Alex Winchell might not be a computer science major, but he’s savvy with a computer. A junior majoring in economics at the University of Minnesota, Winchell created his first internet game when he was only a freshman in high school. He admits his first attempt – called Pixel Nations – wasn’t great because of his lack of experience at the time. He ended up selling the game later that year, but he didn’t let his initial stumble deter him.
Two years later, at the age of sixteen, Winchell developed Politics and War (). The game has a similar concept to Pixel Nations but is more refined. The website describes it as a “free-to-play browser-based persistent massively multiplayer online game where you create your own nation and rule it.” Players can create armies and wage war or work together with other countries. Winchell says his game offers players more creative liberty and opportunity for role-play than other games with this concept.
What motivates a teenager in rural Montana – in a town with a population of five hundred – to design a game like this? Winchell said he played a similar game called Cyber Nations when he was younger, and his goal was to create an even better version. It seems he’s achieved that goal. Throughout the game’s three-and-a-half-year lifetime, over 100,000 people have signed up on the website, and 4,000 players actively log in each day. Thanks to its rising popularity, Winchell was able to launch Politics and War as an app for Apple and Android users in the summer of 2017, something he had always wanted to do.
It took Winchell a full year to develop his game before releasing it, but his work is never done. He spends a minimum of ten minutes per day working on the website, constantly making tweaks based on his own intuition as well as feedback from players. However, he doesn’t view it as a chore; he genuinely enjoys what he does. The profit he receives from advertiser revenue and microtransactions is just the cherry on top, not his main motivation.
Looking toward the future, Winchell hopes to continue boosting the game’s popularity by making it more fun and appealing and by garnering more players. Politics and War is on Facebook (@politicsandwar), where he posts a lot of ads targeting “young men into nerdy games.”
A private individual recently offered him $100,000 for the rights to the game, but Winchell wasn’t ready to sell it. He wants to maintain the website himself for as long as he can. “If there ever came a day when there were so many people playing it I couldn’t do it myself,” he says, “that would be pretty cool.”