How do you get young, female consumers interested in playing your computer games? In what has mostly been a male dominated industry, there have been few games which really cater to the young, female demographic. However, Egg Baby--the title from newly funded Nix Hydra (www.nixhydra.com)--seems to have cracked the code for how to get new, young, female consumers to become game players. The company just raised a $5M funding round for its efforts, from Foundry Group and a number of angels. We sat down with Lina Chen and Naomi Ladizinsky, co-founders of Nix Hydra, to learn more about their hit game, Egg Baby, the perils of trying to get funding as female entrepreneurs, and what they're working on next.
Talk about Nix Hydra, and what your game company is working on?
Lina Chen: Nix Hydra makes mobile games for the young female demographic. We're based in Los Angeles, and make a game called Egg Baby, which so far has had more than nine million downloads, with zero marketing spend. The game is about a virtual pet egg that hatches into a variety of creatures depending on how youíve been taking care of them.
How did the company start?
Lina Chen: Naomi and I went to Yale together, where we worked on a number of silly and embarrassing projects. After graduating, we both moved out to LA where we were roommates. I worked at William Morris while Naomi was at Machinima. We went through a conversation, and figured out what we really wanted to do was make games for young women.
Naomi Ladizinsky: We looked at the mobile gaming market and couldnít find the games we really wanted to play, so we decided to make them. So, we started to learn some basic HTML and ActionScript, and put together a prototype, which helped us raise our first round of angel funding. It was clear there was a missing voice in the industry.
Why games for young women?
Lina Chen: We are young women ourselves, and these are the sorts of games we wanted to play, and couldn't find in the marketplace. As you probably know, it's a pretty male dominated industry. Plus, we love this demographic! We are young women ourselves, obviously, so itís a competitive advantage to do what we know best, especially when thereís not many of us in the industry.
What do you think is the biggest appeal of your game to young women?
Lina Chen: It's more about our perspective, and the subtlety of execution. There are thousands of pet themed games. You can't just say you have a pet game called egg baby, it's the way we made egg baby to appeal to teen girls.
Naomi Ladizinsky: More specifically, thereís a lot of freedom of choice in the game to express and explore various personalities/identities. The game looks deceptively simple, but is actually quite complex. Every action and interaction with the egg has consequences, and every choice the player makes helps shape their eggís personality. Most of the reviews rant about how cute the game is, so they probably like that too.
There are not many women-led gaming startups, was it difficult to start and get this funded?
Lina Chen: The first round of funding was super tough. We didnít have much credibility and had only a rough prototype we hacked together ourselves to shop around with. That was really, really hard. However, with this most recent funding, it was a totally different experience, on the opposite side of the spectrum. We had numbers and traction, and we already had the support of very connected angel investors. So, funding went from very hard to very easy. Plus, Egg Baby had been cash flow positive less than two months after launch, so in a way we didnít need the money. People like to give you money when you donít need it.
What is it about Egg Baby which has made it viral?
Lina Chen: Our demographic is a pretty viral demographic, in itself. Teenage girls like to talk to their friends, possibly more than any other demographic, so all of our downloads have been driven by word of mouth. They also like to show off their eggs on social media, on places like Instagram, and dress their eggs up in all sorts of fun costumes.
Naomi Ladizinsky: Our users have a big range of options on how they raise their egg, which also gives them a lot of self expression. They also like to share all of that with their friends.
Gaming is known as a hits driven business - how do you ensure you get the next hit, and what's your strategy around that?
Naomi: We have a unique advantage in our next projects in that we approach gaming from a different point of view from most of the mobile gaming industry. There are a lot of people who see gaming the same way - who are approaching new games from the same perspective - iterating on the same ideas in mobile gaming right now. This could be a huge essay, but there are aspects to gaming like complexity of choice and direct character interaction that have been largely ignored by most mobile game developers. These things turned Egg Baby into a hit before the game was even done. We think that our audience is really looking for this kind of gaming. Plus, there are a lot of people trying to make games for the female demographic, but they don't understand the demographic, and don't have a real understanding of the demographic. We have an inherent understanding of the market, and so we have an advantage in that particular regard.
You two were at William Morris, and Machinima--both on the content and video side. Was it difficult to make the transition to the computer games area?
Naomi Ladizinsky: weíve always been making digital content and loved games, so it was a pretty easy transition.
Lina Chen: Weíve always loved media. I think the hardest part of the transition was convincing other people we could do it.
So what finally convinced other people to invest for your first angel round?
Lina Chen: Number one, we learned to code and made a prototype ourselves. And, number two, was pure perseverance. We just talked to everyone and asked and asked until someone decided to take a chance on us.
Finally, with all this new funding, what are you going to do?
Lina Chen: We are hiring! We are super excited to scale our team to allow us to expand the Egg Baby franchise, because it has a long way to go to reach its full potential. We also plan to start on two more projects - one this year and one in 2015.