Starting Up as a Women of a Certain Age

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Are startups a young person's game? Not always, says this founder who made the transition from corporate employee to founder a little later in life.  By Wendy Carmical (Chief Creative, Kissappgames)

I’m an artist and producer with a background in games and entertainment products and I haven’t seen 27 for many years. Like many in these foul times, I was laid off from a great gig at a book publisher and had to start the whole job search journey-to-the-depths-of-the-human-soul thing. After the job ended, I did what every recently jobless American does and assessed the current market. That’s when I discovered that casual gaming was exploding. First I looked for work in that field, but without recent experience with games – my last position being a PM making books and toys - I was unsuccessful.

Even though I had a hard time making the case in interviews, I knew that I could make casual games. To be honest, I even thought it would be easy. With my years of experience in game development and product management, it should be possible to create games for mobile platforms on a shoestring budget. Turns out it was—but just barely!

Starting Up

It's important when working for free that you like the idea. I chose to develop Glass Ceiling -- which features our hero Moxie fighting her way up the corporate ladder by battling backstabbing co-workers, bad bosses, etc. -- because it appealed to my sense of humor, it was something I probably wouldn’t get approved in a normal corporate environment and the idea might be commercially viable because a large number of casual gamers are women.

I knew I didn’t have the programming chops, resources or sanity to create the game on my own, so I teamed up with friends Maura Sparks and Andy Green to make Glass Ceiling. Andy is a top-notch programmer and wanted to make a game engine. Maura managed business issues and production. The look, design and concept are mine. Andy and I figured out how to make it work together. Jason McKinnon kindly composed an awesome soundtrack.

We bootstrapped and used our own money to begin with, and when that ran out we looked into crowdfunding and raised about $7K through AppBackr. That was great, but production ran long. One of us suffered a major health issue delaying release to the point that our backers were suggesting they call in their chips. The unrelenting stress to finish the project impacts everyone in your life. Everyone just wants the game to be done.

On the brighter side the experience allowed me to meet and network with some great people and talk to them as colleagues. As a founder of something you are invited into more business discussions and gain industry insight about who gets funded and why, and how the money side of things work. I even picked up some coding when I did the level design.

Looking Back

Biggest lesson: everything is work. Raising money requires sustained effort, contacting and asking friends and colleagues for support. Game design requires testing, feedback and trying out options. Marketing doesn’t just happen, you need a plan of action and follow through.

Now that Glass Ceiling is finished and on the AppStore the madness has slowed a bit, so what’s next? We have created a company Kissappgames to make games for women. To be a successful mobile game developer you have to keep working. We will keep building our brand, tuning Glass Ceiling gameplay, and are releasing a free version soon. It’s a funny business. I wouldn’t have thought that we could earn more giving it away. But our second game Bad Boyfriends (free) has proved that is true.

Looking back on all I’ve learned making mobile games, I figure I’m about three quarters of the way to having an MBA. Doing anything with little or no money is hard. Now I know what to expect so the unpredictable nature of the biz will be tempered by experience. If I had really known how difficult it was going to be and for how long, I doubt I’d have in jumped in so readily.

However, that said. I’m glad I did.

What are the advantages of starting up with a few more years under your belt?

WendyCarmicalAbout the guest blogger: Wendy Carmical is the Chief Creative at Kissappgames. She started working in the games industry on an Amiga and has credits on Myst, Carmen Sandiego, Prince of Persia and Print Shop. She also worked for Purplemoon. Currently she manages game production for a mobile app developer and continues to support Kissappgames.