Two King’s students reach for the moon with their new startup, “Moonbase Games”


As the first school to accept Bitcoin payments, it may come as no surprise to some that two students of The King’s College won the Bitcoin hackathon, Hackbit at NYU back in November. However, when people realize that King’s has no computer education program and with only several months of experience the team who won the competition outdid Columbia and Yale programming veterans, this is a surprise.

King’s juniors, Jordan Frankfurt and Ryan Skinner arrived at Hackbit not expecting much. In fact, the team didn’t even read the hackathon prompt.

“We weren’t there to try to win,” Frankfurt said. “We were there to have fun.” Frankfurt explained that he had always wanted to build a video game, so they gave it a go and inadvertently fulfilled the competition’s requirements.

Jordan Frankfurt working at the Coin Apex incubator. Photo by Cori O'Connor.

The two amateur programmers won the competition and not only left with $1500 in Bitcoin, but offers of seed money, consulting services and office space to launch their new startup, Moonbase Games.

At Hackbit the team created “To the Moon,” a vintage video game modeled after space invaders. They integrated Bitcoin micropayments into the game so that every time a player kills an alien, a small number of sitoshis, the smallest fraction of a Bitcoin, is credited to them.

Almost immediately following the competition, Frankfurt and Skinner struck a deal with Coin Apex, a tech incubator located across the street from The King’s College. They agreed to give Coin Apex a 5 percent share in Moonbase Games in exchange for incubator space and unlimited consulting from their Bitcoin experts and graphic designers alike.

The office space is not a shabby setup. Home to many startups such as Airbnb, the space has what one could call the classic startup feel: it’s newly renovated, with dark wood floors, glass offices, low hanging decorative lights and comes complete with free snacks, free beer, couches and a ping pong table. Coin Apex gave Frankfurt and Skinner 24 hour access. Not a bad deal for two college students.

Post competition, Moonbase Games was also offered seed money from a Bitcoin company known as Block Chain. Frankfurt and Skinner are using this money to develop the game and once it’s fully functional, they will return to Block Chain and negotiate their next steps.  Along with giving Moonbase Games funds to kick start the company, Block Chain is currently the main source of money in the game and provides the funds when users generate sitoshis.

Inside the incubator space. Photo by Cori O'Connor.

However, for Frankfurt and Skinner this game is simply a step to developing a company that handles in-game currency systems. “The idea is that we’re building a system that anyone who wants to build a game can use,” Frankfurt said.

Frankfurt explained that Bitcoin’s advantage over other currencies is that it reduces friction, or the expenses associated with the movement of money through a transaction. These expenses include fees like: commissions, loan origination fees and interest rates. Compared to credit cards, Bitcoin mining involves few parties and because it’s digital money, it is efficient and safe for consumers.

The current focus of Moonbase Games is to raise awareness of “To the Moon” among the 150,000 people on the Bitcoin subreddit.

“Once we’re established with the people who know something about Bitcoin we’re going to be able to move into the game developers in the main stream market in such a way that it’s going to be easier to integrate than it is now,” Frankfurt said.

Currently there are minimal costs to operating Moonbase Games—paying for their domain name and a Google business service—and the company has no variable costs. However they anticipate that as traffic increases on their site they will have to scale up the power going to their site at a price that could go as high as $4,000 per week with hundreds of thousands of users.

Frankfurt and Skinner's glass office space. Photo by Cori O'Connor.

When asked to describe his biggest fear Skinner said, “Figuring out what our customers want out of our platform.” The team is working on researching what exactly game developers would like their product to do, and according to Frankfurt this is something that developing games has helped them look into.

With Frankfurt currently having 1.5 years of programming experience and Skinner 6 months, Frankfurt explained that they’re working with a significant gap in technical knowledge. “There’s a ton of stuff that we don’t know so we’re relying very heavily on Coin Apex and even more heavily on tutorials,” he said.

The team also encounters difficulty surrounding the amount of time they devote to development because they are still fulltime students.

“My biggest fear is that I devote so much time to it that I fail a class,” Frankfurt said.

In the midst of these obstacles, Moonbase Games has received a lot of positive feedback from the release of an alpha stage of the game at the beginning of February. Although the game is still bug ridden and doesn’t do exactly what they want it to, Alex Waters of Coin Apex tweeted about it on Feb. 2 and a member of Andreeson Horrowitz, one of the nation’s largest venture capital firms “favorited” the tweet.

“I was happy,” Frankfurt said. “I had a kind of emotional moment.”

Click here to play "To the Moon."