Gaming Social Good

How to Play Computer Games for Social Good

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK– Why hasn’t computer games (with an educational bent) reached critical mass? “Technology changes so fast. It’s about evolution,” said Asi Burak, the author of “Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World,” his book written with Laura Parker, which was also launched last January 31.

Burak talked about computer games for social good at the Storycode meetup last January 24 at the Elinor Munroe theater.

In their book, Burak and Parker explored how video games are now pioneering innovative social change around the world. After all, the remarkable growth of gaming has inspired plenty of hand-wringing–from the press, politicians, parents, and everyone else concerned with its effect on our brains, bodies, and hearts.

As the former executive director and now chairman of Games for Change, Burak has spent more than decade championing the use of video games for social good. He has worked with such revered organizations as the White House, NASA, World Bank, and The United Nations.

“Power Play” sees the future of games as a global movement. Burak and Parker profile important people behind some of the movement’s most iconic games, including former Supreme Court judge Sandra Day O’Connor and Pulitzer-Prize winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Burak pointed out the unlikely gamer in O’Connor helped to develop in line with her civic-mindedness with iCivics. As he quotes her: “…One of the reasons learning games make so much sense for teaching civics is that any government’s role is sort of like creating the parameters within which we play the game of life. Regulations, Policy, Law enforcement….”

As mentioned in the book, iCivics reportedly proved instrumental not only at teaching kids, but also at helping game metaphors thrive in the world of education. Burak thinks we need more social games that introduce players into the world of political discourse. As for technology, Burak said virtual reality should be able to address social and political issues.

Burak, who went to Carnegie Mellon, said he was taught to think using both left and right brains. Not all games need to be a war, it turns out, as he  pointed out he also produced a little game about peace.

Games are not just for entertainment anymore, they are meant to solve problems – hand in hand with technology.

Gaming Social Good

LendEDU wins over crowd in startup presentations at ER Roundtable

NEW YORK–LendEDU was the night’s startup winner/presenter at ER Roundtable’s meetup last March 16 at Microsoft.

LendEDU CEO Nate Matherson opened his presentation by saying, there are 7 in 10 graduates with student loans with an average balance of $30,000. LendEDU aims to take the stress out of student loans and refinancing by allowing consumers to view options from several lenders in a few minutes. It also provides student loan tools such as a repayment calculator, a student loan payment calculator and tips on personal finance.

Aside from having a feasible idea, sometimes winning your crowd is all about how you present your ideas.

“We charge our borrowers nothing. We are paid by our lending partners. We work with private school lenders and don’t compete against them. We are a marketing tool for lenders,” Matherson said.

Another presentation called Increase likes to call itself a lead generator for business. Because it finds advertising expensive and word of mouth difficult to measure, it aims to address the “how” for small business. It claims to analyze social networks and provide a script that you add to your HTML. It aims to make through subscription plans.

A company called Lovoy is aggregating volunteer work with the recent Chinese immigrant-presenter saying, “It’s time we contribute to our city.” The site is in beta. It aims to charge non-profit organizations.

Coming from its Turn to Tech presentation, X Labs’ Oliver Christie is hoping to make the Internet faster in the United States and in other countries. “We’re using AI to compress data. ISPs can’t cope, content can’t deliver.”

“We think this biz is ready for enterprise in 3 to 6 months,” he said. “The biggest need is for people like Netflix. We don’t want to interfere in their existing business model but maybe we can help them (in other ways).

Ox Content’s Matt Lovett is trying to solve content creation which he said is a $44-billion industry. Developed with Gary Chan, his software aims to help automate story generation.

Next presenter, Stickmen aims to become “the Ikea of the gaming world.” People are already buying casual games, so it looks forward to becoming a one-stop for gamers everywhere.

Dream Forward asked the audience to ask the hard questions about their 401K and it will attempt to answer it, while BlendCalendar, currently available on Android, offers a productivity tool that aims to become a “digital version of your day-to-day life.”

