iGames Summit 2009 – How @juliejulie Got Her Groove Back

I decided to go to the first ever iGames Summit in San Francisco last Thursday. Actually, it was more like I was led there by the voices of a few smart Sirens, Charles Hudson and David Sachs.

And so, dear readers, my Odyssey from old video gamer wife to new mobile game entrepreneur officially begins.

Please note: for a complete run down of relevant technical and business information presented at iGames, please read this great post by Charles called “What I Learned at the iGames Summit” since what I’m about to write is all about me. As usual.

In true @juliejulie goofball style, I nearly arrived at the conference a week early.

Things are tough in our little town of Bend, Oregon in the middle of the high desert. Our real estate bubble has burst. With our growing unemployment, many failed businesses that were tied to the real estate and banking, and the numerous home foreclosure notices piling up week after week, we could be a poster child for the new economy.

Oregon is trying to make sure small startups like ours get some funding, but the reality is, developer geeks like my husband and Biz Dev girls like me usually have to telecommute for contracts in the Bay Area, Portland, or Seattle.

So, I was ready to get up and go, go, go to California. Ready to make stuff happen. Ready to get in a car, and drive to the action.

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, Charles saw my tweets about packing up to leave, and fired off a quick message to remind me the conference was on March 19th, not on March 12th. Oops. I’d like to blame my Google calendar. It should have a feature that can predict screw ups due to over-excitement.

Because of my very own unemployment and tight boot-strapped budget, I decided to drive the 500 miles down to San Francisco instead of springing for the $528 airplane ticket. But then my car had to go to the shop, so I ended up renting a car.

So finally, a week later, I’m driving. Finally, I’m alone, away from the relentless demands of the Startup Family. The miles quickly spin away under my tires, and the music blares loudly. I can think now, in this nice, new, clean, fully functional car.

What is my goal for this journey? What do I want? Who do I need to meet? How does this trip help our little Mom and Pop game company with the big idea?

Spinning, spinning, spinning. Always spinning. The waves of pavement roll beneath my tires.

Nine hours later, as I crossed the Bay Bridge exactly at the moment the sun set below the Golden Gate, it hit me. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next three months, but I need to trust the journey. I exhaled, and began to relax.

I was happy to be back in San Francisco, where people still have jobs, and energy, and big ideas. These people still believe in magic, and they know how to make games you can play on your cell phone. These are my kind of people.

This first iGames conference was fantastic, and I was reminded of the first Game Developers Conference I attended in 1990. A couple hundred smart people who are creating the infrastructure and the products for this new wave of mobile software entertainment gathered together to help each other figure it all out.

I like to be in the sandbox with the smart kids, watching and learning how to play.

Although I’m not as young and cute as I used to think I was, I’ve found it still just takes a friendly smile and a pleasant hello to meet all the fun, smart people in the room. People like Keith Lee and Brian Morrisroe the boys at Booyah, the amazing Ge Wang of Smule and the iPhone Ocrina fame, and many others told me about their companies, their products, and some of their hopes and dreams.

At 6:00 p.m., after shaking hands and thanking Charles and David for letting me come, I walked outside to grab a cab back to the hotel. Standing at the curb with a big suitcase, was Gian Wilson of Microsoft Mobile. I convinced him to share a cab with me downtown and meet some friends for a drink before he hopped a plane to New York a few hours later.

Gian is a brilliant, sophisticated 25 year old with an amazing story. He grew up in Trinidad, tinkered with tech, and was asked by his government to help build technology awareness and education to bring his country up to speed by 2020. He landed a job at Microsoft after attending business school in New York. He plans to return home eventually, after building his career and connections, to share his knowledge.

I liked Gian right away and thought it was pretty gutsy of him to be a lone Microsoft guy at an iPhone conference, and it was quite gracious of him to allow a 43 year old mother of three to talk him into sharing a cab and buying her a drink while she grilled him on the future of mobile entertainment at Microsoft and what it will mean for independent developers.

Sometimes we like to pretend Microsoft isn’t cool enough to be in the sandbox, but it seems to me they might have a few tricks up their sleves.

For the record, I have a PC and a BlackBerry, @Nosredna has the Mac and an iTouch.  We will be getting iPhones as soon as AT&T comes to Bend, so shut up.  And yes, we will port our games to the BlackBerry and the Android, and make stuff for Facebook. We’re an equal opportunity mobile games start up.

