Track Athletes Develop App for Alcoa-Project Olympus - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Track Athletes Develop App for Alcoa

When junior Matthew Sheh enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University, video game development was an idea out of reach for the business major who tried to learn how to code video games from the internet one time in middle school. That was, until he met his roommate of three years, Kyle Weaver, whose classroom interests lie in mathematics and computer science.

Both Sheh and Weaver are members of the men's track and field team but, like their academic interests, have differing athletic concentrations, as Sheh is a hurdler and Weaver is a pole vaulter. However, the commonality of track and field drew them together in the search for a roommate and the pairing led to the materialization of Sheh's out-of-reach idea.

"Gaming was something I wanted to work on but didn't have the skill set to do until coming to Carnegie Mellon," said Sheh, a native of Colorado. "Once I was here I realized it was a possibility because everyone here is so talented, especially Kyle with his game design."

Together, Sheh and Weaver endeavored into the world of startups with the idea of creating a video game for the computer. Sheh's interest was piqued following an event he attended on campus called Starting Your Startup presented by Project Olympus, which is part of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

"Hearing from CEOs of different companies who founded their company while at CMU made me really enthusiastic about starting my own startup," said Sheh.

Fast forward to the summer and Sheh's marketing internship with Alcoa's Wheels Division in Cleveland, Ohio.

"While discussing with the director of marketing ways Alcoa could be more innovative in their marketing, I pitched the idea to create an advergame," said Sheh.

Advergaming is the concept of using advertising to promote a particular brand, product or marketing message by integrating it into a video game.

"I mentioned other trucking companies who've had success with their apps, and mostly their video game apps," said Sheh. "Alcoa saw an opportunity to use a small startup company to reap the benefits of this advertising technique and reach their demographic through means they haven't done before."

While Sheh was interning at Alcoa, Weaver was learning the ins and outs of designing and programming games.

"We felt this would be a great opportunity to practice our programming and get a smaller game under our belts in preparation for what we wanted to do on a larger scale," said Weaver, who did most of the backend stuff. "We brought on an artist to help complete the concept of the game and with Alcoa's feedback decided on an endless-runner style of game."

Through the summer, Sheh and Weaver began to develop the game through Skype calls and messages, and completed the project together in their Pittsburgh apartment once classes at CMU resumed this past fall.

In Alcoa Wheels Truck Run, available through Apple's app store and Google Play, the user drives through obstacles as a semi-truck. As you level-up, you can upgrade your wheels. That's where the advertising comes in for Alcoa.

"A lot of people don't understand what products are available and the benefits of the products," said Sheh. "But as you level-up through the game you get better wheels, and those wheels are Alcoa wheels, and Alcoa wheels have certain benefits."

This confluence of events for Sheh and Weaver has the ability to springboard into greater successes in the gaming world as the pair decides what's next. Weaver, who initially believed game development might be just a hobby, now sees a future in this pursuit.

"I started this as a hobby but by creating the game realized I can turn it into a career I'm really excited about," said Weaver, who is interviewing with a few game development companies for a summer internship.

Sheh, who is interested in consulting, will be interning with West Monroe Partners in New York City this summer.

"Although we'll be doing different things, we know we can come back together and continue our work to develop something larger," said Sheh. Read More»