Women in games: A mini guide to working and thriving in the video game industry
Originally published* on Current.com in July of 2012.
By Daniela Capistrano / @dcap
“The single most important thing you can do [to break into the industry] is to make games – even if itâ€™s a mod of a game that you love. Get together with other people and build a game.”â€”Amy Jo Kim, CEO at ShuffleBrain and Game Designer, Author and Educator
So, youâ€™re a girl and you love video games: twenty years ago this would have been unusual but today almost everyone in the U.S. is a gamer: aÂ 2011 survey indicated thatÂ 72 percent of households play video gamesÂ and the number is growing. AÂ 2013 studyÂ revealed that women comprise 45% of the gamer population.Â Women 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of theÂ game-playing population (31%) than boys age 17 or younger (19%).
The struggle: why few women go from gamer to creator
Unfortunately the video game industryÂ is remarkably less diverse;Â The Boston Globe reports that women account for only 11 percent of game designers and 3 percent of programmers.Â Gender discrimination still exists both in how games are made and who gets to make them.Â Not only do we need more female characters in video games, we need more women and girls to create games.
Women still struggle with making a living and being respected in the video game industry.Â A 2012Â Twitter discussion among women working in games (#1reasonwhy)Â pointed out that sexist practices, workplace harassment and unequal pay for men and women was common.Â
There is, after all, a reason that #1reasonwhy is still a relevant hashtag. 🙁
â€” Robin Burks (@sunriserobin) March 5, 2014
There’s a 27 percent gap in average incomes, with women making $68,062 versus men at $86,418, according to Game Developer Magazine’s 2011 annual salary survey.
More roles for women in games
Men historically have had more influence within the industry, but the culture is changing.Â Female programmers are in demandÂ and more women are taking advantage ofÂ video game design programsÂ at universities across the nation. Reuters reports that the number of women hired by game companies has tripled since 2009, according to recruiting firm VonChurch.
To find out what it takes to succeed in the video game industry, Daniela Capistrano spoke with some of the leading women in video games. The result is this mini guide for girls and women of all ages who want a career making and contributing to gaming culture.
If you’re a guy and you stumbled across this, welcome! There’s plenty of relevant information here for you too.
DISCLOSURE: Despite its length, this articleÂ full of industry tips and online resources is calledÂ a mini guide because it only represents a third of what Daniela uncovered. To unhide all the goodies hidden within this guide, click the “show/hide” buttons.
The beginning: prepare yourself for a job in the industry
Women of all backgrounds have the opportunity to thrive in the video game industry while changing the way that women and people of color are represented in games – but they need the skills, personal habits and networks that will support their career goals.
Students: Do not believe the myth that boys are better than girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) – itâ€™s not true. While STEM skills are helpful in the video game industry and female programmers are needed, you donâ€™t need to know how to code to work in video games (but consider learning anyway!).
If you want to make video games, start doing it now and teach yourself about the video game industry. Find ways to make learning fun and practice your developing talents.Â The path to a successful career in video games (regardless of gender) is similar to whatâ€™s required in most industries: being self-motivated, asking questions, learning/applying the necessary skills and finding peers and working professionals willing to offer guidance and mentorship.
Weâ€™ll explore how to do all these things further in this mini guide.
College grads and women in other industries: Donâ€™t be discouraged if you didnâ€™t excel at STEM in school, donâ€™t know how to code or donâ€™t have a degree in Computer Science. If you are passionate about video games and want to work in the industry, there are many opportunities for you to apply the skills youâ€™ve attained through other work experiences.
If a kid can make games, so can you (watch this inspiring clip of Globaloria students)!
Some video game positions require more advanced technical skills than others, but all require the commitment to understanding how the industry works, where itâ€™s headed and what youâ€™re best suited to do to support the creation of video games.
“As an industry weâ€™re very male centric but that is changing … Iâ€™ve heard people make arguments against why itâ€™s important to have women in the industry. I counter with this: why would diversity make the industry worse? Different perspectives within games – and within actual game creation – is nothing but a good thing.” – Shana T. Bryant, Senior Associate Producer at Capcom
Not sure where to start? Get inspired!
Learn more about what your options are by studying the people who are already excelling in the industry. Here are three women with impressive careers in video games who are leading innovation:
Corrinne Yu:Â Halo Team Principal Engine Architect for Halo team in Microsoft Studios (343 Industries)
Ms. Yu has the distinction of being the first and only Technical Lead at Microsoft Game Studios and is a veteran Director of Technology. With over 20 years of programming experience, Corrinne was an early pioneer of game engine development and excels in other pursuits; her nuclear physics research won her a national award from the U.S. Department of Energy and she even programmed on the Space Shuttle Project at Rockwell International California.
In an interview for GirlGamer.com, Corrinne shared what drew her to game programming:
â€œWith game engine programming, we program a completely self-consistent world with photons traversing through game materials in just the right way, with faces and bodies acting and reacting just so, and every extra bit of engineering effort we put forth, we make the gaming immersion just this much deeper and richer for the player playing the game. It is a very mentally fulfilling sort of career.â€
While being interviewed by Channel 9, Corrine described how she transitioned from a hobbyist to a professional programmer:
â€œIâ€™ve loved programming computers ever since I first saw and touched one, which was the Apple II. It was before the personal computer revolution and so a lot of it was Iâ€™d basically go to universities and try to borrow time on the really big mainframes. I also tried to work for colleges, as well as for scientific communities â€¦ One of the first professional jobs I had was programming punch cards â€¦ I loved [programming] so much I just went out of my way to seek out opportunities where i could either do it for free or for a job.â€
Amy Jo Kim, CEO at ShuffleBrain and Game Designer, Author and Educator
Dr. Kim is an internationally recognized expert in online social architecture and a designer of social games and communities. Her client history includes Electronic Arts, Sony, Disney, eBay, MTV, Square/Enix, and numerous startups.Â Her influential book,Â Community Building on the Web, is required reading in universities and game companies around the world.