So while I was sitting there in the bar at the Four Seasons in San Francisco with an old friend I met while I was a nanny 20 years ago in Atherton, and new friends I had met two hours earlier, I realized I was in my @juliejulie element. I was starting to figure something out. It was still all a bit fuzzy, but I felt my groove coming back.

What’s my goal? I’m seeking connections and sharing stories with entreperneurs, early adopters, and regular people who enjoy the fun of playing games on their phones and on their computers, and meeting real people online and offline.

How do I get there? I’ll keep you posted. I’m still at the beginning of my Oddessy, after all. And I’m trying to carefully untie myself from the ship to follow more Sirens, without getting smashed against the rocks.

Chapter 3: 18 Hour Days and White Picket Fences

Today I started snooping around to find out what some of the old game guys at Dynamix are up to. I found this fun blog Dynamix: The Rise of a Dragon in Eugene, Oregon which was put together by Jeff Tunnell, Karen Peal, Damon Slye and Piotr Lukasuzk.  Jeff, one of the founders of Dynamix, writes a great blog about the game industry called Make It Big In Games for those of you who like industry information.

But now, back to me.

It was 1993, and we started having babies. I stopped working at Dynamix to take care of the babies full time, but our lives were totally wrapped up in the game deadlines and ship dates.

The hours were insane, which I noticed more when I was home with crying kids than I had when I was hanging out playing pingpong in the break room with the guys. Now, Rhett often came home at 6:00 to eat and play with the kids, then went back until midnight. Some guys were there all night, all the time.

So I swtiched over from hanging out with the guys all day to hanging out with their wives and babies. We created our own corporate culture, and taught each other how to support our exhausted husbands and raise families when our men were hardly ever home.

We lived under big clouds of stress about royalties and bonuses tied to sometimes impossible milestones, and wondered what we’d do when publishers grumbled about canceling projects. Some people took jobs elsewhere.

There was talk of moving to Seattle and working for Microsoft, but those who had joined the empire told horror stories of even longer work hours and never, ever seeing the sunlight.

Ah, the glamour.

We bought a house. I planted a garden. We got a dog.

Rhett worked.

I got a drum and played jam sessions with hippies in the park. Our kids went to Waldorf preschool where they baked bread and learned to knit. We went to the Oregon Country Fair where I got my pregnant belly painted by some groovy midwives.

Rhett worked.

I took a pottery class and my art brain woke up. I bought a wheel and a kiln, cleaned out the basement and started an art studio for mom’s and kids. Soon I had 15 kids over three days a week, and mom’s in drinking wine and making pinch pots on Thursday nights.

Rhett worked.

I started painting dots on suitcases and sending them to stores and galleries all over the country. Julia Roberts bought one, so people thought I was special. I set up big art sale events for local artists and worked with stores at 5th Street Market. I wrote a monthly fashion/lifestyle column for the local paper and did a little modeling and voice-over for fun. I took on freelance marketing and writing projects to make extra money.

Rhett worked.

Our first hunk of company stock options were  going to vest soon, and people started talking about what they were going to do with their money. They were buying cars, homes, remodeling and paying off debt. We liked our little house with the white picket fence, and never cared too much about cars so we weren’t sure what to do.

We had been putting money into our 401(k) but didn’t know anything about investing so Rhett started reading. Soon, we had a library of financial books and stacks of Wall Street Journals and Barron’s newspapers appeared in corners. He talked to everyone and anyone who had interest or knowledge in investing. He became obsessed with figuring out how to invest.

We realized the game industry was changing and the days of talented designers cashing in and retireing on a big hit were drawing to a close. He thought that if we were frugal, careful and clever, we could eventually have a little financial independence to work on the stuff that really mattered to us.

So he started buying data, and he started programming.

Next time: cracking the code and riding the bubble.

“Hi, this is @juliejulie and I need to talk to your wife.”

Dear friends I have yet to meet:

I’ll be down in the Bay Area next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (March 18th, 19th, 20th) interviewing some Startup Wives, and maybe some husbands too. If you’d like your company to be featured, please let me know.

I’ll start the big PR engine  for this blog soon, and I’d like to add at least five good stories before then. As for stats, I got over 1,000 hits for the first two of days of posting, and I think if I keep adding content and post regularly, we can create a nice forum here for focusing on the personal side of being an entreprener and what it means for families.

