San Francisco-based gaming enthusiast Jeremy Williams '96 launches a successful new product that has arcade devotees investing more than just quarters.
As rapid technological advances allow today’s video games to offer features including high-definition graphics, movement-sensitive response and instantaneous global connectivity, the arcade games of 30 years ago should seem obsolete. But not to Jeremy Williams ’96 or the hundreds of old-school gamers who helped fund his product Game Frame through his San Francisco company LEDSEQ, his most recent career venture.
When Williams launched his new product, a square of 256 programmable LED lights in a wooden frame, on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter in 2014, he met his initial goal of $15,000 in four hours and closed out at $153,000. Game Frame didn’t offer a robust new experience, but a vibrantly old one.
The lighted grid allows users to display custom animated pixel art reminiscent of classic arcade games, like a digital picture frame. “When we see images of Pac-Man and Joust and Defender, it triggers a lot of nostalgia,” said Williams, CEO of LEDSEQ. If the 700 orders he received almost instantaneously through Kickstarter are any indication, nostalgia is not only a powerful force: it’s in high demand.
Williams’s path to founding LEDSEQ wasn’t traditional. “I’ve always been a computer geek, since I got my first computer in 1984. But I’ve never really been a programmer,” he said. He majored in religious studies at Kenyon, but his liberal arts background helped him land an early job in the gaming industry as an editor at PC Gamer magazine in San Francisco. “Back then it was hard to find people who can use a comma and talk about video games,” he joked. “I had a leg up having gone to Kenyon.”
While he enjoyed working at the magazine, Williams longed to nurture his more imaginative side. “I had a great time there, but at the end of the day we were critics,” he said. “I love the creative process.”
Royal Rhodes, Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies, remembers Williams as having a vivid imagination and creative spirit. “I regarded him as a student who was captivated by the wonder of the world, wanting to learn everything,” he said.
Williams had developed a passion for video production while at Kenyon, even casting Rhodes as Death cloaked with an academic hood in a project based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century tales in The Decameron about people fleeing the plague. (Josh Radnor ’96 also appeared in Williams’s videos before he went on to TV and Broadway fame.)
He moved on to start a video production company called Blue 7 Media with Chris Frisby ’96. “At the time DVD was high technology, and we pushed what DVDs could do beyond what I’ve seen anyone else do,” he said. “That was both technically fulfilling and also creatively fulfilling.”
After Frisby left Blue 7 for law school, Williams took a job with PlayStation. “That’s where I got the programming bug,” he said. “I went from being a critic to creative, and creativity got turned into programming. As I got older, my nostalgia increased.” From there, LEDSEQ and Game Frame were born.
Williams, who lives in San Francisco with his wife, Abra ’97, and two children, personally built the first run of 700 Game Frames. He hopes to outsource the labor in the future to keep up with demand.
He says sometimes success means chasing your dreams and not worrying about your limitations. “I didn’t do any kind of engineering curriculum, but I came up through the liberal arts and then just kept following my interests,” he said. “I was able to have a lot of my interests tie together and make something. That was very, very fulfilling.”