Weyn Seeks to Develop Mobile Games Targeting Women, People of Color
Ida Byrd-Hill first came to Xconomy’s attention in 2011 for her efforts to introduce Detroit kids to the “wild, wild world of intellectual property” through a board game called Fluke: The Wealth Building Game of Accidential Inventions.
Now, Byrd-Hill is taking the same approach—teaching people about wealth through gaming—and putting a digital spin on it. Byrd-Hill has formed a new Detroit-based venture called Weyn (the Somalian word for “great,” pronounced we-in), which seeks to develop gaming apps that target people of color and immerse them in the world of intellectual property, stocks, startups, and financial analysis.
Weyn’s first offering is a mobile game called My Jewel Empire, which Byrd-Hill said has some similarities to Candy Crush but with a twist: users will be able to turn the jewels they collect into virtual currency that can then be used to purchase businesses, thereby mimicking real-world wealth-building.
Byrd-Hill plans to monetize the game by harnessing it as a referral mechanism for financial advisors. “The struggle most financial advisors have is in client acquisition,” she said. “The cost to acquire a client is the same whether they’re investing $5,000 or $5 million. Consequently, most don’t bother with people who have less than $100,000 to invest.”
Byrd-Hill feels this is a short-sighted strategy on the part of advisors. After all, she pointed out, how do they know who will go on to be financially successful as they progress through adulthood? My Jewel Empire users will be able to establish relationships with financial advisors if they choose, or opt out of having their information shared if they prefer.
The way people manage their wealth is something Byrd-Hill is keenly interested in after spending more than a decade of her early career as an investment advisor before leaving the industry to focus on raising her kids.
“People forget I spent 15 years as a wealth manager—I know that game,” she said. “I had 2,200 clients and I worked my buns off.” Byrd-Hill sees a strong potential market for her financial education game among people of color who are also tech enthusiasts.
Anyone paying attention to American pop culture in 2015 knows that African American consumers are enthusiastic and influential users of social media, mobile games, and other online entertainment. (The massive success of Empire is at least partly fueled by the community of viewers watching and commenting together on so-called “Black Twitter.”)
Regarding Empire, Byrd-Hill said, “You can’t deny the fact that it’s a black Dynasty, except it blew past Dynasty in terms of success. Nobody has even asked why, but if you get down to the nitty-gritty, you can see why. Black people have always wanted to dominate Wall Street, but we can’t get in the game even when we have the credentials. The show tapped that nerve.”
For those who haven’t seen it, Empire chronicles the trials and tribulations of the Lyons family, which rose up from hardscrabble circumstances to become the owners of a highly successful record label and entertainment conglomerate that is on the precipice of an initial public offering —but only if the family’s assorted conflicts don’t derail the whole company.
“The family conquered Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and now Wall Street. We as black people can’t get a toehold, so we’re going to force the system to change like Empire did in Hollywood,” Byrd-Hill said, referring to how taken aback Hollywood’s old guard seemed by the runaway success of Empire and how that success has led casting directors on other shows to be more inclusive.
Byrd-Hill offers some statistics that show exactly how powerful consumers of color are: According to the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of mobile gaming revenue comes from African American players, as opposed to 26 percent from white players. Latinos contribute 21 percent of mobile gaming revenues. Data from the Entertainment Software Association shows 48 percent of gamers are women with an average age of 31—and often, these women are moms who control household purchasing decisions.
Statista Research found that the global mobile gaming market exceeded $21 billion in 2014. People of color—African, Arabic, Asian, Latino, and East Indian, Byrd-Hill said—are estimated to generate 64 percent of the mobile gaming revenue domestically and 66 percent of the revenue worldwide. Despite those numbers, only 4 percent of the characters in video games are women or people of color and often, she said, those characters paint a negative stereotype of this underserved market.
Byrd-Hill said many game developers are looking at the wrong statistics, and that’s where she sees an opportunity. “Developers in the mobile gaming space don’t even see the necessity of adding diversity to their characters—I met a game developer who said he didn’t care what color users were as long as he’s making money. But when you identify with your market, you make more money. They’re looking at who’s playing the game. We’re looking at who’s making in-app purchases.”
Byrd-Hill is eager to go after the African gaming market because she feels it’s low-hanging fruit: Though nearly everyone in Africa has a cell phone, there aren’t many companies targeting African mobile gamers. “We’re going to seize those markets in totality,” she said.
Byrd-Hill and the Weyn team recently participated in Techweek Chicago’s Launch Championship, a startup pitch contest. Though Weyn didn’t make it to the finals, Byrd-Hill said the company got lots of valuable feedback about My Jewel Empire, and that’s what they were hoping for.
“Techweek Chicago is a good place to go and see if your idea has merit,” she said. “My Jewel Empire generated a lot of excitement. Women and people of color recognize that they’re not being represented in video games, and they don’t like it. The whole entertainment market is trying to be devoid of color and you can no longer do that.”
Byrd-Hill is especially proud of recruiting Ryan Hauer to join the Weyn team as its chief quality officer. Hauer has 20 years of experience in the video game industry, and has contributed to the development of the Call of Duty and Lost Planet games.
Weyn plans to pursue a seed funding round to help get My Jewel Empire to market. The company is currently looking for beta testers to play the game and offer feedback. (To participate, send an email to email@example.com and put Private Beta in the subject line, then put your name and email address in the body of the message.) She also plans a Kickstarter campaign to support the formal, public launch of My Jewel Empire.
Byrd-Hill said she recently traveled to the Bay Area to pitch Weyn to potential investors. In Silicon Valley, she said, she’s a “novelty” because she’s an older African American woman, and that helps her to stand out and be noticed.
“I spoke to a lot of people there who were interested in the project,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned is that I get more traction outside of Michigan. I’m excited for Weyn because it gives us the chance to impact what goes on on Main Street, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley simultaneously, and that’s how we’re going to change the wealth game forever.”