• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Game-changing Educational Gaming by a Mom Entrepreneur

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Can a first person game teach you creativity and cooperation? 

By Allison Huynh (Founder & CEO, MyDream Interactive)

As the founder of MyDream, we recently launched a Kickstarter, and received over a quarter of the goal funds within a few hours of pushing live. This validated that a powerful game can be created by people of either gender and a great game… is a great game, regardless of who’s spinning the back wheels. The numbers speak for themselves: 100+ backers in a quick time period. Surprisingly, over 75% of our backers are men and it appears they do want a new genre style of 3D games, with a focus on creativity and cooperation. It’s not just women who crave more a positive learning environment; it is also the men and boys.

A New Style of Game

With a background in engineering and design, working at Willow Garages, Silicon Valley, I focused on creating a new style of game that’s intentionally designed with an educational focus but appeals to users of all ages. For many startups, the initial objective versus what’s launched to the public can change over time. As we discovered, it’s a case of maintaining the essence and passion of what you set out to achieve yet adapt to the audience and grow with them.

Creating the concept for MyDream was based on assessing the industry landscape, barrier to entry and bringing in excellent players who are top of their game. Throughout this journey, I encountered many hurdles as a founder and mother. Two stereotypical (perceived) hurdles we had to overcome for our game to be successful were that users expect 3D games to have a heavy focus on violence, which then, notoriously, attracts a small demographic.

With so many games promoting ‘murder simulators,’ as a mother I was concerned about this impact to my kids as they grow up. Will it boost a whole generation of young people, believing killing simulations are normal? I also wonder whether male CEOs and founders of major gaming companies think about these issues? Do these questions ever come up in the board room? What about the untapped market who’d appreciate an immersive, interactive 3D environment, without the violence?

The Many Downsides to Violence in Games

We challenged the conventional wisdom and designed a game that appealed to the masses, hoping that parents find it as fun as kids do! When you’re creating a new game, potential users will line you up with competitors like Myst, played by kids and adults alike. Then there’s Sims that has zero violence and inspires creativity. Looking at past trends and the scope to promote creativity, it made good business sense to focus on a positive gaming realm versus the violent games with a smaller user scope.

One of my heroes is Kellee Santiago, co-founder of Thatgamecompany and the Indie Fund. Her award-winning games include Journey and Flower. Both show that you can produce current 3D games that promote positive attributes such as cooperation and empathy. Both became instant hits in the indie community and drove my vision to also focus on cooperation and creativity as paramount to attract the mainstream.

The Juggling Act

Excelling in both your business and personal life can be quite hard, but passion speaks volumes. When there is passion, it’s a huge driving force. Nevertheless, I certainly did not have all the skills needed to run the business when I started out two years ago. I had many steep learning curves, including understanding the culture of game developers and sourcing industry contacts. This came over time, purely through my enthusiasm attracting good people around us. It was also really hard raising money so I had to recruit top engineers and designers and show the concept to hundreds of investors. Finding good engineers to come on board with a game that had over 1 million lines of code and editable graphics was also tough; only a very few know how to tackle this complexity.

Over the past two years, I realized the key to growth is through finding and working with a supportive community and team. Bringing in experts in their own field helped drive ambition and ownership, and I learned how to fine-tune my balance between leading and knowing when to step aside. Pioneering innovation and networking in a traditional “good old boys” industry, and knowing there are other female entrepreneurs doing the same, has miraculously made this long and arduous road more “doable” and less isolating.

What do you think could be done to attract more women and girls into the game-developing world?

allisonheadshotAbout the writer: Allison is a first time founder and CEO of MyDream Interactive. Previously, she was one of the main principals at Willow Garage think-tank. Two award winning projects Willow Garage incubated were the point cloud based library (PCL) and the robotic operating system (ROS).