The hottest game online at RealNetworks, “Sally’s Salon,” wasn’t meant to reflect reality—it’s supposed to be fun.
There’s no irony there—working in a salon is fun, but it’s a whole lot more, too. Take Sally herself.
Developed by Games Café, the lead character Sally was intended to be “strong but not impenetrable, cute but not overtly sexy.” To make her a character anyone can get next to, says Steve Shatford, CEO of Games Café, he and his team visited salons, talked to a variety of people and pulled from their unique experiences to create personalities for Sally and her clients.
So what did they come up with for a salon owner and stylist on the move? A celebrity anyone can relate to—Lisa Loeb.
“She’s smart, sexy, intelligent and multi-talented,” says Shatford. “Her cat-eye glasses give her a unique look that’s not garish.”
When Shatford looked closely at entrepreneurial stylists, he also saw they tended to progress professionally, which is why Sally starts at the mall and ends up as a Hollywood hairdresser—sort of like the Sally with the surname Hershberger.
To create a rich salon environment for their lead character, game developers created various client-types with different personalities. Think blue-hairs to faux-hawk fans.
One goal of the game: to give the client the style that makes him or her smile. (The pre-programmed one, that is; in real life you may have talked the client out of that Mohawk or pitched a plea for more dimensional color). The pay-off: Big tips.
Who’s a Player
Before non-tipping salon owners start letter-writing, a little backstory.
A number of the game’s developers had hairdresser wives, girlfriends and platonics, which is how they decided the salon theme was a gold mine. Their gal pals showed them that hairdressing is creative, energetic and fun.
The developers’ real goal was to get more women to play casual games, loosely defined as ones anyone can learn fast and play in short increments of time without using elaborate controls. Their instincts paid off: In terms of revenue, Sally’s Salon was the best-selling game in 2007 at producer RealNetworks, where more than 40 million players a month checked it out.
Eighty-five percent of the game’s players are female; their average age is 52. That’s pretty close to the chair; 2002 data showed that 89 percent of salon owners were 35 or older, with a median age of 47. In 2006, 93 percent of U.S. hairdressers were female; in New Zealand—to get global—it’s 87 percent.
By tweaking the components games require to hold ever-fleeting interest, the developers created ways to add services, change furniture, move locations, climb the ladder and more. To keep it upbeat, they left the complaining clients home. “There are no Bridezillas,” says Shatford, “no negative experiences.”