Monday, 23 February 2015

Women in Games

I've been taking part in a few Women in Games type things recently, and there's been one major theme throughout; if we're going to have a positive impact on diversity in the games industry we need to talk about it.  So here's me talking about it.

But before we get started on all the good and positive stuff, there's a not so quiet elephant in the room that I'm going to address now.  This post is not about GamerGate.  Maybe that will be a post for another time, but all you need to know from me right now is that I do not support GamerGate and if you have genuine concerns with ethics in journalism, I implore you to adopt a different hash tag.   


Recently Next Gen Skills Academy conducted a survey, of which 40% of the women employed in the UK games industry took part in.  The results from that survey show that 45% of women have experienced barriers to their career due to gender and 16% of the women who took part had experienced bullying from a superior.  

Personally my experience working in the games industry has been amazingly positive in terms of my co-workers and employers.  However, at both Game when I was a manager and at conferences such as Develop Brighton I have had to more than once defend my validity in that space.  At Game I can remember very vividly being asked on more than one occasion if there was a man around who knew about a certain game/console/accessory.  The absolute shock that caused one customer to not only double take but also completely spin on the spot when told I was the resident PS3 expert will stay with me for a long time.  And the number of people at Develop who would assume I worked in HR or PR and would be genuinely shocked that I am in fact a Designer.  One gentleman (who worked for Konami but i don't believe his actions represent his company) told me I was 'far too pretty to be in games development'.  I later found out he made one of the students there feel so uncomfortable that she had to leave.  So there are still dinosaurs in the industry and indeed in the consumer space who feel girls aren't welcome in the tree house, but thankfully this is happening less and less and soon I'm sure we'll only remember when it was an issue.

Yes I'm a gamer, no not a fake one!

Based on the information collected by Next Gen Skills Academy a series of workshops were set up, the first of which was an Empowerment workshop with speakers covering 'Finding Your Voice & Understanding Your Personal Branding' and 'Cultivating your Capacity for Creative Leadership'.

My takeaway from the work shop is that I'm already a fairly empowered individual.  I've been fighting against the boys' tree house rules since SEGA vs NINTENDO was the playground banter, I spent most of my first pay as you go top ups helping male friends complete Soul Reaver and Metal Gear Solid and yes I am buying XCOM for myself not my boyfriend, and no I don't think it'll be harder than Dark Souls so are we done here?  It's not that I would say I'm a confrontational person but I won't let people think I'm less capable at (then) playing and (now) making games.  

The second talk was really useful to me in terms of learning skills for delivering talks to groups of people.  As I said, a theme running through these past few weeks has been we need to talk about this more, especially to encourage the next generation of game makers.  When I was at school I was told that making games wasn't a real job (!), if I can make a difference to any young girls playing games who want to make games in the future I will happily go to schools and show them that they can absolutely do that and it's not just for the boys.  I agree we need more female speakers to step up and get involved by being positive influences, it's why I was happy to talk at the Eurogamer careers surgery, why I wanted to talk at Animex and why I'm putting myself forward to speak at Develop.  So to pick up a few tips on how to do that was very useful indeed.  

Eurogamer, Konsoll and Animex

Unity and Cake

Kerry Turner is an experienced developer and coder who decided to start a meet up to teach a group of her female friends how to make games in Unity.  Kind of like a knitting circle but with laptops instead of knitting needles, retaining the tea and cakes of course. 
 This is a perfect example of how to influence and change the industry (for the better) from the inside by helping empower a group of women to be able to create their own games.  

Aside anything else it's an amazing evening spent with wonderful women, and on top of this we are learning invaluable skills and will (eventually) have a game at the end of it!  I can't thank Kerry enough for setting it up and inviting me to be one of the 'guinea pigs' for the courses content.  I do need to decide what my game will be, so far I'm making a Myst like but I'm not sure that's what I want at the end of this.  What's also very cool is that I get to come home and teach Alex some tricks he didn't know, he's already very upset that my code best practice is better than his.

MCV Top 100 Women in Games

Awesome networking.

So this is the big one.  Making the top 100 women in the UK games industry list!  I was very shocked!  Especially when you read some of the other women on this list.  Putting me up there with Dr. Jo Twist, Gabrielle Kent, Roberta Lucca, Siobhan Reddy and many more industry veterans, studio founders and women who have a profound influence on our industry.

Attending the awards was another really positive event with lots of talk about being strong role models for other women in and coming up in the industry.

So when I told my mom I made the list she asked 'what for, you haven't done anything?' (thanks mom), but it did get em thinking about why I should be on the list, or rather if I should be (impostor guilt).  And you know what, I should be.  I don't think anyone should underestimate just how hard it is to make video games, or rather make successful video games as it is, never mind the fact we completed and released two games within a year AND had a baby at the same time!

I hope my story is inspiring to women in and choosing to be in the games industry.  Yes you do belong here and no having a baby does not end your career if you don't want it to.  I worked on Glyph Quest full time until two weeks before the baby arrived, and even then I was still doing press and community management.  And we continued to work even with Willow crawling around, sitting on our laps and otherwise bothering us for attention.  Full time mum and full time game developer.  

