Acme Nerd Games
In 2015, Mary Romolino launched a business-to-business game development company, Acme Nerd Games, with her husband, Bo Monroe.
The company develops video games that help businesses reach two universal goals: to grow business from existing customers, and to attract new ones.
Romolino spent more than 30 years in marketing, at ad agencies in Chicago and Madison, and as a regional VP at US Bank. After writing strategic plans for companies in a variety of industries, “every single one wanted to get more business from their existing customers and/or attract new ones,” she says. “The trick is how, and that’s where games come in.”
But wait … aren’t video games an imagination-sapping waste of time? Romolino says no.
“They can be entertaining, but just like a book or TV show, games can also be educational,” she says. “Video games allow players to visualize things. They create environments for people to explore and experiment. They're a safe place to test choices and see the consequences. They engage and motivate.”
Games are a new way to for people interact with a product or company, she says: Taking players beyond simple awareness, games make an emotional connection that creates value and deepens brand relationships.
After a successful career working for others, Romolino and her husband decided to join forces and start a company that makes games that are good for businesses and for their players, too. Romolino isn’t a typical tech-start up owner. She’s female, she doesn’t live in her parents’ basement, and she doesn’t write code. Fortunately, Monroe has been creating games for more than 25 years.
“We make a great team because he’s the insider with the know-how to deliver, and I’m the outlier with a fresh perspective.
About half of the adult population plays video games, Romolino says, and the serious game market is estimated to exceed $5 billion by 2020. Knowing who plays games, the power they have to engage and motivate us, my question to business leaders is: what are you waiting for?
Acme Nerd Games has two games in development, one for UW Health, the other is for United Way of Dane County.
The U.S. is predicted to face a healthcare shortage by 2020. To help create a career pipeline, UW Health and their HOPE (Health Occupation and Profession Exploration) Program is engaging with high school students interested in health sciences with a mobile app. The game will provide an environment where students can “try on” various health sciences jobs and experience the role of specific healthcare professionals. Previously a paper-based exercise available to students who could to travel to Madison, this game will illuminate career options and alternative pathways to achievement. Players will discover how to overcome obstacles and work up to their ideal job which can improve the economic and social circumstances for these students and their families for generations.
United Way of Dane County wants to bring greater understanding of those most in-need in our community — the 64,000 people living in poverty in Dane County. Acme Nerd Games is creating a social simulation for the organization where players spend their resources (giving, advocating, volunteering) in order to improve lives. The digital experience features a localized view of overall community health in an engaging format that drives empathy and action. This website-based simulation will be a unique way to reach and engage more Dane County citizens.
Romolino and Monroe live in Barneveld but located Acme Nerd Games in Mount Horeb at first because they couldn’t get high-speed internet in their home. “But, we stay here because of the energy level of the residents and fellow business owners. Mt. Horeb has a great vibe – there’s so much activity and it’s being led by smart people who want to continue to provide a great quality of life.”