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Kim Kardashian game points to underserved audience

Silicon Sisters CEO says hit proves a huge market for women's games, but she might not stick around the industry to reach it

Long before Glu Mobile produced a mega-hit with Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the celebrity license was being shopped around to other developers. One such developer was Vancouver-based Silicon Sisters, a studio created specifically to create compelling games for girls and women.

Silicon Sisters CEO Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch told GamesIndustry.biz last week that the developer turned down the opportunity for two reasons.

"Sadly, most people in a decision-making capacity in business are not making decisions about doing the right thing; they're making decisions about the bottom line."

"At that time they were pitching it as a Facebook game, and I couldn't see how that would happen, what it would look like and how you would create a game with that brand," Gershkovitch said. "It was tricky for a couple reasons. One, my studio is really about high-quality games that are positive for girls, which presented a challenge in terms of who Kim Kardashian was and whether that would be a positive experience. At the time, what she was known for was that sex tape. So there was some question about brand match. The other issue was that we couldn't figure out what the fantasy was."

In the years that followed, Kardashian's celebrity evolved, Facebook gaming gave way to mobile, and Glu figured out the fantasy. Next week at the Montreal International Game Summit, Gershkovitch will present a talk examining exactly what Glu did right (and could have done better) with its game, and the considerable impact it's had on the industry.

"I think it's cracked open a new, important door," she said. "Whether or not you like that door, it's a game-changer."

For studios like Silicon Sisters, developers that are specifically trying to raise the bar for games aimed at girls and women, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is providing them with a critical tool when it comes to achieving their goals: an over-the-top success suggesting that there really is a lucrative, underserved market in need of addressing.

Silicon Sisters' School 26 asks players to solve their classmates' problems using empathy.

"Without that, you're just arguing for people to do the right thing," Gershkovitch said. "And that's not very motivating. Sadly, most people in a decision-making capacity in business are not making decisions about doing the right thing; they're making decisions about the bottom line... Speaking as a business person, I can tell you that's a much more powerful argument than, 'We make better quality games for girls because it's the right thing to do.'"

Gershkovitch said her goal with the MIGS talk is to convince people that there's an opportunity there, that gaming aimed at women and girls is a market that should be aggressively pursued right now, especially if Silicon Sisters' experience is any indicator. Gershkovitch said that the company has been contacted by external companies "a lot more" since Kim Kardashian: Hollywood hit it big.

"I've thought about leaving games. I've found the struggle a bit much."

That interest hasn't led to any new projects because, as Gershkovitch explained, the studio is "not looking for a property right now." It already runs two games--School 26, an empathy-driven game about a magical girl who's new to her school, and Everlove, a narrative romance game for women with a feminist twist--and Gershkovitch doesn't seem to have the bandwidth for much more.

"I don't know how long we'll stay in this space," Gershkovitch said. "I've thought about leaving games. I've found the struggle a bit much. I think what happens is for about six years now, I've been talking about women in games, women in games, women in games and changing the space. But you can only say the same thing for so long before it gets really dull."

Gershkovitch founded Silicon Sisters along with studio COO Kirsten Forbes in 2010. The pair had been inspired to start the studio after their previous experiences in game development, Gershkovitch as a managing partner at Deep Fried Entertainment (Full Auto 2: Battlelines, MLB 2K8: Fantasy All-Stars) and Forbes as an executive producer at Radical Entertainment (CSI: Miami, Crash of the Titans).

"During my experience at Deep Fried when I was building sports games and running a studio, I was really unimpressed by the quality of product that was being delivered for girls, and continually ran into the reality that at that time, any [game] for girls was given short shrift," Gershkovitch said. "Smaller budgets, smaller teams. There was a lot of 'pink it and shrink it' going on."

"If you look at the numbers of women gaming, we still haven't even come close to properly serving that market. But we're moving in the right direction."

At the time, she was frustrated at seeing the quality of games marketed to her daughter compared to those aimed at her sons. Fortunately, she thinks the gap has become smaller in the intervening years.

"I really do think there has been improvement," Gershkovitch said. "And we're doing a better job in mainstream gaming including options for women and girls, so that's important too. The indie scene has really addressed this to some degree, but I think also in mainstream games and the core world, we're seeing an effort being made to include the female audience in a way they previous hadn't... If you look at the numbers of women gaming, we still haven't even come close to properly serving that market. But we're moving in the right direction."

Even so, that progress might not be enough to keep Gershkovitch in gaming.

"It's taxing when you lay down so much effort to make change," she explained. "And even if you do see some change happening, you're still pooped."

Gershkovitch will give her talk at MIGS 2015 Tuesday, November 17 at 3 p.m.

Full disclosure: MIGS has a media partnership with GamesIndustry.biz, and will be paying for our travel and accommodation during the event.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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