“It enabled me to have the courage to keep going” CEO Nina Roussakoff on how Creative Enterprise gave Lovewish a much-needed confidence boost

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Having fresh ideas is great but how do you sell them to a world that’s unfamiliar with your bold new concepts? It’s an issue many founders have encountered, including Nina Roussakoff, game director, producer and founder of York-based indie studio Lovewish. This innovative dev-team has big plans to level the playing field regarding the types of fantasy adventure games created for women and girls. However, as Roussakoff discovered, selling their concept and confidently adopting the new ‘company CEO’ moniker proved trickier than expected.

“We started from a place of heart, really wanting to make games that celebrate the colourful fantasies of girls and women,” says Roussakoff on the inspiration behind Lovewish. “I have three daughters and the types of games they play and engage with – and the choices they have available to them – is on my mind a lot. When I grew up, the games industry was heavily slanted towards male content – and while I still played and enjoyed [those games] – it was very noticeable that the themes and protagonists were focused towards a male audience.” While she admits this content certainly still has its place, Roussakoff explains she wants to ensure games about “girlish fantasies are given equal space to exist in a way that stimulates the brain.”

To do this, she’s gathered a small but diverse team that generates the fantasy-skewed ideas that they want to see brought to life. “Currently the majority of the team are either non-binary or female so whatever they come up with, the stories are always originated by women and non-binary people,” explains Roussakoff. One of their recent titles, The Final Farewell, is a colourful exploration of grief while an upcoming release has more of a romantic-fantasy tilt. “Our natural tendency is to just write stuff we enjoy,” she says. “Our team is fantastic. That’s where the investment is.”

To help fortify the company’s future, Roussakoff applied to be part of our Accelerate: Games cohort through Creative Enterprise to help combat some key issues. First up was the type of language used to describe Lovewish: “I always found it challenging to talk about the business,” she admits. “When I used to say we’re making games for girls, people’s gut reaction is quite negative because they don’t like women and girls to be stereotyped,” she says, adding that some other assumptions were way off the mark: “Start talking about women’s fantasies with a name like Lovewish and before you know it, people have less wholesome ideas,” she laughs.

However, the one-to-one mentorship Rousakoff received through Creative Enterprise helped to clear this up: “It was really helpful to get some outside perspective on how to present the company,” she says, explaining how this led to the formation of three separate Lovewish identities, only two of which have been made public. “Now, we’re one company but three different studios. Studio Hearthlight is focused on cosy games and outsourcing within the industry while Studio Witchstar is about elevating early-career individuals,” she continues. ”The mentoring really helped me to have a much better clarity of vision for the company and how to execute our mission.”

The other challenge lay in identity. As a long-time game developer, making the leap to company CEO came with its own hurdles. “I was really hesitant to even say the term ‘CEO’ for such a long time,” says Roussakoff. “Part of [the thinking behind joining Creative Enterprise] was embracing that and really starting to think as someone who has a company, what that means for our company identity, the kind of games we make and how to build a team and company culture. The accelerator programme with Creative UK was absolutely critical to that,” she suggests “There were so many things I learned as a CEO/founder that have really enabled me to think of the business as a business rather than just thinking game-to-game.”

By working alongside the wide accelerator cohort, Rousakoff has been able to track Lovewish’s progress against other, similar start-ups. Throw some additional support from the UK Games Fund and the Northern Ireland Screen Fund into the mix, and the company is set to reach newer heights. “Creative UK enabled me to tie all of these things together and rethink things from a business perspective. Had I not been through that process, I’m not sure the company would’ve survived as long as it has,” she says. “It’s the conversations with others in a similar situation, the talks, tools and understanding that’s enabled me to have the courage to keep going.”

Find out more about Creative Enterprise Foundations.

Words and interview by Simon Bland

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