While the industry continues to debate the question of how to attract more girls to gaming, the actions of one particular developer have been speaking louder than words. Her Interactive has been creating quality “girl games” for more than 10 years, and is best known for its long-running Nancy Drew PC adventure game series. We spoke with Jessica Chiang, Marketing Producer, to learn more about the unique perspective that Her Interactive brings to gaming.

What’s the story behind the name Her Interactive?

When we first started in the industry, we looked around and saw that there were not many games made for girls. Everyone we talked to said that girls are computer phobic and don’t play games, but we knew they were wrong. To drive our point home, we decided to name our company Her Interactive, because we wanted girls to interact with technology and games.

Part of Her Interactive’s mandate is to make games for “girls of all ages.” Where did the idea for creating such a unique studio come from?

There is an extraordinary market for the types of games we publish, yet for a long time the female segment of the interactive entertainment industry was not generally considered significant enough to address. Having sold more than four million copies of our Nancy Drew games to date, that’s obviously not the case.

From a design perspective, what factors make a game “girl-friendly?”

My answer to this question is primarily based on our games and what we’ve learned to date. Based on many years of test group findings with girls, we have honed the success formula down to a strong storyline, rich characters, graphics and environments. Girls also enjoy the social character interaction that our games provide, the exploration they allow, and the challenge of the puzzles, that require problem-solving.

We also work with a core team of teen girl Beta testers for each game, so that we can get and incorporate their feedback into the games.

Is there a right and wrong way to approach “girl games?” What are some examples of each?

Tween/teen girls like to be empowered and to be in control. Since our games are first person games, players assume the role of Nancy Drew and experience what it’s like to be independent, which is empowering. We would also describe Nancy as gutsy, independent, and a “get-the-job-done” positive role model.

Our adventure game formula also enables players to be in control, play at their own pace, and explore the environments and characters they want to. The overall experience for players is a rich, immersive, challenging and rewarding experience.

Why aren’t there more women in the video game industry?

I suspect there aren’t a lot of women in the video game industry probably because gaming has been mostly a male pastime. Girls never had many video games that interested them, so they have little interest in the industry as adults. Plus, video games didn’t become a billion dollar market until recently – a lot of women didn’t even know that it was a viable option for a career. As more games are targeted toward girls and women, they’ll become more familiar with the industry, and in turn, we’ll begin to see more women in gaming. Her Interactive is actually over 50% female, which is unusual.

What about Nancy Drew makes her such an endearing character?

Nancy is a wholesome, iconic character in literature and has cross-generational appeal. In our games, a newly contemporized Nancy Drew and the values she represents – smarts, confidence, independence – are once again relevant with today’s girls and as a result she is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. She really comes to life in our games as players assume her role. Nancy Drew is gutsy, resourceful, and smart – things we aspire to be and a very positive role model for girls.

Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon was your first experiment with the pay-to-download distribution model. How was the experience? Do you plan to experiment with other distribution models in future?

We had a difficult time getting our foot in the door because casual gamers aren’t known for downloading large files, and our game is over 750MB. But what we do offer is a very rich, immersive, and fun experience that players can enjoy in small chunks of free time. Nancy Drew is also a childhood friend to most women and her games aren’t intimidating to the mass market. Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon sold very well and we continue to release our catalog titles in the pay-to-download distribution model.

What games are you playing right now besides your own? What has caught your eye elsewhere in the industry?

Right now I’m playing Puzzle Quest for the DS and Poppit online. I think I’m addicted to puzzle games. Final Fantasy has been a perennial favorite of mine with its epic storylines and gorgeous graphics, but it can be daunting for first time players. The new generation of rhythm games is also exciting. Dance Dance Revolution is an arcade hit that makes for hilarious dance offs, and Guitar Hero is penetrating homes and turning people into rock stars with songs they identify with.

Where do you see the future of gaming in five years?

In 5 years, I believe we’ll see a lot more gaming online, not only on PCs, but also on consoles. There will be more ways to interact with other players and affect game play. As gaming becomes less of a male pastime, more games will be made for the mass market and will explore a variety game play styles. As new innovative games are developed, new genres of games will be created.

Can you give us any hints about what’s on the horizon for Her Interactive?

With a new Nancy Drew film due this summer creating greater awareness, this year promises a great opportunity to expand our leadership position in the girls’ software category through a variety of strategic partnerships, digital distribution and the expansion of our product line to include a DVD game.

Any final words of wisdom that you’d like to share with our readers?

The best formula – and a formula that we attribute our success to – is to combine a strong brand with quality game play and design for the target audience. In our case, we offer rich, story-based mystery games, in keeping with the essence of the Nancy Drew brand. We also solicit and listen to feedback from our consumers, which is crucial, and ultimately offer them immersive and empowering adventure game experiences.

Our next game is Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek; it will be available on June 12, 2007. This adventure sends Nancy to the Canadian Rockies to solve a mystery.