Four years later, the company was 50-people strong, moved into a 6,000-square-foot former bank building in Catonsville, and filled out with design, user experience and testing divisions. Just last month, Marks introduced Mindgrub’s new mobile gaming division.
“I keep my focus on paradigm shifts,” says Marks, 36. “I did the math and thought mobile games is going to be pretty hot.”
Out of the month-old gaming division have already come two smart phone games: Rescue Jump, in which players control a trampoline-carrying duo of firemen who have to bounce people hopping from burning buildings to safety, and Scuba Adventures, a collaboration with Discovery Kids.
Marks, who lives in Baltimore County, grew up in Howard County and studied math at Loyola College in Maryland in the 1980s, got his start as an Adobe Flash developer during the dot-com boom of the nineties. His focus shifted to product development—mobile apps and websites—once Apple introduced the first-generation iPhone, which led him to heading up a fledging Mindgrub with one person manning the mobile division and one person manning the web division. To Marks, moving on up meant relocating his company from his basement to a space above a bar.
“I saw us being that next agency,” Marks says. “A traditional agency is radio, print and TV. I saw the opportunity to become an innovation agency—we specifically focus on mobile, social and web applications.”
That forward thinking has benefited Marks as he has grown Mindgrub division by division, promoting interns into full-time positions—and pulling an all-nighter getting in contact with former Big Huge Games developers on LinkedIn once he caught wind that the company was going under.
Todd Marks talks gaming at August’s Baltimore TechBreakfast.
Marks also prides himself on bootstrapping Mindgrub and eschewing venture capital dollars. He readily admits that part of the reason for his lacking capital investment was his being unknown to investors, but says “you’re an entrepreneur every day” if you build a company using your own cash flow.
“If you’ve taken investment dollars, that’s not a big pat on the back, congratulations,” he says. “You can’t claim that you’re an entrepreneur until you’ve turned that profit … otherwise you’re just hemorrhaging someone’s money.”
While Mindgrub’s new gaming division is committed to producing its share of mobile games, Marks says the main focus is now on augmented reality gaming.
“That’s the next step in gaming,” he says. “Rescue Jump is a physics game, like Angry Birds. I’m focused on building this underlying platform that’s going to be this next generation of not just gaming, but information display and experiences while you’re immersed in the physical world.”
In other words, a Pavlovian style of gaming and digital immersion, where people are rewarded for doing certain things and undertaking different experiences. One such game Mindgrub has already produced that uses this technology is TAG, a mobile “assassination” game where users place fellow gamers in crosshairs on their smart phones, and then tag them by taking their photo.
Another such game Mindgrub has in the works is for the B&O Railroad Museum. When launched, the museum’s Choo Choo Blue character will ask users different questions while they’re inside the museum. Using augmented reality—which Marks incorporates into games courtesy of technology developed by viaPlace, a subsidiary of Mindgrub—visitors to the museum will walk around and find Choo Choo Blue standing next to different trains, answering questions he asks in the game.
“Reward-based incentivization—that’s the next kind of convergence between different formats,” Marks says. “The e-learning, gaming and multimedia [are] all starting to come together as one information channel.”