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 including our once (and future!?) columnist, Sanya Weathers from Undead Labs.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your position.
I'm Sanya Weathers, though very old gamers might remember me as Sanya Thomas, and I'm the Director of Community at Undead Labs.
What are your duties at Undead Labs?
I've got a hand in everything outward facing that isn’t making the games. If you go to Twitter (@undeadlabs) or Facebook or Reddit or even LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/undead-labs), the person posting -- about the best damned apocalypse simulator on earth -- is me. I'm on the forums, though not as much as the other half of the community team, Nicole Hamlett. I plan the live events, like our presence at PAX or player meetups. If a player is having trouble getting customer service, I help them get it. I try to solve technical problems, and gather information on bugs to help our QA wizards. I act as the media contact, and the streamer coordinator. I work with the marketing and communications people employed by our publishers. During launches, I do promotions and wrangle the betas. After launch I make sure feedback goes to the developers and patch notes go back to the players. Right now when we're running dark with nothing announced, I… well, in theater, they call it "vamp until entrance." I act like a dancing monkey, telling jokes and running contests and clowning around to keep our community entertained. I also run the strategy behind the scenes to keep interest in our future projects at a low simmer. We want to make sure our most dedicated customers know there is something cooking, but we don't want people to get TOO excited until we're much closer to them actually getting their hands on it.
There's probably more, but generally, it's all about communication, and it's a lot of fun. I mean, whether I'm talking to a developer, a YouTuber, a player, or a reporter, I am talking with someone who is in my tribe and interested in the things I find interesting. We get each other's jokes and references. It's like spending all day with a bunch of friends.
How did you land in gaming? Was it always part of your dream or something you came to by accident?
Totally an accident. I had a theater background, and I am still to this day a writer and an editor. I spent a random year working in cable television marketing. I was SUPER into games, though, particularly an MMO called Everquest (EMARR FOR LIFE), and I had a rant site that stemmed from a EQ volunteer position gone horribly wrong. In hindsight, it makes sense that I kind of fell into games journalism. And that led me to interviewing some people trying to make a new MMO called Dark Age of Camelot, and they liked my style enough to give me a shot at running their community. There were only maybe six people in the world doing community as a job back then, and most companies saw it as a marketing, PR kind of thing. A mouthpiece, not someone actively trying to build a relationship with players. I didn't want to roll that way, and my first employers gave me the chance to try and do something totally new in the field. Community management took all the things I liked best in my background and formed a Voltron of professional awesome, and given the opportunity this is what I'll do for the rest of my life.
Was your educational background suited to the gaming industry or was it in a totally different field?
I majored in theater production - management, not performance. It was actually the perfect degree for the games industry. I learned about large scale project management, budgeting, promotion, teamwork, design, customer service, how to wedge the creative process into an accountable timeline, writing that grabs attention, sales, even carpentry. (That last one comes in handy at trade shows ;)) All that along with literature, world history, global cultural norms, and so on.
Have you worked with other gaming companies? If so, which ones and what games?
I started at Mythic Entertainment in 2001, later acquired and renamed EA Mythic. I've been all over since then, consulting and working at startups mainly as the community director - I'm happiest when I can wear a lot of different hats, which is hard to do at really big companies unless you're lucky.
What does it take to be a valuable, integral part of a development team?
Being able to do the thing you say you're going to do, doing it without being supervised, accepting responsibility when you screw it up, and getting back up the next day to knock it out of the park.
What advice can you give to people looking to get involved in the industry?
Learn to do something useful. The industry does not need any more people with nothing to offer but cool ideas. We all have cool ideas, hundreds of them. Programming is the best way to make sure you always have a job (heck, my studio is looking for several coders right now). But it's not hopeless for the rest of us. If you like to draw, learn the software, and consider specializing in animation or effects or user interface design. Learn scripting and database management if you like writing. If you're organized and precise, learn management software and technique. Do time in customer service and QA if you want to learn the business from the bottom up. I tell people I was in the right place at the right time _with the right skills_. The first two bits aren't really up to you, but the third is entirely under your control.
And you can always ask veterans for advice. Really, we can't shut up once you get us started.
Is there any part of games development you'd like to try someday?
Nope. Why would I want to leave the best job in the industry?