Geek Speak: Sandra Wong, CEO of Lucky Lady Games

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Sandra Wong dreams of opening her own casino. But, for now, she’ll settle for releasing a slot-machine game called Lucky Lady Casino.

Wong is the Prince Rupert-born CEO of Lucky Lady Games, a Vancouver-based startup established in March 2011. Cofounded with her brother Benson Wong, the social-games studio has five employees and is focused on developing free-to-play titles. Lucky Lady Casino, a Facebook game, will be the company’s first product. The game is set to get its alpha release in November, ahead of its planned launch in January 2013.

Prior to starting Lucky Lady Games, Wong worked as a web developer, design consultant, and marketer. According to her, the studio’s next release will be a role-playing game.

The Georgia Straight reached Wong by phone at her Burnaby home.

Why did you decide to cofound your own startup in the games industry?

This is a passion project of mine. I’ve always wanted to be a professional poker player, and I’m always really attracted to the casino-type world. So, [one way] just to get my foot in the door to one day maybe have a casino is to start online. Because I was already in the technology industry—I used to do web development—and my brother was already doing game development, it just seemed like a good idea to do social gaming.

What should people expect to find in Lucky Lady Games’ first title?

Our first title is Lucky Lady Casino. In there, you’ll find all the different elements of a social game. You’ll have progression. You’ll have different casino-type offerings—slot machines.

How will you make money off this game?

There’s different ways, when you do a social game, to make money off a user. The game is monetized. You can buy coins. Say, for example, you were to put $5 into the game, you’d get 5,000 or 10,000 coins to play. People can buy virtual goods.

We see other value in social games. People tell their friends to come into the game. The thing about a social game is not trying to just extract every dollar from a player, right? We see value in if they were to tell their friends—like 10 friends—and they would tell their friends.

There’s a lot of casino-type games out there. How do you differentiate yours from everyone else’s?

A lot of the casino and slots games out there are built in Flash right now. We built ours in HTML5, which means that we’re able to be cross-platform. So, whether you’re on a smartphone or a desktop or iPad—any connected device—you’re able to access it. So you don’t have to download anything. You can just play it right off the browser. Also, in game design, we’re very unique in the fact that we concentrated on a lot of custom artwork as well as a lot of the gameplay elements—the different ways you progress, the different bonuses you can get.

We are building a slots game here, so we’re not being too creative outside the box. Why we decided to launch with a slots game initially was just to get our foot in the door and get a base of players. The thing with social gaming, which is different than a regular console-game-design studio, is that we’re more of a data, marketing, analytics company, rather than a creative game-design producer. It’s all about building up your numbers, and seeing how people respond to that. Once we get to a point where we’re able to be more creative with our game design, then we venture out and do games that we actually want to build.

What’s your favourite game to play on Facebook?

I think Zynga does a really good job. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of time to play a lot of games on Facebook. But I’m very familiar with a lot of the casino games. I play poker—Zynga Poker—sometimes. I enjoy CastleVille and Empires & Allies, which is also a Zynga title. PopCap does a really good job, of course, with Bejeweled.

If players can’t win money, what draws them to play a slot-machine game?

It’s funny, the behaviour of social gamers. Fifty percent of the population play slot machines to win money. But there’s also this behaviour of these players who just do it for entertainment. So that’s our target market—the people who come home after a long day of work and they just want to put $5 dollars in and zone out for a little bit and just have fun. Sometimes when you play these games, you get some kind of gratification. It’s not about just winning the money, because the slot machine is by chance. It’s an entertainment service—what we sell. Games are just our vehicle. We provide entertainment.

Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? You can tell Stephen Hui on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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