Apps Gaming Internet of Things Startup Demos Video

Tiggly, among standouts at NY Tech Meetup demo night


By Dennis Clemente

How do you pack in 12 startup demos in two hours? Last November 3, the NY Tech Meetup did it again with Tiggly and among the standouts of the night at Skirball Theater at NYU.

Every parent sees their kids using digital devices more, which also means less physical playtime for them. Recently funded for $4 million, Tiggly has found a way to merge both physical play with the digital world in its tablet app. It has developed game apps and physical objects used in tandem with tablets to help educate kids using conductor silicon. The startup has clearly found a sweet spot between a toy and an app.

CEO Peter Semmelhack presented, a Twitter for things. You dweet, say, a public swimming pool temperature or air quality in a city. It’s Twitter for machines, sensors, devices, robots and gadgets, enabling data to become easily accessible through a web-based RESTful API.

Built from day one for commercial and enterprise deployments, a dweet payload can reach up to 2,000 characters. It’s public by default but you can make dweets private by purchasing a lock which are then applied to thing names. Each locks costs $0.99.

It only holds a thing’s last 500 dweets for up to 24 hours, then it’s history. But you can build a connector to your data store of choice such as Dropbox, AWS and Tempo-DB.

Next presenter, positioned itself like how online dating works. It is a free platform that helps high school students find their dream colleges and universities, connect with mentors, and get accepted.

A “graduate” of ER Accelerator, works as an outreach for high school students and guidance counselors but in a fun, engaging way. It even has walkability directions among other useful guides when choosing a school.

Another presenter, BugLabs, is a software company that focuses on providing easy enterprise application development tools for the Internet of Things.

Keezy’s presentation was perhaps the first unspoken one in NY Tech Meetup’s decade-long history. The demo showed how the music software works using two if its music apps, Keezy and Keezy Drummer for iOS, easily that even kids can play around with them. You can record different sounds on Keezy but the Drummer is just one kit.

Not all presentations are crowd-pleasing but some marketing people listened intently on how Offerpop works to create marketing engagement platforms for today’s social and mobile consumers—and how it helps the best brands, retailers and agencies in the world connect, engage and convert consumers.

Launched last September 29, Parcel offers off-hours delivery service in New York (not including Queens) for only $5 (not heavier than 30 pounds, no higher or longer than 2 feet). You can select a one-hour delivery window.
Other presenters include Simple Machine, crafter of gaming experiences and stories like The Outcast as well as SquareSpace which now integrates Getty Images in its CMS platform for people to buy photos to use directly on their sites.

Waywire Networks talked about how its curating all the videos to make it easy for everyone to find the videos based on their interests. Each channel is authored and “highly niched.” It hosts content and is currently looking for curators
The Hacks of the Month were Calcash, an 8-bit online arithmetic battle game that makes learning and solving problems fun, accessible, and competitive; NewsFeel, which graphs the New York Times articles on any topic based on sentiment and lastly, Nodeflow, a just-in-time synchronous Javascript compiler that makes Node.js development easier.

Gaming Special Talk

The secrets to designing a good game


By Dennis Clemente

Last September 2 at Microsoft, NY Games Forum provided an overview of its upcoming workshop with instructor Mark Heggen, Entertainment Applications director at AMC, talking about “not actual” secrets to designing a good game, pointing out each of his points for the audience, which consisted of beginners and developers.

People are terrible at randomness. Using a coin flip as an example, he asked how much do you let somebody win (7 successive coin flips is too much). It’s up to you to set the rules.

Games are not just games. What’s the best way to raise awareness about hurricane preparedness? In 2011, a bunch of kids took part in an invented ball game where kids fight a “battle storm?” aka the Navy who – for the fun of it– intimidated the kids like they were the storm. Organizers staged it like a big sports event, with videos, interviews, prizes. The kids were made to win, of course.

“A game is only good if it changes the experience,” he said. He believes even a crossword puzzle using pen and paper make a statement.

Tropes and clichés are your friends. You have to have a good reason to buck a trend. If you know what zombies do, the last thing you want to do is make them fly.