It takes a village to raise a business, after all. We need to help each other connect, learn and succeed.

I’m focusing on tech/software startups because I’m most familar with this culture, but I’d be happy to talk to anyone. Well, anyone who seems, you know, interesting. Serious inquiries only please, no weirdos. I know karate and I kick hard.

I may have to round up a few of my girlfriends to come along as chaperones for these meetings, so maybe we can have a little party somewhere. Because I do like parties.

You can email me at startupwife@gmail.com, and we can arrange a time to have a phone call or meet in person if I’ll be in your vacinity. I’m attending the iGames conference in San Francisco, and staying in Redwood City, but I do so adore Palo Alto that I could be talked into having a drink at Zibbibo, if that works for anyone. I’m just saying.

You can also follow me on Twitter, I’m @juliejulie. Reply to me if you want to talk to me, my DM function doesn’t seem to work very well, even for people who are following me.

So, let’s do this thing.

iGames Conference

Life is funny sometimes. One day you’re sitting around wondering who’s going to do the laundry, and the next day your husband has done it, and you’re going to San Francisco to check out the iGames Summit.

I mean, I am.

I am going to San Francisco to check out the iGames Conference, and I’m quite excited.

I like all this app store stuff. I’m fascinated by it, and wondering what will happen to the entire software industry as we know it in the next few years. Will the independent designers be able to navigate the app stores and make their fortunes? Will the big companies take over? Will Apple hire enough people to process the paperwork in a timely manner? Will the cream rise to the top? How? When? Why?

Inquiring minds want to know. My name is @juliejulie and I want to know, since, I’m a Startup Wife after all.

So, I’m driving down to the Bay Area in time for the conference, which starts on Thursday, and I will keep you all posted. Maybe there will be pictures.

If anyone wants to meet up on Thursday night after the conference, reply to me @juliejulie on Twitter, and I’ll see if I can start a  party somewhere.

Cheers,

@juliejulie

I Swear I Will Write Another Story Soon…

But in the meantime, a few other startup wives have written to me to tell me their stories. I think we’re on to something here. If you are married to a startup geek and have a funny story to tell, please email me at julieanderson at hotmail dot com, I’d love to talk to you. Husbands and partners are welcome to submit too, I know of many women doing amazing, world-changing “Startup Things” while their spouses hold down the fort at home and help them get their products to market. Let’s chat!

Chapter Two: Penny Loafers and Red Socks

 

The year was 1991, and our story continues:

After the LucasArts Game interview, I had to fess up to the Bechtels that I was looking around for jobs and probably wouldn’t be their nanny forever.

Susie Bechtel asked if I wanted to transition into working for her on a global project that would connect the families that worked for Bechtel abroad. It would involve writing and community development through the new-fangeld interwebs.

I said no thanks. I had decided to take my life savings and backpack around Europe for a while. Alone. Since I couldn’t find anyone to go with me.

[Again with the "was I stupid to turn that down?" Would I have been a VP at Google by now? Who cares. Europe was good for me. I wrote a little story about it here.]

September 1992

I was 26. I was female, and I was wearing shorts on the day I arrived in the lobby at Dynamix to interview and meet the team.

Okay, they were black linen shorts that skimmed my knee, and I was wearing a turtleneck and and a long sleeved jacket. I mean, I was over dressed by a mile compared to everyone else, but I was a girl wearing shorts and word had spread that I’d be arriving.

Geeks.

I am so NOT a rockstar or a super model, I just picked the right industry to help me feel special. I’m not so dumb after all.

So anyway, I’m hanging out with the receptionist (who was far cuter than me, by the way) when a few guys from my new team start trickling in to say hello. They were all quite nice and harmless and funny.

One of them was Rhett. He was the tallest, at 6’6″. And the skinniest. Super skinny. And he had a mustache, long sideburns, thick round glasses, and looked like a cross between a rock star from the 1970′s and a cable guy. I couldn’t quite figure out which.

He was wearing a black silk shirt, Levis and penny loafers. And red socks. This was a fashion statement I’d ever seen before. Intriguing. Do cable guys wear red socks? No, not usually. My brother was a cable guy at the time. He has never owned a pair of red socks, to my knowledge.

Rhett made me laugh within the first minute. And he made everyone else laugh too. Oh my god, I thought, this goofy looking cable guy is working the room. And he even had pennies in his penny loafers.