In her spare time, Amy Jo is an in-demand speaker at events around the world, analyzing gamification trends, game mechanics, online communities and more.
Here is some of the advice she shared with Daniela Capistrano:
â€œLearning how to code is part of 21st century literacy. The single most important thing you can do [to break into the industry] is to make games – even if itâ€™s a mod of a game that you love. Get together with other people and build a game. Maybe youâ€™ll code or do the art, or manage the spreadsheet for the assets. People who already built their own games get interviews. [Employers] donâ€™t want someone who is just an idea person or a talker. Build something, learn from it and then try building something else. In video games, you have to have a personality of a builder.â€
Follow the industry and see where you can contribute.
â€œThe games industry is being radically transformed right now. Mobile platforms and Facebook games have transformed where revenue growth is. Itâ€™s all in mobile, online and social. Consoles are holding down the fort but that is shrinking, and in all growth areas there are just as many females as males. The next 5-10 years of opportunity in gaming are going to be in these growth areas where there will be opportunity for people to reinvent what a game is for a very different audience from when traditional gaming started.â€
Draw from your own experiences.
â€Females are uniquely suited to understand collaborative gaming and to create collaborative games. There is big opportunity for females as designers and creators of games that guys would never think to build.â€
Watch Amy Jo give her Ignite talk at Google I/O 2012 on collaborative gaming and the latest trends (43:15 in).
Elonka Dunin: Executive Producer and General Manager of Online Community at Simutronics Corporation
Like all of the women referenced in this mini-guide, Ms. Dunin has contributed much to culture beyond gaming. In addition to working at Simutronics (an online games company) since 1990, she is an active public speaker as well as a founding member of the International Game Developers Association’s Online Games SIG, co-Director of the Global Game Jam, on the Board of Directors for the building of a new National Museum of Cryptology and taught government agents about cryptography to track Al Qaeda!
In her interview with Capistrano, Elonka explained why attending game jams is a fun way to build your skills and your network:
â€œThere is something for everyone at a game jam. I saw an eight year old come with his dad and his job was to search online for sound effects, someoneâ€™s mom came and since she had a marketing background, we had her write up a blog post about the game jam. One woman came in with no hands – sheâ€™s an artist and we used her art in a couple of games. There is something for everyone to do. Itâ€™s a great way to learn how to create a game, as part of team, in a rapid prototyping environment. All you have to do is try it; donâ€™t worry about whether or not youâ€™re going to be perfect.â€
Elonka manages the intern program at Simutronics and revealed the qualities sheâ€™s looking for:
â€œIf you want to program, you need to go in the interview and be able to say â€˜I want to be a programmer and I work at it every night, Iâ€™m always learning.â€™ That is the person weâ€™re more likely to hire, who has that passion.
If someone came to me and said â€˜I want to be an executive producer, I want your job,â€™ I would say â€˜learn everything you can about all the different skills that it takes to make games and what a project manager does. Learn excellent communication and time management skills. Take classes in project management and accounting. Donâ€™t try to pretend youâ€™re good at everything; if an applicant says â€˜Iâ€™m really good at this,â€™ itâ€™s more real.â€
Elonka also cautioned readers to make sure that a career in video games is what you really want:
â€œFigure out what you enjoy doing, what your passion is. Donâ€™t go to the game industry if itâ€™s not your passion to make games; if you have donâ€™t have a passion for it you wonâ€™t be happy. Find what you love, work really hard at it and enjoy it and the job will follow you.â€
Six tips to help you attain your dream job
1. Be curious and optimize your distractions.
â€œI always let myself be curious – even get distracted – when something moves me. I follow blogs on strange photography, infinity and fractals, bizarre fashion trends; things that foster different emotions. When I design, I always start with emotions, sensations, revelations – what do I want players to feel, see, learn? I love paradox and juxtaposition, anything that forces your brain to think in a new way or make unexpected connections. I love going out to quiet places: parks and natural settings. Whenever my throat gets tight – something literally takes my breath away – then I know I should capture or try to understand it. Good game design revolves around creating evocative experiences.â€œ – Chelsea Howe, Director of Design at SuperBetter Labs
More thoughts on how curiosity informs skill-building:
â€œI still constantly play games and evaluate all the new platforms. I started on the Apple II and the latest platforms are social networks, ios devices and tablets – intellectual curiosity. I remember when I first started playing Facebook games in 2007 and 2008, being fascinated with asynchronistic gameplay with people. It was really intellectually fascinating to me, this new demographic.â€ – Brenda Garno Brathwaite, Loot Drop co-founder and award-winning game designer and author
â€œThere was no career path laid out, no game design major or a graphical interface for the Internet when I started. I just kept asking questions and finding resources. One of the things you can use social media for is to learn something. Donâ€™t just use it for chatting with friends. If you want to find game designers, look them up online or on Facebook, send them an email. They are surprisingly open to helping people who have a passion for something, who are asking questions and reaching out.â€ – Shannon Sullivan, VP, Programs and Production at World Wide Workshop