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Alberta-based video game designer attends networking event in Japan

Alberta-based video game designer attends networking event in Japan

Based in Vauxhall, Alberta, Donna Sato recently traveled to Japan to attend the Tokyo Game Show convention to showcase her video game, Neko House.

The convention hosts ‘Business Days’, where two days are dedicated for media companies to meet with publishers, design studios, game developers, and marketing experts, and show them their playable demos.

She and her team of seven are currently designing a video game set in a cat shelter, under Sato’s media company Mikan House Inc. — Mikan is Sato’s cat’s name and translates to Mandarin orange in Japanese.

The focus of the company is to spread positivity, understanding, and mental wellness, “It’s not just about entertainment for us. It’s about making the world more inclusive and empathetic, one story at a time,” says Sato.

The business owner started her career in the non-profit sector, and worked for 10 years in that industry. Deciding to change career paths over half a decade ago, she enrolled at Lethbridge College to study multimedia production.

After graduation, Sato accepted a position with Lethbridge College continuing to do media-related work. She’s been in the sector for five years and has run Mikan House Inc. for just over one year.

I like that video games have a bit of everything. You need to understand assets, game mechanics, how to build a good story, and you also need a good sense of design,” she says. “Video games are always at the forefront of new technology — it starts in game development and then spreads out to other industries, like film and television.

Sato is a board member with the Lethbridge Game Development Guild. One of the members said there was an opportunity to apply for a media fund to help them succeed.

I got the funding, so I started the company. I reached out to two people who I knew were really talented and asked if they were interested in helping me out. Thankfully they were, and so we were a group of three,” says Sato.

But shortly after, three turned into seven, and Sato started Mikan House Inc. The full team was ready to continue the animation and design of the 2D pixel-based game, Neko House.

Mikan House

Typically, it takes two to three years to build a game with a smaller team. Being six months in, the trip to Tokyo, Japan was full of large opportunities for the team, since Neko House is in its early prototyping stage.

With a list of all kinds of industry professionals, the convention had an online match system.

I said to myself, how is it going to hurt to reach out to professionals and ask if they’d be willing to meet with me,” says Sato. “The majority of them wrote back to book a day and time.

She met with over a handful of publishers during Business Days and says many were interested in Neko House, bringing the opportunity to strengthen the connections over time.

I was always interested in the new media industry in general. I loved doing graphic design, web design, and interactive media,” says Sato. “It’s all been wonderful. I’ve learned a lot of lessons through the process and have been fortunate that the Indie Games, although competitive, is still a very inclusive community and environment. A lot of people will step up and are willing to help you out.

Sato has built a team, and most don’t have previous professional experience in game development. They excel in other areas that are beneficial, and Sato is a believer in giving people a chance, regardless of their professional experience.

I’ve been fortunate and feel like I’ve won the lottery. There’s no way that I would’ve gotten as far as I have without the people on my team,” she says. “One of the things I noticed lately is companies posting entry level positions but require five years of experience. They are missing out.

Luckily Sato has received wage subsidies to financially compensate everyone. However, the process is through reimbursement.

She reached out to Community Futures Chinook to cover her wages with the Capital Growth Initiative for Women Entrepreneurs loan, and would pay back the loan once she received the reimbursements.

Sato has also been connected with Tracy Stroud, Regional Innovation Network Manager, for Southeast Alberta APEX Alberta, who lets Sato know about various services, programs, and events that may benefit her business.

Alvaro explained the loan process to me in a very simplistic way, and it was very helpful at the time,” says Sato. “And Tracy has been absolutely wonderful. She’s so supportive and goes out of her way to stay connected."

Sato resides in Vauxhall, in a very rural community, with limited resources. Having support like this as a business owner is really helpful. She appreciates that organizations like Community Futures and APEX Alberta do exist to help small businesses find their way.

It’s very challenging to run a business if you don’t have a business background. Having people who have that expertise at your fingertips is extremely beneficial, and it’s very life changing,” says Sato. “If I were to have done this 20 years ago, where these services weren’t as easy to find, I don’t think I would be as nearly as successful.

Mikan House Inc. can be found online at

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