Again with the “Huh.” I’m not easily baffled, but he wasn’t really as geeky as it seemed like he should be.

I got hired, went back down to Palo Alto to pack and move, and looked forward to my October 1st start date. I grew up in Eugene, and it was nice to be moving home.

My new buddies were happy to hang out with me before I actually started my new job, and it helped that my apartment was across the street from a McMenniman’s pub, just a few blocks from work. We hung out as a group, and I was introduced to a few of their girlfriends and it was all good.

I invited them all over for a little party one night. I didn’t have furniture yet, so we sat around on the floor and drank beer and told funny stories. The next day, Rhett sent me flowers as a thank you.

Oh dear, I thought. He likes me. How awkward. What a geek. Poor guy, I’d have to let him down easily. I called him to thank him, and he asked me out. I said no, I didn’t think it was a good idea to date someone on the same team. I was making boundaries, but I was flattered and the flowers were nice, thank you very much, that is all.

October 1992

I started working, it was fun. I wrote dialogue and text for the game scripts and helped with some of the documentation and my new buddies tried to teach me to love love love the games the way they did. I goofed off with the guys after work. In a group. All together, as friends.

Then Rhett started calling me every night to ask me out. We were friends now, so he wasn’t really a stalker. In a bad way, at least. But I kept saying no, we shouldn’t date since we worked together. I told him he was just lonely, and what he really needed was a kitten, since my mom’s cat just had kittens. 

Yes, a kitten is a great distraction from an empty house, I said. If you have a kitten, you won’t need to call me every night.

So I took him to my mom’s house and he picked out a kitten and named it Speed Racer. She was a needy kitten, just right for him. My mom thought he was very nice and quite funny and asked me later if I was dating him.

Argh. I had not intended to take him home to meet my mother, it just sort of happened. Accidentally.

A week later my sister and I were in the grocery store and saw Rhett buying milk and I introduced her, and he told us a funny story about the cat. She thought he was great, and cute, and why wouldn’t I want to go out with him? Double argh.

And still he kept calling me, every night with great ideas of dates we should go on, and I kept saying no, we shouldn’t really date, but we should invite the group and all go together because it would be fun. To go all together.

Then one night he didn’t call. And I was quite surprised that I missed talking to him.

Triple argh. He’s very clever after all.

The next day he called with a group date idea, we’d all meet at the Eugene Celebration, the big street festival. We all met in front of the main stage and danced, but then those nerds all started leaving one by one until it was just Rhett and I left. Of course they had planned it. After that, I conceded to going out with him alone, but we weren’t dating, I reminded him, just friends. No kissing, no touching, etc.

October 31st

We were all invited to RandyT’s house for a halloween party. Rhett had spent the last two weeks telling me why we should actually be boyfriend and girlfriend. He was wearing me out. We went to the halloween party, had fun, and then he drove me home.

I told him I was tired of all the elaborate convincing discussions and he needed to change the subject. He asked me why I was being so difficult about this.

I told him I knew he wasn’t a casual guy, and that if I agreed to date him for real, I’d have to marry him and I barely knew him. I said I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff and he was asking me to jump right this second and it scared the shit out of me.

So then he held my hand and didn’t say anything at all. And I jumped. And we got married a few months later.

Turns out I was allergic to cats, so Rhett had to choose between Speed Racer and me. The cat moved in with Marty, one of our friends.

I moved in with Rhett and I put the red socks in the cedar chest that my Great Grandpa made for my Great Grandma, and they’ve been there ever since.

My Brilliant Career, Chapter One: Computer Game Developers Conference 1990

I fell into the computer game world by accident.

I was a nanny for the Bechtel family in Atherton, CA in 1990 and was thinking about doing some writing on the side. A friend who worked in games suggested I go to the Computer Game Developers Conference. It was one of the first conferences, and was held in San Jose that year.

The Bechtel kids loved video games, and I had helped organize an amazing Super Mario themed birthday party in their back yard, including an obstacle course based on the first level of Super Mario Land, manned by a tall guy dressed up in a Mario costume. So, I knew a bit about these games, I thought.

Turns out there was a big difference between video games and computer games. Many of the computer games back then were still quite geeky. As in, you read some text on the screen, you solve some puzzles, you lead your guy around on a treasure hunt to find things to put in his bag so you can get to the next part of the story, where you read some more stuff on the screen.

I’m not so into puzzles, actually.

