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USA 2014Video Coverage

Mathilde Pignol Has Learned to Stay Nimble | Casual Connect Video

August 12, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Mathilde Pignol participated in a panel about working with large teams in game design at Casual Connect USA. “In my experience, it’s really good to get the goals of what you are trying to get accomplish communicated up front and to try to get the challenge that you are proposing to the creative people to be something interesting, hopefully.”

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Mathilde Pignol, Co-founder and CCO, Roboto Games

Mathilde Pignol is co-founder and chief creative officer at Roboto Games. She has recently returned from a large company (EA PopCap) to running her own game studio again. She learned a great deal from growing a creative team from five to fifteen people while directing Plants vs Zombies Adventures for Facebook, and she says, “I am looking forward to applying those lessons to my next games, but for now, I am enjoying being able to get my hands dirty and having a lot of creative freedom.”

Hitting Milestones

The time she feels the most pride in her career came with designing Baking Life, a sim game for Facebook. It reached the top 25 by DAU and entertained 10 million players without the company ever buying a single ad. She believes, “What made Baking Life successful was a mix of skill and luck. The game was a good balance of innovation and iteration at a time when a Facebook platform could still be viral, though most people thought it couldn’t be.” For her, the greatest fun about being in the games industry comes from seeing players’ faces light up when they play a game she created.

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“Baking Life was a good balance of innovation and iteration at a time when a Facebook platform could still be viral, though most people thought it couldn’t be.”

Its All About Discovery

Pignol sees the biggest challenge in the game industry today as discovery, especially on mobile platforms, with many great games never being seen. So she feels it is critical for a small games company to distinguish itself from the rest by taking just the right amount of creative risks and working on innovative games that are neither too niche nor derivative. She will also be responding to this issue by building the online audience first.

During the next few years, she expects to see what happened with mobile only social networks in Japan to emerge in the West – a network built for mobile phones will emerge and dominate, the way Facebook has on PC. This will provide a new platform for game developers to experiment and define new rules for player acquisition. She looks to the Asian markets for inspiration and examples of what will come next. Being nimble when it comes to platforms and being on mobile are the ways she plans to keep up with emerging trends.

Mathilde Pignol (left) listening to a fellow panelist during Casual Connect USA 2014
Mathilde Pignol (left) listening to a fellow panelist during Casual Connect USA 2014

Pignol owns several consoles and wishes she had more time to play on them, as well as on her Mac. She owns a PS3 which she bought to play Journey, a Wii that she still sometimes uses for playing Wii Play and Mario Kart and an Xbox 360. She hasn’t yet purchased any new generation consoles; she is waiting for more great games to come out.

She finds it much easier to find time to play on her iPhone, so that is where she does most of her gaming. She loves Disco Zoo, a great free-to-play game with a fun but light game mechanic and a healthy dose of quirkiness; she truly enjoyed spending money in it. She also considers Monument Valley a wonderful game; it makes a great artistic statement that reinforces its very original puzzle mechanic.

When she is not involved with her work, Pignol enjoys ballet, although she no longer has much time for performing. But she has discovered that performing requires much of the same thought processes involved in creating a game. You have to give the audience an experience they find both enjoyable and moving.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Kim Verbon: “Geek is the new Pink” | Casual Connect Video

August 7, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Kim Verbon talked about designing games for tween girls during her session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “If you’re going to develop for a wider children’s audience, destroy the stereotypes,” she advised.

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Kim Verbon, Founder, YamSam

Kim Verbon, founder of YamSam, loves the endless possibilities in the ever-changing landscape that is the games industry. There are new mechanics and trends emerging around every corner, and she has the opportunity to decide if she should stand still and let them pass by, or dive deep and go for it. She says, “The industry itself has become a game of skilled surfers riding the waves of trends, mechanics, and platforms, trying not to be eaten by sharks, sometimes paddling against the stream and, in the best scenario, being sold to a whale.” And for someone who enjoys games as much as she does, what could be more fun than riding this wave?

The Joy Of Bringing Joy

The greatest satisfaction she gets through her work comes from seeing children enjoying the games she has worked on. After releasing 50 games she designed herself and more than 200 her teams created, she declares, “It’s amazing to see the children play, or read the comments they give, or hear them talk out loud to the game; seeing children enjoy your game, that’s magical!” She emphasizes that this is why she keeps creating: the moment of tension questioning whether they will like it, and the broad smile and proud feeling if they pick up or point out the little jokes, new mechanics, or puzzles she put in there.

The Next Level

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Kim spoke about game design for tween girls during Casual Connect USA.

YamSam is Kim’s latest creation; she founded the company in June 2014. After she decided to leave Spil Games, where she had worked for seven years and on many games for children, she immediately received several requests for game and strategy consultancy and game design work. So she founded YamSam, and she’s currently working with several clients. She is also working on her own project, now in the concept phase, a game for tweens full of experiments and exploring. She expects to have the high concept level ready to show by the end of the year. YamSam offers consultancy on games for children as well as gamification for educational products.

Fragmentation Challenges

Kim believes the biggest challenge facing the games industry today is the enormous fragmentation of platforms, and the number of choices to be made that seem old by the time you come to a decision. She responds by making clear and conscious decisions, and then following through on them. Otherwise, she claims, “If you keep turning back, you’ll never release anything because you’ll be stuck in the circle of trends and buzzwords forever.” She feels the market for children is still very open if you make decisions based on your target audience and game subject, but it is essential to make clear decisions and not necessarily follow the big hits of the day.

Experimenting Outside Of Work

The enjoyment Kim finds in creating and experimenting in her career also comes through in her free time activities. She loves to experiment with cake and cookie baking, using the ingredients she has on hand, although she also enjoys using a recipe. And baking with her pre-schooler is an experiment in itself, answering the important questions in life, such as “How do you get as much flour in the bowl as on the floor?” or “How do you keep the yummy dough from magically disappearing in a tummy?” But any cookies that do make it to the oven are delicious! And besides baking, she enjoys pub quizzing, photography, swimming, writing stories, polka dots, and, of course, petting unicorns with her two daughters.

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Kim with her two daughters

For her gaming, she plays whatever she likes wherever she finds it. Currently, she is playing Mario Kart 8, where she is trying to get better than her husband, Monument Valley, which she considers the best game of 2014, Scribblenauts for the funny solutions you can create, Little Inferno for the thrill of setting things on fire, and lots of kids’ titles for both research and fun.

And she keeps a truly eclectic collection of consoles, PS2, PS3, Wii, Wii U, Gameboy, Nintendo DS, Nexus tablet, iPad, iPhone, even Atari and ColecoVision, although she avoids mentioning these last two to her brother who is actually their owner. And, of course, her PC.

 

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