Megan Gaiser, Carolyn Bickford, Sheri Hargus
First posted on 12 June 2000. Last updated on 21 November 2014.
Founded in 1995, Her Interactive has taken a pioneering role in attracting girls to computer technology through attractive role-playing. The mission of this Washington-based publisher is to design, develop, and market intelligent interactive games for girls. In 1997, the company has obtained a license from Simon & Schuster to develop an interactive mystery game series based on the legendary teen detective Nancy Drew. Its flagship titles, Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill and Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger, have received high praises from both critics and parents. In this exclusive interview, Megan Gaiser (President), Carolyn Bickford (VP Sales and Marketing), and Sheri Hargus (Development Manager) speak about the company's unique mission, the popularity of Nancy Drew, and what holds in the future for this interactive series.
- What (or who) is the inspiration behind the idea of taking Nancy Drew onto the computer screen?
- Megan Gaiser: There are many reasons why we chose Nancy Drew to star in her own computer game series. History was one. Nancy Drew has fascinated girls for generations. We remembered as girls how eagerly we looked forward to getting our hands on the next Nancy Drew book - and realized that if we could create the same kind of anticipation for our games we would have major hits. Also, Nancy Drew is a powerful role model - she's brilliant, intrepid, and successful. The Nancy Drew mysteries fit our search for content that was non-violent and that didn't rely on gender stereotypes. And, last but not least, mysteries make a great foundation for intelligent entertainment. Their complex plots provide infinite opportunity for adventure, exploration, and problem solving. There's a ready-made sense of community, as players seek help and advice from characters inside the game, from friends and family, and from online resources. Community is key to our plans to enhance our online presence.
- Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger is developed and published by HerInteractive.com. HerInteractive.com has a unique mandate in developing non-violent games specifically for girls. Can you explain more fully about your company's unique mission? How do you plan to accomplish this mandate?
- Megan Gaiser: Indeed, we are the only developer in the U.S. focused exclusively on the girls market, which is rather bizarre. There are more than 70 million girls in our target age range, and they have about $45 billion to spend each year. All of this potential has been largely ignored by the computer game industry, which found it could sell a lot of violent action games targeting the male audience, and has stayed in that rut ever since. The market penetration for male-targeted games is near the saturation point. But there's still a wide-open opportunity to target the female half of the population. A recent study published by the American Association of University Women found that girls were largely turned off by the violent and repetitive nature of most games. If they're not buying games in large numbers, it's not because they don't like to play games, it's because few developers are designing games that appeal to them. And those that do tend to rely pretty heavily on pink packaging, boy-talk and clothes. To assume that those are the only things girls are interested in is absurd. Our games don't use gender stereotypes to appeal to girls. Instead, they rely on the intrigue of a good mystery, and a smart, gutsy heroine. We believe that there should be as many types of games as there are types of girls. That creates such an exciting opportunity, and Nancy Drew is just the beginning.
- For those readers who are unfamiliar with Nancy Drew, can you tell us a bit about the background of the legendary teen detective?
- Megan Gaiser: Nancy Drew has been solving mysteries and inspiring millions of avid fans for 70 years. Back in 1905, a writer named Edward Stratemeyer started a company that developed series of books for children. Edward would dream up plots and characters, and hire ghostwriters to write the books under pen names. He created the Hardy Boys in 1927, and just a few years later, he created Nancy Drew. When he died, his daughters ran the company and continued the Nancy Drew tradition.
Edward Stratemeyer's daughters, Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer, made all decisions about what would happen with the Nancy Drew character. This was back in the 1930s when it was highly unusual for women to run a business. Their first ghostwriter for Nancy Drew was a strong, independent woman named Mildred Wirt Benson. She was an athlete and a journalist, and she wrote Nancy to be just as adventurous as she was. As a matter of fact, at age 94 she's still a journalist, writing for her small town paper. HerInteractive.com sent her a copy of our first title, Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill - and she loved it! "Your computer game does exactly what I did when I was writing the books," she wrote. "It makes girls feel like they ARE Nancy Drew!"
In 1979 the Stratemeyer Syndicate signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to publish new books in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series. In 1982 Harriet Adams died, and in 1984 Simon & Schuster purchased the Syndicate, becoming both owner and publisher of Nancy Drew. Pocket Books gave the heroine a new look and updated the setting to appeal to Nancy's most recent generation of readers. Her loyal girl friends Bess Marvin and George (Georgia) Fayne are still at her side, as is her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Nancy Drew's popularity spans the globe — she is currently translated into French, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Spanish, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Malaysian. Over the years, she has been featured in movies and on television, and even had her own board game. The core of the Nancy Drew publishing program, the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, continues to be published six times a year by Pocket Books' Minstrel Book imprint. There are several other Nancy Drew series currently in publication, and a hot market exists for out-of-print copies of the original Nancy Drew books.
In 1998, HerInteractive.com brought Nancy Drew to the computer screen with the publication of Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill, followed in 1999 by Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger. Our goal is to make sure that the legendary teen detective clicks with a new generation.
