This winter, 11,000 members of the Ivy League duked it out to be named Ivy League Champion: strategizing, forming alliances, attacking and retreating. But as Yale allied itself with Columbia and attacked Long Island in the popular Yale-based online spin-off of the board game Risk — GoCrossCampus — a similar battle was quietly being waged in the real world.
While GoCrossCampus, or GXC, was enjoying its success, a company called Kirkland North was developing another online, intercollegiate Risk-style game called Turf. One of the founders of Kirkland North, Gabe Smedresman ’06, had launched Old Campus Tree Risk, the predecessor to GoCrossCampus, in 2007.
But when the New York Times, having observed the success of GXC, profiled the young startup on March 21, they made no mention of Smedresman or his team. Frustrated, Kirkland North contacted the Times for acknowledgement of Smedresman’s work.
“You can’t blame [GoCrossCampus] from a business sense for wanting to rub me out from their history,” Smedresman said. “But I was mostly calling because the reporter hadn’t done his research.”
Then the blogosphere got wind of the story — and spun it into a controversy that both parties says is entirely overblown.
In response, Times reporter Brad Stone, who could not be reached for comment, wrote a post on the New York Times “Bits” technology blog describing Smedresman’s game and acknowledging its role in spawning GXC.
Michael Arrington, a technology blogger on TechCrunch.com, wrote a story in which he said the Kirkland North founders were livid about the New York Times article — a depiction they said was entirely inaccurate.
“The Kirkland North guys are obviously irate over what they see as a blatant rip-off of their idea,” he wrote in his blog post.
Arrington could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Brad Hargreaves ’08, one of the cofounders of GXC, said he later spoke with Kirkland North and realized that TechCrunch had misconstrued Smedresman’s feelings.
The hyped-up controversy, both GXC and Kirkland North founders agree, is simply nonexistent.
“Bloggers on the West Coast love controversy,” Hargreaves said. “They’re in the business of selling page views.”
Andrew Fong, a 2006 Harvard graduate and cofounder of Kirkland North, said the TechCrunch story had taken on a life of its own, misrepresenting the situation as a “bitter feud.” But he said their original purpose in speaking with TechCrunch was simply to make their company known and clarify Smedresman’s role in the creation of games like GXC and Turf.
Hargreaves said he and his GXC cofounders did take their inspiration from Smedresman’s Old Campus Tree Risk. After playing the game themselves and observing its success across Yale’s campus — over 3300 students were involved by the end — Hargreaves said they decided they wanted to use the idea to launch their own company.
But, he said, GXC did not use any of Smedresman’s original code, which he had released to the open-source community, although they did contact Smedresman to join them. Hargreaves said Smedresman was skeptical about the feasibility of turning the game into a company, and the two parted ways amicably.
Smedresman said he declined to join Hargreaves because he did not agree with the direction in which GXC intended to take the game.
He explained that, although he had always believed that the game would make a good foundation for a company, he did not share Hargreave’s vision of the company’s future.
On the other hand, when the Kirkland North founders — then students at Harvard — contacted him, Smedresman said he felt a similarity of vision. He said Kirkland North showed more interest in improving the game, whereas GXC was keeping the game static, and that Kirkland North strives to ensure that the appearance, rules and features of each game reflect its context and location.
“From the start [Kirkland North] was talking about ways to develop it, adapt it, change it, innovate, so I knew we’d get along,” he said.
Fong said the team is looking at different options for the future of Kirkland North — ranging from turning it into a marketing proposition to expanding it into a social networking system. But the immediate goal, he said, is simply to expand and improve the game.
Similarly, Hargreaves said his team is also focusing on expanding GXC.
In fact, GoCrossCampus will soon be launching a game at Google’s Manhattan offices as a team-building exercise, and Matthew Brimer ’09, another cofounder, said they have been contacted by other corporations for similar services.
Although Smedresman now works for Google, he had no comment about his employer’s adoption of GXC.
But can the two companies coexist with such a similar product?
Hargreaves answered with an analogy.
“Right now, [it’s like] you’re walking down a hallway towards each other and you both move right and you both move left but you can’t quite get out of each other’s way,” he said.
But though they are targeting a similar market, Hargreaves said he thinks the two companies will figure out a way to both be successful.
Smedresman offered his explanation by way of another analogy.
“I think of this as our own game,” he said. “We’re on the West Coast; they’re on the East Coast. We’re slowly putting up flags across the map and so are they. But I view it as kind of a friendly competition and I’m excited to see how it’ll turn out.”
Brimer said GoCrossCampus is collaborating with the Freshman Class Council to launch another Yale-wide game by the end of the week, to coincide with the Freshman Olympics.