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Huebots, a game designed by UMBC students, is now being sold on Steam. (Photo courtesy of Huebotics).

Full Steam ahead: UMBC students take video game to market

A team of undergraduates from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has taken its video game about small, colorful

The UMBC students behind Huebots, a game now being sold on Steam. From left to right: Michael Leung, Tad Cordle, Erika Schumacher, Jasmine Martin. (Photo courtesy of Huebotics.)

The UMBC students behind Huebots, a game now being sold on Steam. From left to right: Michael Leung, Tad Cordle, Erika Schumacher, Jasmine Martin. (Photo courtesy of Huebotics.)

robots to the big time: it’s now being sold alongside games designed by the pros.

Huebots, a puzzle game where little robots perform different tasks based on their color, recently got the green light to be sold on Steam, an online distribution platform for video games.

In addition to selling games from established companies, Steam allows independent developers to submit pitches for their games so users can vote and decide if the games should be sold.

Huebots won that approval in August, and it can now be purchased on Steam for $4.99. The game includes dozens of levels – some of which can only be unlocked by solving puzzles in creative ways – as well as an editing feature that lets players make and share their own levels.

The game is the brainchild of four ambitious members of an extracurricular club open to anyone from the UMBC campus interested in game development, said Marc Olano, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering, who sponsors the club.

Club members usually form teams early in the fall semester and develop a game over the course of the year, Olano said.

But from day one, members of the Huebots team weren’t just having fun; they wanted to make a game they could sell.

Getting the game onto Steam was always part of the plan, said team member Michael Leung, a senior computer science major. Leung was also looking for a project to take to the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a student technology competition with an entrepreneurial focus and a category for video games.

Leung had had been eyeing the competition for months but was met with skepticism whenever he suggested developing a game to submit. But when Leung heard fellow club member Tad Cordle’s idea for Huebots last fall, he knew he’d found the right project.

“It looked a like a fun game, so I asked if he wanted to work with me,” Leung said. The two soon recruited an artist and an animator to brush up the game’s visual elements. The team incorporated under the name Huebotics; Leung handles the administrative and business aspects of the project.

Huebotics made it to the Imagine Cup’s U.S. finals, and the team traveled to California in April to make its final pitch, Leung said.

Ultimately, Huebots was bested by a team from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a game about a high school being taken over by an evil, brainwashing self-help author. But Leung is pleased with how the team fared when they gave its pitch.

“We did much better than we thought that we were going to do,” Leung said. “We’re programmers.  We don’t usually talk to people publicly.”

They were the first UMBC team to make it that far in the competition. Another team entered a few years ago but didn’t make it past the first round, Olano said.

Huebots is also the first game from UMBC to be sold on Steam, he said.

Getting Steam’s approval took just a few weeks after Huebotics submitted its pitch video – faster than the team expected, Leung said. In its first week, the game sold about 100 copies, and Huebotics is in the process of making the game available on the app stores for Android and Apple devices, he said.

Leung said Huebotics plans to keep making and selling games after the team graduates, but it will need to put more energy into marketing so students can afford to pay themselves. Right now, they’re unpaid, so the company has no overhead costs, he said.

The success of Huebotics is already bringing a new energy to the aspiring game makers at UMBC, Olano said. Several teams within the club are planning games with Steam and the Imagine Cup in mind, he said.

Leung hopes Huebotics will inspire more participation in game-development competitions among young people across the Baltimore area – where he sees potential for a strong game-design community whose members can support and challenge each other.

“The more of us that do this, the better all of us perform in the end,” he said.