Games that are too simple to work, often work. We’re guilty of making things complicated, so when you think you’re making it more complicated than it should be, Heggen suggests the following reminders:
1. Your game + time = A more complicated game

2. Your game is more complicated than you think

3. So aim for too simple (it won’t be)

“Of all the things I’ve said this is the most valuable (to keep in mind),” he said.
Asked if there are rules in designing a simple game versus a serious game? “The principles are the same,” he said. Another question dealt with the thin line between being influenced by a game and stealing an idea for a game?” The lines are blurred.

Heggen started his career nine years ago as a game designer for Area/Code, which was bought ago by Zynga where he also worked. He helped create hit games like Drop7 and Parking Wars, as well as a huge range of experimental real-world gaming experiences.

After leaving Zynga, Heggen helped build the New York studio of Hide&Seek, an independent studio with an emphasis on developing new types of play. He now leads gaming efforts for AMC, including web, mobile, social, and second screen games.

NY Games Forum’s full day workshop for all experience levels will be on September 20. It will be platform agnostic, so it doesn’t matter if you are using PC or mobile and if you are developing LARP, sports or board games.
“It’s a great time to be making board games,” he declared.

What makes a great game designer? He said it’s about understanding the process. The workshop topics will cover concept development, rapid prototyping, playtesting, flexible design strategies as well as design resources, tuning and balancing, polishing, managing a live game and the secrets to a winning game. In playtesting, he is expected to tackle when to implement suggestions or ignore changes.

For more info, visit

Apps Gaming

40 new games to playtest. It’s like being let loose in a candy store

By Dennis Clemente

If you’ve never been to a gaming playtest, it’s like being let loose in a candy store.

At the NYC Games Forum at Microsoft last July 29, host and organizer Rohit Crasta did just that, giving us enough of a sugar high when he presented more than 40 independent game developers and their new games to excited playtesters like us. Crasta might as well be Willy Wonka for pulling this off.

The titles were diverse enough for playtesters to test the games for bugs and flaws before they go out to market. There were intricate games like the Sombrero by Pixel Metal, a fast-paced Spaghetti Western 2D local multiplayer arena-based competitive death match that would not be out of a place in a Robert Rodriguez movie.

GamingThere were also unassuming titles such as the Tetris-like ColorFinger by Quikding, this blogger’s favorite because of its deceptive simplicity that had testers addicted right away. It’s Tetris for the swipe-playing 21st century.
Some games fit certain devices to a T. Tapinator’s Balance of the Shaolin works well on the iPad (also on iPhone) on two counts: first, the actions of the game are limited to tapping left or right to keep the Shaolin in balance from his one-legged mountaintop stance. Second, the iPad’s real estate space gives you the scenery—the better to enjoy passing birds and other obstructions trying to mow you down from your serene stance. showed its new game called Kitty in the Box developed for iOS and Windows by developers from China who came here three years ago and now calls New York City their home. Asked why the game is not available on Android, “It’s just a (precaution) to make sure no one copies the game.”

Not all games were digital. Urban Land Games’ Funemployed is a storytelling board game that should easily be the life of any party. “To be hired,” you must create a story using “qualifications” that make you perfect for a job. For example, if you apply as a Pirate, you must craft a convincing story around your cards (your qualifications). Our cards read Narcissist and Package. Go on, tell us how you would tell your story?

And not all games were necessarily designed to be current. Rad Raygun is a game that takes you back to the 1980s as you shoot your way through monochrome off-green shades yet ultra-sharp 144p resolution graphics. People bent down to listen closely to its great soundtrack. It’s coming out soon on Steam and Xbox 360.

The event was not just about all fun and games. Sam Eng, an enterprising artist-programmer-indie developer, said he offers free lessons in Unity, which many of the games at the forum are made of. Check out his site,, for updates. His game at the event was called Zarvot a two to four-player cube fighting title.

