Brunette Games Celebrates Five Years in Business
It's been a wild, wicked, and sometimes, a bit of a wacky road, but this spring, we hit the five-year mark at Brunette Games. Here's a look back at our rise to become the industry's leading casual game storytelling studio.
Brunette Games celebrates its fifth anniversary now as a team of 11, with six full-time employees and five voice actors on contract. We have written and designed 21 released titles for our clients to date, including top-performing games Sweet Escapes (Redemption Games), Lily's Garden (Tactile), and Matchington Mansion (Magic Tavern), with many more unannounced titles currently in development. Our latest release title credit is Uken Games' Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story.
This year we've also created new content for the Fox IP Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff and Family Guy: Another Freakin' Mobile Game (both Jam City), as well as the high-profile Disney Frozen Adventures (also Jam City). Included in the list is work on Homicide Squad: New York Stories and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects for G5 Entertainment, our oldest client.
And we added Writer|Designers Sara Hardin and Jenna Faulkner to our team in 2021, too. Sara's our latest hire, joining us just this week and bringing five years' experience in publishing and journalism to bear on our clients' projects. Jenna joined us at the first of the year and has already put her MFA in Creative Writing to good use on several unannounced projects.
Just as we began making plans to attend the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, COVID-19 hit our shores, putting a halt to all in-personal knowledge sharing. But along with the rest of the resilient casual games industry, we persevered, growing at a healthy rate despite all the difficulties. We even managed to squeak in a local rendition of our GDC talk before the lockdowns went into force.
In 2020 we created new content for a few of our clients' ongoing games, such as Sweet Escapes, Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, Homicide Squad: New York Stories, and Disney Frozen Adventures. We also saw the release of new titles Jane Austen Solitaire (Super Gaming), Solitaire Tripeaks: Farm & Family (Tuyoo), and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects. And we added Writer|Editor Amanda VanNierop to our team very early in the year. As our only part-time employee, Amanda regularly amazes us all by committing her considerable brain power to our projects half-time while attending university full-time. During the summer, she gives us her full-time attention, too!
Notably in 2020, company founder Lisa Brunette was named a 'game industry influencer' by UserWise, and she also co-authored a piece with industry analyst Om Tandon that generated a lot of buzz, "The power of storytelling in blockbuster casual games."
Last but not least in 2020's epic growth: We added three more voice actors to round out our roster of offerings: Ernest White II, star of his own PBS travel docu-series, Marqui Maresca, AKA the voice of Silver in Angry Birds Evolution, and popular Chicago actress/comedian Nicole Perez.
Over a period of two years, we had the CEOs and creative heads of several mobile game publishers flying in to St. Louis to court our interest, and the last of those happened in the summer of 2019. The upshot for us was a few experiments that didn't work out but many that did, and our company grew a lot as a result.
This year saw the shift from contract status to full-time for both Anthony Valterra, serving in capacity as both business director and lead writer|designer, and Dexter Woltman, writer|designer and employee No. 3. Dexter had joined the team while still a student and was more than ready to step into a tailor-made writing job after earning his BA in Scriptwriting from Webster University, where he met Lisa when attending her classes in Narrative Design. Dexter brought us a signature sense of humor and uncanny ability to channel his mom and sisters when writing for the female audience. Anthony, who's also Lisa's husband in real life, brought 30 years' experience to the table, including brand management for high-profile IP such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill.
After fielding numerous client requests for voice-over services, we added two contract actors to our roster: Long-time game industry voice artist Andy Mack and the multi-talented actor, singer, and voice artist Cammie Middleton. Andy and Cammie can both be heard in Wild Things: Animal Adventures, Andy gives voice to dog Marlowe in Ava's Manor, and Cammie recorded the opening sequence for Jane Austen Solitaire.
In spring 2019, Lisa and Anthony flew to Helsinki, Finland, to work onsite with Kuuhubb on an interactive novel project, and in late fall that year, the two flew to L.A. to meet with Jam City's teams on various projects.
This year saw the release of Sweet Escapes, which we helped launch for our client Redemption Games, and we consulted on Jam City's released title Vineyard Valley. We continued to create new content for ongoing games Survivors: The Quest and Homicide Squad: New York Stories (both G5 Entertainment). But the biggest title credit for us this year was for the work Lisa did on a game called Lily's Garden.
Tactile flew Lisa out to Copenhagen in spring 2018, and she continued to consult on the project until opportunity took her into building out the Brunette Games team over the option of remaining exclusively tied to one studio. The Tactile trip happened during Lisa's spring break from Webster University; she served as a visiting professor in Game Design from the fall of 2017 until spring 2018. She had every intention of staying on with the university, and they invited her to do so, but due to the commercial success of a number of games she'd had a hand in bringing to market, and the opportunity that presented, she made the choice to give up teaching to focus on building Brunette Games instead.
This year our client Cherrypick Games released My Spa Resort, Dexter's first title for us (see what we mean about channeling his mom and sisters?), and Anthony and Lisa continued to create content for G5's Survivors: The Quest and Homicide Squad: New York Stories.
While Lisa had previously done business as Sky Harbor LLC, a company she and Anthony formed together back in 2014, the name was already taken in Missouri, which prohibits two companies with the same name. After casting around for a moniker, she settled on Brunette Games, for the double entendre (and the inherent girl-power it invokes!). This time, she formed the company as its single owner.
For whatever deep-seated, fantastical reasons, games seem to continuously find Lisa, as happened in early 2017, with three projects that would forge a huge new path in her career. G5 Entertainment reached out with a request to write and design for their long-running, successful title Survivors: The Quest. Marianna Shilina-Vallejo, the head of Daily Magic, a former colleague of Lisa's through their Big Fish association, invited her to collaborate on a chat fiction app. And most notably, Lisa was approached by a game designer in stealth mode to help design and write a new little title that became... Matchington Mansion.
Lisa's work on Matchington Mansion was pivotal to its success. Like a lot of the developers she'd encountered previously, the team's first inclinations toward character art and stories that would appeal to the female 35+ audience was pretty far off the mark. But together, they created a strong cast of characters and a good story that is well-integrated with the puzzle and play. She also helped them establish a number of match-3/narrative hybrid techniques that have since been endlessly copied across the breadth of casual games on the market today. And the name "Matchington Mansion"? It was a placeholder for the team, but Lisa convinced them it should be the game's actual title.
Another writing assignment Lisa secured that year was to write Pixelberry's first mystery novel for the Choices app. This became Veil of Secrets, which is widely regarded as a fan favorite.
At this point, Lisa had an invitation to take a one-year visiting professorship in Game Design at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, her hometown. She accepted it, and she and Anthony moved their home and business to the Midwest.
In early 2016, Lisa left Big Fish Games, where she'd developed and led a team of narrative designers. Her aim was to pursue independent projects, and at first she focused on a series of mystery novels that she and Anthony had begun to publish back in late 2014 under the Sky Harbor Press imprint they created as co-owners of Sky Harbor LLC. She also authored the piece "Evolving Storytelling in Hidden-Object Games" for the Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games (SPAG) magazine, worked on a game for WG Cells, and made independent study of interactive fiction, which prepared her very well for all that would come next.
It's worth noting that back in 2013 or so, Lisa was sitting at a bar with a bunch of her Big Fish colleagues, and a writer from another company asked her if she'd ever thought about striking out on her own with a boutique game-writing studio. "I'd work for you in a heartbeat," the writer said. The idea stuck!
Thanks to all our clients for your continued faith in our ability to tell your game's stories, and to all the players out there who appreciate every word we write. You're sitting on our shoulders all the time, telling us what you want to hear.