- Obtaining the license to use Nancy Drew must be a triumphal accomplishment for the company. How did you do it?
- Megan Gaiser: We made a strong case to Simon and Schuster, convincing them that we had the talent, and the passion, to faithfully adapt their teen icon to the computer screen. The critical success of our earlier work played a big part. We have a highly qualified development team. In addition, we demonstrated a clear understanding of what girls were looking for in computer games, based on extensive focus group research and input from our Teen Advisory Board.
- Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill and Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger are two titles from the Nancy Drew: Interactive Mystery Games series. How many titles are planned for the series? At what stages of development are they now?
- Megan Gaiser: Nancy Drew: Message in the Haunted Mansion is in development and scheduled for a September release. There are over 140 books in the Nancy Dew series - so we certainly have a wealth of content for future games. We believe that we can create a new generation of Nancy Drew fans who eagerly await each new interactive mystery. And now broadband and the Internet offer Nancy a whole new environment to explore, and we intend to take her there.
- How long did it take to develop each game? Are all designing tools developed in-house?
- Sheri Hargus: It takes from nine months to one year to develop each game. This is the total time from game conception to shipment. The entire team participates in the design process and we spend a good deal of time up front in developing the plot, characters, environments, puzzles and game flow. We have found that early attention to the entire design allows us to stay on schedule and create a superior product.
The art team uses mostly off-the-shelf tools such as Photoshop and 3D Studio Max. The programming is done in C++ and is built upon a proprietary game engine that has been developed internally. DirectDraw is also used and installed as part of the game installation.
- At what age of audience do your games aim? What do you feel are the key attractions of the Nancy Drew Interactive Mystery Games?
- Megan Gaiser: Our games are designed for girls ages 10 - 15. We are finding that their appeal is actually much broader than that; younger girls are playing them with their sisters or their moms. And women who grew up devouring every Nancy Drew mystery are eagerly buying the games for themselves. Many computer games portray women in very limited roles - women are too often just the "prize" or the damsel in distress. Nancy Drew breaks many of these molds — she's smart, self-reliant, adventurous — and in the end she is always successful.
In the gaming industry, until recently, girls were never really asked what they wanted in computer games. We asked, and heard they were not satisfied with the status quo of computer gaming: the violence, the lack of storylines, the secret rules. This led us to breakthrough ideas that are a step forward for the gaming industry as a whole. We incorporated all of this knowledge into the Nancy Drew games. And we listen carefully, and then act on, all of the feedback we get from every game.
- What is the style of game play in Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger?
- Sheri Hargus: The game is a visually stunning single-person adventure and problem-solving interactive mystery. The player navigates smoothly through different game locations, seeing everything through the eyes of Nancy Drew. Each location has rooms and environments to explore; it's loaded with clues, puzzles and other characters. Interaction with characters is through a dialog box where the player is allowed to select different responses and questions while engaged in conversations with the game characters. The player has the ability to turn completely around in any node by clicking on the left or right sides of the game window. Player input occurs through mouse clicking on hotspots with occasional keyboard input also needed. The player can fail the game in several ways but it is always possible to restart and try again from the same game position. On the average, it takes 10-20 hours for a player to successfully solve the mystery and complete the game.
- Both Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill and Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger won numerous praises from critics, but what kind of feedback have you got from parents?
- Megan Gaiser: We just found out that Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger is the winner of this year's prestigious Parents' Choice Gold Award for software in the 10 - 18 age group. That reflects the positive reception we've received from so many parents. Our games are cool without cruelty, the perfect answer for parents who would like to give their teen a non-violent game that's not totally lame. We have heard from moms and daughters who have had a great time solving our interactive mysteries together. It takes on average about 15 hours to crack the case, and two heads are always better than one. Mothers tell us they really like sharing the Nancy they grew up with their daughters. Plus, they have a lot of fun playing the game. We have found that moms (and even dads) are avid participants in many of the online chats about the games - so we know that girls aren't the only people playing our games!
- How can we order these games? Are they available only online (rather than retail sales)? If so, why?
- Megan Gaiser: The games can be ordered through our own website, http://www.herinteractive.com They are also available through many online retailers, including Amazon (where Nancy Drew Stay Tuned for Danger has been in the Top Ten Children's Titles ever since it's release), eToys and Beyond.com. Bricks and mortar shelf space has been hard to come by; we're a very small publisher in an emerging category. But we are making progress toward obtaining broader distribution by this Christmas — the critical and online sales successes of our first two titles are starting to open some doors.
- What holds in the future for Nancy Drew (i.e. sequels)?
- Megan Gaiser: Looking beyond the September release of Nancy Drew: Message in the Haunted Mansion; we have a long list of Nancy Drew stories that would translate into fabulous interactive games. We're also looking at other licenses to expand the game playing options "for girls who aren't afraid of a mouse." There are lots of different types of girls, and there are so many wonderful characters that could star as our next interactive idol!