Ed Cluss is the founding partner of Signia Venture Partners. He emphasizes the dynamic nature of mobile games, when he says, “At Signia we invest in mobile games, as it is the platform experiencing major growth, and we invest in experienced, passionate, craft-driven teams pushing the envelope of their art.”
Cluss established Signia Venture Partners after several years of successful angel investing and a twenty-five year career running venture backed companies. Now he invests in early stage companies primarily related to mobility and data. He has been a CEO and officer in public companies multiple times, building and managing teams across the world. This experience enables him to provide guidance to the companies he is now working with as an investor.
The moment he remembers with the greatest satisfaction in his career was shipping the first internet appliance in 1997, the original iPhone that provided web and email access, along with ecommerce and localized news. This first iPhone was developed by InfoGear and was ultimately distributed in the US, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. InfoGear was acquired by Cisco in 2000.
Staying With Games
Cluss became involved in the game industry when he invested in Playdom, which was acquired by Disney. He then made investments in Cie Games, Funzio and several other game companies and has enjoyed helping the CEOs and founders build and grow these companies. He points out that investors, such as Signia, understand trends, platforms, talent and building companies. He insists, “It is not our expertise on games that makes us special, it is our expertise in building companies in the mobile gaming space.” Signia Venture Partners have now invested in several game companies, including Fun+ and Super Evil Megacorp. If he were not running a venture capital fund, he would be making angel investments and mentoring CEOs and founders.
Besides his involvement in his work, Cluss participates in golf and tennis and coaches youth sports. His favorite video game is Racing Rivals on iOS because “it is the best racing game, and I am an investor.” He uses iOS because he has become familiar with it through his iPhone. But he is considering switching to Android. He sees it rapidly becoming the dominant platform and believes it may offer more opportunity for innovation.
He also owns an Xbox One which is used mainly by his son to try out new games.
Cluss notes that gaming is shifting to online, driven by the increasing numbers of connected mobile devices and tablets. Within the next few years he expects messaging apps to become powerful distribution channels for mobile games. eSports viewership has increased and will continue to be a key engagement channel for core gamers.
Nick Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder of SomaTone, Inc., is a video games industry veteran and thought leader with 10+ years of proven executive leadership results with a focus on developing strategic industry partnerships, innovating creative outsourcing solutions and managing talented teams that contribute to more than 100 games annually from nearly all major publishers and developers, as well as independent developers. He discusses the transformation occurring in the industry in this article.
It’s happening again, right before our eyes; we’re in the midst of yet another era of redefinition and reinvention in the ever-evolving gaming industry. While the landscape is changing dramatically, history shows us that something new and good will invariably emerge. After all, (and despite many attempts), you cannot own or control creativity, or predict the future of gaming.
We at SomaTone are ten years deep as a leading provider of creative content for mobile, social, and casual games, working at the forefront of gaming over the last decade’s explosive growth. Having produced audio content on hundreds of games for many of the top publishers as well as for the indies, our vantage point gives us a sweeping perspective across the landscape of the games industry– from AAA console games, to MMO’s, to Social/Mobile, to Casual, and beyond.
We’re seeing the cyclical pendulum swing of innovation, homogenization, and reinvention continuing to keep the publishers of gaming content guessing as the smaller, faster, and more creative start-ups are yet again redefining the gaming industry.
The Ripple Effects of Converting Players into Users in Mobile Gaming
Casual games continue to go through a familiar pattern, and we are currently emerging from a decline of the smaller “Mom and Pop” game developers, who have been squeezed out by the realities of mobile publishing and the dominance of Free-to-Play (F2P) games. This economic model has sought to systematically convert game “users” into a currency that has been hoarded, sold, and traded in an effort to control access to “game players.”
As a consequence, the industry was stratified into large game publishers–who controlled the access to “users” and thus the majority of the market–and new start-ups and Indies, who were either being gobbled up by these same publishers, or self-publishing and hoping for a Flappy Bird-style anomalous hit.
