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 with Matthew Inman created the card game Exploding Kittens, whose Kickstarter campaign was the most-backed of its day. He and Inman 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 movies, 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 gaming start-ups. In 2003, he co-founded 42 Entertainment, whose alternate reality games include I Love Bees to promote the Xbox game Halo 2 and Year Zero to promote the Nine Inch Nails album Year Zero. He and Dawne Weisman later co-founded EDOC Laundry 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 to create entertainment experiences. 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]

Lee 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, Lee had left Microsoft to build a new technology-based TV studio; he raised about $5 million, assembled a team, and built a prototype.[5]

Exploding Kittens[edit]

In 2015, Lee, Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), and Shane Small created the card game Exploding Kittens. Originally called Bomb Squad, it became the most-backed campaign on Kickstarter at the time, raising $8.78 million from 219,382 backers. “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.”[citation needed]

Later in the year, Lee and Inman founded Exploding Kittens Inc.[6][7] The company released its second tabletop game, Bears vs. Babies, in 2017, after raising more than $3 million from 85,000 Kickstarter backers.[8][9]

In 2018, the company released You’ve Got Crabs;[6] in 2019, it released Throw Throw Burrito after another Kickstarter campaign and On a Scale of One to T-Rex exclusively on Amazon.[10][11][12][13]

In October 2019, the American businessman and investor Peter Chernin, CEO of The Chernin Group, invested $30 million for a minority stake in Exploding Kittens Inc. Inman said the company planned to use the funds to mount a live gaming convention, Burning Cat, inspired by the Burning Man festival; hire more artists; and produce three and five new games a year.[14][15]


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"[16] and a Silver Award for "Integrated Campaign".[17] The game also won a bronze Clio Award,[18] and two Webbys: Peoples Voice Award (Branded Content)[19] and Peoples Voice Award (Integrated Campaigns).[19]

In 2012, Lee won a Creative Arts Emmy for Original Interactive Programming for the web series Dirty Work.[20] The same year he won the Trailblazer Award from IndieCade.[21]

In March 2022, The Beast received a Legacy Peabody Award for Interactive Journalism.[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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Editor. "Exploding Kittens Takes $30M Investment For Growth, New Games". Tabletop Wire. Retrieved 2019-12-29. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  8. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 2019-03-21. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  9. ^ Bergstrom, Frank (2017-05-16). "The Top 10 Most Funded Kickstarter Board Games of All Time". Evil As a Hobby. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  10. ^ "Throw Throw Burrito". Kickstarter. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  11. ^ "Throw Throw Burrito is a card game that weaponizes Mexican food". VentureBeat. 2019-02-28. Archived from the original on 2019-12-11. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "On a Scale of One to T-Rex, a hilarious new party game from Wolfgang Warsch". Dice Tower News. Archived from the original on 2019-12-29. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  14. ^ Uranga, Rachel (11 October 2019). "Exploding Kittens Laps Up $30 Million Investment". Los Angeles Business Journal. Archived from the original on 2019-12-19. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  15. ^ Spangler, Todd (2019-10-10). "Exploding Kittens Raises $30 Million From Peter Chernin's TCG Capital". Variety. Archived from the original on 2019-10-10. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  16. ^ "2008 Cannes Lions Grand Prix Winners". Archived from the original on 2012-02-10. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  17. ^ "2008 Cannes Lions Silver Award Winners". Archived from the original on 2012-02-10. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  18. ^ "2008 Clio Award Winners". Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  19. ^ a b "2008 Webby Award Winners". Archived from the original on 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  20. ^ Dirty Work
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "2022 Peabody Winners, The Beast, A.I. Transmedia Experience". Retrieved 2022-02-28.

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