How I Started My Own Mobile Game Development Company

How I Started My Own Mobile Game Development Company


Elisabeth Boylan is an Illustrator, Designer and Art Director. A snowboarding, ballet enthusiast, training for the New York City 2021 Marathon. She co-founded Big Top Ballet Inc. a mobile game development company now based out of New York City. You can see her illustration work at her website and watch for new projects under Big Top Ballet Inc. to come in 2021.

How was your University time?

I grew up in culture rich Montreal but I was drawn to snowboard out west. I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the then named ‘Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design’. Vancouver as a setting is so rich in its green space and nature. The Mountains as a backdrop just pop! Being at art school where most projects are self directed, it’s almost like there are no lines to colour outside of. Always dealing with certain restrictions, it’s on you to decide and make the rules for success. Which is a lot like self employment. 

I felt I belonged at art school with all my weirdness. Or at least my ‘weirdness’ went unnoticed.  I loved that the school was called an ‘Institute’ and the connotation that word conjured. It’s moniker of the time scoffing at the term ‘University’. The school’s location was magically inspiring in its original Granville Island setting. I found myself often at the Opus art store right across the street. Towards the end of my fine art studies, I was pregnant with a baby girl. I can remember preparing my work for an exhibit and a couple of female Art Professors commenting on my belly. Both reminiscing, how they remembered what a special time it was for them. After becoming a new mum, I finished up with a couple courses in person for 3D animation and then on-line while beginning our new life as a family in a remote ski resort town. Since then, the school has moved to a new building with a beautiful view of the North Shore Mountains. Its name has since been changed to ‘Emily Carr ‘University’ of Art and Design’. 

Art school was a good fit for me. I think the environment rubbed off on my budding artist in utero. It was a special time for me for more than one reason. 

Why did you Seek out a career in this field?

Growing up in culture rich Montréal, I was exposed to and intrigued by visually rich summer festivals and appreciation for the arts. I love illustration, costume design, ballet and architecture. The combination of this affinity with app design and 3D game development lets me explore all my creative outlets, while remaining challenged when it comes to coding in Unity. The possibilities are endless which is exciting, inspiring but so wide open. Ultimately one has to choose, focus and follow through on the long tail of any project to get it to profitability. 

After publishing a mobile game titled Big Top Ballet, I founded Big Top Ballet Inc. The game was a success and achieved #1 Mac Music Game in the US in 2012 and throughout 2013. Big Top Ballet has been a vehicle for me to create independent content with new media, under a brand identity. It’s still a work in progress and I have committed the next 5 years to its success. 

What was your first job or nuggets from jobs you had that helped you to get to where you are today?

My first job following art and design studies, came to me by designing and publishing my own iPhone Apps in 2009. At the time app development was a highly sought after and competitive skill. Not everyone had an iPhone but everyone was becoming App crazy and the frenzy of buying either an iPhone or an Android had begun. I can still remember the day our iPod Touch arrived. It had a shiny metal back and looked like something from outer space. It blew our minds knowing how this handheld computer would change everything.

When there was only some 100 thousand apps on the app store, it felt awesome to have a super power of being able to develop and publish apps. The work came to us through word of mouth. A company that wanted to acquire the apps I built, came to me. It was a wild window of opportunity. In 2010 it was nascent, there wasn’t a way yet to transfer an App, you had to sell your whole company. I had just started my company. There’s also acknowledging the necessary time for exploration and failure. There’s a misconception that you have an idea, you pursue, develop it and it succeeds. In order to be creative, you have to make room for failure, then carry on forward with more knowledge.

In retrospect, the take away and lessons from that period, was there’s always someone who can advise on corporate advice and acquisition models. I had to learn to discern who to ask for what and whether they were correct in their guidance. Even when you believe someone is an expert, ask another expert because there are varying viewpoints. I found attending investor conferences most helpful for answers from a range of experts willing to discuss. Some people are stingy with information while others are very open, generous and helpful.  

Books that helped you? 

I love Greek Mythology. It’s fiction but as an artist, these stories really open up the imagination. ‘Circe’ and ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller are recent best selling novels but I also love the classics and have both hardcover and kindle versions.

For my illustration and graphic design consulting, Art Inc. by Lisa Congdon and Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, the Graphic Artists Handbook have been the most straightforward  resources. 

If I may harken back to Greek mythology, my favourite biography is Ron Chernow’s ‘Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller’. I found this life and his historical significance so informative. Prior to reading this biography, I was under the unconscious assumption that people who achieved great things had an unfair advantage; an amazing family, inheritance, or an easy life. JD Rockefeller’s biography revealed that greatness doesn’t come without significant stress, challenge, adversity, enmity or responsibility. 

