SPRING VALLEY — Is Spring Valley the new Silicon Valley? Probably not, but that's not stopping five brothers from going all-in with their startup tech company.
The company, Noble Bros, consists of Philip, Thomas, John, James and Andrew Engesser. Their app, Spoons Buzz, has gotten a strong response from its users.
All eight of the Engesser children were raised in Spring Valley and home-schooled with a curriculum that featured a lot of faith-based activities, said their mother, Mary Whalen.
Whalen said her children learned at a young age how to work hard by way of their jobs as newspaper carriers for the Post Bulletin. At mention of delivering papers, two of the brothers recalled aloud having to deliver 5-pound Black Friday newspapers.
It was the longtime passion of Andrew (at 33 the oldest brother in the company but not in the family) who put the brothers on track to starting their own company.
His interest was mostly in adventure-based games like The Legend of Zelda, and it was the transition of that franchise to three-dimensional graphics that inspired him to take up video game development.
"That really gave me the drive and passion for wanting to pursue the creation of video games," he said of the transition of The Legend of Zelda gameplay from Super Nintendo to Nintendo 64. "It made me realize you could tell a story that people could interact with, and as technology grows it's going to get better and better."
Around the same time he finished his degree in computer science, Andrew said the talents of his younger brothers emerged as the right components for them to start a video gaming company.
"It just kind of all came together," he said.
John, 25, said that his older brother's drawings became the foundation for his artistic career, and is now the artist for Noble Bros. The youngest Engesser in the company is 20-year-old Philip, who's the developer. He started programming as a 14-year-old under the encouragement of his older brother.
John and Phillip are the only members of Noble Bros to put in full-time work over the last two years.
Thomas, 23, pursued a career in audio engineering and handles the audio for Noble Bros. He said that sharing his music "has brought light and purpose" to his life.
Aside from contributing audio, James, 28, has the most unique role. Whalen said that his primary responsibility is that he "spends time every day praying" for the company, game and the success of both.
"We call him our prayer trooper," John Engesser said.
With Spoons Buzz, the brothers wanted to capture the excitement of the classic card game Spoons, which they used to play at family reunions.
"You'd have a crazy amount of us together and people jumping over the table reaching for spoons," said John Engesser. "It was a just a great family game, and our idea was to bring that kind of engagement to online."
From there they developed a prototype, which they thought "wouldn't really go anywhere", said Thomas Engesser. But Spoons Buzz caught on for people quickly after the app officially launched in November.
In the game, grabbing a spoon is as simple as checking the time or a text on your phone. The goal is to answer a buzz with a tap on your phone the fastest, which will earn you the Golden Spoon.
In the description of Spoons Buzz, which is available on Android and iOS devices, it says "be prepared for fierce competition with less than seconds separating the champs from the chumps." But the game is far less intimidating, along with being easy to learn and free to play.
John Engesser said the app has gotten "a lot of positive reception and earned them a little bit of capital." But their point of pride is the retention rate of the game, which he said has been great.
"The fans are really dedicated," he said. "We've had high-schoolers enjoying it and people who're working full-time and people in their late 50s and beyond."
For Phillip Engesser, the attention the app has gotten has made the work worth it. Spoons Buzz has even inspired some internet memes, which the brothers view as another point of pride.
"The fans are the best part," he said. "When you get an email, or someone who talks to you about how they really enjoyed the app or had their life impacted for the better by this game."
The brothers would like to see the number of users of Spoons Buzz increase. Despite positive reviews, the game has fewer than 100 users. It's a new type of game, said John Engesser, so it's hard for some people to get over the hump of learning how it's played.
"But once you do, people get attached to it," he said.
Working as brothers in the confines of the Spring Valley home they grew up in, John Engesser said there are plenty of occasions when they butt heads.
"We are really close, and that allows us to be very critical of each other," he said. "But whenever we have those confrontations, it's over making a better product for the users."
Phillip Engesser said that being critical of each other also brings a lot of honesty to their work, and creates a different environment than what's found in the developer industry.
"People aren't afraid of losing their job or something like that," he said. "Which really allows us to express our opinions and why we think some things are good and why other things are bad."
With Spoons Buzz and whatever they create in the future, the brothers want to set a new standard for video game design and production.
"There's a lot of immaturity in video games today," Thomas Engesser said. "So we'd really like to make a new path for developers to realize they can still have integrity and high moral standards."