giant lizard wreaking havoc on a hapless town by stomping around — appealed to a certain part of me. Their demo appeared pretty solid and had some awesomely funny sound effects, including people screaming and a sample of a wookie. The gameplay was similar to an existing game, called Thumbzilla, combined with mechanics from other games, including Touch Grind, Fruit Ninja and Sway. The team’s description of the business model showed they were thinking big — they advocated using an Angry Birds-like Freemium business model, with additional packs, maps, seasons, and merchandising.
Those familiar with the classic game Megaman would have instantly recognized the game mechanics and objectives in Garden Scouts. In fact, I was a little surprised about how open most of the teams were about the derivative aspects of their products. The basic idea is that the main character bounds through the side-scrolling landscape, picking up objects and avoiding pitfalls and “bad” characters. The “special sauce” of the game was the somewhat abstract, hand-drawn visuals, which looked something like watercolor paintings overlaid with pencil-drawn characters. The business model was, again, Freemium — the first episode will be free, with additional episodes/maps/lands available for money.
Ever since Tapulous Software came out with its original game shortly after the iPhone came out, the “tap” music app has virtually become its own genre of game, with literally dozens of tap-based imitators. Beat Boy didn’t appear to be much different to me, although the graphics were impressive considering the short amount of time they had to develop them. The judges were mainly concerned with questions about licensing, including whether the app would have custom music, or if it would license music from another company. They were also concerned with the size of the potential market.
The best translation of this is probably “Darkness Mansion,” and it was easily the most clever and novel idea I saw at the competition: a video game for the blind. Using a Microsoft Kinect, the player (who could theoretically be sighted, since there is no “video” in this video game) navigates a house with spirits. Their demo, which was a video, showed a blind person playing the game, using his hands to make gestures for game play. It’s actually fairly difficult to do justice to it, I can’t embed the Facebook video, so be sure to see the trailer on their web page. Despite having an incredibly unique product, their business model, too, was Freemium (notice a trend?). While the judges were impressed, they were concerned about the market size — how many sightless gamers are there?
They have since changed their name to “Reality: The Game” but at this competition they were called “The Hills of Reality.” Designed as a Facebook game, this concept combined mini-games with geolocation so that you could theoretically play with or against your friends based on where you are in a given city. Designed as an alternate reality game (ARG), it has you pick a character and play games like “DF Invaders.” They used Audi’s “Art of the Heist” as their model business case, with revenue streams including team merchandising, product placement, and data mining. The team’s presentation was very polished, and showed they had a great sense of humor.
In the end, here’s what the judges thought:
Third Place: Blind Games’ La Mansion en Tinieblas
Second Place: Beat Boy
First Place: Colinas de la Realidad (Reality: The Game)
Congrats to all participants on an interesting collection of new games.