Just two weeks ago, Los Angeles studio Nix Hydra got $5 million in funding
for mobile games for women. It's not the first "for women, by women" studio, and it's also far from the only mobile studio that aims for a female audience -- but what makes Nix Hydra stand out is that its founders started experimenting with development because of their own dissatisfaction with the games they saw.
Mobile Experiments Lead to a Hit
Lina Chen and Naomi Ladizinsky studied digital media together at Yale -- their university projects are "really embarrassing," says Ladizinsky, with a laugh -- and, after graduating, headed to Los Angeles. They ended up roommates, and though they didn't found a company right away, they naturally began to pursue game creation out of frustration.
"While we were living together, we started thinking about mobile gaming a lot more, and we wanted to try our hand at making something we would enjoy -- because there weren't a lot of options for us at that time. So we started with ActionScript and HTML5, and made a Flash prototype," Ladizinsky says.
Chen and Ladizinsky
"The problem with a lot of pet games was that they were just so simplistic... Nothing would ever happen with it."
Those experiments culminated in Egg Baby
-- a virtual pet game that has been downloaded over 9 million times on mobile with no marketing. The pair launched a minimum viable product -- which blew up. "We wanted to see what people's general initial reactions would be, but then people started to tell each other about it, and from there it grew really, really quickly," Chen says. That's what led directly to the $5 million investment.
Making Egg Baby
was no accident, however. "Before we made Egg Baby
, we looked at the market. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of pet games," says Chen. "We didn't really love any of them, so we made our own."
"The problem with a lot of pet games was that they were just so simplistic," Ladizinsky says. "There wasn't a lot going on there. There was no choice. You'd go in, you'd see it, and if you went back months later it would be okay. Nothing would ever happen with it."
Grand Ambitions Hatched from an EggEgg Baby
"actually looks pretty simple," Chen concedes, and the team is admittedly still working toward executing its original vision for the game -- "we launched the bare bones minimum version of what it could be like" -- which the funding will obviously help. "It's still not done, but it will be sometime this year," she says.
But the studio's ambitions are grander. The two are interested in exploring "depth in choice, and depth in character and world," Chen says.
"When we were younger, we played a lot with stuffed animals, dolls, other kids. We would make up worlds, rules, interactions between different characters -- that's the kind of stuff that we think is not very well represented in gaming," says Ladizinsky.
"The way we approach gaming is the same way that you approach making a dollhouse or a playset -- we want to give people a lot of complexity of choice, and want to give people a lot of characters and options for different kinds of consequence. We don't want to make games that are one pathway, and you are judged on how you do one pathway, but that allow you to go on multiple pathways."
"Interactive simulations," suggests Chen.
" One of the big things that we're interested in is the idea of exploring your identity."
"One of the big things that we're interested in is the idea of exploring your identity, and being able to explore different facets of your self, and interact with different things -- and being able to start over and try again, and just see the way you interact with things changes things. And maybe it's not your favorite way to do it, but you can start over and try again."
Still, the young studio has a way to go before it reaches its ultimate goals: "We were interested in storytelling, and we were interested in interaction, and we've always been interested in those things. But going all the way to making rules and making games, that's something that we're still working on," says Ladizinsky.
A Different Perspective Leads to Different Games
It's not that the two don't enjoy any games on the market. "There are a lot of things we've seen in games over time and they show up sort of rarely, that we definitely want to focus on," Ladizinsky says.
The fact of the matter, says Ladizinsky, is that while a lot of studios have recognized they have large female audiences -- casual game companies trumpet it all the time -- they're not fundamentally rethinking how they make games when creating titles for those audiences.
" When you're making something because you heard your audience likes it, you're relying on stereotypes or assumptions."
"There's a really strong cultural representation what it means to be someone who plays video games, and that's changing a lot now -- but it has definitely has shaped a lot of people who are still making video games," she says.
"There's just so much more depth to something when it's made from a place of true appreciation and understanding than 'I heard you like this.' When you're making something because you heard your audience likes it, you're relying on stereotypes or assumptions, and you don't produce a complex product with a depth of understanding."
"You can always mimic something, but it's hard to get any sort of change or new ideas if you're just mimicking."
"We just come with a different perspective," Chen says. And they'll use that perspective to create "games that we particularly wanted to play," she says.