Capturing the Facebook Flag: Harvard, Yale Students Launch Rival “Social Online Sports” Companies

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to the open-source community after the Old Campus Tree Risk game. Over the summer, the company raised $375,000 in seed funding from Easton Capital and WGI fund. Hargreaves says he contacted Smedresman in May and again at mid-summer to invite him to be an advisor to the company, with equity. “He said he had other things going on and that he couldn’t do it,” says Hargreaves. “We said, ‘Okay, we’re just going to do this ourselves, then.'”

The GoCrossCampus team heard nothing more of Smedresman, Hargreaves says, until Kirkland North staged its own strategy game, rechristened Turf, at Stanford University in February. (The Stanford game ended just two weeks ago, on March 16.) “Our intelligence on them was pretty crappy,” Hargreaves admits. “We had no idea they were doing it.”

While in apparent stealth mode, Kirkland North—which Smedresman started with Andrew Fong, Matt O’Brien and Hugo Van Vuuren, three Harvard students who led the winning team during “Harvard Risk” in May 2007—had reconceived Old Campus Tree Risk as Turf; they had then been accepted into the winter session of Y Combinator, investor-entrepreneur Paul Graham’s semiannual startup camp, and built a largely new code base.

Smedresman, whom I reached last night in California, disputed suggestions that his team was surprised or upset about the existence of GoCrossCampus, or that Hargreaves’ group had stolen the idea from Kirkland North. “I wasn’t the one to speak to Mike Arrington, but that’s absolutely not how it happened,” says Smedresman, who’s now a software designer for Google Sites. “We did not mean for that article to come out with the ‘irate’ terminology. I talked with the GoCrossCampus people for a while, but we parted amicably. I have nothing but good will for them.”

Smedresman does, of course, show some competitive spirit: “We have creative differences,” he says. “I think the way we are doing it will be the way that works. But we wish GoCrossCampus well. It’s totally okay that they are also working on a derivative of Old Campus Tree Risk.”

Hargreaves is equally conciliatory. He says he doubts that Smedresman was already cooking up his own company when he turned down GoCrossCampus’s offers of an advisory post. “Gabe’s a good guy and a very honest person,” Hargreaves says.

And while it might be useful—on the any-publicity-is-good-publicity theory—for GoCrossCampus to be compared to Facebook in the ConnectU case, that’s just not the real story, Hargreaves says. “As much as I like being compared to Mark Zuckerberg—which is what I think the analogy would make me—there’s not much of a parallel. ConnectU’s main claim is that Zuckerberg used their code. Gabe acknowledges that we didn’t use any of his code, and that he has no legal claim to the concept, because he released it to the public domain after the Yale game.”

Much more interesting than the mini-tempest over priority is the phenomenon of mixed online-offline social gaming that both companies have helped to stir up—-and whether, or how, each company can capitalize on it.

Map from Kirkland North’s Stanford Turf GameThe mechanics of Turf and GoCrossCampus are so simple that they’re almost beside the point. In a nutshell: players belong to teams representing territories such as dormitories or campus quadrants. The game proceeds in turns, usually one turn per day, and every player gets one army per turn. Players log on to a central website once per day and direct their army to either defend their own team’s territory, attack a neighboring territory held by another team, or move between territories held by its own team. (The moves players choose are typically planned out in daily face-to-face “councils of war” led by team captains.) If one territory’s armies destroy those of a neighboring territory, they can occupy the conquered space. The game continues until one team controls the entire map, or until all teams negotiate an armistice.

The games seem to appeal to college students because they exploit the immediacy and accessibility of … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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