It's not easy, but then anything worth doing never is.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Animex 2015

Since the first Animex I attended back in 2009 I've had a real soft spot for the festival.  Amazing speakers, inspiring talks and workshops, and a fantastic networking opportunity for students/grads to get some advice, tips and feedback on portfolios.  Back in 2009 I attended as a graduate looking for help and a break into the industry, this year was my fourth Animex, and my first as a speaker.

Indie Game Day

This year's Animex saw the first Indie Game Day.  Speakers included Georg Baker, Michael and James Brown, Richard Franke, Barry Meade, Ian McClellen, Alex and myself.  There was a huge range of experiences and advice on offer.  

Georg (A Brave Plan Ltd) gave 110 (!) slides of invaluable advice to budding independent developers with so much gusto it was a hard opening talk to beat!  The Gang Beast's (Boneloaf) were next up showing an insight into the process that has lead up to one of the most exciting indie games coming. Basically; prototype, play, iterate and once you have something to show, show it and use that feedback.  We followed after a short break giving advice on what we did, and why you should do what we say and not what we did (another blog post methinks).  After lunch we were treated to the musings of Barry (Fireproof) giving an inspiring talk on why you should make the games you want to play.  Up next was the fabulous Richard Franke (Magic Notion) talking about Kitty Powers' Matchmaker, a perfect example of a personal project driven by passion.  Then we had a very quick talk from Ian (Plug and Play) about marketing your games core message (your 'X') before the almighty panel session come game show for all the speakers and hosted by Alex.

If you thought a panel couldn't be gamified you clearly don't know Alex... (Also my team won thanks to my brilliant team mates Georg and Rich!).

Wow, what a day. Every Animex gives you a surge of inspiration, and Indie Day was no exception, we went to the bar that night buzzing with ideas and creativity, and this was just my first day of talks (we missed the start of the week and the VFX/Animation talks) there was so much more to come.

The Game Bridge in the student bar was the evenings entertainment.  Loads of local (and not so local) developers showing of their games and the incredible Ms Powers came along to spice up the evening.

Animex Game

The later half of the week was all things game industry and again, amazing speakers giving inspiring talks.  I wish I had made it to all of the talks as the ones I did catch had me enthralled.

Ken Wong (Ustwo) was the first talk I caught, encouraging this new age of developers to shake the shackles of what we've let ourselves believe makes a game, a 'game'.  Instead make experiences, channel emotions, produce works of art, think outside the (x)box.  Following the pink haired hipster force was Nicole Stark (Disparity Games) who gave one of the best openings to a talk I've ever seen.  Stating that she is a self confessed 'fake' mountain biker.  Nicole has the gear, knows the lingo but cycles faster uphill than down.  And despite getting horribly in the way of  'genuine' mountain bikers she has never been made to feel that she does not belong on that trail and as a part of that community.  Something that our gaming community could really learn from.  Nicole's talk was another personal journey in game development and the battle of balancing work and life.

I then skipped tracks to catch Jenifer Clixby (Lionhead) talking about her role as a cat herder (producer).  Some really useful advice in this talk especially her personal tip to always leave the 'TO' field empty when writing an email.  That way you can't accidentally send it unfinished, without attachments and/or full of errors, also you have to really think if you want to send that message.  Useful if you're in a bad/angry mood.  Following up this super useful talk was another amazingly helpful session from Wyeth Johnson (Epic) on how to give and ask for usable feedback.  Ask for specific feedback, and don't rush your reply, give yourself time.  It's a skill and it takes work to get good at so don't shy from it.  Closing the day was Nathan Stapley (Double Fine) showing us some of the beautiful art behind Broken Age.  I loved this talk and had to start making notes on things I want to try for our next Glyph Quest game (more on that another time).

Nathan gearing up for awesomeness and the doodle I stole after his talk. Haha!

Players' Lounge

Another of the networking events this week (and another evening with the irrepressible Ms. Powers!) held at the student bar is the Players' Lounge, the evening where you get to meet the speakers.  This evening also held a charity auction for Special Effect, speakers bring along game merchandise, usually unique, limited and/or signed, and this year auctioned by special guest Kitty Powers.  My contribution to the action was an original Cthuttlefish drawing (Sharpie and water colour on canvas, signed), we were also giving away the opportunity to be a character/enemy/monster in our next Glyph Quest title.  This was auctioned for a whopping £260 making it the joint highest win of the evening (matching the signed Monumnet Valey print).  

Wrap Party

The advantage of being a speaker at Animex is attending the wrap party.  Every year there's an evening of saying thanks to all those behind the festival and the speakers for making it what it is.  What was really special about this years party was Alex taking home the Animex Honorary Award!  Now of course I have to work on getting one for myself so we can have matching bookends! 


And this is really whats so special about Animex, the networking.  This year I was blessed to also meet Phil Co (Valve), Gary Napper (Creative Assembly), Andrew Walsh, Allesandro Taini (Ninja Theoy), Zach Parish (Disney) and Michael Molcher (2000AD) and catch up with some old friends and Animex regulars.  Played some excellent Mafia games and was introduced to the fantastic Escape and Super Fight games (thanks Jim!).

Seriously epic Mafia game.

There's always so many excellent speakers at Animex, hand picked by the wonderful Gabrielle Kent.  Getting to meet people in the industry that I have nothing but respect for is a treat year on year. 

Thanks Animex!  Please have me back next time!