By Lucy Ungaro
I recently interviewed Lina Chen and Naomi Ladizinsky, the co-founders of a game company called Nix Hydra that makes feminine, egg-oriented, non-aggressive videogames. Their first game, Egg Baby, was a breakout hit. Now, Egg!, the sequel that releases today, promises to be “the world’s most eggstravagant pet game.” Read about how these women forged a path of success through a male-dominated game industry.
N: The game was originally based on the middle school health project that kids would do where you’d take care of an egg with a partner to see if you were responsible enough to take care of a real living thing. But also, eggs are a great symbol of potential.
L: If you think about it, everything is eggs.
How did you meet Naomi, and then decide to make games together?
L: We met at Yale, where we worked on some TV and film projects together. After graduation we both moved to Los Angeles and became roommates. We couldn’t find smartphone games we resonated with and after further digging, discovered that our demographic – that of young women – was overlooked by most of the gaming industry. That’s when we decided to make our own games, for other young women like us.
What games did you play growing up? What interested you about games, and what frustrated you about them?
L: I remember playing Scorched Earth, Sim City, Sims, Age of Empires and Neopets. Games are interesting because they allow you to interact with other people’s imaginations and sometimes explore the power of your own imagination. The only frustration I remember as a kid regarding games was that Age of Empires was too aggressive for me once my neighbors started attacking. Also, too many people cheated on their Neopoints while I was earnestly collecting them every day on Neopets.
N: Growing up I loved puzzle, strategy, and management games like Myst, Civilization, and Harvest Moon. I loved that these games built a world and set you free in them to explore the breadth and consequences of your actions. The most frustrating thing about games growing up was never having the same consoles as everyone else. I was always on PC or Neogeo pocket….
Egg! and Egg Baby seem like adorable, punny games with a humorous voice and a child’s storybook type mythology. Is it geared for young girls? Or are the cute, anthropomorphic creatures supposed to be reminiscent of childhood?
N: We definitely wanted to make Egg! a magical and colorful game. The style of game is something we all remember from our childhoods, but we wanted to bring it to mobile and treat it with the respect it deserves.
L: Egg! is meant for the inner kid of teen girls and women in their 20s.
What challenges did you encounter when raising money for your company? Riot Games’ Brandon Beck was an early investor. What were his suggestions? Your games are decidedly different from League of Legends. Did Brandon get it immediately?
L: Saying it was difficult would be an understatement. We were trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars based on no coding skills, no product, no experience, no credibility and no industry network. I also had visa problems coming into the country (I am a South African citizen) for various investor meetings.
However, luck was on my side. Brandon was probably the first person from the gaming industry that I had met. I have an endless amount of praise for Brandon and how good he seems to be at everything. He was insightful enough to immediately understand it was an underserved market and therefore a big opportunity. One of his earliest and most memorable pieces of advice for me, once I decided to embark on this journey, was that ‘nothing is out of reach.’
What does it mean to you for a game to be made “for women”? That’s a strong statement. Do you think it’s important that women have games that are geared directly for them?
N: There are many different ways that people play, and the types of play that most game makers have focused on are the types that are usually associated with boys. When you look at the types of play that are usually associated with girls – games about exploring identity and social interaction, games about care and creation – you find that these are few and far between. It is a disservice to everyone that this full range of human play is so poorly developed.
L: It’s actually probably more important that some games are made BY women. Or at least people who like, respect and identify with the things that society has labeled ‘feminine.’ Like I said earlier, games are a way to interact with other people’s imaginations. How dull would the world be if we only could interact with the imaginations of a certain group of people?
Do you think Egg! and Egg Baby are games that men wouldn’t enjoy?
N: Not all men.
L: The world would be a better place if more men enjoyed games like Egg! and Egg Baby.
Your studio is mostly comprised of women. What do you think of studios comprised of men that make “games for girls”? Do you think they can get it right?
L: They can if those men truly like and respect girls as peers, and genuinely enjoy feminine things.
Your office sounds remarkable—a 60% majority of women and free-ranging dogs, two things you unfortunately rarely see in the workplace. Why do you choose to have dogs with you—does it lead to productivity, creativity? Did you model some of the Eggs’ personalities after your dogs?
L: There are studies that having dogs in the office reduces stress and promotes collaboration, but I only found that out AFTER we already had ramped up to about 8 office dogs roaming around daily. We allow dogs because we love them.
It’s a hilarious question, modeling our Egg’s personalities after our dogs. Not exactly, but we did say all the Eggs should behave a bit puppy-like.
You also stress mental health in the workplace, giving your employees three day weekends. How do you think this contributes to the environment of Nix Hydra?
L: People seem happier here than at other gaming companies. We hear a lot of employee feedback saying it is the happiest gaming studio they’ve have ever worked at.
What inspired Egg! and Egg Baby? Was “Tamagotchi” an influence?
N: Egg Baby was originally inspired by the middle school egg project, but tons of people at the company had a Tamagotchi or some sort of equivalent when they were younger. I had a Gigapet. I loved it.
L: I played a lot of Neopets (along with a lot of other people in the office) and, of course, also Tamagotchi. I loved Neopets more though.
When you designed Egg! and Egg Baby, did you think “this is what I would like to play, as a woman”? Or did you try to think of what most women would like? How did you attack the challenge of making a game for women?
N: We definitely made it the game we wanted to play. It’s the pet game we wished existed.
How did you decide which types of creatures the Eggs would hatch into? Creatures have descriptions that hint at world lore. Do you have an entire world imagined for these games, or is the lore another aspect of the silly, humorous mood of the game?
N: You would not believe the extent of the lore behind this game. There are wizards and drama and mystical lands…it’s very involved. You’ll see more of that as we continue adding content to the game!
How did you find a balance of punnyness? Did you ever find yourselves putting mechanics in the game because they made an interesting pun? Can you give an example of that?
N: We didn’t find a balance…we had the pun sickness and it consumed us. There was no escape. Once you start inserting the word egg into anything with an eh sounding syllable, you are basically going to egg hell. Probably the most telling area of our descent is our mini-game names…
L: One of our designer’s nickname is the Pun-isher.
And finally, what do you see for the future of Nix Hydra? More Egg games? Will you expand to other systems besides mobile?
L: I would love to see Nix Hydra eventually become the parent company behind all the top entertainment products for young women. I say products, because I don’t intend for us to be limited to eggs, games or mobile.
Lucy Ungaro, who is eggstatic about slightly burnt fried eggs, is The Circle’s Roundup columnist. This story is part of her in-depth series on women in games.