The middle-class of game development–studios of 20-50 working on games that were sold via standard pay-to-play standards with supportive publishing partners–has suffered. With limited access to users, who are carefully controlled by game publishers, it was nearly impossible for mid-sized independent game developers to make and sell their own games and support their teams. The result was a polarized and stratified industry in which a small fraction of game publishers own the vast majority of market, making it extremely difficult for small game developers to independently make and sell their games without yielding to the requirements of the publishers, who will own the IP, take the lion’s share of the revenue, with no clear obligation to bring “users” to their game.
“Every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself.”
Now while all publisher models attempt to control access and distribution to customers (this is in fact what publishers are supposed to do), there is a dramatic new variable at play, with the F2P economy. This “race to the bottom” business model, which has led to disruptive game-play mechanics designed to extract fees from “users”, in their efforts to enjoy a fully featured game-play experience and be “players”, is highly dependent on publishers’ access to users, and their ability to monetize these users. Those “old school” game designers, who sought to develop great games, that offered fully featured immersive game-play experiences at the outrageously expensive price of $.99, never stood a chance against “free” games, which are developed by game publishers and promoted to their “users”, requiring players to pay for the features included in a 1-dollar competing title.
This Latest Cycle Will Induce a Painful Rebirth
This cycle of innovation, homogenization and reinvention is not a new trend. We have seen this same cycle in gaming in the past, with Big Fish Games‘ consolidation of the PC Downloadable market and subsequently, Zynga‘s dominance of browser-based Facebook, and in both cases, there was a painful rebirth of the industry. Those fastest to adapt to the new ecosystems survived, and those who could not evolve, died away.
However, it is also true that every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself. Just after Big Fish unequivocally took control of PC downloadable, Facebook came along and completely disrupted their reign. A few short years later, the kings of Facebook (Zynga, Playdom, Wooga) have been dethroned, only to be replaced by the current leaders of the mobile industry. With each successive attempt to control and “own” the industry, new life has begun.
“You cannot control game players or ‘own’ creativity. A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming.”
This reminds me of Jurassic Park. Life finds a way. In this case, creativity finds a way, and despite the attempts of the current reign of publishers to own and control this inherently creative marketplace, they are discovering, just as all others before them have, that you cannot control game players or “own” creativity.
A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming. One in which King.com, and Kabam, or perhaps even the Apple Store and Google Play store, will soon find themselves trying to catch up, and wondering what happened as the world they felt so sure of has shifted beneath their feet.
“Mom and Pop” developers, take heart. The pendulum swings both ways. And from our vantage point, which reaches from the largest publishers to the smallest indies, the playing field is leveling.
2014 will be a year of reorganization and consolidation, as the bubble of Mobile/Social games refocuses its efforts, and quality will retake its place as the leading factor in a company’s success, rather than simply a publisher’s control of access to users. And developing innovative and high-quality games has always been what the “Mom and Pop” game studios have done best and are continuing to do.
Look forward to the next installment of this series next month, a case study on Zynga’s Puzzle Charms!
Tim Chang is one of four Managing Directors at Mayfield Fund, one of Silicon Valley’s longest running VC firms. He leads investments in Consumer Internet and Mobile, Gaming and Gamification, Quantified Self and Health 2.0, Digital Media, eCommerce, and Adtech. His particular bent is the application of Social Science to business and technology, and hacking inner space.
When Tim has free time, he performs with two bands. BlackMahal is an original Punjab hip-hop funk band that has played the Vancouver Olympics, SxSW, and the Montreal Jazz Fest. Coverflow is a band made up of prominent tech execs and founders, including Kristin Segerstrale of Playfish. Tim also enjoys body-hacking, collecting graphic novels, and gamifying real life (Spouseville, Foodville, Moneyville, etc.); and, of course, listening to his favorite music, post-dubstep, electronica-infused, melodic metal.
