LimeLife Targets Cell Phone Games For Women
Kristin Asleson McDonnell reminded me in our phone call that we used to talk when she was vice president of marketing at Mpath Interactive, one of the first serious online gaming service providers, back in the mid-1990s. That’s going way back for the games business.
Now she’s CEO of LimeLife, a start-up company in Menlo Park that is making cell phone games for women. LimeLife raised $5 million in venture capital in July. Its backers include I-Hatch Ventures, Monitor Ventures, Rustic Canyon Partners, and US Venture Partners. The latter is of interest because Paul Matteucci, former CEO of Mpath, is a partner at USVP.
Asleson McDonnell said in an interview she got the idea for the company over dinner with some longtime game industry veterans — all women — during the E3 trade show in 2004. On the company’s web site, she described the founding:
“Before LimeLife was formed, we were catching up over dinner one night, playing show and tell with our latest newfangled mobile phones. Sure, they could do all kinds of cool things, but none of us had bothered to download anything more exciting than wallpaper and a few ringtones. The fact was, none of us was inspired by the mobile games and applications available. While we appreciate technology, it’s got to be fun and useful – it should entertain us and make us laugh, connect us with friends, manage our time, and help us live better. That night, we started talking about all the fun and useful software we wished we could find for our cell phones, and then we remembered: Wait a minute! Software is what we do! From this a-ha! LimeLife was born.”
Asleson McDonnell and two other friends founded the company to fill that gap in June, 2004. Since that time, she says, “The outpouring of enthusiasm from women is amazing. It seems to be striking a chord.”
The management team includes gaming veterans who worked at Electronic Arts, Sierra On-Line, and the Imagination Network. Rounding out the team are Gano Haine, vice president of product developmentp; Denise Roberts McKee, vice president of product content; and Erica Chriss, vice president of business development.
Console gaming is definitely dominated by games for males, particulary the 18-year-old to 34-year-old male crowd. But cell phone users are balanced between men and women and the cell phone game experience is a casual one, where you’re playing for a short time while waiting for something. Asleson McDonnell says that there are a wealth of sites for women on the Internet that serve as “lifestyle tools” on topics such as food, fitness, entertainment, family and fashion. But there’s very little of that in cell phone entertainment thus far. Most cell phone games focus on action movie brands, men’s sports titles, or casino games. But women are typically drawn to games that involve puzzles, word games, or card games. The games will have “less blood, bullets and galactic aliens.” But the company will go beyond games and focus on software on topics such as “clothes that actually look good when you wear them, health, fitness on the go, decorating for anti-Marthas, and stress-less parties.”
“Those are examples of where we will focus our attention,” Asleson McDonnell said.
Other cell phone game companies say they target female gamers, but Asleson McDonnell says the market could still benefit from a company that zeroes in on women. A lot of her staffers are women, but there are some male game developers on staff as well among the 15 employees. In contrast to a lot of other game companies, women are involved in making key design decisions for the games.
Asleson McDonnell isn’t describing her games yet, but she says her team is working on both original titles as well as games based on familiar brands. She is working on partnerships in the branding area.
There is a lot of competition, like neighbors in San Mateo such as Digital Chocolate and Glu. She thinks the market potential is vast. Only 7 percent of U.S. consumers say they have downloaded a game on their cell phones.
“Women carry their phones 16 hours a day and view is as an appendage to their being,” she said. “They feel naked or lost without a phone. I view this as the early 1970s for cable TV or the mid-1990s with the Internet.”
Sexist stereotypes pervade games for young males. Does Asleson McDonnell think that women will go for “beefcake” in their games? She says, “Some of them do want beefcake. There are other guilty pleasures that women like. Women are not as visually oriented as men on things like that. To us, that is not the slam dunk application. People have tried to take what works for men and flip it for women.”
So far, LimeLife has deals with Verizon, Sprint and Cingular.