There were other great games but just too many to mention here. If you want to know more about the presenters, check out their games: Air Brawl by Wilhelm Nylund; Arcade Basketball Blitz Online by Toneaphone LLC; Bik by Zotnip LLC; Blackjack Warriors: MMO Battle by Jim Lynch; Blue Dot by Urthworx; Bunny Love by Computer Lunch; Carbon Cutters by Dented Pixel; Chronosphere by Kind Fortress; Clobsters by Hart Laboratories; Clockwork for iOS by Michael Ren; Crystal Brawl by Studio Mercato; Dirtbags MotorClub by Eppy Games; Extreme Exorcism by Golden Ruby Games; Got Light? by Benjamin Reynolds; LEX, Digits, and others by Simple Machine; Magicis by Boogie Down Games; Meriwether by Sortasoft LLC; Mother Goose by Robotic Potato; Neon Krieger Yamato by LIONPLEX; Nika by Studio Mercato; Organic Panic by Lastlimb Games and Pet Pat by Goodnight Games.

Another board game came from Phoenix Covenant by Hikari Games.

The night also featured R.E.M. by Dragonllama Games; Recurse by Lumalus Inc; Roger E Pedersen’s ‘Warehouse 517’ by PSI Software Inc; Skyhook by MegaStorm Games; Sombrero by PixelMetal; Super Rad Raygun by Tru Fun Entertainment; That Rock Paper Scissor Game! by Philosoplay; The Good, The Bad & The Funny by The Completely Surrounded; The Splits by Trollcore Enterprises TM; Vidar by Dean Razavi and Voxatron Table by VOXON & Lexaloffle Games.
Crasta’s event was sponsored by Autodesk, Millennial Media, Qualcomm and the Law Offices of Christopher G. Reid.

Apps Gaming Internet of Things News Product Management

Vibease shakes up NY Tech Meetup crowd

By Dennis Clemente

“Software. Hardware. Sexware.” That’s how one attendee described the NY Tech Meetup last February 4 at the Skirball Theater.

The last 3 presenters of the night had the 400 attendees chuckling the whole time. Cindy Gallop of started on a serious note, explaining how any online sex idea is ignored by “Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley and Silicon everywhere,” but she hopes not for long. She advocates for real sex online, not porn, inviting everyone to create their own videos and to share them with the world on The TED Talks presenter is an eloquent speaker.

“I aim to make sex socially acceptable. I am diffusing porn for real sex,” she said.

Then there’s Bang with Friends re-launched as Down. The sex app works like a racier, unapologetic version of Tinder. It helps you find your Facebook friends’ friends who are eager for a hookup as much as you–if you happen to like (read: click) each other. You could say Down means getting down to business.

The app can recommend the “hottest” friends of your friends’ friends. Asked how he makes the distinction, the poker-faced founder Colin Hodge said he has “a patent-pending bangability score” which drew hoots. If anyone recalls, Hodge’s controversial Bang with Friends was banned from the App Store.

The night, however, belonged to Vibease’s founder and CEO Dema Tio. The Singaporean’s app is a merging of both hardware and software. It’s a sexware. It’s a wearable vibrator. It’s as simple as making a phone call and a physical vibrator does the rest of the work. His demonstration had the crowd in stitches.

Rejected at first at Kickstarter, Dema Tio put his idea for crowdfunding on Indiegogo, raising $130,000 as of press time. Available on iPhone and Android, it is accepting orders for March delivery.

The idea came to Dema Tio when he was in Boston and away from his wife in Singapore.

The other eight presenters included Birdi, Capti, CircleStop, Confide, Lenddo, Radiator Labs, Soccket and ThinkUp

Launched in Indiegogo, Birdi monitors air quality, everyday health hazards, pollution and emergencies like fire and carbon monoxide so you can stay connected and protected in your home.

Capti captures text online and converts it into audio files, while Confide likes to be the Snapchat of email, which elicited a throwaway question about how it could have worked for Chris Christie.

Jeff Stewart and David Singh talked about Lenddo, an online platform that helps the emerging middle class use their social connections to build their creditworthiness and access local financial services. For instance, getting loans based on one’s social currency works for Lenddo in the Philippines, the social networking capital of the world, as this blogger also wrote about sometime back

Lenddo was also featured in this blog months ago at

Next presenter Radiator Labs solves a nagging problem—how it can help stop fluctuating heat in your room, while ThinkUp serves personal analytics for social media, explaining in simple language how to get more out of the time you spend on Twitter or Facebook.

