GamesBeat

Nancy Drew iPad app kicks off new "game book" genre

The Nancy Drew series has been around for 80 years. But game maker Her Interactive is trying to make it relevant for the age of the iPad with a new app launching today called Nancy Drew Mobile Mysteries: Shadow Ranch.

The app includes text inspired by the original Nancy Drew book. But the company calls Shadow Ranch a “game book,” the first in a series that will up the ante for publishers cranking out eBooks by the dozen. If this combination of gaming and storytelling takes off, you can expect to see the genre of game books open up in a big way on smartphones and tablets.

This title takes game play much farther than some of the other electronic books on the market, says Megan Gaiser (pictured), chief executive of Her Interactive, a maker of video games targeted at broad audiences including girls and women.

“By combining a book and a game, we’re trying to create a whole new form of interactive entertainment,” she said in an interview. “You get to play the story.”

The game book is the first in a series of titles dubbed Mobile Mysteries that Her Interactive will make around the Nancy Drew license. The game book runs on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Gaiser said the team at Her Interactive has been working on the title for months, refining it meticulously since it is the company’s first foray into the Apple mobile market.

The focus on girls is aimed at creating games that match the audience for the Nancy Drew books, which have been entertaining young readers since 1930. Gaiser hopes that women who grew up with the books (which includes women such as Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) will read the game book with their children. Overall, the Nancy Drew books have sold more than 100 million copies.

“It has a lot of nostalgia value,” Gaiser said.

Her Interactive was founded in 1995 and has been working on Nancy Drew computer games since 1997. At first, Gaiser said that no game publishers would publish the company’s games because they were targeted at girls, who were perceived as non-gamers. The company launched its games on Amazon.com, bypassing the traditional publishers. Then the New York Times wrote a story about the company, calling its Nancy Drew game the “un-Barbie of video games.” Then the publishers all came back.

Her Interactive focuses on high quality games with humor, stories, and a modern interpretation of Nancy Drew as a character. Since Her Interactive launched its first Nancy Drew computer game, the company has sold more than 8.7 million units. That’s a better record for a game series on the PC than Myst or Lord of the Rings, Gaiser said. The series has won 23 Parent’s Choice gold medal awards.

About 40 percent of video game players today are women, according to the Entertainment Software Association. But relatively few titles are targeted at women and girls.

The game book has a bunch of rich graphics that you can tap on the iPad’s touchscreen. On the first page, you can tap on a picture of a truck and hear its horn honk. As you turn the pages, an animation shows the page turning as if it were a real book. The book is filled with lots of hidden object games, where you find the eggs hidden in a forest or collect things that you’ll need later on in the adventure. There’s a part where you have to solve word puzzles in order to help Nancy win a horse race. And there’s a part where you have to navigate your way through underground caves.

Altogether, there are 20 hidden object games and a bunch of other mini games across eight chapters. There are 49 collectibles, 49 word challenges, 65 images, 60 sounds, 10 animations and five graphical choices and a couple more mini games. The game is not the same as the Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch game that Her Interactive published on the PC in 2004. The story is different and so is the game play.

The competition is plentiful on the App Store, between the 57,455 books and 51,450 games available. But game books are relatively rare. Oceanhouse Media makes a lot of books based on the Dr. Seuss and other children’s book brands. And many of its titles are also interactive, although they’re aimed at teaching kids how to read. The Nancy Drew app is $9.99 on the iPad and $2.99 on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Gaiser says the game book is targeted at girls ages 9 to 14. My 7-year-old girl tried it out and loved it. My 14-year-old girl also picked it up and read the book for three hours straight. When she gave the iPad back to me, she said the book was “boring.” But she just didn’t want to admit that she liked a Nancy Drew game book, since she acts like she’s too old for it. Overall, I’d say the game book is very well done and is worthy of being labeled a pioneering work.


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