由大卫·特南鲍姆

Forrest 伍尔沃斯 is used to seeing employees play video games at work. 伍尔沃斯, the chief operating officer of a Madison startup called PerBlue that creates games for smartphones, 称之为“严肃的游戏”.”

“People don’t play here to waste time,”他说. “You play a lot differently; you learn from the competition.”

PerBlue has clearly learned plenty since it started in 2008: Its new release, 泰坦帝国, reached 1 million users in just three weeks after its October launch. 该公司, the brainchild of a small group of computer science and engineering students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 有22名员工, is hiring more and has just received a $3 million investment.

PerBlue isn’t the only Madison gaming company with UW-Madison roots. 灯丝的游戏, which makes educational video games, spawned when three founders – who were all at the university – wrote a grant and quickly noticed that they had a company on their hands, 首席执行官李·威尔逊说. 该公司 builds games for formal learning environments where a teacher, trainer or professor is present. 长丝公司也在招人. Its 47 current employees include storytellers, programmers, designers and a composer.

Both Wilson and 伍尔沃斯 spoke at a November program on the growing video game industry in Wisconsin, sponsored by the Wisconsin Technology Council and its Wisconsin Innovation Network.

PerBlue’s niche is role-playing games for smartphones running the iOS and Android operating systems. In these games, users create an identity and populate a virtual world. PerBlue aims to make games that can be played at different levels of engagement, depending on the player’s mood and availability.

Games for smartphones – like smartphones themselves – barely existed in 2008, when PerBlue’s founders were undergraduates at UW-Madison, 伍尔沃斯说. “We were working on homework together at night and decided to work on a cool game project instead. We wanted to make a role-playing game that was fun to play and utilized all of this cool technology in the iPhone.”

In the summer before their senior year, most of the core group – including 伍尔沃斯, 首席执行官贾斯汀贝克, 和安德鲁·汉森, chief technology officer – were working at big tech firms on the West Coast.

“When we came back to Madison,” 伍尔沃斯说, “we decided to give this a shot. Entering the smartphone market in 2009 was like getting into the Internet space in 1995, as far as potential for changing the world. We had assembled a team of five awesome people who liked to work together.”

Although the technology and team were both primed, 该公司的第一款游戏, 平行王国, needed three years to reach 1 million users.

A good game is only a starting point, 伍尔沃斯说. “There are more than 1 million apps on the Google Play Store. If users have to sort through 20,000个应用程序来联系你, 这是不可能的, so we have to focus on marketing strategy to drive players to us.”

五年前, it was not obvious that games would be a hit on mobile devices: Not one game won the first developer competition for Android. Yet games accounted for 72 percent of mobile app revenue in 2013, and mobile and online games are expected to reach $60 billion as an industry by 2017.

Mobile games have grown more complex, 伍尔沃斯说. “The technology has gotten a lot better, 游戏看起来更好, and that makes producing them much more involved and expensive.”

Because the app itself is free, PerBlue must keep users engaged so they continue to play and purchase “virtual currency” that they can spend on assets like players or weapons in the game. 来获得必要的外观, 声音, 故事和交互性, PerBlue招聘程序员, 开发人员, 董事, 艺术家和作曲家.

Neither PerBlue nor 灯丝的游戏 meets the strict definition of a UW-Madison spinoff, a company that licenses an invention from a university lab. But as 伍尔沃斯 notes, neither one would be in Madison without the university.

“In all the work I do related to startups, there are all these companies that would not be counted in the spinoff statistics, but by far the majority have some direct ties to UW-Madison: the founders went there, they participated in the Burrill Business Plan Competition, a lot of the employees went there. When you look at the startup landscape,”他说, “there are a lot of places with ties that circle back to UW.”

Tenenbaum is a UW-Madison science writer. 可以联系到他 djtenenb@wisc.edu