20 Years and Counting: THe Sirenia Year
Well, it’s been over a year since I started recounting my experiences in 20 years in games, so now it’s 21 years. Hard to believe!
So I left this story with me and Tim leaving Her Interactive and returning to Austin to start our own software company dedicated to girls games.
We did. We came back to Austin and established Sirenia Software. We contacted our good friends Steve and Ellen Beeman who had just set up a company called Illusion Machines here in Austin. They offered to let us sublease some room in their offices so we’d have a place to work.
I began work with a prominent games industry business agent at that time. Mr. Agent was (and still is!) one of the nicest, smartest, all over greatest guys in the industry. At the time the concept of girls and games was still pretty new but he “got it” immediately and we set up to figure out how to get Sirenia Software into production on a girls product.
We had just raised our first round of “friends and family” funding.. a whopping $50K dollars. Hey.. that was a HUGE amount of money for us! I had a great idea for a game where girls would be able to own and care for a virtual horse. They would take care of the animal and then participate in virtual horse events, such as hunter/jumper events etc.
The concept was one player would set up an arena with jumps and obstacles and then invite up to 8 of her friends to come compete. Other friends could attend teh event and “watch” via chatting to each other. How well the player did on the event was a combination of their skill playing the game and how well they had cared for their horse. They kept their horse in a personalized “stable” where they could brush, feed, play and train their horse. They could also display trophies and ribbons as well. They could own as many or as few horses as they liked. We called this game A Horse Of My Own and went to work building a prototype.
We were about three months into this process when I got a certified letter.
We were being threatened with a lawsuit from Mr. New CEO and the board of directors of Her Interactive. They claimed I had stolen their technology when I left.
This both terrified and infuriated me. We had to retain a lawyer of our own and a series of letters went back and forth. No law suit was ever filed, but it did end up costing us almost $5K to defend ourselves from this attack. That was a full 10% of the ENTIRE amount of investment capital we’d been able to raise. At the end of it all, our lawyer told me that I should have NO contact with these people without legal representation present. This was to come back into play later.
Anyway, while that was being settled, Mr Agent began to try to dig up not only places to pitch A Horse of My Own, but to see if we couldn’t find some regular dev and pub stuff to get us going. I guess during that time I must have flown into LAX 20 or 30 times. However, again and again and again we sat in offices and had door after door slammed in our face.
Probably my favorite moment was sitting in the office of BIG PUB COMPANY and having the VP of Dev pick up a phone call and say, “Seriously? We got BIG LICENSE NAME HERE for only 1.2 million dollars? That’s amazing.” Then he hung up the phone, turned to me and said, “So, girls game huh? What can you give me for $15oK?” That let me know right there what the “girls market” was worth
(Please see Pink Poison on this blog for more on the “pink games” movement”)
We drug that game all over and back, trying to find someone who’d fund it or take a chance on it. Today, it was what would be called a “casual” MMO. But back then there was no such category. Heck, there weren’t even MMOs. I could see that the people we were pitching to simply did not get it. They couldn’t see what I could, that the future of the female game market was in games with a strong social component.
One of the more “eye opening” moments in that was from BIG NAME TOY COMPANY with BIG NAME GIRLS LICENSE. We had done a pitch for them and they had looked at me with no understanding. But they called me a few days afterwards. “Are you sure about this?” they asked. “Tell you what. You bring us some demographics.. show us that girls like horses and that there is a market for a girls’ horse title.. and then we’ll talk”
I could only wonder what planet they’d been living on if they really didn’t know that girls liked horses and that they would spend money on horses. It was finally Barbie Riding Club that proved that for us.
However, the final straw was Microsoft. We had begun talking to Microsoft early in founding Sirenia and they had shown an interest in the girls game market. Mr Agent talked to them about us and they were intrigued. They showed up at one of my talks.. then they brought me up for a paid consulting gig where I talked to them about designing for girls. Then we pitched our idea to a high ranking female programmer in the division we were working with and she completely “got” the idea and loved it! Finally, we had all our ducks in a row and pitched the head of the division.
By now we had a working demo of the game and went in to the pitch with high hopes. He really seemed to like the idea. He asked intelligent questions and began to look at the budget. We went away from that meeting optimistic.
then we waited for a reply.
A few days goes by.
Another few days.
Finally, two weeks later, we contact the high ranking female programmer. She puts us in touch with the division head’s assistant. She tells us we should expect an answer in the next day.
the next day we got a one line email from the division head, sent from his blackberry.
“We don’t think it is the time for us to do girls games.”
And thus ended Sirenia Software.