Move over Growth Hacking. It’s time for Habits Design and Engagement Hacking!
One of the critical happenings in the games industry, according to Tim, was the collapse of virality on the Facebook platform. At Mayfield, they responded by shifting their focus from Growth Hacking toward Engagement Hacking.
Tim tells us some of the greatest moments in his career occurred when he got two of the big four gaming exits, ngmoco and Playdom. But even better was seeing Lumosity grow from a tiny series A investment to where it is now. He says, “This could turn out to be my most successful gaming-related investment yet.”
The greatest challenge for Tim has been watching the rapid “Hollywoodization” of Silicon Valley, where name-dropping, slapping together party seed-rounds, and comparing headline valuations matter more than quality of teams or business models. “Everybody thinks they’re entitled to be a founder and CEO before even working anywhere else, and the availability of easy seed funding bolsters this sentiment. As a result, we get thousands of seed-stage companies thinly staffed by mostly mediocre talent and ‘want-repreneurs,’ as opposed to hundreds of startups comprised of leveled-up, proven killers. Reminds me of what happens when a fish population is overfished: the remaining specimens decline in size and health on average.” Although he is still seeking the best way to respond to this challenge, he focuses on a few core themes that are leading edge, disruptive, and potentially new movements even though he admits, “Who knows if they’ll pan out to be fruitful areas? But it’s a lot more fun to try to hone a forward-looking thesis than it is to work on iterative or momentum-chasing ‘X for Y’ companies (Snapchat for Video, Pinterest for Pets, etc.)” The lesson he takes from this: “You can’t always control the outcome of what you work on, but you can at least choose and create the sandbox you will play in; you may as well do something different, new and unique. It’s very likely that you’ll fail, but you may have fun along the way and develop your own “super powers” in the process.”
Who knows if they’ll pan out to be fruitful areas? But it’s a lot more fun to try to hone a forward-looking thesis than it is to work on iterative or momentum-chasing ‘X for Y’ companies
Tim offers this advice on making a better product: “Never underestimate the value of social science, behavioral economics, user psychology and the potential to leverage ‘7 Deadly Sins’ as a design framework for user acquisition, engagement, retention and conversion to payment! Don’t just think about where the button on the app should go or how beautiful you make the chrome or UI animations – dive one level deeper and try to engineer for the emotional state that you want the user to feel as they go through your app. What are the specific elements of gratification they’re looking for along the way, and how might those change as the user evolves from 1st time newbie to power user?”
He identifies a number of themes which will emerge as important trends in the games industry over the next few years. These include:
~Device-as-a-service: consumer hardware 2.0, where mobile and cloud connectivity enable whole new software and service models for otherwise mundane and stand-alone devices. Interesting example startups: Basis, Ouya, Dropcam, Nest, Pebble.
~The Quantified Life: hybrid services combining self-tracking technologies and human coaching. While quantified-self devices and apps are all the rage right now, but the resulting data + insights alone can’t truly drive sustainable behavior change unless the system is adaptive, actionable, and — better yet – feeding back into human-based coaching, support and accountability. Examples: Basis, Retrofit, WellnessFX, Fitmob, Gympact, DietBet.
~The Future of Personal Development and Self-Help 2.0, or what Tim calls “Hacking Inner Space” — why the next wave of tech and business innovation will come from the realms of neuroscience, behavioral economics, game design theory, social science, psychology, as well as mindfulness, meditation, and spirituality. Examples: Lumos Labs, Happify, Focus@Will, bLife.
~The Maker Movement and the return of ‘Made in America’ — redefining the Future of Play, as enthusiasts and hobbyists can pursue “serious side projects” through crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and off the shelf commerce solutions. Examples: Maker Media, DoubleFine, Quirky, Etsy, PCH International.
~The Future of Work – expanded by mobile-first service marketplaces, the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. Examples: Zirtual, Lyft, Airbnb, UrbanSitter, DogVacay.
