It sounds as if you're really excited by the Kinect. Can I ask who your backers are? One does not simply walk into triple-A game development. There is evil there that does not sleep.
BG: We are very interested in the Kinect because it has great potential to reach our target audience on a very deep level. Plus, I believe the audience bought the system on a promise of an experience our industry hasn't fully delivered -- yet. We will deliver that experience!
One of our strategic partners is Whatnot?! Entertainment. Mark Murphy and his team of animators have been working in movies, television, games, and multimedia for years and we're insanely lucky to have them on board. We're exploring various prospects with other backers and, of course, we welcome new opportunities. So far, we've had really excited responses.
Developers are excited by our designs, while business folks are excited by our market opportunity. Our potential ROI is as good as it gets for a new venture on consoles: We have a large, established market with virtually no competition that has been paying a lot, even for substandard games. Fortunately, a few games have proven that serving this audience with great products creates enormously successful franchises.
So the Xbox + Kinect is a certainty... Let's talk about distribution. Women don't go into game stores much, for good reason; but they do shop at less-threatening retail outlets. Triple-A still tends to imply physical copies, at least for the time being. Are you thinking retail, or digital download only?
BG: You are absolutely correct! Most women don't run to their local game store. One of the strategies we are investigating is placement in non-traditional retail outlets that reflect the market for a game. For example, if we were to make a game about cooking (we aren't), you might find a copy of the game available next to recipe books or we may set up an ad display for the game in the kitchenware section of major retailers.
I like that idea, if you can persuade them to do it. What do you think is your biggest hurdle? Apart from sarcastic remarks from old-timers like me?
BG: Well, I don't think there exists in this world a startup that doesn't need more funding!
Pre-launch, our biggest challenge will likely be talent acquisition and retention, because many developers are hardcore gamers who want to make hardcore games. We prioritize work-life balance to attract the growing number of developers who want to make games they can share with their families and significant others.
Post-launch, I expect our greatest challenge will be brand awareness. Traditional game marketing channels won't reach most of our target audience, so we'll be focusing our efforts into new channels that specifically attract our target market.
I have been wondering if games aimed at women would start advertising in media aimed at women -- Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, the Lifetime channel -- or are those all too conventional? I've noticed that games tend to be reviewed in the "guy" section of the newspaper, along with the cars and gadgets.
BG: Absolutely! We advertise kids games in kids' media; of course we should advertise women-targeted games in women-targeted media. In 1993, Sears saw a complete turnaround with it successful "come see the softer side of Sears" campaign targeting middle-income women ages 25-54. They spent millions running ads in women's home and fashion magazines and their commercials premiered during the Emmys, not the Super Bowl.
Going back to my earlier "cooking game" example -- it's a horrible waste of an opportunity if a game like that isn't advertised in cooking magazines or on the Food Network. If I were doing such a game, I'd get Martha Stewart to blog about it and arrange to be a guest on her and Rachel Ray's shows where I'd invite audience members to play quick on-air game sessions with the host.
And one last question. It's a cliché that hiring managers ask you where you want to be in five years, but in the game industry that's too long. When I see you again at GDC 2013, what will you have to tell me?
BG: Most likely, the first thing I'll have to tell you is that I'll be waiting for your RSVP to my wedding...
Next, I'll excitedly launch into details on how well production is going and share with you some of our secrets for successfully building a strong company that maintains a solid work-life balance for its employees.
Most importantly, I'll give you a sneak peek into the future of our industry! We're introducing gaming to an enormous new market of untapped players, and bridging the gap between the grandmother who dabbles in FarmVille and the sister who p0wns noobs in Call of Duty. This creates a dynamic market shift which will compel our industry to focus greater attention on the growing market of female players across the entire gaming spectrum. Welcome to the new world of gaming!
Our discussion ended on a note offering more enthusiasm than hard data. But in the end Brandii convinced me that this isn't just pie in the sky. I like her game design ideas, as much as I know of them. The numbers are there and the consoles are in place. The stupid theories that Brandii quoted -- "women need main characters to have three-letter names" -- seem typical of the ignorant, slapdash way the industry has approached the female market in the past. (Let's not forget the short-lived "pink box" craze of the late '90s.)
I think there is an unmet need for high-quality games that cater to women's interests without requiring them either to be a space marine or a cow clicker, and that respect their intelligence. Brandii is as qualified as anybody to meet it, if she can persuade women to spend the money. I hope she succeeds.
You can reach Brandii Grace at [email protected].