Mobile Mavens: Games For Women, By Women
Women make up 53% of the mobile gaming market. But before Sharon and Kat Wood of Stone Creek Entertainment, less than 5% of games were tailored to them. The Wood women have now taken years of female-focused psychological and biological research and used it to create games that appeal to a broad spectrum of women in a way that traditional games just don’t. Their newest game, Karizmac Luminous, launched on June 30 and is now available on iTunes.
This mother-daughter team sat down with the Daily Muse and gave us an inside look at the science behind their games and the secrets to their success working as a mother-daughter team.
What inspired you to create games tailored to women?
SW: After working in the video game sector for roughly 15 years, I fell in love with how immersive and engaging games were for young men. They’re so thoughtful with the games they play. It made me curious to see if I could find games that would engage female players just as deeply.
Traditional video game makers are successful because they really understand why their target audience wants to play their games. They understand what triggers to include that’ll lead users to advance through the games. But no one I knew had devoted themselves to thinking that way about women.
We noticed, too, a trend where a lot of young girls played console games like Nintendo or Sega—but by age 13, they become distracted by being a teenager and stop playing. Young women would fall out of the gaming category because there were no games to hold their interest.
KW: I didn’t decide to come on full-time until this past February. I first started working with my mom after school, when she used me and my friends for her case studies. I fit the mold that my mom was trying to create games for: I played a lot of games as a child, but around age 13 stopped and switched to things like Instant Messenger.
What types of research did you do to inform the creation of your games?
SW: When we set out, I did a deep dive into the psychology of women and how we’re different from men. We wanted games that reflected things that women do or wish they could do in their lives. To achieve that, I needed to understand our audience by taking a holistic view of women psychologically, culturally, biologically, and mythologically.
One great resource for my research was The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizandine, which explains everything from how we operate and why we think the way we do to how we change as we age and how we’re different from men. We also did a great deal of focus testing with a wide variety of women.
KW: I’m constantly researching every time I go out with friends on weekends. Gaming has truly worked its way into the way we socialize. We used to play card and board games. Now we’ve moved on to things like Angry Birds or iPhone air hockey. I’ve had a friend send me a Words with Friends request while we’re sitting across the bar from each other. It’s exciting to see how much has changed and to watch its impact on my friends and me.
Some women might get turned off at the idea of video games. Why do you think that is?
SW: A common stereotype associated with video games is an image of a teenage boy alone in a dark room still playing World of Warcraft at 5 AM. Most women would never utter a phrase like, “I never heard you tell me to take out the garbage because I was so swept up in my game.” Most women simply do not consider themselves gamers. Even if a woman has 25 game apps on her iPhone, she’ll tell you she doesn’t play games, but she does!
What’s really exciting about creating games like this in this era is that you don’t have to devote 15 hours to a game to get one level up. Mobile games cater to women’s busy lives. Instead you can enjoy a game with whatever time you have, whether you’re in line at the grocery store or in the car waiting to pick someone up. Whatever amount of time you may have, you can pick up a game to play then go back to what you were doing.
What factors separate games created for women as opposed to for men?
SW: In general, games encompass the themes of fantasy and lifestyle; for men, these tend to be sports or adventure games. A man may have to save the princess by finding the key under the rock after killing the gnome and slaying the dragon. It’s one part fantasy and one part lifestyle in context: men understand that in life, they have to get out there, command their space, and “slay some dragons” to get ahead.
Women are biologically, psychologically, and socially different than men. Opinion-seeking, in particular, is a trait dominant with women. A woman will ask five different friends for their opinion on a dress before buying it—men don’t necessarily do that.
KW: Men look at a video game like a 6-course “digital meal,” something they plan to devote a huge chunk of their time to. Women look at gaming as a short break—we call it a “game snack.” Women tend to think of gaming as a small treat whereas men think, “This is the rest of my evening. I’m not moving.”
Was there anything in your findings that surprised you?
SW: One great yet surprising lesson for me came when we were testing a racing game with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon. While he was playing the game he said, “I can’t feel it in my butt.” He said when he was playing a really good racing game, he could feel it in his rear just the way he can when he’s racing in Nasser.
I had never thought of gaming like that, but it’s true. For a game to really be good, the user must be able to lose himself or herself in it. We call that “the magic,” and it means the game has reached you visually, emotionally, and, in some cases, physically as you press the controls. It is always interesting to see which games can and can’t achieve “the magic.”
What types of challenges did you experience in creating games for women?
SW: Trying to find “the magic” is one of the reasons it’s so hard to create a hit game. Other parts of the entertainment industry are passive: you watch something and you either like it or you don’t. Because gaming is a tactile experience, you really feel it. We try to figure out what in a game will engage the mind, body, and soul of the user—and it isn’t that easy.
When we published the Karizmac Luminous predecessor, Women Lead the World, we didn’t hit it out of the park. We realized in dealing with women’s opinions, there should not be a “no match” answer. We were then able to adjust that with Karizmac Luminous by adding the “Yes or No” questions and delivering feedback regardless of the user’s choice.
Do you tailor games to women within specific walks of life?
SW: Not necessarily. While we come from very different generations, we can still relate to the same types of things. For men, there is a 13-34-year-old sweet spot where they play with a 19-year-old psyche. In the same way, there is a gaming mentality that encompasses women. Women from different generations can find the same game interesting, it just might be for different reasons.
Karizmac Luminous asks for your opinion and provides feedback about the personality trait contributing to your response as well as about other women who have made a similar decision. We’ve noticed that different elements within the game are engaging to different women.
A 50-year-old jewelry designer liked to know what other women made decisions similarly to her. Her daughter, a 29-year-old lawyer, didn’t care about the feedback about other women but enjoyed the personality trait insights because she wanted to understand herself more. One 13-year-old girl was only concerned with what other women were doing, while her mother found the personality trait insights more interesting. Within one game, you can run a spectrum. That’s the beauty of games: they’re meaningful to different people in different ways.
The thought of working as a mother-daughter team is not something that everyone could do. How do you two manage that working relationship?
SW: When they find out I work with my daughter, a lot of people say, “Oh God, I would never want to do that.” We’ve even had investors tell us mother-daughter teams just don’t work.
We are a great yin and yang for each other. She’s definitely more fun and is able to think more youthfully, which is really important for creating games. Her creativity and ability to visualize is really helpful. Kat added the Charisma Map that charts personality traits. In Karizmac Luminous, that visual element is what makes the app so special.
KW: We’re a good team and bouncing ideas off each other results in solid game concepts. She keeps the games relevant to the lifestyles of our audience and I keep it interesting and light.
What advice do you have for our readers as they set out?
KW: Determine what your goal is for doing your job. Once you’ve figured that out, you can see whether the people around you are working toward that same end. We and the rest of the team have the same goals and have a mutual understanding of responsibility—but if you don’t, it’s harder to see eye to eye and feel like a team.
SW: Most companies don’t work when there’s no respect inside. They may have the tools, but without respect, any company will be dysfunctional. Working in the creative arena, it’s also essential to accept and embrace the concept that a good idea can come from anywhere.
Photos courtesy of Sharon and Kat Wood, and Arvind Balaraman.
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