- Nikki Lannen left a steady job as a Facebook marketing executive in 2014 to launch a gaming startup called WarDucks.
- Five years on, she has raised more than $5 million and is developing an augmented-reality game that will aim to emulate the success of Niantic’s blockbuster hit “Pokémon Go.”
- She told Business Insider that her ambition is to create games that force people to use their imagination.
For many people with an interest in a tech career, a job at Facebook would be the pinnacle. So when Nikki Lannen left her role as a high-level marketing executive at the company’s Irish office in 2014, you’d be forgiven for wondering why.
The answer to that question is twofold. First, Lannen’s role at Facebook sparked a hidden passion for game development. Second, her time at Facebook helped her to see how smaller companies, building titles aimed at more casual gamers, could flourish.
On Thursday, her startup WarDucks raised $3.7 million in a funding round led by EQT Ventures, supplementing a previous raise of $1.8 million last year. Building on titles including “Sneaky Bears” and “Rollercoaster Legends,” WarDucks is now working on a new augmented-reality title that will aim to emulate the success of Niantic’s blockbuster hit “Pokémon Go.”
In an interview with Business Insider, Lannen detailed her unusual career path from Facebook marketeer to games developer.
“When I first joined Facebook, we hadn’t created a games team, and in the Dublin office, there were perhaps fewer than 100 people. But one of my first clients as a marketing executive was a game developer. Games were my main vertical,” she said.
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Lannen’s brief was to market up-and-coming developers who were making games for Facebook, whether for mobile or for desktop. She soon discovered it was something she enjoyed — so she took one of the biggest risks of her career and founded her own startup.
“There was one client I had at Facebook, an Israeli gaming startup, and their growth really sparked my interest in game development,” Lanned said. “When I started WarDucks, a lot of [the Israeli company’s employees] went on to become the first WarDucks employees.”
“Leaving Facebook was risky, all right. But I had worked on both sides of the games industry — marketing and development — and I was able to leverage my Facebook contacts.”
In a nod to her Facebook days, WarDucks’ games are pitched at the casual gamer. One of its recent VR titles, “RollerCoaster Legends II: Thor’s Hammer,” was a top ten bestseller in the European and Latin American PlayStation VR charts last year.
“With WarDucks, we wanted to create something that was fun and in-house,” said Lannen. “AR, by its very nature, it makes for immersive experiences, without being too immersive. And with VR, not everyone wants that super-realistic feeling. Sometimes it’s better to create something that forces you to use your imagination.”
Lannen said it’s a shame that the world of gaming development is dominated by men, but said her experience has been “relatively plain-sailing” and she is hopeful for the future. “In the development side of the games industry there are very few women, and in the more senior management roles. It’s disappointing, but it will change,” she said.
With the investment behind her and a new “Pokémon Go”-style game in development, Lannen’s career change may just encourage other women to take the same risk she did five years ago.
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