Novel, Backed by Vancouver VCs, Uses Gaming Tech to Make Business Simulations for Companies
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he might well be Seattle’s next Bill Gates or Howard Schultz (no pressure though).
Olson grew up in the late ‘90s being exposed to the first wave of commercial 3-D virtual worlds, in the form of MMO role-playing games like Asheron’s Call and EverQuest. He was hooked immediately. “I knew I wanted to do this and only this. It became an obsession to me,” Olson says.
Like most college students, though, he didn’t really understand what entrepreneurship was about at first. He was fortunate to connect with a very influential mentor—Bill George, the Harvard Business School professor, author, and former CEO of Medtronic, who is also a board member of ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs. Last year, George worked with Olson to build an online leadership community, and helped him get seed funding for his startup.
Novel was incubated at Redmond-based Gas Powered Games, under the tutelage of video-game guru Chris Taylor, Gas Powered’s founder and CEO. (Gas Powered is known for its immersive action games like Dungeon Siege, Demigod, and Supreme Commander.) Olson and a small team of artists and engineers have spent more than a year working on their first MMO game, which will be a precursor to their business simulations.
The new game is called Empire & State, and it will be in alpha release by the fourth quarter of this year, Olson says. What makes it interesting is that its premise is business and politics-oriented, instead of action, shoot-em-up, or fantasy. It has some similarities to role-playing video games like Civilization or The Sims, except that those games are single-player only. Empire & State takes place in a fictional world where settlers are “planting the seeds of civilization,” says Mike Marr, Novel’s creative director. It conjures up the feeling of New York City when it was small, or the Wild West, or the California gold rush. As in The Sims, the graphics are rendered in an “isometric” view, meaning the world is stylized and “looks like it’s on a grid,” Marr says.
Players start out as citizens of an empire, and can collaborate and compete with other players to become leaders of young companies or presidents of countries. Depending on their interests, they can also become criminal overlords, military strategists, bounty hunters, or business tycoons. The game itself will be free, but Novel will charge money for transactions within the game, like when players want to purchase clothing, weapons, or housing. “Our innovation is that players have never been given the ability to explore real business practices and politics before,” Olson says. “We’ve never had the ability to do anything but kill stuff before [in MMOs].”
Where this all translates into the company’s future business simulations is the … Next Page »
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