~The Rise of Vertical Social Networks in the post-Facebook age — driven by the “6Cs” of C)ontent, C)uration, C)ommunity (especially meeting *new* people with shared interests), C)ommerce, C)rowdsourcing, C)rowdfunding. These truly community-led businesses and marketplaces may even require a new sets of metrics to capture user personas and “net goodwill contribution,” and Tim has been thinking about what “KPIs for Love and Belonging” might look like. Examples: Poshmark, Goodreads, HealthTap.
Getting Great at Android
At Casual Connect USA, Tim announced that Ouya is looking for great Android titles and developers/studios who would like to get additional distribution into the living room. Also, Mayfield Fund’s portfolio companies across enterprise, consumer, mobile and health/quantified self are all seeking top notch developers, PMs and analytics people. They are interested in people with gaming backgrounds who would like to explore careers in other fields.
Sean Clark has worn many hats during his time in the games industry. From designer to studio director and everything in between, Sean’s passion never seems to run out. He worked at Playdom, Electronic Arts, and LucasArts before settling as Director of Content Production at Big Fish Games. He enjoys everything he does in games, but what is most important to him is the fun of building entertainment experiences. “I get a rush from being a part of something coming together through a creative and collaborative effort, and I still get that rush working on great games at Big Fish,” he says. We were able to catch up with him to discuss his view on creating and producing games.
For the Love of Games
Growing up playing Pong and Atari games on the old family TV, Sean learned to love games early in life. When Atari released a Basic Programming cartridge, he immediately began learning the language and realized that programming consisted of a series of logical instructions. He discovered that building games could be an actual job.
Still, he did not plan for a career in the games industry. He graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in Computer Science knowing he liked building things in software, especially games. LucasFilm Games (later LucasArts) happened to be hiring junior level programmers at that time. Up to this point, Sean had only created games as a hobby, but this sounded like the perfect opportunity for him. He was right: it turned out to be a great time to join the company.
All of a sudden, he was working with a group of people just as passionate about games as he was; real artists, musicians, programmers– talented professionals who could bring unique creative elements to the product. “It was a blast!” Sean says. “It was also an experience that has helped me through my whole career, right up to today as 3rd-party Director at Big Fish, working to bring fun game content to the company.” In all the roles he’s done, he’s always shown his love of games. He looks for the same passion and excitement for a game from developers, both internally and externally.
Point and Click Adventure Games Anyone?
Having been involved in multiple projects in a variety of roles, Sean has a soft spot for point-and-click adventure games. While at LucasArts, Sean helped develop The Secret ofMonkey Island in 1990, a popular point-and-click adventure. It was a great experience, but problems always arise, and the solutions were often unique. Sean learned a lot about problem solving and creatively mitigating issues during this project.
“I blame it on 3D. At the time, real-time 3D was such an amazing new capability that the faster computers and video cards enabled, it became the sexy new thing.”
However, point-and click adventure games started to slip into the background. In an interview with adventuregamers.com, Sean stated that the popularity of point-and-click adventure games would return. When we asked why he thought they had fallen to the background in the first place, his answer was emphatic. “I blame it on 3D. At the time, real-time 3D was such an amazing new capability that the faster computers and video cards enabled, it became the sexy new thing.” While 3D opened new areas of design, it also started a graphics arms race. Everyone focused on 3D graphics, with a game like The Dig being compared to Dark Force or TIE Fighter. But eventually, people realized that adventure games were a different genre to other games, like first person shooters.
He points out that in 2002, Big Fish took advantage of the 3D distraction and built a successful business recognizing and catering to the adventure gamer audience. Even Escape from Monkey Island still managed to do well in the “Adventure Games are Dead” era. Although there are not many classic 3rd person point-and-click adventure games coming to market, there is the very successful line of Hidden Puzzle Adventure Games that Big Fish is so well known for. These, Sean asserts, are a modern version of adventure game storytelling, similar to those he started his career with.
