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Case of the Pioneering Game Company
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
December 3, 2006.
Once upon a time,
computer gaming was looked at as a boy’s activity. Games were made by men,
targeted to men and featured mostly men. Or if it was
about a woman, she was a
sexy cartoon of a woman trying to out-macho the
It occurred to Megan
Gaiser that this was writing off a huge chunk of the potential game-buying
market. Gaiser was a producer of documentary and educational films who
decided to leap into the interactive market when the opportunity presented
itself, becoming the Creative Director of a new Seattle-based company called
Her Interactive in the late 90s.
“We are the pioneers
of games targeted towards female play preferences,” Gaiser explains. “We
had no competition at the time.”
Interactive may have been a new company, going after an unproven market, but
they did have one ace up their sleeves. Right before Gaiser signed on, Her
Interactive was able to get the licensing rights to one of the classic
long-running series in girls’ literature –
The Nancy Drew Mysteries.
The series about the
intrepid teen sleuth was created in 1930 and has since spawned well over a
hundred books, all written under the
nom de plume
Carolyn Keene. Only
sixteen years old, Nancy works with her friends George and Bess and with her
boyfriend Ned to solve mysteries. She is also aided by her father, a
The possibility of
working with these classic characters appealed to Gaiser, who used to read
the series herself as a girl. “Nancy Drew represents all those
characteristics we aspire to. She’s smart, gutsy and resourceful. In the
end, she gets the job done!”
Of course, this was
also a huge responsibility. Nancy is a pretty iconic character in
There were big
decisions to make. How important is it to the designers to stay true to her
character from the books? How do
shake it up a bit? Will the stories come from the books, or will they make
original ideas? It quickly was evident that it must be a melding of all of
“We start with the
books as inspiration,” Gaiser explains. “We change the plots and some
characters so that if you read the book, you’d never be able to solve the
The ideas worked out
even better than they imagined. When the series started, it was a
getting family friendly, mostly non-violent games out there in a computer
gaming world which is dominated by the likes of
Grand Theft Auto
However, less than a decade later, the company and the series are a huge
success and Gaiser is now CEO of the company.
“It was very
difficult at first in 1999,” Geiser acknowledges.
refused shelf space because the prevailing wisdom was that females were
computer phobic. Once we proved them wrong by successfully selling on
Amazon, our Nancy
were welcomed into retail. The
series is the number one PC adventure franchise in
units, outselling Harry Potter,
Lord of the Rings
for the third consecutive year!”
years and fifteen games later, the series is going strong. The latest two
of the series to be released are
Danger by Design
and The Creature of Kapu Cave.
Like the original book series, the games take place in a variety of exotic
locales – Danger by Design
takes place in the
Paris fashion scene and Kapu Cave
is set in beautiful Hawaii.
“The location is definitely a vital part of the game series,” Gaiser says.
“It’s great source material to develop mysteries, intrigue and puzzles. For
our Lead Designer used Paris and France as a backdrop for several puzzles
such as the metro code, translating French words, parfait production,
escaping from catacombs police, etc. Capturing the feeling of the
environment is very important to get right in order to immerse the player
into the experience and mystery. Our art and production team do a lot of
research to be as accurate as possible. Not only do we use visual aspects
to describe an environment but aural cues as well. For example, in
Danger by Design,
we used sounds that you commonly hear in Paris: the street cleaners, the
garbage trucks, the klaxon of the ambulance, the occasional street
The Creature of Kapu Cave,
the game is also
spiced up by an appearance by two of Nancy’s compatriots in crime-solving,
The Hardy Boys. Created and owned by the same people in the 1930s,
The Hardy Boys
and Nancy Drew
have since shared TV
series and books. So it just seemed natural that they might work together
well in a game.
“The role of the Hardy Boys in our
series has evolved over the years from phone help friends, to supporting
animated characters to playable characters in
Creature of Kapu Cave,”
“Each introduction has been contentious, with some players worried that the
‘boys’ could overshadow Nancy’s role in the adventure. However, the
majority of users enjoy the Hardy Boys as partners in solving crimes.
Ultimately, though, we need to keep things fresh in the series, and we do
so by mixing up the characters that support Nancy in her investigations.
Right now, the Hardy Boys are on hold and we’re bringing back old standbys
such as Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned.”
there won’t be a
series in the future?
“I’m sure there will
be a Hardy Boys
series, but not from Her Interactive,” Gaiser states.
is fine, the company is more than busy keeping their franchise series
interesting and exciting as there are more and more game ideas in the
works. The company also promotes other original series of mystery games
through their website, including
Thorn and Fone Bone, Sleuth
Delaware St. John.
continually ask our advisory Board of 50 girls and women what’s working and
what’s not,” Gaiser explains. “Our PD team and marketing also work together
to brainstorm ideas with each game. It’s a collaborative effort.” The
company is also delving into new types of media.
“We are branching out in several directions.
We are porting our games to DVD games, distributing our games digitally as
well as in stores and also creating a
Her Interactive’s series are mysteries, a form which Gaiser feels lends
itself to computer gaming.
loves a mystery because it usually involves a rich story, strong character
development, and intriguing locations,” she says. “It’s also a much
different metaphor from most games that are dependent on reflex speed or
mastering complex rules.”
In some ways in the
brave new world of
entertainment choices, video gaming is sort of replacing reading for
a generation of children. Does Gaiser consider games to be interactive
“Some games yes,” Gaiser allows.
“Gaming is an art form. The games we create tell a cultural story and
this medium like all mediums, will impact our generations and future
generations. We have an opportunity to shape the quality and the values of
the culture we live in. I look forward to seeing many more inspiring games
with female role models.”
So, how does she feel
about being a female role model?
I am proud to be a female CEO because it underscores the fact that females
are making a difference in all aspects of the gaming industry – management,
artists, game designers, customers, et al. We are currently at the tip of
the iceberg when it comes to the potential for interactive entertainment and
content for women, and the coming years promise to be an extremely exciting
time for us.
because the adventures are targeted to girls, it doesn’t mean that women are
the only audience that the company seeks or deserves.
“Our goal is to
create great games. Our core expertise is storytelling and targeting female
play preferences. We believe that this formula will also appeal to boys and
men. Currently 10-15% of our audience is male and if the name of the series
weren’t Nancy Drew,
we believe we would have many more boys and men playing our games.” Also,
like the games, the company is not made up of just one type of person.
“Many people think that Her Interactive is made up of all women. We look
for the best talent and as it turns out, we are 50% female, 50% male.”
Still, Her Interactive has
found a very attractive niche in the computer gaming world and they will
ride the wave as far as it will take them.
“It’s taken awhile
for publishers and developers to realize how lucrative the female market
is,” Gaiser says. “Today, there are many developers working to create games
for this audience. The Her Interactive team has helped debunk the myth that
women/girls are technophobes and are uninterested in computer gaming. With
the success of our Nancy Drew
PC game series; we have proven beyond a doubt that there is a significant
and vibrant market for females. We have sold four million total units to
date and received thirteen consecutive Parent’s Choice Gold Medal awards for
quality. In all, I feel Her Interactive has helped carve the initial
footprint for games that are targeted to female play preferences.”
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