In the last post in this series, we met Mélanie of Second Gear Games.
Now, we will meet the ladies with “the first female owned and run video game studio in Canada” – Silicon Sisters Interactive! They have developed a game for young teens called School26, which you can learn more about in this interview.
What is School26 and how did you come up with the idea for it?
Brenda Gershkovitch, CEO, Silicon Sisters: May 6 2010. I was at the Vancouver Video Game conference listening to Bill Mooney, VP of Zynga talk about video games. Zynga brought the world “Farmville” among other Facebook games, and was rumored to be valued higher than EA. The newcomer had overtaken the old guard, and I was listening closely.
Mooney said “games are about us playing out our fantasies,” and I found myself thinking of the games I’d made. Three Major league baseball games. Racing hot cars on the streets of Hong Kong. A physics game. None of these things were my fantasies. They were the fantasies of the predominant people in the games industry, they were male fantasies. What about female fantasy?
Silicon Sisters Interactive (www.siliconsisters.ca) was formed to do just that – to create high quality games targeted to the female audience. Games that are about more than shopping and fashion, but are truly aspirational, the female equivalent to sports games and racing games and shooters.
Our first game, School 26, is built for tween girls. There are so few high quality games built for that audience that we really wanted to create a quality offering there. The game focuses on the soft skills that are so important to how women and girls operate: negotiation, problem solving, and enhancing relationships. We wanted to build a game where you used those types of skills to win, and School26 delivered. There is a free to play version and a paid version available on Android Market for devices running 2.0 and up.
How did you learn what you needed to know to develop the game? (question edited)
Felicity Herst, Programmer, Silicon Sisters: I studied Computer Science at university where I learned the theoretical principles of software engineering, but not specifically how to program games. Even if I had studied game programming, Android didn’t exist 4 years ago when I was at school so I essentially had to teach myself on the job! The internet and other programmers have been a great resource for learning how to develop on Android.
Did you publish your app for Android first, or for another platform? Why did you choose to market it to Android users?
Felicity Herst: We released our first Android version at the same time as an iPhone and iPad version, having developed for both platforms simultaneously. School 26 is a casual mobile game so it made sense to have it on as many smartphones as possible. More recently we’ve noticed that Android is becoming pretty popular with School 26’s target audience of young teen girls, especially in Asia. And interestingly, our second biggest market is Saudi Arabia.
How have you reached out to your target audience to tell them about the game? Have you gotten a good response?
Brenda Gershokovitch: Silicon Sisters has a great press agent, and we’ve done exceptionally well in receiving press coverage. We’ve done interviews for new sites, blogs, and magazines all over the world including well known media sites such as the Guardian online, NPR, Elle magazine, and many of the gaming blogs like Kotaku and IGN. We were extremely fortunate to have been featured by Google on the Android market, which provided great exposure for the game.
As a female app creator, what is your overall impression of the app “world” as a whole – do you feel like a minority?
Felicity Herst: Having worked on big console videogames before this I’m used to being a minority, the only female in the room etc. I find the app world is somewhat similar but it’s easier to teach yourself and get into than the traditional game industry. Most of the Android programmers I know are men but I’ve been meeting more and more women who want to start making their own hobby apps or who have already released something, which is really cool.
The app scene is also a very diverse place where you can make anything you want and put it up on the Android Market, so I think that’s a great opportunity for minorities to express themselves by making something unique and personal. I try to make games that I would like to play myself, and since I’m female, that definitely impacts the type of thing I design and develop. That’s actually the goal of our game studio – women designing games specifically for girls and women.
Lauren Wood, Senior Game Designer, Silicon Sisters: Do I feel like a minority? Not at all. On the contrary, coming from the console world in which I struggled to find games that I truly connected with (as opposed to my male counterparts for whom the fourth quarter of the year was a time to take days off work to cope with the flood of male-oriented titles coming on the market), I find that there are a great number of mobile gaming apps that pique my interest. It’s an excitement that I recall from a childhood of gaming when game design was not too bloated with cinematic presentation, sprawling 3D worlds, endless dialogue and the requirement for 50+ hours of gameplay.