If there is an unfair advantage to the Titans in our world and time, it seems that they have the favour of the gods on their side, like the goddess Athena favour for Odysseus in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. 

As with everyone else, if you want their favour, you have to earn their favour.    

Things are changing very fast in the industry; how do you keep yourself updated. 

I’m keeping myself updated by getting comfortable with being visible. The way the world is, especially in a Pandemic model, visibility and staying updated go hand in hand. To get that visibility, one has to do or create something novel and valued which inevitably requires an ‘update’ to oneself, one’s portfolio, experience, website, subscription channel, etcetera. 

I am in a season of rebirth. In 2018, I had just moved my company Big Top Ballet Inc. to New York City. My plans to relocate were halted when I learned that I would need open heart surgery. I had the surgery in my home town on February 28 of 2019 at l’Institut de Cardiologie de Montréal. Facing the surgery, anticipating that my heart and lungs would be stopped for over 2 hours, I wrote a short story titled ‘Journey to the Underworld’  Inspired by the Odyssey, it’s fiction imagining the journey to the Underworld under general anesthetic. To recover, I told myself I would run the NYC 2020 Marathon. Ninety (90) days post open heart surgery,  I ran the Whistler Half Marathon, followed by the Vancouver Scotiabank Half Marathon 3 weeks later. Last week I ran the NYC 2020 Virtual Marathon on October 17th, 2020. 

Training for both events gave me a renewed confidence in my health and achieving goals. I’ll be running the NYC 2021 Marathon and I’m fundraising for the American Heart Association’s Team Heart and Stroke. My campaign link is here. It’s a new beginning for me with a softened perspective on what’s most important. 

Riding the momentum of achieving these personal goals, I’m now working to update Big Top Ballet’s portfolio of mobile games. Prior to my surgery, I was fatigued having to nap more, I let projects lag. Some of our existing apps require the code be updated. This period of rebirth means that I can reimagine existing projects for their updates. It also means sacrificing those projects that are no longer viable to make room for the new.

What can you recommend on CV?

Examples of current work that is a reflection of someone’s unwavering enthusiasm, talent and expertise for the role they are applying. I subscribe to the tenets ‘ know them for their fruits’ and ‘as one does anything, is how they do everything’.

Advice for someone looking for job?

Create the product that you would be creating in your dream job and then make it visible by sharing it or making it available for sale. 

We live in an era where your portfolio of work is a measure of your talent and expertise. When I started designing and building iPhone Apps in 2009, our apps were selling and the goal was to keep making in-house apps. At the same time app development as a skill was scarce and people came to us to build their app ideas. If our game was featured in an article, then we would hear from a local firm or organization that wanted our team to build their app. It resulted in consulting projects, each sequential project attracting a more attractive and higher paying client. Also each experience refining our skills and process.  

When our priority was to live in Whistler, I had to create the company where I wanted to work. But if you are living in the city where your dream company exists, keep looking out for the skills they want to hire. Build your experience, your portfolio and get noticed by proving how you can add value. Imagine starting a company that gets acquired by the company you dreamed of working for.

Lessons from jobs that you couldn’t get.

Since I finished art studies, for the first decade, I didn’t apply for employed work. Myself and my husband’s goal was to build our own companies, consult on the side while living in a ski town. Choosing a remote work model, ruled out a lot of employed opportunities. The types of employed jobs that were and remain most attractive to me as an employee are costume design and concept artist roles. There’s only a handful of companies in a selection of cities ( Montréal, Paris, New York, London, Vienna ) where I would be willing to work if I am not working for myself or on Big Top Ballet Inc.   

In my case my barrier has been to secure either an investor or a strategic partnership for my company.  After living in a ski town and testing that remote model, I have come to recognize that I needed to change the location of my company if I want it to succeed. I did that in 2018 with a move to New York City. The plan is to personally relocate in 2021 and latest 2022. 

Place and identity are intertwined. With the Pandemic there’s been an exodus from big cities with a surge in work from home models. More people are moving to remote towns, buying property, seeking their ideal lifestyle balance. At this stage of my life, I have been living that quiet remote lifestyle. With renewed energy, I’m longing to live life and work in a bigger city that’s vibrant in the arts and culture. 

also read: My Story From Studying Motion Graphics To Becoming An Illustrator And Graphic Designer

How I Started My Own Mobile Game Development Company

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