Ja team seeks US$120,000 in pitch to Microsoft judges

BY STEVEN JACKSON Business reporter jacksons@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 01, 2014

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SEATTLE, USA — Team NewAge, a Jamaica-based tech start-up, thinks its game 'Project Exit', currently in test-mode, can generate US$750,000 (J$83m) a month from downloads.

The amount seems improbable for the team comprising two college students — Orane Campbell (lead developer) and Nicholas Brown — but it's based on duplicating the success of 'Jungle Escape', a popular game developed by Brown a year earlier.

In furtherance of that goal, the team pitched 'Project Exit' to a group of judges at the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2014 on Wednesday in the USA. The results were scheduled to be disclosed later this week at the Cup, held mostly on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

"Yes, it is doable," Campbell told the Jamaica Observer following the presentation. "We have done it before."

Project Exit, a 2-d maze game, forces players to find solutions to exit each level. It tests the user's ability to think and remember.

During the interview, Brown unlocked his phone to log into the developer's interface for Jungle Escape. It signalled over 480,000 downloads for the game which depicts a Rastafarian trying to escape a series of levels by jumping over objects.

Brown and Campbell believe Project Exit can attract more downloads based on marketing and its fun factor.

Both games are free apps, but users of Project Exit can buy game-enhancing crystals.

"Crystals are the main currency in [this game]. Crystals are scattered across the world, but if you can't wait you can buy crystals in the app store starting at US$0.05," stated Brown in his address to the judges. "With over 500,000 daily users we can generate US$750,000 each month."

Even attaining a fraction of that amount would equate to annual revenues of medium-sized companies in Jamaica. The growth and employment opportunities underscore the reason that the Jamaican Government, the World Bank and Microsoft want to facilitate tech start-ups within the cash-strapped country. This follows on the high-profile app competition — Digital Jam 2.0 and 3.0 and animation festival KingstOOn — held in June last year.

Team NewAge developed the game to the first level, but requires US$120,000 in funding to finish other levels. The bulk of the funding, or US$100,000, would hire five staff members over four months, including two animators, one programmer, one music composer, and a writer, according to Team NewAge. The remainder would go towards rent and other overheads.

"They came a long way from two weeks ago. Orane has not slept for the last three days," stated team mentor Natalie Rose, acting head of the Information Technology Department at University College of the Caribbean at the Imagine Cup. "I am proud of them."

This competition aids developers to make apps for the Microsoft smartphone platform which currently lags behind Apple and Google in number of apps. Victoria Grady, senior director, Technical Audience Marketing & Evangelism at Microsoft, couldn't quantify the number of apps created via the competition's contestants. However, she indicated that the Microsoft Imagine Cup has impacted "1.75 million persons in 190 countries over its 12 years".

The winners receive US$50,000 and mentorship, she added.

Imagine Cup gives students the opportunity to create technological solutions through competitions and challenges. This year, 170 student projects were submitted from 76 countries in the World Semifinals. Students are competing in three categories -- innovation, games, and world citizenship.

Imagine Cup is the cornerstone of its larger Microsoft YouthSpark Initiative which aims to engage 300 million youth by 2015 via employment, entrepreneurial and educational initiatives.




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