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Students launch beta version of video game start-up ‘Digitalcade’

Digitalcade, an online gaming technology company founded in part by a current and a former student, wants to take gaming to the next level.

Founded by four college students, including Peter Thorpe ’14 and Lester Nare, who left the University in 2012, Digitalcade is a 24-hour gaming website where users sign in to play games live.

The company began development in 2010, and it is currently ready to enter its beta stage, where it will be tested by actual users, said co-founder and chief designer Andrew Shingleton.

Digitalcade gives users access to skill-based games with two user options — free play or 25-cent play.

Users who choose to play for free collect tickets for each game they play, just like in an arcade. Every ticket a user collects increases his position on the “Heat Meter,” said Nare, the co-founder and CEO, who attended Princeton from 2009 through 2012. Users can also challenge players directly to boost their index, and the hottest player on the “Heat Meter” wins the daily jackpot of at least $10, which is fueled internally and renewed every day.

The 25-cent play, Nare said, is for players who are more “adventurous or competitive.” In this version of the online game, users can play live games in which players compete against other players and the prize pot is divided among the top 10 percent of winners for that round. There is an opportunity to join in a 25-cent play round every two minutes.

Nare and Shingleton came up with the idea for Digitalcade in 2010, while Nare was a sophomore at the University, said Nare. Shingleton and Nare attended the same high school, though they did not meet until Nare was a freshman at the University and Shingleton was a senior in high school.

“[Shingleton], who I was doing business with at the time, approached me about this concept he had been working on,” Nare said. “We were college kids, we didn’t have money and he looked at me and said ‘What is the quickest way that we can make money right now?’ We sort of came up with a few ideas that were alright, and then he said, ‘Ok, well, what are you good at?’ … So I said, ‘You know, I’m pretty good at video games.’ And he said, ‘So can you make money off of them,’ and I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t have an answer.”

Nare said it was this realization that inspired the two to come up with Digitalcade. At the time, Nare said, electronic sports was growing as an industry, citing the sold out Staples Center League of Legends tournament in 2013 as an example of its popularity.

“[The League of Legends tournament] was a packed house with million-dollar prizes for these guys who were quote unquote professional gamers who spent time getting good,” Nare said. “But the point was, why are they the only ones that have the only option to make money from this endeavor?”

From there, the pair began to develop the easy-to-understand arcade concept and built a “rough roadmap” of its product. By the fall semester of 2011, they had recruited Thorpe, a computer science major, as the technical co-founder of the company, Nare said.

“It was the end of the fall semester of my sophomore year and I got a Facebook message from Andrew Shingleton, and I had no idea who this guy was at the time,” Thorpe said. “He said he’d looked into my background. He was impressed by some of the projects he’d seen that I’d worked on, and he said he had a startup idea that he wanted to run by me.”

Thorpe was receiving numerous invitations to join different startups or projects at the time because of his programming skills. Though he agreed to meet Shingleton, he was initially planning to say no to the start-up idea, Thorpe said.

“We sat down together at Frist, and he ran through the whole thing for me, and I was just blown away,” Thorpe said. “I said ‘Repeat that whole thing, one more time slowly,’ and I decided I definitely wanted to be a part of it.”

From then, Thorpe and Shingleton worked together to create a prototype for their TigerLaunch business proposal, getting a sense of what it was like to work as a team, Thorpe said. Shingleton works on the “front-end” user interface aspect of the program, while Thorpe works on the “back-end” functionality aspect.

At the end of 2012, in the middle of his junior year, Nare said that he made the decision to take a leave of absence from Princeton in order to more fully devote his time to Digitalcade.

Thorpe said the aspect of Digitalcade that was most appealing to him was that there is no comparable gaming technology available. He acknowledges that there are other sites that offer skill-based gaming where there is an expectation that you can win money. However, Thorpe said that Digitalcade takes this idea and perfects it.

“We saw the flaws in [previous gaming systems] and created a better system,” said Shingleton. “They were using head-to-head gaming, but we played around with the idea with having larger multiplayer games.”

Nare said the main driver behind Digitalcade is that it gives users a new experience around gaming while providing a commercial opportunity for game developers who must release their games for free because of the widespread access of games on the Internet and large marketing budgets for games that are not free.

Both Thorpe and Nare see Digitalcade as an innovator in its field.

“Xbox Live took the common gaming experience and brought it to the next level by allowing live multiplayer synchronous completion, and that’s sort of continued over the last decade or so,” Nare said. “Now it’s reached the point that with all this platform fragmentation — mobile, desktop, console — we thought there needed to be another similar step in order to bring together a new way to contextualize games for players.”

Digitalcade has an architecture that is flexible enough to allow for unlimited multiplayer gaming across all devices. It would be the only technology on the market that allows users to play games from any device against others who can also be on any device.

Currently, three of the co-founders, Nare, Shingleton and Justin Blackmon, the chief marketing officer, are living and working in the “Research Triangle” area of North Carolina. Thorpe is completing his senior year at Princeton. Although they haven’t released the beta version publicly, Shingleton says they are allowing friends and family to use and test the technology.

“We are looking for investors, and we have also started getting people on Digitalcade privately, but we haven’t opened it up to the public,” Shingleton said.  “Right now I’d say we’re mainly focused on capturing the needs of the developers and the players, and getting feedback before we go more public with it. “

During the beta stage, Digitalcade will be available only on desktops, and users will be asked to answer questions about the platform in order to help improve the product, Nare said. Shingleton added that Digitalcade could open up to students at the University within the next few months, and there are plans to eventually expand onto mobile and then other platforms.

Both Nare and Thorpe say they believe the University did help them in their endeavors with Digitalcade.

“The P. experience for me has been unbelievably invaluable in me taking the step into this arena. The main thing was the people I was surrounded by on a 24/7 basis,” Nare said. “It’s the best environment on the planet in terms of the conversations you can have and the ideas that are sparked over coffee over someone you bump into, whatever it might be. Being around people at Princeton from different backgrounds because that has been able to shape my perspective on a lot of different issues, all of which may not directly affect Digitalcade, but at the end of the day, it does affect how I can understand our current and future players on the platform.”

Thorpe said what has been most helpful for him is the programming and coursework in his major and also the other entrepreneurs on campus who have inspired him. Thorpe said that in some sense, Digitalcade has helped him as a student, though it is time consuming to both program for Digitalcade and be a student.

“I’m so passionate about it that I can’t help but work on [Digitalcade]. It even invades my subconscious; maybe one-fourth or one-fifth of my dreams have to do with Digitalcade … but that’s really how I knew it was right to pursue this,” Thorpe said. “It’s definitely helped me excel in certain areas of my schoolwork because I had to learn certain concepts from a much higher degree of specification than they would have expected here to implement certain things properly, so there’s been an added benefit there in a way.”

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