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Wanted: More Female Game Developers

Female Game Developer

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.



Immersion: It’s All in the Details

Trash can at Disneyland

One of the advantages of working from a home office is that my schedule is very flexible. My wife and I had been trying to talk the kids into going to Disneyland for the past couple of months, but they are at an age where it just isn’t that exciting to them anymore. Since we couldn’t use our annual Disneyland passes again for another two months (most of the summer is blacked out for pass holders), the two of us decided to take the afternoon off and drive out to The Happiest Place On Earth, leaving the kids perfectly content to remain at home and play Minecraft.

I love Disneyland. My family used to make annual pilgrimages to Disneyland several times a year, and as an adult, I try to visit at least twice a year. (When I worked at Disney Computer Software, I had a Silver Pass that allowed me unlimited free visits to Disneyland, and I would go to the park about once a month).

What has always made Disneyland special to me is what a meticulous job it does transporting visitors somewhere else — a river cruise through exotic rainforests, a crazy ride through Roger Rabbit’s Toontown, a spaceflight to the forest moon of Endor. The illusion is complete enough that we are able to suspend disbelief and get into the spirit of pretending that we are really there. How is the illusion created? Through total immersion, right down to the smallest detail. The staff (or “cast members” as they are called) are all wearing costumes styled for the attraction in which they work, the building fixtures are themed appropriately, and even the trashcans are decorated so that they fit into Frontierland, Tomorrowland or whichever land they are placed.

I try to do something similar with the games I develop. When I produced Rendezvous: A Space Shuttle Flight Simulation, I directed that the message “Program Loading” be changed to “Rolling Vehicle Onto Launchpad.” For DuckTales: The Quest for Gold, I wrote the player manual so that it took the form of a “Junior Woodchuck Guide.” When planning the quests for Heroes of Might and Magic III, I instructed the writers to make references to the storylines of both the Heroes and Might and Magic franchises, and stay away from corny references to geek-culture found in previous games in the franchises.

Immersion is one of the reasons why players play games. Immersion, when properly done, appeals to our desire for novelty through new and imaginative experience. Although not every player has this desire to a great degree, many types of players do. Game designer Richard Bartle classified MUD (Multi-user dungeon) players into four types: Killers, Achievers, Socializers, and Explorers. Explorers like to explore the world, right down to its finer details. Such details also appeal to to the gamification player type that Victor Manrique classifies as an Enjoyer: players who are motivated by positive emotions such as joy, curiosity, inspiration, mystery and awe.

However, even a tiny detail that is out of place can jar the player out of the immersive experience. Have you ever seen a movie scene in which a spy agency is trying to trick a captive into thinking he was safe somewhere else, only to be made aware that he is being tricked due to a radio playing a sports broadcast from the wrong year or a clock chiming for the wrong time zone? The same thing can happen in games, where an incorrect detail can cause the player to no longer be captivated by your game.