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Women in Gaming - Artcraft's Valerie Massey

Suzie Ford Posted:
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Women are becoming an increasingly significant sector in games development, taking part in every aspect of bringing games to life. As one of the often lesser-known sectors of the industry, we wanted to shine the spotlight on some incredible leaders, none finer than Artcraft Entertainment's Valerie Massey.

MMORPG: Please introduce yourself and tell us about your position at ArtCraft Entertainment.

VM: Valerie Massey, Director of Community

MMORPG: What are your duties at ArtCraft? 

VM: One of the upside/downside aspects of being a start-up indie studio is that many of us on the team have to wear a lot of hats. No one gets to say, “That’s not my job,” and pass the buck to someone else. If you don’t know how to do something, you learn. I knew this from the onset and it was one of the things that really drew me to the project. I like learning new things and get bored if every day is exactly like the day before, so I’m having a blast.

Generally speaking, I’m responsible for the bulk of our public-facing stuff: web content, forums and social media. I also do public relations, customer support and whatever else gets thrown my way. I like to think of myself as Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction. I solve problems.

MMORPG: How did you land in gaming? Was it always part of your dream or something you came to by accident?

VM: Working in games wasn’t on my radar at all, so it was quite the happy accident.

I’ve always had a knack for writing and communications, and I was a drama and speech nerd through high school. In college, I studied journalism and marketing and expected that I’d pursue a career in advertising.

Instead, I married young and started a family. I was a stay-at-home mom when Ultima Online launched in the late 90’s. Being part of their volunteer program and writing for a fan site let me tap into my creative side again so I was loving it.

Through UO, I became friends with another player, Mike Wallis, who at that time was a producer at GT Interactive. He left GTI for Simon and Schuster Interactive and approached me in 2002 about being the community manager for EVE Online when he was negotiating the deal for SSI to publish it.

Community management was still a relatively new field at that time. It was very jump-into-the-deep-end-of-the-pool-sink-or-swim-trial-by-fire-ish. MMORPG.com was just starting up at about the same time, and I’ve joked many times over the years with founder Craig McGregor that we ‘grew up together’.

MMORPG: Was your educational background suited to the gaming industry or was it in a totally different field?

VM: Careers in the game industry simply weren’t an option when I was in school. Arcade games were popular, but we were still many years away from the adventure games and MMOs I’d someday come to love so well. It was another happy accident that I managed to find a way to parlay the skillset I had into a viable career within an industry that also fed my gaming addiction, erm, hobby.  

MMORPG: Have you worked with other gaming companies? If so, which ones and what games? 

VM: From 2002 through 2004, I was the EVE Online Community Manager at CCP. In 2004, I was hired to be the community liaison for Tabula Rasa, but when the decision was made to scrap what they had and start over again, I moved over to the Auto Assault team. In 2006, I returned to CCP as the communications manager, eventually working my way up senior director of PR and Community. I left games for a few years and really had no intention of returning but when Gordon contacted me about joining the Crowfall team, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

MMORPG: How does it feel being a woman in a largely male-dominated profession? 

VM: I grew up with two older brothers and always tended to hang around guys more than girls, so I’m perfectly comfortable in a mostly-male environment.

It also helps that my mother was highly successful in a male-dominated industry, too, and I’m lucky to have her as a role model. She was the only female vice-president in the electrical supply company where she worked and held a lot of ‘first woman ever’ honors in conjunction with that position.

I still go to her often for advice, so we’ve had a lot of conversations over the years about the challenges she overcame. In one of our recent conversations, she told me the story of how some colleagues had invited her to have lunch with them at the Engineer’s Club in Downtown Houston not far from her office. She was in line with them for the buffet when the maître d' quietly approached her to say that women weren’t allowed in the dining room, but that he would be happy to bring a plate to her in the conference room – and she calmly and politely went into the conference room and was served there.

Naturally, I was appalled. This wasn’t really that long ago, just early-to-mid 1970’s. I asked why she didn’t feel compelled to raise hell about it—we are Texas women, after all—and she said, “I had a job to do and kids to raise. I didn’t have time to fight City Hall.”

But she did, in her own way and on her own terms, such as asking for (not demanding, but asking for – and Mom has a talent for asking for things in a way that no one would dare say no to her) maternity and childcare benefits long before those were offered and deflecting sexism with wit, intelligence and a strong work ethic. This was the example I was raised with and the standard by which I’ve tried to conduct myself professionally.

Honestly, I don’t think about our work environment as being male-dominated as much as I think about it being richly adorned with wickedly talented people. I want people to admire the work that I do, not admire the work that I do “despite the fact” that I’m a woman. I can’t abide separatism. I find it counterproductive and patronizing.

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Suzie Ford

Suzie is the former Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. Follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom