GDC: The Family Behind the Success of Ponycorns

At GDC today, Ryan Henson Creighton shared the incredible story behind Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. That is, the flash game developed at a weekend game jam by a two person team. Creighton created Ponycorn’s with the creative input of his five year old daughter Cassie. The game concerns the plight of protagonist Sissy, who must quest to find the titular Ponycorns. Which, as you imagine, are a fantastical fusion of pony and unicorn.

Cassie hand-drew (with crayon!) all of the art behind the game, performed the voice acting for Sissy, and conceptualized the characters in the story. Creighton fashioned his daughter’s ideas into a simple point-and-click adventure game that takes about five minutes to complete. The results are predictably adorable and surprisingly hilarious. If you want to play the game, for free, you can find it here. If you do, prepare for a showdown with an evil lemon, a hungry tiger, and more.

He evangelized teaching children to code, going so far as to say it should be taught to 2nd and 3rd grade students.

Creighton’s talk centered around how he is working to build his company, Toronto-based Untold Entertainment, into a family business. Creighton was frank, saying that his fledgling business destroyed his leisure time. As a result, he said he spends far less time with his wife and two daughters than he should. The game jam, and the subsequent launch of SMPA resulted in truly quality bonding time between Creighton and Cassie. As a result of the game’s viral success, the whole family became involved. His wife spearheaded the creation of SMPA plushies, and the merchandise was shipped as far away as Australia. Perhaps most poignantly, Cassie is now the world’s youngest commercial game developer now that she has Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure under her belt.

With a hint of both nostalgia and passion, Creighton fantasized about how different his life might have been had he made his first game at the age of five. He evangelized teaching children to code, going so far as to say it should be taught to 2nd and 3rd grade students. He argued compellingly that game development is beginning to face a generational challenge. Creighton called for developers to nurture and develop the potential skills of their children, saying that the creative magic of game development could be making hereditary leaps and bounds.

Creighton also clearly understood the advantage of having a marketing story. Clearly, it’s a PR coup to be able to claim that your game was created by a five year old. This truth fed into media both enthusiast and mainstream, all to Creighton’s advantage. He had limited success capitalizing on the media frenzy that surrounded his daughter’s game. It, of course, led to a huge amount of name recognition for both himself and Untold Entertainment. But in a turn, when the game was ported to both the BlackBerry PlayBook and the iPad the game failed to recoup development costs on either platform. Merchandising fared better, Creighton and his family broke even here, but still failed to generate a profit. Cassie, the five-year old in question, fared better than her father. Creighton posted a donation button beneath the game’s flash window. The donations were not to be counted as revenue for Creighton or Untold Entertainment, but as contributions to Cassie’s college fund. Cassie won big. With her work on the game she added $3,000 to the college fund her grandparent’s started for her.

Cassie, if her success with Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure is any indication, will be a fine candidate to continue the family business.

Photo credit: Paul Hillier