Another reason adventure games seemed to go dormant was the fact that retail space is both limited and competitive. Because attention was so focused on 3D games, it was challenging to interest retail chain buyers in adventure games. The big factor in changing the situation was the internet. Brick and mortar stores were no longer the only way to purchase games. Sean attributes Big Fish’s success largely to its creation of an online place to find and purchase great casual content, including adventure games.
Adventure Game Evolution
This new cycle of adventure games has evolved, bringing lower-priced games, which are also shorter in length, and tend to tell stories in chapters or episodes. According to Sean, these new games are still high-quality, well-polished games with great artwork, and compelling stories, although the format is different.
Sean believes Big Fish has been instrumental in bringing more attention to adventure games in a number of ways. They created a new format for adventure games, brought them to new audiences, and gave consumers a way to try the game before committing to a purchase. They figured out how to make adventure games easier to find and consume, at a time when retailers had all but abandoned support for the genre.
Sean is just as excited about the future as he is about the present. “We expect 2013 to be a year of innovation in game, content, and delivery, with games on almost every device and in nearly all casual genres,” Sean says. “In March alone, Big Fish launched 2 highly acclaimed mobile games: Fetch for the iPad, an adventure about a boy on the search for his dog; and Match Up! By Big Fish, the first iOS game to have real-time, 16-bracketed tournament play. Add to that the world’s largest interactive streaming casual game service and continuing franchises like Mystery Case Files, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times, and you can see how there is something to excite all types of gamers.”
Sean reminds us that Big Fish is an incredibly talented and creative company, with exclusive partnerships with more than 140 developers all over the world. He expects Big Fish to continue bringing fun and innovation to the games industry.
As some lucky parents have it, the passion they hold for their own careers can end up rubbing off on their offspring. Maryann Duringer Klingman, a seasoned producer at Disney Interactive’s Playdom and a professional who has spent two decades in the videogame business, saw it happen with her daughter Theresa. Partially due to her mother’s career, but mostly out of her own insatiable appetite and interest for everything digital, Theresa Duringer followed in her mother’s footsteps becoming a versatile game professional. I sat down with Maryann and Theresa to talk about their shared passion for the game biz, where it all started, and what both generations were able to learn from each other.
One career rebooted, another one sprouted
Back in 1993, after almost 10 years of being an at-home mom with one of her two daughters in elementary school, Maryann Duringer Klingman rediscovered her appetite for a career again.
“I rejoined the workforce working full-time again as an administrative assistant at Electronic Arts’ educational software department in November of ’93 and quickly went up through the ranks as a producer,” Maryann recalls. “I was fortunate enough to work with the some of the best children’s brands and licencors, including Sesame Workshop, Marc Brown Studios, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers and DC Comics. I produced educational games with such characters as Bert and Ernie, Spongebob Squarepants and Reader Rabbit.”
Theresa Duringer, the younger of two sisters and only ten years old at that time, grew up with quite the appetite for technology and a penchant for creative, technical tinkering. “As a kid I was pretty shy,” Theresa admits. “We always had a computer, and I would tinker on it for hours, dabbling with scripting, making websites, and meeting other kids on IRC a million miles away.”
Even with friends from school, we would make up our own board games, which was probably even more fun than playing them
Theresa would even start modding games and submit her own art to different projects. “It just clicked for me. I got this incredible energy from seeing the art I was making come alive on the screen. Even with friends from school, we would make up our own board games, which was probably even more fun than playing them. I still remember printing out our own adventure-game playing cards on an accordion of dot-matrix card stock my dad brought home from work.” Her passion for drawing since a young age could be seen everywhere, from the margins of her notes from school to books and mirrors at home. “Growing up in Silicon Valley, having a programmer father and video game producer mother, and being surrounded by creative tech types gave me a familiarity with the industry that let me dive in and thrive in game development.”
