GoCrossCampus site expands

Pickteams.com, an Eli-founded and managed company that produces online games, is back with two new games — Alpha Blitz and Pocket Towers — in hopes of mirroring the success it had with its first project, the popular GoCrossCampus.

Alpha Blitz, modeled after Boggle, is a fast-paced multiplayer word game. The game, released in mid-March, has already been picked up by gamers across the Ivies and peer colleges: As of Monday evening, 2,637 matches of Alpha Blitz had been played online. Pocket Towers, a follow-up to GoCrossCampus, is a game of strategy and defense that allows players to team up and defend land by building towers and attacking their opponents. The game will be released April 15.

Pickteams.com, previously called GoCrossCampus.com, is platform website that hosts online games founded in 2007 by Chief Executive Officer Brad Hargreaves ’08, Chief Marketing Officer Matthew Brimer ’09, Project Manager Jeffrey Reitman ’08 and User Interface Architect Sean Mehra ’08. (A fifth co-founder, Columbia senior Isaac Silverman, has since left the business.)

“Team competition lends a new level and intensity to even the simplest games,” Brimer said of the thinking behind the company’s games. “The most popular sports are played on teams — so why not online games?”

Since GoCrossCampus, a game of world domination that pits college campuses against one another, was launched in May 2007, it has attracted over 100 college campuses and 40,000 players and has been featured in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and CBS News. The team aims to provide users an arena for social interaction that embodies the competitive spirit of sports in a virtual space and capitalizes on pre-existing college rivalries, Brimer said. In this way, Pickteams.com, he said, fuses social networking, online gaming and intramural sports.

“I like games and sports,” Hargreaves said. “So I asked myself, ‘Why not combine the two?’ We’ve created an engaging blend of the best qualities in games and sports and we want to build on its success with our new games.”

But unlike varsity and intramural sports, which can often be “exclusive,” Brimer said, Pickteams.com is an open site that allows anyone to join.

The site has been so successful, in fact, that it turns a profit from selling sponsorships to advertisers such as Coca-Cola, though the company declined to offer specifics on its annual profits. The startup has a Manhattan office with a dozen employees.

Emmanuel Quartey ’12, an avid player of the Pickteams.com games, said the newly released Alphablitz is currently his favorite game.

“It’s a simple word game that requires you to string words from a grid of letters and it’s extremely addictive,” he said. “I can’t wait to see how they develop the game with time.”

While the economic downturn has affected the site, Brimer said it has not posed serious financial risks for the site’s future. Like many startups, he said the company has had to make budget and personnel cuts, but has worked with investors to ensure their financial stability.

Instead, the major challenge of running a site like PickTeams.com is having to deal with poor sportsmanship.

“People can and do cheat,” Brimer said.

He said a team of administrators try to promote a positive gaming atmosphere, but the company maintains a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to social interaction on the site.

Another shortcoming of the gaming site is its lack of product variety, Hargreaves and Quartey said.

“Players should never run out of things to do on the site,” Hargreaves said of his vision for the site.

To achieve this, the team is working on releasing a number of new games in the next couple of months that allow on-demand play. The company is also working on developing an application programming interface that will allow outside developers to build and submit games to the site.

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