MU graduate student teams up with local developers for photogame

The app allows participants to compete in challenges by taking pictures.

The best way to become a hero is to take a lot of pictures. That is the idea behind a new app for the iPad and iPhone, Herograph. MU graduate student Francesco Marconi conceptualized the game and had it developed by local app creators Justin Voss and Kyle Turner.

In the game, users take pictures of themselves completing specific challenges, like doing a handstand or building a human pyramid. Pictures of the same challenges are placed side-by-side and evaluated by the rest of the Herograph community. Whichever photo scores highest gains points. The more wins, the more points.

The story behind Herograph began in New York City, where Marconi was working at the time.

While working for the United Nations, Marconi attended a conference and learned more than 1.7 billion people are forced to live on one dollar a day.

“My friends and I created a challenge where we would spend only one dollar a day on food and take a picture of it,” Marconi said. “I sent a friend a picture of a bag of chips with the caption, ‘What can you buy with one dollar?’ He replied with a picture of a bottle of water. So we created a bunch of new challenges and shared them with people.”

These simple challenges between friends led to what would become known as Herograph.

“We decided to make it an iPhone or iPad app and have a theme to make it more fun,” Marconi said. “Since we liked comics and superheroes, we decided to make it a hero-themed game.”

Although the game was conceptualized in New York, most of Herograph’s development occurred during the winter at MU. Marconi is pursuing his masters degree in Business Administration, and when he arrived at MU in the fall, he went to the engineering school for help with the app. There, he found Turner and Voss.

Turner graduated from MU with a degree in computer science, and his partner Voss is a graduate of Missouri University of Science and Technology. The duo had already released an app called Nightlife and runs an app development business named Bleeding Wolf.

“Francesco printed out a bunch of fliers that basically said, ‘Can you develop this app?’” Turner said. “We reached out to him and Justin and I met with him and we went over all the requirements and tried to understand what he wanted from the app.”

The game, which is free on iTunes, aims to earn its money through advertising revenue in its challenges.

As users complete more challenges they earn badges to be displayed on their profile, giving them new “powers” and bragging rights. As each photo is voted upon by the the Herograph community, it involves everybody.

“There is a social component,” Marconi said.

Because the application was inspired in part by the plight of 1.7 billion people, the game features challenges that seek improve the world in subtle ways, such as by taking a picture of recycling.

“Most of the challenges have social responsibility components, like promoting peace,” Marconi said.

The badges and copy for the game were also written by an MU Journalism graduate, Anna Durett. Marconi is still involved in the app's development.

“We’ve been making new challenges and badges to make the content fresh so people can keep competing,” Marconi said.

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