Game Designer’s Brainstormed Ideas Becoming Reality

By Anthony Clark The Gainesville Sun, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet Lindsey Tropf, an entrepreneur with a focus on education who is making science fun through video games.

The Gainesville Sun, Fla.

Lindsey Tropf has been in the Intel Education Accelerator program in Silicon Valley since August with four other people from her Gainesville company, Immersed Games.

The program mentors startup educational technology companies and puts them in touch with investors.

In a couple weeks, Immersed Games will launch "Tyto Online," an online video game available for PC and Mac through their website and the Steam online video game site.

After starting the company with a $50,000 Kickstarter campaign and $400,000 from early-stage investors, the idea is to take data about the game's use to the program's demo day where startups pitch to venture capitalists.

"We're making our way in the Valley with investors out here," Tropf, 30, said by telephone.

Tropf started working on her idea for Immersed Games in 2012, recruited interns and employees, raised funds, and launched a smaller offline version of the game called "Tyto Ecology" earlier this year to make money -- it has sold 15,000 digital copies -- and prove that they were onto something consumers would enjoy ahead of the full launch.

"It's kind of mind-blowingly crazy to be able to think about this because ideas I was brainstorming three years ago are now in the game," she said.

In Tyto Online, the player creates a customized character who is an evacuee from Earth and settles on an alien world to conduct ecosystem experiments involving real and alien plants and animals. Maintain balance and your ecosystem survives and thrives. Out of balance and your ecosystem collapses.

The game teaches real science concepts and includes links to videos and activities, such as a citizens' science website to figure out what invasive species live around you and what to do about it.

"What's really inspiring is our game is an educational platform where students are discovering really cool educational areas, but also learning they really like the stuff in real life and want to do something about it in the real world, too," Tropf said.

Tropf, who is from Vero Beach, was studying school psychology at the University of Florida and researching educational video games.

What she found was that many games did not have a connection between the game and the learning experience, such as one in which you solve a math problem and then get to shoot a zombie, she said. Others only had a few hours to a week's worth of content, requiring parents or students to constantly have to find new games.

Having grown up playing online games such as "Star Wars Galaxies" and "World of Warcraft" that could hold players' attention for a decade, she realized players could learn so much more from a better-designed and fun game.

After talking about her idea for a year, her husband, Ryan, signed on. She met Creative Director Caroline Lamarque at a job and internship fair. She met technical founders Samuel Sewall and Victor Matos in a video gaming club on campus.

The Kickstarter campaign allowed her to pay two people for development and others came on full-time with investment funding.

Today, Immersed Games has 13 paid employees, including six through an on-the-job training grant from CareerSource North Central Florida, and 10 interns in an office in the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency building on Northwest Fifth Avenue. Employees include graduates of UF, the University of Central Florida's game design program, the DigiPen Institute in Seattle and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Tropf said Gainesville has been a great place to get started with help from the grant, other entrepreneurs and the low cost of doing business. The challenge is recruiting millennials who tend to prefer big cities and investors who want businesses to be close to them, she said.

Tropf said she plans to keep building on the game, adding more science, technology, engineering and math content over time, likely including heredity and possibly robotics. Science was a good starting point as an area of high concern and need that lends itself well to a video game where variables and systems are at play. Kids -- as well as the Immersed Games team -- are interested in animals, so ecology made sense.

"This is a really big moment for us because this is the game we founded the company to do and plan on working on for the foreseeable future," she said. "We see our company developing one game, but it's a massive game you can play for years and years."

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