Crowdstar, a veteran among companies that have combined computer games with social media sharing, says it has crafted its biggest hit so far and made the transition to mobile. That’s surely a business story, but what interested me most was the personal transition made by the Burlingame, CA-based company’s CEO, Jeffrey Tseng.
Tseng grew up playing all sorts of games on video consoles like Atari’s, at a time when “the whole gaming industry was built by men making games for males,” he says. That masculine stamp continued when Tseng started his career as a game developer, notably at the San Francisco video game studio Secret Level, which created titles including “America’s Army: Rise of a Soldier” and “Star Wars Jedi Starfighter.”
The industry was producing zero sum games where the payoff was establishing personal dominance, Tseng says. “When I win, you lose,” Tseng says.
But in the game that’s now raising Crowdstar’s fortunes, Covet Fashion, the top winner of a daily style contest gets a luxurious ball gown to hang in her virtual closet, and validation of her fashion sense from fellow players who voted for her. The losers also get a virtual designer item, and the chance to compete again another day by assembling a new outfit online.
The win-win rewards extend to more than 150 real-world apparel makers such as BCBG, Rebecca Minkoff, French Connection, and Rachel Zoe, which display their designs on Covet Fashion in virtual mode, and also offer links to their e-commerce sites so players can buy the actual clothes to wear themselves.
For several years, Crowdstar has been making a transition to designing social games tailored for women. Tseng found he had to throw out all his notions about the core mechanics of successful games, learned in a decade in the console game industry.
“It was a process of unlearning,” Tseng says. His combat-tested younger self might be astonished at the way he talks about his current game developer philosophy.
“It’s empathy with the audience that is the number one driver for us,” Tseng says. “We start with the core psychology of our audience and what they care about.”
Covet Fashion, first launched in June 2013, is still evolving. But the game has helped Crowdstar achieve profitability, double its revenues in 2014, and reach a staff size of 70, Tseng says. It was the result of the experience the company gained as it developed and marketed 30 games since its founding by Tseng and two partners in 2008. Crowdstar has raised more than $40 million since its inception, from backers that include Time Warner and Intel Capital.
Women turned out to be the majority of players of Crowdstar’s early titles, including Happy Pets and Happy Island, where people could design a vacation paradise. The company then intentionally developed games for young women, such as It Girl, a fashion game shared on Facebook.
The target market for Covet Fashion, created as a mobile app, is women 25 and older who like to experiment with fashion combinations, get suggestions from fellow users, and gain confidence in their sense of style.
“A lot of women want their games to feel useful, to feel they’re still learning something, they’re not wasting their time,” Tseng says.
Covet Fashion allows women to … Next Page »
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