Kirsten Forbes says the time is ripe for Silicon Sisters Interactive to start making video games for a mostly female audience. Canada’s first video-game company owned by women is building prototypes of future titles, according to the 49-year-old, Toronto-born cofounder and chief operating officer.
On July 20, Forbes and fellow cofounder Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch announced the creation of Silicon Sisters. They revealed that the Vancouver-based studio is working on two projects for PC and mobile platforms. Forbes says Silicon Sisters has a third principal, whose identity hasn’t been made public, and four contract employees.
Forbes previous spent 12-and-a-half years with Vancouver’s Radical Entertainment, ultimately becoming an executive producer. Before she was laid off during the recent economic downtown, Forbes worked on the CSI and Crash Bandicoot games, and ported Tetris Worlds to the Nintendo GameCube and the Xbox.
The Georgia Straight reached Forbes by phone at her downtown Vancouver home, where she had been playing Plants vs. Zombies.
Why did you establish Silicon Sisters?
The time is right. The time is just absolutely right. You know, the console-game industry started to contract significantly. I mean, it was 2006 or 2007 that we all started to understand that market was getting saturated. Those core gamers had all the games they needed, and those games were getting more and more epic, so you could get a thousand hours of gameplay out of them. You know, look at World of Warcraft, all that stuff. It was starting to contract in terms of being a packaged-goods industry.
Then, at the same time, all this other stuff was happening in the background. Club Penguin came out of nowhere—three guys in Kelowna. Then suddenly Disney was buying them for hundreds of millions of dollars. Then the proliferation of mobile and broadband penetration and then of course Facebook, and all these different pieces started to come into play, where you realized that there was a real shift in the market and it was just massively opening up to the mainstream.
The controller was probably a barrier to entry for a lot of people. You don’t want to look like an idiot trying to manipulate this thing to play a game. The Wii got rid of that. I remember doing a press tour in Europe—probably 2006—standing in a huge hotel with press milling about and demoing the game and holding out the Wii controller and saying, “Who wants to try?” Girls all over the place go, “I’ll give it a try. I don’t care if I look like an idiot.” And they got up there and swung it around and did it. You’re allowed to look like an idiot on it, right? So, it really sort of broke down that barrier of trying to manipulate specific buttons on a controller. So, all those things came into play, and they kind of interwove over the last decade really and just brought games to the mainstream.
What is your studio working on right now?
I can’t say.
What’s wrong with the video games currently being produced for girls?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I mean, games are a human pleasure. Humans have been playing games since time began, and I really think it has more to do with the barriers that were keeping women out of the games than anything to do with the games themselves.
For instance, I read the research now. Absolutely, they’ve gone mainstream. It’s all over the place—Facebook. Sure, people can argue that those games don’t have depth, and, as a stand-alone game without the social component, would they be able to hold their own, et cetera, et cetera. But, as they become mainstream, it’s really just a matter of finding the right platform for the stuff that people want to play.
How will Silicon Sisters games be different from everything else?
You know when you read a piece of research and it’s about you as a demographic slice and you just go, “Yeah, that is me—you’re actually talking about me.” That’s the difference. I was certainly able to make games for 18-to-25-year-old boys in my career, and I was certainly able to make games for kids, which was a bit easier because we were all kids at one point.
But there is something even that much easier again about the audience resonating with you because you are the audience. So, it’s just simply that competitive advantage. It’s not any magical elixir. The market has come around. The devices are there. The experience we have in actually executing on a game is strictly a learned skill. There’s no gender bias there, obviously. So, taking all those things and combining them just makes a really potent mix at this point in time. It’s just perfect timing.
Has your experience or research shown you that there are certain kinds of games that women are drawn to?
I think that you can say there are certain kinds of mechanics that women prefer, and that’s really how you build it. There’s no homogeneity among women, just as there’s no homogeneity among any group. So, then you look at vertical slices of women, based on the types of stuff that they want to do.
The research that we’re seeing now, which again resonates because you go, “Yeah, that’s me; yeah, that’s me”, varies from things to an element of pragmatism in the game—something that you can take to the outside world, something that benefits you personally—whether that’s honing certain skills, whether that’s physical exercise, whether that’s having a health aspect to it. All that kind of research is starting to come out now, because of course everyone’s paying attention to this market.
So, if you just slice it vertically by looking at mechanics, I think that’s how you do it. You want to find those things that tickle a part of someone’s brain, and Tetris is the example that I always hold up, because it really is so universal and so intrinsically satisfying to sort stuff out. Right? Create order out of chaos, it’s a great feeling. It’s short and quick, and you finish the game and you go, “I rock.” That’s exactly what we’re looking for—those basic human satisfactions.
What are some of your favourite games to play?
I’m absolutely a mainstream player. I will play anything. I sit down with my son and play Modern Warfare 2, play World of Warcraft. You know, right now I’m completely messed up on little games like FrontierVille. I sat up half the night with my daughter playing Princess Isabella. So, wide range of stuff. And it goes back to the point that there is no homogeneity, right? It is a universal pleasure, and there’s all kinds of different things that you get out of it.
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? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.