My goal is to get paranormal romance fans to start playing video games.
Not likely, you think? Consider this: the fastest-growing gaming demographic is women 25 and up. These women have become rabid fans of a class of widely-accessible video games known as “casual games” (which include popular games such as Bejeweled, a match-3 puzzle game, and Mystery Case Files, a series in which you search for hidden objects within intricate scenes). Most of these women cite that they play casual games to unwind or escape. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s the same demographic that reads romance novels!
I’ve worked as a producer in the casual gaming industry for almost six years now, and have seen the trend as more and more game developers target their games to a very female audience. Games were mostly gender-neutral six years ago; but now, if you visit a casual gaming site, you’ll notice that themes commonly revolve around princesses, weddings, chocolate, fashion, yoga, etc., and that the games’ protagonists are almost always female. For a couple years, I wondered, “Well then, why hasn’t anyone gone and taken the bold step of making the ultimate female-targeted entertainment? Why hasn’t anyone made a romance game?”
Then, suddenly, I had my chance to make such a game. The door opened for me because I was laid off. I had worked at a great game studio where I was the producer for a new casual game series based on the Nancy Drew series of novels. Despite the fact that our games had been met with critical acclaim (even winning Yahoo’s “hidden object game of the year” award), they were not a commercial success, so the company was forced to let go of my entire team—all ten of us.
Now, here was this great team that had created fantastic games together, all looking for new ventures at the same time. Why not do something crazy and start our own company, and make games in a currently untapped niche? The next thing I did was call up my high school friend, who happens to be bestselling author Marjorie M. Liu. Her exciting and fantastical paranormal romances were perfect for translating into game form, and I wanted to see what she thought of starting a company together. I was thrilled when she said yes, and immediately proposed the idea to my former team (on our last day with our former company, out on the lawn of our former office building, funnily enough). Fastforward another couple weeks, and our new company, PassionFruit Games, was born. We decided we were going to bring the first ever paranormal romance casual game to life, and it would be based on Marjorie’s debut novel, Tiger Eye.
Fastforward another seven months to April 2010 (during which our upcoming game received a ton of buzz including landing on the front page of major gaming site IGN and even getting a mention on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), and we proudly released our first product, Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box. Our game is now enjoying great reception from review sites and users—and most importantly, my own mom, a complete non-gamer. And she actually likes it enough that she’s played it through five times!
So, if you’re a romance reader but not (yet) a gamer, why should YOU try gaming? For one thing, there have been a multitude of studies showing the benefits of playing casual games—not only are they relaxing but they also help exercise the brain. Casual games are also very accessible to brand new players in that they’re easy to learn (most only require the clicking of the left mouse button) and busy people can play them in short sessions. Many of the games provide users with fun puzzles and brainteasers, mixed with a storyline that is told through art and character dialogue (essential to our romance novel-based game). Our players cite that they love being immersed in beautiful artwork and lush music that bring the story to life.
Think you could be a gamer at heart? If you’d like to take a dip into the casual gaming world, I recommend visiting some great online gaming portals such as PopCapGames.com, BigFishGames.com, GameHouse.com and iWin.com—all of them offer free “try-before-you-buy” demos of their games (usually lasting a full hour). And of course, give our game, Tiger Eye, a spin at PassionFruitGames.com!
Melissa Heidrich didn’t realize she was a true casual gamer until 2004, when she by chance attended a gaming conference and fell in love with an incredibly addictive time-management game that was on display at a computer terminal, which she monopolized for several hours. Her relentless approach to beating the game led to her being recruited as a quality assurance lead at the game company Say Design, where she was quickly promoted to Producer. She went on to hold producer positions at Humongous Inc. and then Her Interactive Inc., where she helped launch their new casual series of Nancy Drew Dossier games. Now the studio director of PassionFruit Games (visit them on Facebook or Twitter), she is thrilled to be pioneering a “novel” approach to casual gaming, and hopes her company’s debut title Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, based on bestselling author Marjorie M. Liu’s work, will serve as a bridge between the romance reader and romance gamer.