Robin Games' CEO Jill Wilson told us about the studio's debut game, PLAYHOUSE, and its concept, explained why the company decided to focus on making lifestyle titles, and shared how the pandemic influenced work organization at the company.
Jill Wilson, CEO and founder of Robin Games
My name is Jill Wilson, I am the CEO and founder of Robin Games. I’ve played and made up games my whole life. As an only child, I played on both sides of the backgammon board, I learned how to play cards from my grandparents and did puzzles with my dad. For my 16th birthday, when other girls were asking for jewelry, my dream was a color Game Boy. But it didn’t occur to me that I could actually make games for a living until I was just about to graduate from USC.
My guidance counselor sent a mass email to what I’m sure were hundreds of kids and the title was, "Do you want to be like Tom Hanks in Big?" It was a marketing job for a board game company and the job was nothing like Tom Hanks’ toy tester role in Big but the email made me realize I could actually pursue this as a career. I went in for the interview, joined that company in a marketing role and the rest is history.
After 6 years at that board game company, I joined Chris DeWolfe, former Myspace founder and CEO’s new games startup as employee #3, which later became the mobile gaming company, Jam City, where I served as SVP Game Development for 8 years. There, we made some of the top-grossing and most enduring mobile games like Cookie Jam and Panda Pop.
I left Jam City in 2018 to spend a year traveling around the world with my husband and deciding what to do next that could make a difference in the world. Ultimately, after much trial and error, I realized that I love making games so much I wanted to keep doing that and to do it in a way that brought more opportunities to women both as game makers and as players.
At Robin Games, our board, management team, and the company overall have over 50% women, and the games we’re making aim to provide sophisticated, immersive experiences for a broad audience – predominantly women – who deserve games that allow them to be their most creative selves.
PLAYHOUSE is an interior design mobile game where you use 3D images of furniture and decor from real brands to design beautiful spaces. What makes us unique is our drag-and-drop technology, where players can move, rotate and place items anywhere they want in a design, allowing for maximum creativity. You are free to be really creative in our game – you can layer rugs, create gallery walls, and style surfaces with multiple pieces of decor – the sky's the limit.
One of the main reasons we wanted to make PLAYHOUSE, and lifestyle games in general, is because we see a hole in the market for truly expressive, creative games. It’s unusual to think of an interior design-focused game as a fantasy game but we do – it’s a different type of fantasy from what is typically explored in games. Getting to design spaces with beautiful pieces as if you are an interior designer is a real-world fantasy for many people, and our company is devoted to giving players that experience.
Creating Lifestyle Titles
We built PLAYHOUSE on the principle that everyone with a phone and a desire to be creative can be a gamer. We’re catering not only to the existing massive mobile game audience but also to lifestyle enthusiasts who would otherwise not have tried out a mobile game. The definition of "gaming" and who gets to be a "gamer" has been too narrow up to this point – we’re aiming to expand this and literally change the game by creating a new, inspiring space for people to engage with mobile games in a modern way.
Spotting New Trends
While we started working on the PLAYHOUSE concept in 2020, the interior design + home decor category has grown significantly during the pandemic and it’s something that a huge audience is very interested in right now. With our partnership strategy with lifestyle influencers and brand partnerships, they are not only business partners but also help us stay on top of trends, providing our players with new inspirations to discover.
Social media is also such a big part of internet culture now and is a great resource for monitoring trends and forecasting what’s to come. As we pinpoint upcoming trends and popular content, we will certainly consider how we can incorporate those into PLAYHOUSE and future mobile games.
PLAYHOUSE is a completely free-to-play mobile game that you can play forever without spending any real money. That said, we do provide the option for players to purchase additional gems – our in-game currency – which allows players to use an even wider selection of furniture and decor. We also have an ad opt-in where players can watch ads to earn more gems.
At this stage, we see our furniture and decor brands as mutually beneficial – PLAYHOUSE gains a wide variety of items for our players’ to design with and the furniture brands gain brand exposure to potential customers in an innovative and immersive way. However, from a monetization standpoint, we see creative opportunities to partner with lifestyle brands – we can create challenges like designing a trendy coffee shop for a new hotel to rooms inspired by a popular Netflix show – the sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity meets gaming.
Launching a Product During the Pandemic
Launching any business or product during COVID-19 is a challenge, but we’re really proud of the team we’ve built and what we’ve accomplished. We launched Robin Games and opened our LA office right before the pandemic began in February, 2020. Just six weeks later, we went home and never returned to the office again!
However, shifting to a fully remote work model has turned out to be a huge benefit for us and has allowed us to hire people from different industry backgrounds across the country who all contribute different skill sets that have made the launch of PLAYHOUSE possible. We are committed to maintaining a completely remote model, but outside of typical work meetings, we do host virtual gatherings and fun events that keep our team connected no matter where they live.
Robin Games' Roadmap
Right now, PLAYHOUSE is our biggest priority. Throughout the remainder of the year, we are focused on building the PLAYHOUSE audience and continuing to make the game as immersive, unique, and creative as possible. In the future, we look forward to expanding the Lifestyle Gaming category and launching other mobile games that cater to other creative audiences and categories.