Small Business Spotlight: Simcoach Games
Simcoach Games, along with other Pennsylvania gaming companies, is taking game development to the next level. Originally created as a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) by founder Jessica Trybus, Simcoach is making games that drive learning and behavior change; currently, their focus is on workforce development. We caught up with Jessica to learn more about her journey, work, and connection to Pittsburgh.
How did you get started with Simcoach Games?
I have a background in English and theater and was focused on acting and writing in undergrad. After earning my degree, I spent time in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley before returning to my hometown of Pittsburgh. I was interested in entertainment and technology, and I was immediately introduced to the ETC, which had just started at CMU. I could not believe such a thing existed – and in Pittsburgh!
While I was obtaining my Masters of Entertainment Technology degree from CMU (2002-2004), I wondered if video games could be used for learning. I started meeting with local organizations to learn how they could use these games to solve problems, and from there all of the pieces just came together.
I didn’t know I was going to start a video game company, but looking back everything was moving in this direction. I saw an opportunity to potentially solve problems and change lives using video games.
How are your games making an impact?
We are focused on workforce development. We want to inspire the next generation of the workforce and connect them to appropriate pathways using mobile video games. We envision a future where everyone will be empowered to pursue the career best suited for their unique interests and aptitudes through gaming — that’s one of our goals, and we’ve initiated an innovative platform of games to achieve this.
Our Simcoach Skill Arcade offers free video games to expose next-generation talent to job skills and connects them to real career opportunities in their region. Through the Skill Arcade, we created the Future Road Builders series, which introduces youth and adults to careers and opportunities in the skilled trades associated with highway and bridge construction. Like most of our games, we are working on this project with real partners, like PennDOT and the Constructors Association of Western PA, to provide a virtual way to uncover the skills needed in the field.
Job Pro: Get Hired! is one of three games in the Job Pro series, and it helps users learn and practice key skills needed in a job interview. Get Hired! has nearly 60,000 downloads — all occurring without much marketing for the game.
We particularly love our game Booeys: A Ghost’s Code. We partnered with Partner4Work in Pittsburgh to create the mobile game, which uses a series of increasingly difficult puzzles to engage five aptitudes critical to technical careers: problem solving, logic, attention to detail, understanding algorithms, and building solutions.
Additionally, we have a growing range of other video games in a variety of fields, including EVS Coach: PPE Challenge, which was developed in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Energy Innovation Center. EVS Coach helps environmental services technicians (EVS) learn proper hospital room housekeeping techniques to avoid the spread of infection through proper usage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The connecting thread through all of our games is to introduce people to new career pathways in the most engaging and scalable way possible.
What makes you proud to be a Pennsylvania business?
Pittsburgh has a small town feel. The people here want you to be successful, and I noticed problems here in workforce development that we could help solve. We’ve worked with client partners like UPMC, the Constructors Association of Western PA, the Masters Builders’ Association of Western PA, and the Consortium for Public Education, who are just as committed to preparing our region’s workforce as we are.
The access to talent has also been really important. We have a local talent pool to draw from. I serve as faculty at the ETC, which is one of the world’s top game design and development programs and produces some of the best game and interaction designers in the world. We recruit directly from the ETC and have co-ops and internships with students.
Although we pull from the ETC, fewer than half of our current 15 employees are from CMU. We also find great artists from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and the University of Pittsburgh also has some of the strongest engineers and developers for what we do. Most of our employees aren’t from Pittsburgh but have found a home in the city.
The Small Business Spotlight is a monthly series featured on the second Saturday of the month which highlights businesses and entrepreneurs who are positively impacting their local community.
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Jessica Trybus is the Chief Games Officer of Simcoach Games, where she leads the vision and strategy for using games to drive learning and behavior change. Since 2004, Trybus has led special University initiatives related to combining education and technology and has served as teaching faculty at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. Through these initiatives, and project courses that she has taught or advised, Jessica has contributed to Carnegie Mellon’s recognition as a pioneer in using game-based learning, serious games, and edutainment to teach people of all ages more effectively.