Tell us a bit about what you do, and what do you enjoy most about it?
Sticky Brain Studios helps companies connect with audiences by making interactive games, apps, and digital creative content. My share of the workload is mostly on the business side of operations – account management, project management, contracts, cash flows – but because we’re a small team I also get involved with brainstorms, and provide feedback on design and functionality of games and apps.
I love that we try to make sure every product has something smart or meaningful to it. Our advergames aren’t just clickable widgets to sell a product, but there’s an actual game experience to them. We look for new ways for users to interact with entertainment properties, like finding a niche part of a story to build a game for a children’s television series.
The variety of work is exciting as well – while we’ve mostly been doing web-based games for kids, we’ve helped a charity develop an interactive graphic novel, we’re in the process of developing our own all-ages mobile puzzle game (no client!), and we’re about to start on a web-based interactive timeline to companion a TVO documentary on the history of family photography.
Tell us a bit about your experience as an entrepreneur in such a male dominated area.
It strangely took me a long time to realize I was in a male dominated area. I have worked alongside so many women through my career that it didn’t dawn on me really until the last year or two how few women there are doing what I’m doing. I also teach part-time at Centennial College and nearly all the part-time industry-based faculty in Interactive Media Management are women and have been for 5+ years.
I’ve been online since home internet was available. I grew up playing games by Sierra (co-founded by a woman – Roberta Williams). So it’s frustrating to attend conferences where male panellists talk about “getting a guy for this, guy for that”, or they laugh when they say they’re an all-male team making games for women. I think that resolved my goal of making games and interactive experiences I want to play – thoughtful narratives or puzzle games. Because why not make games for others like me?
I look around the industry, and I know hundreds of companies, but maybe only a handful are owned by women. It gets lonely. I’m very lucky to have a lot of great men in my professional circle (including my fantastic business partner!) who dispense encouragement, advice, or just commiserate with me over common issues. I also have a wonderful collection of women friends and colleagues who work at a senior level in interactive media or digital marketing who I can lean on.
What’s the most empowering thing you’ve done in your career?
After producing my first projects, most of which were nominated for and won the top awards in our sector like the Gemini Awards (now Canadian Screen Awards) and Youth Media Alliance Awards, I was bored and frustrated working for other people – I wanted more flexibility to do things that interested me. So I left my comfortable, salaried job with benefits to go freelance and juggle a bunch of contracts.
The result of that has been incredible.
The day I publicly announced on Twitter I was available for freelance work, I landed a big contract producing gig and haven’t looked back. I’ve coached other entrepreneurs and studios in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. I’ve been a part of shaping government policy. I’m on various advisory committees and active with industry organizations like Interactive Ontario and Women in Film and Television – Toronto. I’ve been able to learn a lot about Ontario’s post-secondary education system and helped develop a post-secondary academic program, and I coach the next generation of interactive media professionals. My network has grown exponentially. And when I got bored of all that I started Sticky Brain Studios!
What attracted you to Lean In Canada?
Meeting other female entrepreneurs! More broadly, the opportunity to build a network and meet other women who want to do great things in business.
How are you leaning in?
I say “Yes”. One of my favourite quotes from President Obama is “We are not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable”. I look for opportunities to get out of my comfort zone. I don’t shy away from asking questions. Of course, I’m always afraid of looking stupid, but I learned at a young age that I won’t get noticed if I wait to be noticed. Teaching is my main outlet for coaching the next generation of women to find their own way of leaning in. I try to give them confidence to try new things and stand out as they start their careers.
Name a notable woman in your professional circle that you think deserves a shout out or career recognition – and what would you like us to know about her?
This is really hard, because there are many!! Since this is about female founders and I’m in the games space, I’ll name Miriam Verburg, Owner and Executive Producer of Bloom Digital Media.
Bloom Digital Media is a boutique game company that creates narrative driven games featuring authentic characters in the midst of pivotal moments and live-changing stories. Their current game LongStory is a wonderful dating sim/role-play game focused on helping players build healthy relationships through immersive and inventive choice-driven storytelling. Unlike typical dating games about the girl trying to get the guy, the stories in LongStory are LGBT+ positive – which makes the games accessible to youth who are still exploring their identity.
Miriam has often told me it’s a game she would have liked when she was a tween/teen. It’s not a mainstream title because it’s not your typical game (because of the narrow definition of games that some people take), which has made raising the funding for it a very long road. I’m inspired by her perseverance to make it happen, get it out there, and as a result she has an amazing fan base who love the game. If you like a good story, even if you think you’re “not good at games”, I highly recommend checking out LongStory, available for iOS and Android.