Dennis Clemente with Dema Tio of Vibease
Dennis Clemente with Dema Tio of Vibease
Apps Gaming

Startups get honest feedback from VCs in this meetup

By Dennis Clemente

How long does it take for venture capitalists to assess your startup? At the Hatchery meetup, it can be the longest five minutes of your life, not counting the other five minutes of your pitch. But it’s all good, because it’s the most honest and helpful assessment you’ll ever get.

Accern’s Kuwesh Aroomoogan found out about this last January 23, coming as he was from another pitch a week earlier where there was only one venture capitalist assessing or critiquing his startup. At the Hatchery, there were four—the regulars Bill Reinisch of Paladin Ventures, Vincent Tang of Canrock Ventures, Sachin Jade of Klifer Capital and this around, Adam Quinton of Lucas Point Ventures. The honesty comes from the familiarity of these VCs’ roles to the Hatchery’s meetup, now on its fifth year.

To make things more interesting, Hatchery also has GK Training to critique the how-to part of the presentation by Accern, bMobilized, Decode Global, Hubster TV and tenSix at Chadbourne at Rockefeller Center.

Aroomoogan says Accern, a financial analysis engine, is looking to raise $500,000, so it can expedite data-gathering. It has a 3-step process to full market entry–hedge funds, online brokers and financial institutions.

Investors advised Aroomoogan to do more market research and interview at least 50 customers. In terms of customers, however, they suggested approaching a content provider like Yahoo and online brokerage firms

Where web design has been a thriving business now comes bMobilized. The company reportedly has a patented technology to create mobile websites (offered as a software-as-a-service basis) from desktop websites aside from having mobile-specific features like maps, click-to-call and m commerce. Customers include Amazon and Cisco.

bMobilized claims it has more than 500,000 mobile websites in the pipeline, as it looks forward to getting a share of the $6.9 billion market. “How many competitions convert to mobile design? There’s a window.”

Next presenter,, aims to help us find where to watch movies online. In his startup, founder Ethan Greenspan thinks he has solved three problems– searching, overpaying and forgetting—as he aims to help us find the movies and where they can be cheaper. He is seeking $750,000 in capital.

Greenspan is looking at developing relationships with advertisers. “We can develop relationships through sponsored lists of curated movies and shows, plus provide competitive analytics.”

The feedback cautioned him how hard it is to play Switzerland (or neutral) and take sides. The ideal scenario for him, as suggested by the panel, is to become a sort of Nielsen for movie-streaming sites.

The following presenter, Decode Global, opened up its presentation with a question: How many kids are killing zombies these days? Answer: 64 million.

The question was in line with how Decode Global positions itself in purposeful gaming or in educational mobile gaming for social change. Angelique Mannella, CEO, showed a game that teaches kids about how to solve water scarcity. So far, the company said its app, made within 8 months, has been downloaded on iTunes 100,000 times in the past six months. “We’re going to promote to kids’ content networks and do cause marketing.”

Mannella is seeking $500,000 in funding and is looking to improve monetization. Right now, our revenue model is based on a freemium model; 90 percent of revenues are from in-app purchases.

The feedback it received was about how the idea can easily be replicated and how the learning-game model is a tough one to crack. But to push forward with it, the suggestion was to look into content partners, if not to have the game feature both virtual and physical functions.

Last presenter was Amar Pradhan of ten6, the self-proclaimed airbnb for batteries. He hopes retailers can improve demand estimates and reduce supply costs with ten6.

After all the presentations, Michael Hoeppner, CEO and president of GK Training, talked about each person’s presentation could be improved, pointing how vital it is to spend as much time practicing as one would preparing for a presentation. “Practice your Q&A forward and backwards; practice with combative questions; practice with cork in a mouth, if you need to slow down.”

He also added how important it is to keep the 3 Vs in mind—visual, visceral, variety—and if you want to know more about that, visit GK Training’s offices.

The show-and-tell was hosted by Yao Hui Huang.