Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of

RALEIGH, N.C. – The 1,000 or so people who turned out for the Triangle Game Conference on Wednesday and Thursday witnessed something more than gee whiz technology, 3-D, and the latest in digital entertainment trends.

Grit, entrepreneurial spirit and determination in the forms of people launching their own companies, seeking new careers and looking for ways to better utilize their technology were also on display.

Jimmy Zimmer is a prime example.

He and Phil Abbott are on the threshold of new careers as entrepreneurs and owners of their own gaming company. Appropriately, it’s called

The former Virtual Heroes employees chose to launch a company with financing from their own billfolds after the lingering recession sent them into the world of those seeking work.

Six months later, Threshold has produced two games, has a contract for an “advergame” – a game a client is paying to develop which it in turn will use to sell product – and is also targeting training opportunities in the “serious games” market. They also develop mobile “apps.”

“We are excited,” Zimmer said, his face beaming with a huge smile as he showed off Threshold’s “SumoBalls” on his iPhone. “We had been wanting to start our own company, and in this environment we saw our opportunity.

“We decided, well we’re not just going to sit around and look for a job. So we started Threshold.”

Threshold already employs four people, with Zimmer serving as chief executive officer and Abbott as chief technology officer. Both have years of experience in the games and serious games space, and they were among the founding employees at Virtual Heroes which is now part of Applied Research Associates.

SumoBalls, which is something like a pinball game, was developed for the iPhone and iPad Touch. Threshold will make money by selling it as an iPhone “app,” Zimmer said. A round sumo character is maneuvered through an obstacle course simply by moving the iPhone.

Triangle-based Republic of Fun is the publisher for SumoBalls. ()

Crowdsourcing is key to strategy

Threshold’s first venture was “TrainSetGo,” which Zimmer proudly calls “one of the first true 3-D games on Facebook." Launched in December, TrainSetGo was built in a true social fashion for the popular social networking site. Threshold relied in part on crowdsourcing.

“Most Facebook games are developed with Flash, but TrainSetGo was developed on a true 3D engine,” Zimmer explained. Threshold is using the Unity engine.

“TrainSetGo allows players to build a train set in a virtual home environment. We wanted to replicate that fond childhood experience of playing with a toy or model train set in your living room. The surrounding environment looks big just like it did when you were a kid. At Christmas we even had a Christmas tree in the virtual living room.

“In TrainSetGo, players can earn in-game money, called tokens, by achieving experience points as they build bigger tracks and virtual passengers ride the train,” he added “Players can then use those tokens to purchase more tracks and more attractions. Attractions are placed around your Train set and passengers pay more to see those attractions. There is also an option to purchase Train Stock with a real credit card for those that want to progress faster or purchase premium game objects.”

Threshold wants people to capitalize on social features.

“Facebook players can invite their friends to join the game,” Zimmer explained. “Those friends can ride on each others train sets, see their friends pictures on special billboard train cars, and send their friends gifts that they can use with their train set.”

Threshold has also embraced crowdsourcing through Republic of Fun as a means of improving and expanding its product line.

Fans can vote on concepts, characters – and more

“This is a crowdsourcing site which allows fans to see the game as it is being developed,” Zimmer explained. “Fans can also participate in the design by voting on concepts such as character styles, level layouts, art styles, and gameplay ideas.

“As passionate game developers, we often find ourselves spending time debating whether one concept has better marketability over another concept. Crowdsourcing allows us to save some development time and make better products by letting the fans help make design decisions.

“Now when we find ourselves having those passionate debates, we can just say, ‘Lets post those ideas on the site and let the fans decide." This has been a really refreshing process for us and Threshold is very excited about the Republic of Fun crowdsourcing concept.”

Zimmer and Abbott knew they were taking a huge risk in launching Threshold, but so far their choice is paying off. After all, rather than drawing 26 weeks of unemployment and praying for an extension while seeking a job, they now have their own venture, two games, another contract in hand – and, hopefully, many more to come.

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