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Women in the Industry

Angie Webb Posted:
Columns Angela Webb: In Her Opinion 0

A couple of weeks ago I did an article about what it was like to work in a QA department. There seemed to be some genuine interest about what goes on behind the scenes so, for this and upcoming articles, I have decided to do something similar. I’ll be contacting women who work in the MMO industry to see if they would talk a little about how they got started and what the industry is like.

This week I got in touch with Camille Chu (animator), Georgia Nelson (software engineer), and Rebecca Orozco (producer). Each of these women has been in the industry for a while and has worked on multiple MMO titles.

After recent statistics showed how many women played video games, and knowing so few who actually worked in the business, I became curious why there weren’t more females creating games, which led me to the following question:

Recent estimates have the percentage of women that game at about 50%. However, most studios have less than 20% female employees. What do you think can be done to make a career in video games more appealing to women?

Rebecca Orozco (Producer): I think more women have to realize that it’s a career option. When I was graduating high school, looking into colleges, and thinking about my career, game development was nowhere as an option. I had to seek out the information and really look for it. Even once I found it, there is very little information out there on the specifics of what game developers do. What types of jobs exist in the industry? What does a designer do? What does a producer do? What would my day-to-day life be like in the industry? That information is still hard to find.

Camille Chu (Animator): Not much. I got the feeling in the studios that I was in, that they were excited to have another woman in the office. Companies always love hiring minorities (good for their image), and hey, that is me! More women will enter the industry as more women become interested in games.

Georgia Nelson (Engineer): I think that companies looking to recruit women shouldn’t focus on the “boys’ club” perspective so much. Many recruitment advertisements focus on the guys. It can be a little daunting to look at an advertisement with a group of men dressed in black t-shirts, holding console controllers and think “I could fit in there.” All people, regardless of their gender, need to feel like they could “belong” in order to be comfortable working there. Advertisements and recruiters need to keep this in mind.

When I was a little girl, I never would have thought that working in video games would have even been possible for me. When I started at Mythic, a cousin of mine said, “but, she’s a girl, how does she work in video games?” Since I was hired I’ve been curious about what piqued other girls’ interest:

The video game industry is a bit of a “boys’ club”, what made you want to be a video-game developer?

GN: I’ve always loved video games. My fascination with them began when I played Tennis and E.T. on the Atari 2600 waaaaay back in the early days of console gaming. I found myself wanting to make games, specifically in the RPG genre. My parents helped kindle this interest by purchasing computer equipment and pushing me to learn more about engineering and art.

RO: I've always loved games and I knew early on that a traditional corporate path wasn't for me. I wanted a career that would be challenging and mentally stimulating but still fun. Honestly, it being a boy's club never factored into my decision making one way or another.

CC: I actually had no idea of an animation career in the video game industry. When I went to college, all they could pump you with was Disney, Disney, Disney (which is really all I dreamed of at the time anyway). My sophomore year in college they closed the Disney animation studios and I raced to get into the 3D program. Then it was all about squeezing into the film industry (Pixar, Pixar, Pixar). A family illness forced me to return home one month before my graduation, and I resigned myself to bar tending until the event was over. I kept myself busy during caretaker hours doing freelance when I could. A local game company found me through a headhunter. I am so lucky for that day. It shaped my life and gave me a career path I never even knew of. Is the gaming industry a boys club? Hell yes.

What is the best thing about working in the video game industry?

CC: It’s a tie between the people and the atmosphere. I have never been in any other career, but in this one everyone is so passionate about making games! You feel it on a day-to-day basis. It inspires you and drives you to do more, and be more! And when you get to play your very own product, see people getting enjoyment from your work, there is nothing more satisfying. Working with passion. What more can a woman want?

GN: I love the laid-back nature of it all. I’ve done the standard software engineering gig and it’s mundane and boring. Nothing changes. It’s check-in and check-out. With gaming, I can flex my creative muscles, work with designers, and create something that will entertain thousands of people. It’s a great feeling and very rewarding. The doughnuts on Wednesdays are also nice.

RO: So many things! If I had to pick one I would say it’s the people. I'm constantly surrounded by people who are creative, fun-loving, and passionate about what they do. That energy is contagious, so even during a very stressful day there is laughter in the office.

I also really enjoy the constantly changing nature of the industry. Technology is always advancing, so you are always challenged to advance yourself, learn new skills, and become better. Every few years a new project begins with a new set of challenges so it’s always fresh and different.

Getting into the industry can be difficult if you don’t already know someone who is in. How do you get your resume noticed?

Based on the job that you do, what advice would you give, especially to girls, on how to prepare and get into the industry?

GN: As a software engineer, I wouldn’t advise women do anything different than any male would to prepare for a job in this industry. It isn’t as black and white as it was in the 80s. It boils down to “can you code?” If you can prove in an interview that you can do the job, and do it well, then that’s all that matters. For engineers, you need a solid foundation in Computer Science. I also strongly suggest coursework in Software Engineering – which is more about the bigger picture of the Software Development Life Cycle, not necessarily the nitty-gritty details of programming. I also suggest not getting into the industry unless you have a passion for games. This is true of any job. I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t passionate about your job, you can’t perform in your day-to-day duties.

CC: Mmm. I don't have much to say to a girl that I wouldn't have to say to a boy. Other than, don't be intimidated by all the boys ;). It does make me think of a funny story from college though. A professor told me to always put my name at the end of my demo reel, so that potential employers had to formulate an opinion about my work before they knew I was female. I listened to his advice and got jobs, so who knows if he was right ;). I don’t do that anymore.

RO: The game industry isn't all fun. It’s still a job. It still requires hard work and professionalism. Show that you can be a professional, that you can take your job seriously while still enjoying it, and, regardless of your current skill level, you will continue to grow and get better.

Right now there is as lot of talk about Facebook games. While there are a ton of Facebook-game haters, there are even more Facebook game lovers. Can we get these players to convert to less casual MMOs? I wanted to hear what the two women I interviewed, who play Facebook games, had to say.

What should MMO developers do to convert the vast legions of Facebook game players into MMO players?

RO: The true appeal of Facebook games (at least to me) is the quickness of them. What I mean by that is that I can play Farmville for 5-10 minutes and still accomplish something. In most MMOs (at least the ones I play), I can't even log in and get to a quest area in 5-10 minutes. I need to commit at least an hour to playing to actually accomplish much. A Facebook game is easy to get into, can be played anywhere without downloading software, and can be played in bite-size pieces. I think an MMO that included some of those "features" would be appealing to the Facebook crowd.

GN: Facebook games need to have some semblance of persistent worlds and asynchronous communication in order for them to hook players to MMOs. Right now I don’t think there are very many Facebook games (if at all) that do this. Sure you can update your farm and clean up your friend’s farm, but is your friend actually there chatting with you at the time? Not really. To push them toward MMOs, we have to make these little social apps on Facebook appear to be more like your typical MMO, even if it’s as simple as old school MUDs.

I couldn’t agree more with the things these ladies had to say. The gaming industry is way more work than people might think, and it can be a thankless job. Just because some of us might get free donuts one day a week does not mean that any less time is spent tirelessly working on a game. The benefits are pretty good, and the studio culture can be fun. If you’re female, love games, and are contemplating a job in the industry, then go for it! While its been a male-dominated business for years, the more women that get involved in the video-game industry, the better it will become … for everyone.

Thanks again to each of the ladies who contributed.


Angie Webb