Elan Lee

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Elan Lee
Game designer
Game designer
BornLos Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationGame Designer
Alma materRochester Institute of Technology[1]

Elan Lee is an American game designer, developer and creator. He has designed games for the Xbox, helped create the world’s first Alternate Reality Games, and in collaboration with Matthew Inman, Elan built the card game 'Exploding Kittens', the most-backed (by number of backers) Kickstarter campaign in history at the time of release, and founded the Exploding Kittens company in 2015.[2]


Lee began his career as a character designer at Industrial Light and Magic, where he worked on several motion pictures including the computer special effects for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Lee was then hired by Microsoft Game Studios as Lead Game Designer, designing and directing games for PC and Xbox. While working for Microsoft he was the Executive Producer and Lead Designer for The Beast, one of the world’s first Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) used to promoted the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence.[3]

Lee has co-founded several start-ups all within the gaming arena. In 2003 he co-founded 42 Entertainment, a design company in the field of alternate reality games (ARGs). 42 has created multiple ARGs, including, I Love Bees to promote the Xbox game Halo 2, and Year Zero, to promote the Nine Inch Nails album Year Zero. He later he co-founded (with Dawne Weisman) EDOC Laundry, a company designed to produce ARGs using clothes as the primary platform. Consumers deciphered codes hidden within garments and entered the results into the game's main website to reveal pieces of a distributed story.

In 2007, Lee founded Fourth Wall Studios, an entertainment studio aiming to develop and publish entertainment experiences of varying scopes. Lee developed a new form of interactive programming that engaged audiences across multiple platforms via new technology he created. Projects such as the Emmy Award-winning series “Dirty Work” brought viewers into the show with interactive elements such as “integrated phone calls, texts and emails” as part of the viewing experience.[4]

Elan returned to Microsoft as the Chief Design Officer for Xbox Entertainment Studios soon after the launch of the Xbox One game console in 2013. By 2014, Elan left Microsoft with the plan to build a new technology-based TV studio and went as far as building a prototype, building a team and successfully raised about $5 million for his new endeavor.[5]

Exploding Kittens[edit]

In 2015 Elan Lee partnered with Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) and Shane Small to create the card game 'Exploding Kittens', funded on Kickstarter. ‘Exploding Kittens’ (originally called ‘Bomb Squad’) became the most-backed campaign on Kickstarter at the time, with 219,382 backers and a total of $8.78 million. Elan said, “When ‘Exploding Kittens’ launched, I thought it would be a side project on the weekend. It’s so weird when the side project dwarfs the scope and scale of the main project. And so I decided to return the money I raised. I realized that if I didn’t turn all my attention to this, it would become the biggest regret of my life.”[6]

Also in 2015, thanks to the success of the Exploding Kittens game, Lee and Inman founded the company Exploding Kittens Inc.[7][8] Following another effective Kickstarter campaign (over $3m from 85,000 backers), the company released its second tabletop game, Bears vs. Babies, in 2017.[9][10]

Exploding Kittens Inc. went on to produce another game in 2018 – You’ve Got Crabs.[7] 2019 saw two new releases – Throw Throw Burrito and On a Scale of One to T-Rex.[11][12] The former was again funded through Kickstarter, while the latter was an Amazon-exclusive release.[13][14]

In October 2019, the American businessman and investor Peter Chernin, CEO of The Chernin Group (TCG), announced a $30 million investment into Exploding Kittens Inc. This gives TCG a minority stake in the company. According to Matthew Inman, the company plans to use the funds for its first live gaming convention Burning Cat, inspired by the Burning Man festival, as well as investing into hiring more artists in order to increase production from one game a year to between three and five.[15][16]


With Microsoft:

With 42 Entertainment:

  • I Love Bees Lead Designer (2004)
  • Last Call Poker Lead Designer (2005)
  • The Vanishing Point Lead Designer (2007)
  • Year Zero Designer (2007)


Lee and his projects have won several industry awards for both design and marketing.

In 2005 I Love Bees won an Innovation Award from IGDA, and a Webby Award.[citation needed]

In 2008 Year Zero won the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity Grand Prix Award for "Viral Marketing"[17] as well as a Silver Award for "Integrated Campaign".[18] The game also won a bronze Clio Award,[19] and two Webbys: Peoples Voice Award (Branded Content)[20] and Peoples Voice Award (Integrated Campaigns).[20]

In 2012 Lee won a Creative Arts Emmy for Original Interactive Programming for the web series Dirty Work.[21] The same year he won the Trailblazer Award from IndieCade.[22]


  1. ^ Notable Alumni. Rochester Institute of Technology
  2. ^ "Discover » Most Backed — Kickstarter". www.kickstarter.com. Retrieved 2018-09-06.
  3. ^ Kornblum, Janet (28 June 2001). "The intricate plot behind 'A.I.' Web mystery". USA Today. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  4. ^ Caulfield, Brian (1 April 2009). "Games That Use The 'Ubernet'". Forbes. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  5. ^ The Deadline Team (2013-06-20). "Elan Lee Named Chief Design Officer For Nancy Tellem's Xbox Entertainment Studios". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  6. ^ "Welcome to the Exploding Kittens Shop".
  7. ^ a b "L.A.-based tabletop game company Exploding Kittens wants you to throw (foam) burritos at your friends and family". Daily News. 2019-04-11. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  8. ^ Editor. "Exploding Kittens Takes $30M Investment For Growth, New Games". Tabletop Wire. Retrieved 2019-12-29. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  9. ^ Chen, Connie. "Exploding Kittens is the most-backed project on Kickstarter to date — here's how a $20 card game became an internet phenomenon". Business Insider. Retrieved 2019-12-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ Bergstrom, Frank (2017-05-16). "The Top 10 Most Funded Kickstarter Board Games of All Time". Evil As a Hobby. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  11. ^ "Throw Throw Burrito". Kickstarter. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  12. ^ "Throw Throw Burrito is a card game that weaponizes Mexican food". VentureBeat. 2019-02-28. Retrieved 2019-12-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Anthony, Sean (2019-09-12). "Exploding Kittens creators announce On a Scale of One to T-Rex, a game for people bad at charades". GAMING TREND. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  14. ^ "On a Scale of One to T-Rex, a hilarious new party game from Wolfgang Warsch". Dice Tower News. Retrieved 2019-12-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ "Exploding Kittens Laps Up $30 Million Investment". Los Angeles Business Journal. Retrieved 2019-12-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ Spangler, Todd (2019-10-10). "Exploding Kittens Raises $30 Million From Peter Chernin's TCG Capital". Variety. Retrieved 2019-12-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ "2008 Cannes Lions Grand Prix Winners". Archived from the original on 2012-02-10. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  18. ^ "2008 Cannes Lions Silver Award Winners". Archived from the original on 2012-02-10. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  19. ^ "2008 Clio Award Winners". Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  20. ^ a b "2008 Webby Award Winners". Archived from the original on 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  21. ^ Dirty Work
  22. ^ Matulef, Jeffrey (October 12, 2012). "IndieCade 2012 winners announced, Unmanned takes the top prize". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on February 28, 2016. Retrieved February 28, 2016.

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