Carla, Founder of No Crusts Interactive and long-time game design consultant, also recently made the transition to indie with the launch of her first game, Williamspurrrrg. Williamspurrrrg is a multi-touch iPad game where the player puts mustaches and hipster gear on cats. It was part of the Indie Showcase at Casual Connect USA, where she announced the launch of new levels of the game.
Until 2013, No Crusts Interactive was a game design consultancy. Carla still consults and lectures on game design, but the majority of her attention is on her new indie projects. In addition to Williamspurrrrg, she has two more games in development and a prototype for a new concept. To manage all this, Carla explains, “I have to be disciplined and methodical in all decisions, from how I spend my time to design and business development questions.”
Same Values, A New Direction
Carla tells us her work is driven by edufreude, a word she invented (inspired by shadenfreude) to describe the pleasure that comes from educating others. She brings amazing creativity and a varied range of interests to this work. She says, “My free time is largely game-related, which means I spend a lot of time on Flikr looking at cats, noodling with new game prototypes and researching and playing games.” She also admits to a weakness for “dystopian young adult novels and the TV shows Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den.” And the time she spends with her toddler building cardboard box forts and hosting stuffed animal pizza parties seems to offer a natural extension to developing for the family/kid space in the games industry.
Quality and Discoverability
Within this space, Carla believes discoverability is one of the greatest challenges, especially since not everyone has the spending power for user acquisition, ads, or other ways of garnering attention. A second large challenge is helping developers understand what makes good quality content for children. Because the barrier to entry is relatively low, new projects using outdated curriculum concepts are frequently seen. Curriculum standards and educational learning theories have evolved greatly, and developers need to be aware and use this latest information.
The best way for the industry to meet these challenges, according to Carla, is through sharing information and experiences in centralized and accessible places. She continues to write and lecture extensively on all aspects of game design for children, from business development to design to marketing to discoverability options. She points to a number of agencies which are involved in defining quality content for children, including the Joan Gantz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the Fred Roger’s Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. She also encourages developers to share their stories and hopes to do more children’s product-focused post-mortem studies on her blog “Kids Got Game.”
In Carla’s business, she works to mitigate these challenges by sharing the details of her indie projects and encouraging her clients to share also. She continues to be very involved in exploring options for discoverability in the children and family market and points out, “The difficulty is that when children are the target audience, standard channels of discoverability and the usual business models are not always feasible. I’d love to fix this problem, but it’s not an easy road.”
Carla tells us that, having taken the plunge into independent development, she is now in the middle of the biggest challenge of her career: building a studio and a brand in an incredibly crowded and competitive market. She admits, “The question is whether I can harness all of my experience for the past fifteen years and successfully do it on my own, but having made this shift, I find myself truly enjoying the experience of entrepreneurship.” She takes everything she has learned as designer, researcher, producer, programmer, consultant, community manager, writer, advisor, business developer and applies it to her own projects. She states, “I’d like to think that these experiences mean I am skipping the first generation mistakes and am headed for the second and third generation of mistakes, where innovation lies.”
Data, with its many powerful applications, especially in education, is the biggest trend that Carla sees affecting the game industry in the next few years. “Tracking and analyzing a child’s click-stream data means we can provide just-in-time assistance, rather than having to wait until the testing points.” However, she also sees privacy issues, particularly for children; it will take time to sort out the best way to collect and use the data. Her projects already incorporate data in small ways, but she is studying the market to find the opportunities that best fit her work.
With so many roles, Carla has had a lot of moments to be proud of. However, she experienced her proudest moment of her career after writing an article for Slate.com about being a victim of gun violence and a game designer. She wrote about why she had stopped telling people about being a victim of gun violence, but over the past year, discussions around media and violence has shifted, and she found herself wanting to speak out. Even so, she was terrified when she knew the article went live, having no idea what sort of reaction to expect. There were some difficult comments, but family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers proved to be a network of unyielding support. It created a level of dialogue she had never expected. It reaffirmed her belief that developers need to be involved.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.