Through the ranks at EA, just like mom
Three years later, after graduating from Berkeley, Theresa went right back to testing games and landed a testing job at EA. After several months of working as a tester for EA’s The Godfather, she was appointed to being the main contact for her QA team to share their findings directly with the production team. “One thing that is also cool about working at EA is that they really recognize talent from the testing group and give testers opportunities to prove themselves with bigger projects to work themselves out of testing into production,” she says. “It’s from testing The Godfather that I was able to work my way up from tester, to community manager and end up in production at Maxis.”
According to Theresa, the most important thing a tester can do while working your way up from testing to development, besides working very hard, is to hang out with the developers as much as possible. This is known to be a tricky challenge, as testers and the ‘testing pits’ they work in are often segregated from the development teams. Theresa had her own way of making sure that kind of contact was possible.
“I started out on a dedicated testing floor, and didn’t have any development contacts at EA. I ended up buying popcorn for a fundraiser from one of the lead’s kids in order to have an opportunity to march over to his office, pick up my popcorn, and make my case for why I wanted to join the dev-test team over at Maxis.”
I ended up buying popcorn for a fundraiser from one of the lead’s kids in order to have an opportunity to march over to his office, pick up my popcorn, and make my case for why I wanted to join the dev-test team over at Maxis
Theresa’s one-on-one with the lead paid off and got her a foot in the door to a team she would later join at at Maxis. “I participated in Art Lunch, Board Game Night, rallied folks to go on Bike Lunch Fridays, and hung out in general with as many developers as I could who had common interests with me, even taking up a few new hobbies like Victorian ballroom dancing and even rock climbing.”
“The more you interact with the developers, the firmer an idea you can form about which specific jobs would compliment your talents, and what kind of team you would mesh with,” Theresa suggests. “You’ll also have advocates when you go for that new opening. Try not to stagnate in testing too long.”
While at Maxis, Theresa would first be put in charge of being a community manager for Spore, before she later became assistant producer on Dark Spore. “I once again got to see her bring that creativity to life in the little programs that she would write for her work,” Maryanne says. “She took on some responsibilities at Maxis that, as parent, you’re just really proud of.”
My mom’s gone through it all, so she really can help, lend an ear and provide advice when I need it
Having a mother who had grown through the ranks of the same company two decades before not only gave Theresa a source of inspiration and support, but also a place for comfort and advice. “I’ve learned to not take the first offer and really push ahead while still being professional. My mom’s gone through it all, so she really can help, lend an ear and provide advice when I need it,” Theresa says.
“I’m very proud of her,” Maryann adds. “I believe Theresa was very quickly identified at EA as someone who could take all feedback and information, assimilate it, write a complete sentence and then share that with the entire team.”
As an assistant producer at Maxis, Theresa was able to explore the full range of strengths and weaknesses. “When I was working on Spore as a tester, I didn’t have a ton of influence on the game or decisions,” she says. “But once I moved into community management, I was able to craft that user experience from outside the game. It was a challenge because I’ve never done it before. “Another challenge for Theresa was to rely on someone else than herself. “I would find a community member who was really excited to put their energy in moderating the forums and then engage them, asking them to think about ways of ranking Spore creations made by community members. Eventually I would provide the community member with production tools and rely on that individual completely to moderate the forums. That was not intuitive to me because I’m a doer, but you can’t always do everything yourself.”
While Theresa is currently exploring the exciting challenge of being an indie game developer, her mother recently got back to her production roots. Previously working at Playfirst as their developer relations manager, Maryann saw an opportunity to find another challenge at Playdom.
“My previous position at Playfirst was more of a business position where I was out basically meeting and greeting with the development community,” She explains. “I was responsible for sourcing production talent to work with my organization. Over the years of working with external development studios, I learned about contracts, negotiations and the business side of gaming; all useful skills when working with external partners. Although I enjoyed business development a production opportunity presented itself at Playdom. I would get to work with talented individuals, many of whom I have worked with in the past and whose careers I have watched grow over the years. It is a pleasure to see individuals whom I initially met as testers or producers now comfortable and successful as senior producers and studio managers.”