It’s not to say that women don’t engage with those experiences (I’m the world’s biggest Zelda fan!) but more often we’re wanting something that fits in with our lives – that is, typically something short and sweet with an intellectual edge or built-in social experience that fits into our commute or into our kids’ nap times. The mobile format has allowed us to escape the embellishments of the console era and brought well-crafted gameplay back into focus. I find that is advantageous to female users, who will find a great number of mobile titles accessible and interesting to them. As a developer, of course, this opens up our market too.
Does that impact what & how you design/develop your ideas?
Lauren Wood: Definitely. It’s almost a case of “anything goes”! If you can imagine a nugget of something that is compelling (for male or female users), you can develop a neat little feature out of it. The bite-sized nature of apps for the mobile platform allows developers to do a lot of R&D right now. It’s a great way of testing out groundwork for something larger further down the line at a fraction of the cost. It ultimately makes for better titles in the long run. You can’t really do that in the console market – one bad title and your franchise is toast!
How do other people react when they find out you have an app in the Android Market?
Lauren Wood: They think it’s cool. Other developers are usually interested in the technicalities of publishing, whereas non-developers tend to ask “What’s Android?” or ask about the app’s content or what specifically my job is. Generally speaking, the fact that it’s out there is met with a thumbs-up.
It’s exciting to be part of a community still sussing this thing out and paving the way for others to join in. And it’s always a kick to represent your industry to those who are being introduced to it for the first time and spread the word.
Do you have any advice for other women that have Android app ideas and are considering designing and/or developing an app?
Lauren Wood: You just never know what is going to stick in this market, so keep an open mind. Look at the app charts and marvel at the weird and wonderful array of brilliance and nonsense that people are buying. Try things out, don’t be afraid to follow a crazy idea. This is a great time to get creative and see some rewards for your efforts. Social media is key to promotion, which is something women are great at and can be used to great effect, so use it!
Felicity Herst: Jump right in! Don’t be intimidated or think you need somebody else to help you build your app idea. There are some great tools and examples out there to get you started regardless of whether you already know how to code, and the online Android community is an amazing resource to ask questions and learn from. Try out Google App Inventor, or PhoneGap if you already know how to build a website. Google some free tutorials and start making something! It’s the best way to learn. Before you know it you’ll be publishing to the Market
So, we know about your team and your app, but we can’t help wondering, what’s behind the name “Silicon Sisters”?
Silicon Sisters is a bit of a play on words. Silicon is the chemical element that allows computers to run so quickly. Without it, we’d still be working on giant mainframes taking weeks to process simple requests. Silicon also makes us think of Silicon Valley, the hotbed of computer talent that birthed the modern era of computing, home to Hewlett Packard, Xerox/ PARC, Adobe, Apple, Yahoo, Palm, Google, etc. However, when we put the word “sister” close to the word Silicon, people automatically transform it into the word Silicone, the product used for breast implants. Why is that? Are we completely unable to think of women and computers in the same sentence? I just found it a fun way to poke fun at the technology gap. And no, none of us are enhanced in any way!
Where can we find more information about you & your app? Any last “plugs” you want to share?
Brenda Gershkovitch: School26 is available broadly now. Both the free to play and the paid version are on Android market, and available on Amazon.com for download on Android devices, including an HD version for Kindle Fire. The game is being released as we speak for PC and MAC through Oberon Media, and is available on iTunes for iTouch, iPad and iPhone as well.
To those of you reading this interview, please support Silicon Sisters and check out the School 26 game in the Android Market, then come back and tell us and her what you think! If you are interested in becoming a developer and have any other questions for Kirsten, Lauren, Brenda, and Felicity, please comment below!