By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — If you’ve ever wanted to throw tomatoes at a politician and you feel frustrated that your voice is not heard by elected officials, there may be a video game for you.
The non-partisan video game, “Angry Voters” presented by We The People, LLC will allow people to voice their opinions on political issues through playing a casual video game.
“We want people to stay on the couch and get involved,” Chief Technical Officer Joe Vallone, a Norman resident and avid gamer joked of the game’s potential to tap into a currently untapped polling market.
We The People CEO Mike Cahlan has patented an electronic polling process which uses the game interaction to gather information.
“The game is built around this polling process,” Vallone said.
Cahlan and Vallone are taking advantage of the power of crowdfunding through Indiegogo to raise $144,000 in donations for developmental seed funding of the game. Anyone can go to www.indiegogo.com/AngryVoters to check out the details of the game and look at the perks available to contributors.
Vallone and his family moved to Norman in 2009 when his job with a tech company transferred him to Oklahoma. He likes the family-focused community and stayed after that job ended. Among other things, Vallone teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma. Those university contacts connected him with Cahlan who founded We The People. Cahlan lives in Las Vegas but for a techie company, physical distance isn’t an issue.
Like crowdfunding, technology partnerships based on assets such as talent and skill are creating a new business model for entrepreneurs in a rapidly emerging field.
“Right now, the game is targeted to Facebook,” Vallone said. “Then we’re going to move to Google Plus and then to mobile phones.”
“During the game, players can defend issues or they can attack issues,” he said.
Vallone said the game provides a healthy outlet for voter frustration. There is no violence — digital images of politicians can get a pie in the face or the player can throw tomatoes — voters vent frustrations in the safe, cartoon-like environment of a casual video game.
The data gathered during that game play provides vital polling information that eventually will be sold to politicians and other groups who routinely pay for polling information.
“My 72-year-old mother-in-law loves to go on Facebook and play Bejeweled,” Vallone said.
His wife plays Words with Friends.
These casual games cut across age and other demographic boundaries, hitting a range of ages from 35 to 65.
“I think most people doing the polling would love to tap into that demographic,” he said. “We have found that people are interested in politics. They’re frustrated, and they don’t think their voices count.”
Because of the Cloud — that nebulous no-place yet every-place where virtual servers on the internet connect — people will be able to compete against one another on their phones.
The internet is providing the key to connecting with those disenfranchised voters. Eventually, Vallone believes, people will be able to vote from the comfort of their homes.
For now, perhaps AngryVoters will empower players and motivate them to go to the polls and cast a ballot.
The game will be free to play with upgrades and special features available for a small fee. A related and more serious non-partisan web site will be subscription based. That site will have hard news and polling data available.
AngryVoters will be a stepping stone to the main product, a “very involved multi-media web site,” Vallone said.
The site will be informative but lively and entertaining.
In other words, it’s appeal will expand to include that lost in computer space generation of 30-somethings and younger who barely, if at all, remember life before their smart phones.
Vallone expects the game to launch on Facebook in about four months with the phone apps to follow quickly thereafter and the web site launch expected in about six months. Funding will partially determine that time frame, but he has hopes the Indiegogo campaign will pay off.
Still, it’s a shame local technology startup businesses are on their own in the Sooner State. Norman is not a technology hotspot, but it could be, Vallone said.
Like Austin — the “Silicone Prairie” — Norman is a university community with some of the best and brightest in the nation right here, providing a base of both potential mentors and potential entrepreneurs.
Austin decided to go after technology, he said, and the results have paid off. What Norman needs are more incubators in the form of office space, available conference rooms and good internet connections.
Equally valuable would be mentorships through partnerships with the university. Vallone suggested the city could work with OU’s Center for Entrepreneurship to set up a mentorship program and to provide workshops, training, and information on starting a business and finding funding sources.
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