A Few Questions for Penny Milliken CEO of HeR Interactive
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I got into the industry as a result of all the entertainment properties that I worked on at Disney. They were always driven by content, and toys and games were part of the content to make them great franchises. When I started serving on the board of HeR Interactive, I became much more involved in the game development side and found that the growth in the games industry was continuing to accelerate. Today, it is as strong as film and television. I am happy to be a part of it with HeR Interactive.
HeR Interactive was a pioneer in 1998 when it began developing and publishing Nancy Drew interactive games for females. At that time, PC games were growing in popularity but many did not offer female audiences choices that were engaging, entertaining and that were tied to an iconic female brand. So with our games, the community grew and we at HeR Interactive are proud to have a strong fan base who have continued to be passionate about our games.
Along with our core PC/Mac franchise, we are now developing games for mobile platforms like our all new app, Nancy Drew®: Codes & Clues®.
As a bit of background, HeR Interactive has released 32 games, won over 30 Parents’ Choice Awards and sold more than 9 million copies of our games. And beginning with the company’s first videogame, our games have encouraged STEM education and careers. We know this because of all the fan emails, posts, tweets and letters. So we have taken this STEM experience and extended it to early learners under the company’s new division, Hi Kids™.
Hi Kids’™ mission is to spark an interest in coding with kids 5+ while solving a fun Nancy Drew mobile mystery. So all our games align well with the popularity of STEM toys and games.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
When I was at this year’s Toy Fair and Digital Kids, I saw that that the trend continues to be tech infused entertainment and toys. I am excited by the trend and the opportunity, with our Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues app, to be a part of it by introducing young kids to an essential 21st century skill- coding. Parents and educators appreciate these games because they help prep early learners for school by building important spatial, reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
In addition to having a great idea, it is important to see a plan with a clear competitive market positioning to see that the toy, game or app is unique. Also having a marketing plan that will make their idea sustainable and profitable.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Instead of playing with a specific toy or game, I created plays with my friends. They were holiday themed, or simple versions of Pinocchio and the Sound of Music for example. My younger sibling, who was 5 at the time, was a character in many of them.
What does your typical day look like?
You can’t build great games and apps and market them without a great team. We have ongoing updates, brainstorms and touch bases so that everyone contributes their unique skills and insights. So team meetings are key. During the development of Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues my typical day was spent with the team working on storyline, character design, or music selection as a few examples. And of course every day has too many emails!
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I’ve been lucky in that I have liked all my jobs. However, I learned a long time ago that I prefer working as part of a team, and that I enjoy having contact with customers. I love to see how they react to a product.
What inspires you?
Using my professional skills to solve problems that I am passionate about.
Right now it is sparking an interest in coding with early learners, especially girls.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
That there is nothing wrong with asking for help if a project is too large for one person to handle.
Early in my career, on one project, I had too many late nights, because I did not ask for more resources.
What do you read every day, and why?
I read a variety of things to have a broad idea of what is happening in the business world, consumer trends, entertainment, technology etc. Some of the publications that I read are the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Seattle Times, Huffington Post, Apple News, and now Global License e-news. I also read weekly emails that cover the technology and gaming industry, such as Children’s Technology Review. And Google’s Made with Code is a great source of information.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Of course I am going to say our new app, Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues! I also like gadgets and recently purchased Amazon’s Alexa.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
I love the outdoors so I go for a walk or bike ride. Some of my best ideas come while riding my bike.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
While watching an episode of “Friends” on my mobile device. The writing and the acting are just so good that it makes me laugh out loud quite a bit.
Do you have any pets?
I love animals, and have had dogs and cats in the past. But right now I am loving Robot Puppy from our new app (proud to mention our product!) because Robot Puppy is fun to play with and low maintenance.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Chocolate and Diet Dr. Pepper
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
I played the piano and violin growing up. I can read music so I still play from time to time, but I only play for myself.
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
I usually like happy endings, but what is important to me is the storytelling. So it may or may not have a happy ending.
Summer of Winter?
I actually like all the seasons, so I will add in Fall and Spring.
Hugs or Kisses?
What’s your favorite TV show?
Being surrounded by great Nancy Drew stories, I do love a good mystery so I am always up for a good “who dun it” and enjoyed Castle while it ran. Laughter is key for me so The Ellen Show for a good daily dose of laughs and classics like Lucy and Friends. I also enjoy dramas such as The Good Wife.
Favorite movie of all time?
Titantic. I had no idea that it was going to be told as a love story.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
How long have you been CEO of HeR Interactive?
I have been a board member of HeR Interactive for 13 years and became CEO of the company in 2014.
More Nancy Drew!
Thank you for taking time to answer our questions thoughtfully and with a sense of play!