What if prince charming was actually an awe-inspiring heroine collecting amulets in order to rescue the prince after he’s been kidnapped? Not your usual storyline, right? Neither is the vision of Molly Proffitt, CEO of Ker-Chunk Games.
After working in film and the music industry, Proffitt found her calling in game development. Through Ker-Chunk, she aims to break a few ceilings and help make gaming a bit more diverse. Her mobile puzzle game, Prince-napped, stands out from the rest, thanks to its central mission — to empower women as players and developers. With great feedback so far, the mobile game is available on Facebook right now. She has built 14 games to date (and counting) for clients wanting new mobile and social gaming experiences.
Named 2016 Georgia Game Changer, Proffitt shares how she navigated the difficult funding environment of the gaming industry, what lessons she acquired during this time, and why her company’s mission drives her hustle.
How is Ker-Chunk Games furthering women in the gaming industry?
What we’re doing at Ker-Chunk Games is we’re making games that empower women as players. We look at the full lifecycle of a gamer to someone who ends up working in the games industry. Mostly we’re looking at women between the ages of 20-40, and how we can help them become game developers and encourage them. Sending the correct messages in games is our immediate focus because we don’t have a lot of games out there that show women as heroes, especially in the casual game space. A lot of them are more like, “Oh it’s about candy and fruit.” We want to change the message a little bit. Let’s talk about how women can be heroes. That’s what we’re doing.
Where are you with growth — from your funding to your team?
We are completely bootstrapped, self-funded. It didn’t start off that way, that wasn’t the plan, because I actually work with a lot of clients, and normally what we do is either joint venture partnerships or we find a raise upfront. When it comes to investing in games by women, people don’t want to do it.
They’re not really interested in making games that target women. They’re still stuck in the stigma that games are for the 17-year-old boy, even though that’s not true anymore, and as much as we’re trying to communicate that, we kind of had to do it ourselves. It would be nice to see more efforts there, just people interested in funding games by women, but we’ll get there.
As far as my team size, we have about four people, and occasionally we hire independent contractors depending on what our needs are. Very bootstrap, very small scale, but I like it that way for now. If we explode, awesome.
How did you overcome the gaming stereotype challenge when looking for funding?
I have an advisory board, but I also have some mentors that I meet with occasionally who aren’t official formalized advisory board members, but people who work in the games industry that I can just reach out to.
It’s not just about women in games and investing in games that target women. The gaming industry is a volatile space, it’s very hit-driven, so investors want something more stable and less risky, especially the Atlanta area. If you were maybe in San Francisco, wouldn’t be the same conversation. If you talk to most of the games studios here, they’ll tell you that they did it themselves.
They just said, “If you want to keep your business, try to bootstrap. You already have clients. Just keep doing that, take the money, put it in your bank account.” That’s what we did. I wanted to do a raise. I’d still like to, especially now that we’re live and we’re seeing our players actually really like the game a lot.
Were there things that you wish you had known about funding before you went to look for funding?
I wish I had known that it was going to take as long as it did. I did do a lot of research on that though. People will say, “This is how long it takes for men to get funding.” It’s not the same for women. It takes about twice as long. I actually found somewhere later that said that. I wish I had known that. For example, I will approach them and say, “I’m a developer. I make video games.” I’m now on my 14th game, just to give you a picture. They’ll be like, “Oh, so you do art?” I can’t even get over the normal barriers that don’t help with that.
Do you have competitors and how do you stand out?
We do, those people are already making games that target women. We stand out in that we really care about not just women who work for our company, but really care about our players and the messages that we send to them. We want to make games they enjoy playing, but we also want to make sure we respect them. I’m not saying that the other companies don’t do that, it’s just our number one priority. Our messaging says women can be heroes, that’s something we said we’re doing from the beginning. Other companies have had to come back around to that, saying, “Oh yeah, maybe we should have women characters in our game,” that sort of thing. That’s how we’re different.
How do you stay passionate about your goal of making gaming more diverse?
It hurts me to see women programmers leave the space and go work in other areas that, honestly, they just get a lot more fulfillment out of because people are nicer. Games has a lot of potential but we have a lot of work to do in the diversity department. I can’t ethically leave knowing how much work I’m already doing. For me, I know that it would disappoint a lot of people because we have made progress and I don’t want to leave while we’re making progress.