People often get surprised when they get to hear that Theresa’s mother is also a game producer. Most find it the most amazing thing ever, and it’s hard to disagree. “She is someone I can rely on, she’s one hundred percent honest with me and gives me the advice that might not always be exactly what I want to hear,” Theresa says.
“I try to live my life as an example,” Maryann says. “What Theresa gleaned from her childhood and chose to pursue as an adult has more to do with how she comes to her life. I provided an environment where she could feel comfortable being herself and I exposed her to my work life. It was up to her to choose her path. Having said that, I did provide a home where creativity was appreciated and intelligence respected. And we played games! If I influenced Theresa, it was that she saw what I did for my work, and that I enjoyed it; the game industry was familiar and appealed to her.“
If I influenced Theresa, it was that she saw what I did for my work, and that I enjoyed it; the game industry was familiar and appealed to her
“Its exciting to see your child grow into their adult life and then move into a career and be successful at it,” Maryann adds. “Seeing my daughter moving through ranks from testing to community manager and producer and to see her teaching herself programming and being an artist, makes me very proud as a parent.”
“I want other women to negotiate more and not settle so easily,” Theresa says. “My mom is awesome at this, and I always love to hear her stories about mediation and negotiation. I push myself to follow her lead. Also, I think there can be a bit of a locker room vibe at game companies, often times just because there are so many guys. For me this was intimidating, but I’ve learned that my differences can actually help me set myself apart and be noticed. I’m so pleased to hear more and more women talking about their game development projects lately, so hopefully this will change soon. I also think women get nudged into marketing and management positions. If this is your passion, wonderful, but if you want to be engineering and get your hands dirty in game dev, hold your ground. Come up with a clear goal for how you want to contribute to games and go for it.”
The initial spark to consider becoming indie came after Theresa had moved from the EA testing pits to Maxis, showing her a different atmosphere in a smaller studio where you could easily get to know everyone and remember their name. “I liked the ability to wear more than one hat, and to have my work really matter,” she says. “I didn’t feel so much like a cog in the machine. The idea of going indie became intriguing once I started really getting to know what I loved doing, which was being creative, and making games.”
Theresa was able to work on a small flash game called Psychic Spore, intended as an example for kids who wanted to dive into the Spore API to make their own games. “I had so much fun working on this, and I knew I wanted to make smaller games where I could make more of an impact and really have creative liberty,” she adds
Theresa is the lead artist on Cannon Brawl. Another quite daring leap into a role she had not yet been fully in charge of before. “I did some art for Maxis, but a lot of that was graphic design focused for UI or website interface. Now I’m doing characters, backgrounds, animation, all kinds of things I’ve never done professionally before. It’s a ton of fun, and I’m pushing myself to learn as I go.”
Seeing her daughter take that daring leap, Maryann couldn’t be any prouder. “I’m impressed with Theresa’s choice,” Maryann says. “Not only that she is confident enough to establish a business, but also that she managed her finances so that she could take the time required for this entrepreneurial endeavor. I have watched Theresa grow into a capable and fearless woman. I have seen in her a willingness to jump in and just get the job done, whether it is pulling together the daily QA report, organizing a San Francisco conference for Spore fans, building a community web site, teaching herself C++ or starting her own game development company. As a seasoned producer and as her mother, I am delighted with how she has plugged in to the industry and now finds herself between all of the industry’s up-and-comers.”
“As a game professional, she has also shown me that there are alternative avenues to success and the independent game developer route is a viable option,” Maryann says. ”Even if Theresa returns to work for a large company at some point, she will have an impressive background in game development to offer.”
Theresa Duringer is continuing her work on Cannon Brawl, which is scheduled to launch later this year. Maryann Duringer Klingman is now working on various unannounced projects at Disney Interactive’s Playdom.