But my friend said those companies needed writers and creative types, and he gave me the name of the conference organizers. I met with them a few weeks before hand, to figure out what game guys actually did, and what a game writer might actually write about.

I drove out to Campbell, near San Jose, and met these two middle-aged, sweet and very nerdy geeks who were working on “Interactive Fantasy” games. As in sci-fi type stuff, you know (but I didn’t, really). They suggested I get business cards made up and list my title as “Interactive Fantasy Writer.” So I did.

Turns out being a cute 23 year old girl handing out “Fantasy Writer” business cards at a game geek conference in the early 1990’s is a shoe-in for attention. Well, just being female helped, too.

I usually don’t mind attention, but I was slightly overwhelmed by this crowd, so I wandered over to the Carnegie Mellon table because they had a good sign. They were recruiting people to their OZ project, which was AI and Computer Science merged with theater. I have a BA in English and a BFA in Theater, for the record. I love the Wizard of Oz, so of course I was interested.

The main guy there was Joseph Bates. He was the head of the OZ department, and he had good social skills, in a college professor sort of way, so I stayed near him.

[Side Note: I haven’t thought of him for years, and forgot his name, actually. But I saved his business card, and found it this morning. I’ve moved six times since then. I have a garage full of packed boxes I haven’t opened in at 4 years, but I found this guy’s card in 5 minutes. I’m impressed with myself. Aren’t you?]

Mr. Bates wanted me to apply for their OZ project program which matched up drama students with AI and computer science students. My GPA (from a tiny liberal arts college) was high, he sensed that I was dramatic, so he thought I’d be perfect for them.

Carnegie Mellon? Me? Hello? I had to Google it just now to make sure I spelled it correctly, because “Melon” is a real word, but it just didn’t look right next to Carnegie.

I may seem smart in person, but my SAT scores were low enough for me to promptly forget the exact number, mostly because at the time I was hanging out with a few perfect SAT score Stanford Grad students, and it was best for all of us when I said “Oh, I can’t remember my SAT scores. They were much lower than yours, of course.”

I mean, these people are real-life rocket scientists now, know what I’m saying? My housemate had her Master’s in Materials Science and was working on developing hazardous gas sensors back in 1990. I didn’t even know what Materials Science really was. I was smart enough to know it didn’t involve fabric, even though my grandmother referred to fabric as material. And I was glad there were people thinking about hazardous gas sensors, because they seem like an important thing.

So, I personally had no desire to take the GRE and embarrass Mr. Bates, or myself with the results. I figured I wasn’t smart enough or rich enough for Carnegie Mellon. But I enjoyed hanging out with them.

It wasn’t long before I wound up in the middle of a crowd of nerdy game geeks. Literally. Several of them asked for my card, which had my phone number on it.

Boy Geeks are smart. And surprisingly brave. And sometimes cute, and I did end up going on a few dates with one of those guys, but I’ll tell that story another time.

Alas, I didn’t actually get any writing jobs from that conference, and I kept my day job with the Bechtels. But it was a great job, I have to say, so it wasn’t really a hardship. I planned several more good parties with them.

Later, however, I did get an interview with Noah Falstein from LucasArts Games who I’d met at that conference. He liked me (in a professional way!) and I liked him, but they didn’t have any jobs for writers at the time. He wanted to hire me, send me to school to learning basic programming, and then work me into a game designer role.

As if. Me? A programmer? Not.

I asked Noah if he could get me an interview at SkyWalker Ranch, since it seemed to me they might need someone like me up there to work with George Lucas. He claimed he couldn’t, sorry, but they were two separate companies.

Right.

I think he was just irritated that I rejected his incredibly gracious offer to help jump start my career in game development, despite my complete lack of knowledge about anything in the genre. He was willing to take a chance on me, and in retrospect, I wonder if I was stupid not to have taken the job.

But seriously? You would not want me programming your games. Just messing with the HTML in Blogger to get my pictures right has been known to make me cry, and I would have embarrassed myself and Mr. Falstein trying to learn C, with or without the ++.

The good news is, all this game conference and LucasArts interviewing stuff made me seem like and actual game girl, so it was pretty easy to get more interviews, and then a short term contract with Dynamix, a Sierra Online company,  to do some research for an educational history game. They eventually hired me full time, and boom, I was in.

While at Dynamix, I met a man named Rhett Anderson and the rest is history.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two. There might be romance and stuff.



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