Cynthia Woll discusses various designs of casino games during her session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “Engagement depends on creating a clear and reliable path to success,” she explained.
Cynthia Woll is the director of game design at Playtika Santa Monica (formerly known as Buffalo Studios), where she manages a team of game designers and UI/UX designers.Their job is to come up with new features for Bingo Blitz, a game on Facebook and mobile, to keep the game fresh and fun. Their goal is to surprise and delight both existing players and new players.
Woll loves Bingo, so she was excited to work for Playtika. She explains, “I see it as a very popular, familiar, and flexible mechanic – you can dress it up or dress it down and make it feel different, depending on the design.” In previous jobs, she actually used Bingo in brainstorming sessions, so she had already given the game a good deal of thought.
One of the things Woll especially enjoys about her work is the collection of smart, interesting, and creative people the industry attracts. She also likes the fact that every project she works on is so different that she is never bored. Each day brings a new set of problems to solve and new things to learn.
An Eclectic Career
Woll has had a very eclectic career, going from educational games for kids, to mobile. One of her most difficult job (but also most rewarding) was at Mattel Media. She was executive producer there from 1996 to 2000; during that time, they pioneered a line of software products for girls. Before these games came out, it was generally assumed that girls didn’t like either computers or games. But that idea changed after they released Barbie Fashion Designer, followed by a product line that brought in more than $100 million in its first year. They made games girls actually wanted. She points out, “It became clear that ‘games’ was not a one-size-fit-all monolithic concept. Just about everyone likes to play games; it’s a question of listening to your audience.” Getting people to realize that software is cool for girls was something that made her feel extremely proud.
A Balancing Act
However, she has found throughout her career that all too often moments of pride have been immediately followed by moments of dismal failure. As she says, “It balances out, but it does make a person humble!”
Woll views the games industry as multiple industries. The big publishers are trying to figure out free-to-play; the small publishers are trying to get market share; and everyone is working on acquisition, engagement, and monetization. But the biggest challenge for the industry as a whole is discoverability. “If players can’t find your games, they can’t play,” she emphasizes. At her company, they use cross-promotions to mitigate this situation, but recognize it isn’t a perfect solution; they are working on it.
Things are moving so rapidly in the games industry that Woll finds it difficult to think about trends even a year or two away. But mobile is transforming, with people expecting their devices to entertain them. So she is looking to the next generation of devices and imagining what they will do that is fun and inspiring. She asserts, “The best way to deal with new trends is speed – ideally, first to market with anything.”
Woll is an avid mobile gamer herself; these days she can usually be found playing on her iPhone. She admits to being obsessed with Hay Day, a farming/resource management game from Supercell. The social element is something she especially enjoys; her neighborhood, the Queen Beeeee, helps each other’s boats, and chat. It is a great quick breather from her day.
In her free time, Woll enjoys the great hiking areas in Los Angeles, from the Topanga Canyon to Pasadena and between. She loves classical music and dance; ballet was a passion from her younger years. So she enjoys watching the show So You Think You Can Dance, with its amazing dancers and choreography.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.