Petricore: Becker College Graduates Incorporate

Published on Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Petricore GroupRyan Canuel ’15 has been a gamer since he was young, and that love of games has landed the recent Becker College graduate at the helm of one of Worcester’s newest and most buzzed-about gaming start-ups.

“Last March, I went out to California for the Game Developer’s Conference, and while I was there I talked to people looking to employ game designers,” Canuel said. “I spoke to one woman about what I did and what I was hoping to do. She said, ‘Why are you looking for a job? You wouldn’t be able to continue what you’re doing as the low guy on the totem pole somewhere.’ I realized there weren’t any big game companies in Worcester, and that’s when I decided to start one.”

Canuel, now a co-founder and chief executive officer of Petricore, Inc., had met Petricore co-founder and chief technology officer Aaron Lin in 2014 at Becker’s Massachusetts Digital Game Institute (MassDiGI)’s Summer Innovation Program (SIP), a competitive program where participants from around the world spend 12 weeks working in teams at the MassDiGI studio with guidance from industry mentors and staff and the goal of shipping a game to market. There, they worked on the game Cat Tsunami, which was one of the games picked by a publisher.

Canuel became friends with Petricore’s user interface programmer James Spavold ’15 during their freshman year at Becker. He got to know programmer and designer Oliver Awat ’15 through SIP and Live Code, a semester-based course that layers real-world live game elements into a studio setting and is designed to bring internship experience to every student, where Canuel also met Petricore artist and designer Christina Andriano ’15 and programmer Chris Bruno ’15. “Becker is a close-knit community, and everyone knows everyone,” said Lin. “We mostly came together through Live Code class.” The group worked together on Cat Tsunami, which was moved into the Live Code class from SIP.

“MassDiGI’s managing director, Monty Sharma, noticed us and said the best thing that any of us could do would be to start our own company after graduation,” Canuel said. And so Petricore—a word play on “petrichor”, the pleasant smell that often accompanies rain after a spell of hot and dry weather—was born. The company incorporated this past spring, and develops games as well as works with clients to design apps, create websites, and more.

“Compared to starting at the bottom in someone else’s company, we have so much influence over what we choose to do here,” said Awat. “I don’t feel like I have to spend time proving myself to the people I work with, and they value my opinion,” he added.

In May, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and its partners recognized Canuel and Petricore as one of 12 winners in the first class of StartUp Worcester entrepreneurs, an award and related support meant to encourage innovative start-ups to locate their business in Worcester. The one-year StartUp Worcester membership includes co-working space at Running Start in Worcester and membership in the Chamber. “The award solidified the company and grounded us,” Canuel said. “We’ve met a lot of people in Worcester we wouldn’t have otherwise met. We worried at the time that we weren’t well enough established to win, but we later found out we were further along than some of the other winners.”

Petricore’s first game was released this past July and has seen great success. “Mind the Arrow” is a timed puzzle matching game in which players are given 30 seconds to match flashing dots around a central circle by tapping the screen. The game becomes more difficult as the orientation of the arrow in the center circle shifts. The puzzles are generated randomly, and unique colors, levels, and circles can be unlocked, which allows for infinite possibilities. In August, “Mind the Arrow” was a featured app in iTunes for a week, and was downloaded more than 130,000 times by Apple users all over the world. It has since reached over 200,000 downloads. The app is made free to users through ad placement, though players can choose to pay $2 to play ad-free.

The Petricore team is learning the ropes of the business as they go, and plan to keep expanding and improving. “I took a business elective while I was at Becker,” Canuel said. “The business side of game design is just as important as the design part. We are working with the data science program at Becker to help us with statistics to track the retention rate, and how often people are playing and seeing ads.”

This summer, Petricore also delved into the medical field, working with a vascular surgeon to create an app for iOS and Android to improve internal communication at hospitals. “MentorAtHand” allows users to ask questions about tasks at work that are new to them, which are then answered by their peers. The whole process is anonymous, and the app could be rolled out for widespread use in Boston hospitals in the future.

Petricore’s newest game, “Gelato Flicker”, is currently in development and slated for release in mid-November. It’s a fast-paced, ice cream-flicking puzzle game. Orders come in on the sides from different customers, and players flick their fulfilled orders toward them. If they match, the players earn money; if they don’t, the players lose. The better players do, the more money they earn to unlock power-ups and new locations from which to sell their ice cream.

Recently, the company finished an app called AttunityVR, a virtual reality app for the Big Data company Attunity that allows their marketing team to generate high-quality leads through showings. “We heard back from their marketing team that they have gotten the most leads they’ve ever received using the app we built,” Canuel said. He and his team are also working with a local client on an app called ETAWiz that is being kept under wraps but should be released at some point this year, as well as starting a virtual reality project for LEAP Motion, a company that makes a computer hardware sensor device that works like a mouse but without requiring touch. That app is part of a game contest run by LEAP Motion.

The company has also begun accepting interns from Becker who are assisting with an update for “Mind the Arrow” that should be released in mid-December. “We’re not experts, but we’ve learned a lot,” Canuel said. “We’d like to share that with interns and hopefully help them out.”

Canuel’s advice for Becker game design students looking to reach his level of success is to get involved with MassDiGI and to take the Live Code class. “It’s a great way to gain experience on big projects that have publishers behind them,” he said.  He praised the Live Code class and the interactive media program at Becker in general for allowing students to experience a little bit of everything. “I’m not the best programmer, but I can communicate with them now because I understand what they do. Having knowledge about the whole process is very beneficial.”

And his career advice?  Do what you love. “As long as you’re doing something you enjoy, it won’t feel like work,” he said.

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