Murphys developer creates popular apps

By Michael Kay, The Union Democrat April 05, 2010 09:44 am

Jenny Martin has been talking about her Murphys-based design studio and the games it develops for Facebook and the iPhone for at least half an hour when the admission comes.

“I’m actually playing one as we’re speaking,” said Martin, 48.

It is only to be expected. Her definition of the “casual games” that are the specialty of her company is “You can play it as you talk on the phone.”
    From her home in Murphys, Martin owns and runs Red i Studio, which develops gaming applications for everyone from Marvel Comics and Turner Broadcasting, to the educational, nonprofits Junior Achievement and Autodesk.
    She has one local employee, but the other six to eight contract programmers and animators who work for her on a more or less full-time basis are scattered across the country.
    A couple are in San Francisco. One in New York. One splits time between Germany and Barcelona.
    “There’s one in Reno, oddly enough,” she says, only later realizing with a laugh that on the scale of things, Murphys might be a little odder of a location.
    One recent project produced a program that would teach a fifth-grade level curriculum in entrepreneurialism, resource management and other basic business concepts. The program was piloted in Kenya.
    Another project was a game called “Solitaire: Deck of Cods,” a fishing game for the iPhone and developed for Namco Games, the company famous for creating Pac-Man.
    The game won a bronze award from the “app” review site Pocket Gamer, a notable bit of recognition for her company.
    “It’s pretty funny,” Martin said of the review accompanying the award.
    “They were trying to imagine how Namco” — now a corporate behemoth of the gaming world — “would come up with this idea, so they wrote this whole thing about sitting around the boardroom table,” she said. “And it’s so funny because it’s not at all how it happened.”
    The actual story is far more prosaic.
    Martin and her senior engineer sat down — over the phone — to talk about what the company wanted and “I pretty much asked him what he wanted to do.”
    And he was thinking about fishing, so that was that.
    Martin started out working as gaming companies as an artist and animator, but learned how to animate on the job.
    Part of that education came during a roughly three-year stint in the early 1990s with Maxis, the gaming company known for creating the Sims.
    She later went to Sega of America as director of art, then became a vice president for eGreetings Network, with forgettable stops sprinkled in as well.
    “People in gaming move around a decent amount, probably the same as Internet people,” she said.
    While eGreetings Network may not have attained the same long-term success as the previous two companies, Martin said it was the perfect place to be at the perfect time.
    “It was right before the dot-bomb,” she said.
    The company, despite its name, did a whole lot more than greeting cards. And when they did do their namesake product, they weren’t exactly of the Hallmark variety.
    “We were definitely the irreverent greeting card company,” she said.
    Nine years ago, Martin started Red i Studio. It’s been her focus since.
    While it’s her business, she hasn’t lost her passion for games.
    “Sometimes I work all day and still play games at night,” said Martin, who says her 70-year-old mom is also an avid gamer. “I think it’s a great way to relax.”
    Females account for 60 to 70 percent of the casual game market, according to Martin.
    While some might think of casual games as meaningless distractions from more serious pursuits, Martin feels it’s like going to a movie — except it’s a better deal.
    “If you pay like $12.99, you get hours and hours of entertainment,” she said. “It’s just how you choose to spend your entertainment time.”