Nathan Wright: UK Grad and Game Inventor


By Carl Nathe



LEXINGTON — Nathan Wright has always wanted to go beyond the status quo and create, to pursue ideas and make things that nobody else has made before. Now, putting the best of his recently completed University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics MBA together with the undergraduate degree he earned from the UK College of Engineering, Wright is doing just that. He has developed Game of Energy, a strategic game based on the world energy crisis.

Growing up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, near Pikeville, Wright spent most of his early life living in the same house located 15 minutes from the main road, a creek with green mountains on one side and houses on the other side of the narrow road. He attended local public schools — John’s Creek Elementary for grades K-8 and Pike County Central High School for grades 9-12.

A big fan of Wildcat sports since he can remember, Wright said, “My entire room was painted and decorated in a UK theme.”

Yet that is not what sold him on choosing UK as the place to pursue his college education.

“I did a tour of the engineering college and the rest of campus and it was magnificent,” Wright said. “It also didn’t hurt that I received a bit of VIP treatment from UK staff after they learned I had a 35 (out of a perfect 36) on my ACT.”

Wright had attained a “superscore” of 36 (combining best results from several test attempts) and was being recruited by the likes of Massachusetts Insitute of Techonology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a number of other universities with nationally ranked engineering programs.

“Yet UK just felt right and was where I needed to be,” Wright said.

After seriously considering several engineering disciplines during his first couple of semesters at the university, Wright wound up majoring in mechanical engineering while also earning certification in aerospace engineering.

“During my time at UK, I was instructed by many great professors,” Wright said. “But the one who stands out is Alexandre Martin. His fluid mechanics class did more than teach me the required subject matter, but also to think differently and truly understand how calculus can be used as a practical tool to solve real-life problems. With Dr. Martin, instead of calculus being the usual ‘undergraduate annoyance’ that many students approach it with, I was energized.”

Wright began visiting Martin’s office regularly, discussing research and getting to know this faculty member better.

“This finally culminated in us co-writing a proposal for a NASA grant to design and build a prototype for a new satellite design at the University of Kentucky, called KRUPS (Kentucky Reentry Universal Payload System),” Wright said. “I was responsible for forming the team and overseeing the project as an undergraduate. The design has evolved over the years as other student teams have assumed the reins, but I have remained active with the project. KRUPS is currently set to be launched on its first mission in the summer of 2018.”

While possessing this impressive engineering acumen and experience, Wright also had an eye for business.

“I had started my own business in May 2012 in order to pursue high-risk projects beyond the co-op experiences typically chosen by students in engineering,” Wright said. “I set out to invent, patent and license products in a variety of fields. While a couple of these ventures showed promise for future development, I realized that I needed a better, more formal foundation in the ways of business. Besides, having an MBA would open doors for me with a unique combination of technical expertise from my engineering degree, plus the understanding of a manager’s point of view when dealing with projects at an engineering firm.”

Intrigued by the Gatton College’s strong reputation in supply chain management, Wright enrolled in the college’s two-year MBA program.

“It just made sense to do it at Gatton, especially since I was already so familiar with the University of Kentucky, a place that I loved.”

Describing himself as “a gamer of both tabletop and video games for pretty much my entire life,” Wright said it was a conversation with his father, David, that led him to the “Game of Energy” idea.

“My dad was dealing a lot in the energy market at the time, managing several surface mines in Eastern Kentucky while also watching the stock market. One day, he started asking questions of me about the various energy industries of the world, and thanks to classes I had taken at UK and some additional research I had done, I was able to provide some thoughtful answers to him,” Wright said. “Dad said, ‘this is really interesting stuff. There needs to be a way to bring this to the masses.’ I was thinking like a book, or a blog, but instead my father said, ‘a board game.’ And it simply clicked in my mind.”

Making the game come to life, making it fun and easily accessible to all was Wright’s new challenge — how to address each sector of the energy industry in an unbiased pros vs. cons manner that would help shed light on such a hot topic — Wright set out to meet the need.

Wright’s mother, Tammy, also loved the idea and encouraged her son to “go for it.”

“My parents’ support, not just emotionally, but also financially, has been vital in making this entry into the tabletop gaming industry,” Wright said. “And having run this journey as a family has allowed us all to learn together and become even closer. In fact, the three of us have spent many a night playtesting the game together.”

Game of Energy is designed as a highly thematic strategy game of medium-to-light complexity. The primary methods of play are placing different sized tiles to control space on the board and managing resources. It involves one to four players and usually lasts between 30 and 60 minutes.

All modern, widespread technologies are represented in Game of Energy: biofuel, fossil fuel, hydroelectric, nuclear, solar and wind.

As of this date, the game is still in the crowdfunding phase of the venture with the deadline to reach the goal of $15,745 coming up at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 30. The fundraising campaign is live on Kickstarter and anyone wishing to participate can do so by visiting http://GameOfEnergy.com and following the links.

Wright also is actively monitoring his social media accounts – Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/GameOfEnergyFans, Twitter: @energy_game; Instagram: game_of_energy.

In addition to families playing Game of Energy at home together, there appears to be a strong potential market for educators to employ the game in their classrooms to help teach lessons about how best to meet the growing energy needs of the world.

“There has been a lot of interest by educators at various grade levels — from as young as fourth grade to as old as high school and college,” Wright said. “I think the youngest person we’ve had to play the game is 9 years old. Even though our initial recommendation is for ages 14 and up, the numbers used in Game of Energy are either based on five’s or 25’s, so the math being utilized is relatively easy to understand.”

Just in case you are thinking that 2016 is not the right time to develop and release a new board game, think again.

“Several recent national surveys indicate that board games are enjoying a renaissance,” Wright said. “While electronically based games dominate the overall commercial market, studies show that board games’ share of that market is up to around 11 percent from 8 percent a few years ago.”

While working hard to launch Game of Energy, Wright also is very close to accepting a professional position where he would be working in aerospace engineering. He is very proud to call himself an alumnus of UK.

“This university has given so much to me and so many other people,” Wright said. “And you better believe I will be recommending my future children attend this gem of the Bluegrass.”

By Carl Nathe

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