Who says accountants are boring? How one student’s accounting-based video game took the online world by storm with over a quarter million downloads in just over two weeks

Who says accountants are boring? How one student’s accounting-based video game took the online world by storm

Caitlyn Coverly, Special to Financial Post | 13/04/12 | Last Updated:13/04/12 11:08 AM ET


Cary WalkinA screenshot of Arena Xlsm, the Microsoft Excel-based video game created by Schulich School of Business student Cary Walkin.

When Cary Walkin went back to school to complete an MBA, his main goal was to strengthen and diversify his business acumen. Working as a chartered accountant for the past five years, Mr. Walkin was in a stable, secure profession he enjoyed. What he ended up doing, however, was realizing a childhood dream by combining his two passions, accounting and video game design, by creating a computer game based on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and promoting it through a specialized marketing course within the Schulich School of Business MBA program.

Now set to graduate in two weeks, Mr. Walkin’s game, Arena.Xlsm, has gone viral, generating international buzz in the gaming industry and turning his accounting career upside down.

I had a party when it reached 3,000 views and then it just exploded overnight

“I was completely shocked at the attention the game received,” said Mr. Walkin. “I had a party when it reached 3,000 views and then it just exploded overnight.”

In just over two weeks, Arena.Xlsm has received over a quarter of a million downloads and has garnered media attention from GizmodoBBC News, Cnet, and the Sydney Morning Herald, to name just a few.“The game appears to be very popular internationally,” said Mr. Walkin, citing views in the tens of thousands originating from countries such as Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands.

Arena.Xlsm is essentially a role-playing, turn-based game existing solely within one Excel workbook. There are more than 2,000 possible enemies, four different endings depending on how the game is played, four pre-programmed arenas, and an assortment of spells and unique items to be used as desired. The game requires little knowledge of Excel, except the user must be working on a PC with a compatible version of the spreadsheet software.

Mr. Walkin explains the game began as a hobby, finding ways to creatively apply theory from an Advanced Spreadsheet Modelling course he was taking as part of his MBA.

“After class every week I’d experiment with tools that we were learning and I quickly realized I could make a video game with them,” said Mr. Walkin.

Mr. Walkin was then encouraged to take a marketing course taught by associate professor Markus Giesler called Entertainment Culture and Marketing. It was in this class, for one specific project, Arena.Xlsm began to turn into something.

“Once a semester I teach a ‘brand yourself’ lecture where students must create their own brand narrative and then build a website and social media presence to publish it,” said Prof. Giesler.

It was for this assignment Mr. Walkin first presented his game to the public on his personal website.

The course, and that assignment specifically, became critical in launching the game properly

“The course, and that assignment specifically, became critical in launching the game properly,” said Mr. Walkin.

Once the game went viral, Mr. Giesler provided Mr. Walkin with advice on how to manage expectations.

“I began receiving commentary, feedback, and even criticism at all hours of the day from all over the world,” said Mr. Walkin. “I was trying to respond to each one within a 24-hour time period and that was overwhelming.”

Mr. Giesler’s advice was rooted primarily in the concept of personal branding and he encouraged Mr. Walkin to navigate and manage multiple stakeholders in a way that would help sustain his desired image.

“This was done primarily through Cary’s website,” said Mr. Giesler. “It involved anticipating images that may emerge that would contradict Cary’s desired image and being proactive in order to gain legitimacy.”

Mr. Walkin created a post on his website discussing all of the success of the game and informed his fans of his other time commitments that would be pulling him away from responding in a timely manner.

Cary made himself understand he could make the transition from one professional domain to another and that is a hard thing to do

“This was really important for me,” said Mr. Walkin. “It helped me get a sense for how to build my personal brand.”

According to Mr. Giesler, the success of Mr. Walkin’s game is just the beginning of a successful career in the gaming industry.

“Cary made himself understand he could make the transition from one professional domain to another and that is a hard thing to do,” said Mr. Giesler. “The fun starts when we start to think outside the box. That is when things become interesting and I am extremely proud of him.”

Mr. Walkin has already received interest from various professionals within the gaming industry and is looking forward to graduating from Schulich with his MBA and finding more opportunities to combine his accounting knowledge with game design.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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