By Andrew Seale
There’s nothing riveting about Jigsaw Story, the first mobile game out of Toronto’s Happy Square Studio – and that’s the point.
“It’s relaxing… more of a meditation app than a game,” says Jenna Li. The idea came from her own post-commute slogs when she was feeling burnt out and wanted a game that didn’t try to hook her into paying for upgrades or ask her to compete with friends and strangers.
She saw her window in the digital puzzle space.
While the category is by no means mainstream, the niche receives millions of downloads from mobile app stores. Li decided to approach it a little differently, something that eschewed the initial approach which often revolves around low-quality stock images.
“We were thinking about what kind of artwork appeals to women 25-plus,” she says.
Jigsaw Story, geared towards women 25-plus, marries storytelling with world-class fashion and contemporary digital artists like Lucy Truman, the illustrator of Confession of a Shopaholic series book covers and Robert McCall, the NASA illustrator who also designed the original movie poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“Simplicity is very important… it’s very straightforward,” she says. “We thought about the physical experience (and) tried to replicate that experience with the digital experience, making it better.”
Li comes from the gaming space, having spent a few years at Crunchyroll, an anime-focused video platform based out of San Francisco, where she’d worked after getting her MBA from the University of Southern California.
But having spent eight years in the heart of American startups, Li says their was some skepticism from her peers when she decided to move back to Toronto to launch Happy Square Studio last June.
“I hadn't lived here for eight years, when I moved away from Toronto there was no tech scene,” she says. “But after I moved back, I was so impressed by the tech scene here – having that support from other entrepreneurs and going to different events to network actually really helped me personally as an entrepreneur.”
She also highlights the talent pool she’s found here, with her lead programmer a graduate of University of Toronto.
“People are very easy to work with, more loyal that in Silicon Valley and in terms of the technical expertise, it’s the same if not better,” she says.
Li says she is happy to have the studio’s first title making its rounds through the app store but she admits the entrepreneurial learning curve has been steep and there’s plenty of competition in the gaming field.
“It was a great sector back in 2011 but now in 2017, it’s so saturated so making the game stand out from the rest (has been) challenging,” says Li. While she’s received tons of support from the startup community here, she says she wishes she would’ve known about the resources in Toronto’s startup ecosystem and taken advantage of them earlier.
“I would have participated in an incubator program, that’s something I would have done differently,” she says. “But I'm learning so much – I’ve been really impressed by the people I meet here.”