SPECIAL FEATURE: Game On for women in the game dev industry

Lisy Kane
SPECIAL FEATURE: Game On for women in the game dev industry

It still astounds me that the representation of women in the game development industry in Australia is only 19 per cent, yet women are consuming games just as much as men.

Based on 2017 figures from the Entertainment Software Association, 41 per cent of US gamers are women. In Australia, the IGEA (Interactive Games & Entertainment Association) puts the number at 47 per cent. If you couple that with recent figures from game analytics consulting practice Quantic Foundry’s Gamer Motivation Profile, women are a potentially lucrative audience. They outnumber male gamers in genres such as Match 3 and Family/Farm Sim – both boasting 69 per cent female audiences.

At Girl Geek Academy we recently concluded our third annual game-making event, #SheMakesGames, and it's now time to celebrate our achievements and – more importantly – map out a better career path for women in game dev.

My aim has always been to mentor women wanting to break into this tough industry but we’re also grappling with the lack of senior women in the industry who are critical if we expect to ‘normalise’ woman working in game dev and showcase the opportunities. Since joining League of Geeks in 2014, I’ve been promoted from Armello associate producer to producer and I’m proud to lead a diverse team of men and women.

It’s the inherent difference in the way women communicate that makes this diversity so important and ultimately leads to better products. With more women working in game dev, we have the opportunity to tell more stories because it’s a creative sphere as well as a technology space.

Emotions and empathy do play an important part in the game dev industry which is driven by emotional labour. That’s where women’s communication skills are so important – they’re able to call things out and make a big deal of behaviours like bullying.

The solution to gender balance isn’t clear-cut – it’s a combination of changing the culture and getting support across the board. For example, Film Victoria is doing an amazing job of amplifying and fast-tracking women who are already in game dev careers. They launched the Women in Games Fellowship last year – as one of the first recipients, I had the opportunity to visit and learn from overseas studios.

More so, Film Victoria’s 2017 Early Career Skills Development Program (ECSDP) has made an enormous difference to initiatives like #SheMakesGames – for the first year we’ve been able to offer scholarships. It’s an expensive event to stage and we normally run at a loss. The Girl Geek Academy team has been reaching out to women to encourage them to attend – we recognise that as they mostly attend the events alone and are trying to learn something new, it can be daunting. The funding will also go to our upcoming weekend event #SheHacksGames.

Moving on from Gamergate, we’re looking at strategies like negotiating payrises for women in game dev. Australia is very much at the stage of a small game dev industry, dominated by small studios, so it can awkward for women to negotiate payrises. We work with all our attendees after the event and ask them important questions such as have you had a payrise in the past two years. We also encourage them to attend other events.

At the back-end, while planning #SheMakesGames, we put a lot of value into making sure all our volunteers and speakers are rewarded. Women – myself included – can easily fall into the trap of thinking “I don’t understand that what I do has value, I’ll do it for free” and that’s how the whole wage gap issue comes about.
Another stumbling block – and one we’re tackling through our Girl Geek Academy programs – is the Impostor Syndrome. Game dev is a demanding industry and even I sometimes wonder “Am I doing the right thing?” It’s perfectly natural to scrutinise, however, we need to work through this as women and develop more confidence and resilience to trust in ourselves and our skills. We’re more than capable of founding and working within hugely successful game dev companies – and we are slowly seeing recognition for women achievers, such as Holly Liu, a real life Silicon Valley “Unicorn", who recently sold her mobile game company Kabam for over $US1billion dollars.

So, we target women, not Superwomen, for our game dev initiatives. All our facilitators are female and it’s aimed at novices to industry people, even women looking to change skill sets, as long as they have a passion for making games.

As #SheMakesGames coincided with Melbourne International Games Week, we asked Dio (Dioselin Gonzalez) the Lead Principal Engineer, Mixed Reality Research, at Unity Labs in San Francisco to arrive a few days earlier and be a key speaker at our event. Women game developers worldwide – like Dio – understand the challenges women face and bring a connectedness to the industry. Australia needs to be at the cusp of worldwide advances, as we see more diverse games coming to the forefront, more interesting games and an amazing mix of solo and large teams.


 

Lisy Kane is Co-founder/Games program lead at Girl Geek Academy and Producer at League of Geeks. She launched #SheMakesGames in 2015 to encourage more women to enter the industry. Lisy was the only Australian to make the Forbes 30 Under 30: Games list in 2017 

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Tags: industry news , Girl Geek Academy , Lisy Kane

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