2 Women Make Video Game History
Two women who love gaming are making history in a field long considered a bastion of young males. Felicia Day's and Jacqueline Beauchamp's innovative ideas have yielded ground-breaking deals with Microsoft's Xbox.
Day has parlayed her award-winning web show about online gamers, The Guild, into a hit distributed worldwide across Microsoft's triple platform of Xbox LIVE, MSN Video and Zune Marketplace. Hers is the first internet series to be distributed across the triple platform. To read Day's story, click here.
Like Day, Beauchamp loves video games. So she decided to form a company and design her own games, beginning with Black College Football Experience. Her company, Nerjyzed (pronounced "energized") is the first black-owned development studio to create a game for Xbox 360.
To read Beauchamp's story, click here.
You've likely seen Felicia Day on television. She's has appeared in shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, House, Monk, Strong Medicine, Mystery Woman and Windfall. She's been in several films, including Bring it on Again, June, the Emmy award-winning Warm Springs and most recently Prairie Fever with Kevin Sorbo.
Day says there were two constants in her life when she was a child: Video games and acting. With a father who was a U.S. Air Force doctor, the family moved frequently, so her mother home-schooled Day and her brother, Ryon. Day turned to video games early on as a means of entertainment, and theater became a means of socialization for a home-schooled youngster. "You can audition for a play, and three months later it's over. It's the perfect transient activity you can do and also be able to socialize with people," Day says.
Although she majored in math and violin performance in college, she moved to Los Angeles after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin to pursue an acting career.
"I worked regularly enough that I paid my bills," she says. But there was also a lot of down time between acting jobs. "I got bored with it," Day says. "I had just come off a very bad video game addiction to World of Warcraft. I quit, and that's when I decided to write something." That "something" quite naturally turned out to be The Guild, which began life as a half-hour pilot about a group of gamers.
Day showed it to industry friends, who declared the series "too niche" for television. But producing partner Kim Evey, who created the web series Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show, encouraged her to produce the pilot as a web series, which premiered in August 2007.
They broke the pilot into three episodes lasting three to five minutes each and quickly gathered a loyal fan base of online gamers and techies. Day ran out of money after the first three episodes, so she put up a PayPal button--and viewers used it. "After three weeks, we had a budget to shoot the next episode. And that's how we got through the rest of the season," Day says.
Marketing was key to The Guild's success. "The internet isn't just three networks. It's a monumental task to get the word out." But as a gamer herself, Day knew where her potential audience goes on the web and how it consumes its information. She posted information about her show on appropriate video game and other forums, and leveraged her Buffy fan base as well.
Her method of raising money meant that Day could only upload an episode every five weeks. But in retrospect, she believes that's what helped spread the word about The Guild virally.
The actors got paid after the shows aired. "We released a DVD over the summer, and that paid back everyone for their work," Day says. "We packaged it in my kitchen."
Offers to distribute her show started rolling in early on. Day held out for more than a year, waiting for a deal that would allow her to retain the intellectual property rights. That's when Microsoft stepped up. Season two of The Guild was launched on Xbox LIVE, MSN Video and Zune Marketplace in November 2008. The Guild now has a worldwide audience of 14 million people in 26 countries, with subtitles in nine languages. Thanks to Microsoft, The Guild can now present longer episodes on a weekly basis, with high production values and a bigger crew.
Day hasn't given up her acting career--to date, web video isn't as lucrative as television or movies. "But it's a changing landscape," Day believes. "Money's going to start coming and advertisers will see the value in funding ongoing narrative. I hope that whatever I do is opening the door for other people to follow."
In the interim, she says, "If I happen to get a job, I have awesome people working with me who are able to cover that." That's already happened. She landed a recurring role on Roommates, although the episodes haven't aired yet.
"Sometimes it can get a little crazy," she admits, "But at the end of the day it's all worth it because I'm doing what I want."
Day advises other would-be video mavens: "Be prepared to work a lot for no money for a long time. Figure out what you do for hours a day that you enjoy that you're not being paid for and then say, 'hey, I want to try to make money at that.' I've done this for over a year and a half without making a dollar. If you're really passionate about it and you want to share it with people, you'll find your audience, and you might find some money. The more people who jump in and say, 'This is what I want to do,' the more the money will follow.
"Scheduled programming is going out the window. No one wants to see a bunch of white people having fun in a coffee shop--we've already seen it. Let's tell a more interesting story that hasn't been told. People are craving something that they haven't seen before. The web is the natural outlet."
