When I greeted my game production class a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised. The group was racially and ethnically diverse, but there was not a single woman among the fifteen students. Last weekend I attended my first open house at The Los Angeles Film School, I was disappointed that there was only one woman among the prospective students who came to hear about the school’s Game Production Program. There appeared to be many women taking tours of the Film and Recording Programs, but those of us in the Computer Lab were visited by this one Russian woman who was interested in a career in game programming. Needless to say, the other faculty members and I tried very hard to persuade her into enrolling in our program.
When I later inquired into the school’s history with female students in Game Production program, I was told that there have been only a handful of women among the hundreds of the program’s graduates.
While the Game Industry has always had a reputation for women being a tiny minority among its ranks, my own experience is that I’ve always worked with women throughout my career, and not just women who worked in Marketing or the Art Department.
At the first game company I worked at in the early 1980s, EduWare, there were two women programmers. Later, when I joined The Walt Disney Company in the late 1980s, my immediate supervisor was a woman, as was one of my fellow producers and the Vice President of our division. When I went on to work for a CD-I developer (I know, I know), the two production executives we dealt with at our publisher, Philips Interactive Media of America, were women. Years later, when I joined The 3DO Company to produce the Heroes of Might & Magic Series, my lead level designer was a woman, and I later promoted her to Assistant Designer. At Activision, our president, Kathy Vabrek, was obviously a women; and when I joined the Spin Master toy company, my immediate supervisor, my assistant producer, and a programmer on my development team were women. So, women having programmer, producer, and production roles has been a constant throughout my thirty-year career, the question for me is: “why aren’t there more of them?”
Is it a demand problem? Are there so many hiring managers in the game industry who have a hiring bias against women? I find that hard to believe. If any of my past colleagues have gender bias, they’ve done a very good job of hiding it from me.
Or is it a supply problem? Are there too few women interested in being game developers? According to 2010 ESRB study, forty percent of all gamers are female, so I also find it hard to believe that very few women are interested in being game developers.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know one thing. I would love to have more female students in my class. And I’m always on the look out for good designers, programmers and producers to hire; all I care about is your talent.
Last week I made my annual visit to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big trade fair in Los Angeles for the computer and video games industry presented by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Unlike other video game trade fairs that are open to the public, E3 is an exclusive, industry-only event. Persons who apply to attend must provide proof that they have some professional connection to the electronic entertainment industry. In my own case, I scanned and emailed the proper credentials to the E3 folks weeks prior, and my badge was waiting for me at the door when I arrived at 8am on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it was a busy week for me, and I had only one day to attend the show this year.
My interest wasn’t so much in seeing the latest games — although I did manage to visit every booth, large and small, in the North and West Halls and waited in line to attend demonstrations of some of the bigger games — as it was in meeting up with old friends and colleagues. I wasn’t disappointed. Very soon I ran into a a group of my former coworkers from Jet Morgan Games, and we spent a few minutes catching up. Later on, I also ran into old colleagues from THe 3DO Company.
My boss from Say Design was at the show that day, and he sent me a text message to meet up with him that the L.A. Marriott down the street for some business meetings. When I arrived at the Marriott, I found the place even more packed than the convention hall. As I wound my way through the hotel lobby and bar, I ran into my old boss from 3DO, a client for whom I had done some consulting, and a former colleague from Spin Master. They were all there conducting meetings, and some had not even stepped foot into the convention center yet. This is where all the Cool Kids were.
Eventually I met up with my boss. After a couple of hours of meetings, we decided to head out to the parties. First up was the Women In Gaming International (WIGI) party, which no less of an authority than Forbes describes as “one of the most popular E3 after parties”. I’ve attended the WIGI party at both E3 and GDC every year, and I’ve found it to be consistently the best party to attend.
This year did not disappoint. I ran into a fellow LA Film School Program Advisory Committee member as well as members of the schools faculty, and we talked long into the evening. I somehow lost my boss and never did make it to any of the other parties. But it was worth it to strengthen some of my existing connections for some things we may be working together on in the future.
If you are attending a game industry trade show for the first time, here’s my advice to you:
- Find out ahead of time where all the parties are — you can usually find out from the event’s official website or Facebook page — and RSVP for as many as you can.
- Hang out at the bar of the event’s “official” hotel. That is where all the people you are probably most interested in meeting are hanging out.