Looking back, Day says she wishes she had known how to delegate better. "I burned myself out. Don't hesitate to reach out and have other people help you."
On time management, she says, "Make a to-do list and actually do it. Those things that look really monumental and hard--when you get into the rhythm of actually doing the things on your to-do list, you'll realize that nothing's really that monumental."
Jacqueline Beauchamp is one of those lucky entrepreneurs who works at what she loves most: video games.
"I love it. I love being around young people; I love the competitiveness. I love the, 'ooh, what if we could do this,' because really, when you're sitting down competing is also where that whole creative mind-set comes into play. Once you really follow that passion, you never feel as though you're working a day in your life."
Beauchamp defies the stereotype of the young male gamer. She's a 40-something black woman dedicated to bringing diversity into the video game industry and educating the rest of the world about the black experience. And her Black College Football Experience video game is beginning to fulfill that dream.
She always knew she was headed this direction, even as a youngster enthralled by animation, multimedia and the entertainment industry. "You can never become what you have not seen. So as a little girl growing up, animation was always a big part of what I wanted to do. So that's how Nerjyzed (pronounced "energized") was envisioned."
Animation evolved into video games. "Video games are driving scripts and vice versa. There's a convergence between the two, and what better place to be than in a position of knowing how to do both and knowing how to make those experiences cross different media?" Beauchamp says.
She was a computer designer for IBM for 10 years. Then, deciding it was time to "move down the path of following my passion," she chose a job in multimedia at Motorola. "I was the first African-American female to run a division within the semiconductor products sector," she says. But her passion and desire to do more never went away.
Every time she participated on tech-based panels or multimedia panels, there were few blacks and even fewer women. She kept thinking someone needed to correct that discrepancy. After eight years at Motorola, she says, "I realized that someone had to be me," she says.
So in 2004, she formed Nerjyzed Entertainment with several other partners.
Unlike many entrepreneurs, Beauchamp says she had a pretty good idea what she was getting herself into when she chose to become an entrepreneur. "I think the biggest struggle and challenge, whether it's a woman entrepreneur or any entrepreneur, is not being prepared in all aspects: Knowing what success is supposed to look like, and making sure that I know all the steps and elements that are going to be required in preparation to make sure that happens," Beauchamp says.
"One of the things is knowing what your strategy is going to be and making sure that strategy is going to be sound. Then from there, looking at the right capitalization in funding that strategy and then building the appropriate team to implement that strategy. Those were the three steps I took with my board and the other founding members in moving Nerjyzed to the level of where it is today."
Beauchamp spent six to nine months on her business plan alone: "We wanted to make sure that our strategy and business plan were sound. And once we did that, knowing that we could field the right team, we felt that we could get the company capitalized."
When Nerjyzed was founded in 2004, sports--specifically football--games were No. 1. "Now music-based interactive games are No. 1 and sports games are No. 2. We're in a great position because we're providing both," Beauchamp says.
What Nerjyzed created is The Black College Football Experience, which combines the two leading genres of gaming by incorporating football with a rhythm-based interactive music experience that includes drumline competitions and interactive halftime shows. The band music is authentic tracks of school bands. The interactive halftime shows reflect the bands' styles of march and precision.
"We licensed 45 music tracks from old school to new school," from BeyoncÃ© to Destiny's Child, and Earth, Wind and Fire. "You can go into the challenge mode and play head-to-head a drumline challenge with the rock band," Beauchamp says. Alternatively, gamers can simply watch the halftime show and listen to all of the music from every school that's been recorded.
Initially the company was self-funded. "Once we knew we had something solid, we began to go out and work at capitalizing the plan," Beauchamp says. But the founding partners--four of them at the time--opted not to ask for venture capital. Instead, they went to high net-worth individuals and secured $8 million. She and Frederick Johnson are the two partners remaining from the original foursome.
Even with funding the journey wasn't complete. Nerjyzed had to get approved as an official Microsoft developer. It didn't hurt that the company's creative design director is a former Microsoft employee. "They could look at the application submittal and look at your team and knew who you had on board."
She advises would-be entrepreneurs to reach out early on, sooner rather than later, in building a network corps of people around you. "It's so critical. It's really the advisors and people that you can pick up the phone and say, 'I've got a challenge in this area and we need to explore possible ways of solving it.' The power of the network is extremely important." You have to build the relationships one at a time, she cautions, always knowing whom you want to get to.
Beauchamp is proof that it's possible to succeed in a down economy. "I think it started with the right plan and the right strategy. And having the right product."