Oct 102012

As I’m finding my place in the gaming world, I decided to attend a conference for Women in Games in Vancouver on September 12th.

Real life gaming events with real gamers appeals to me. Superficial “fan” following can be fun …but I like meeting people that have something to say about the social impact of gaming.

The panel of Women in Games consisted of:

Cathy Roiter: designer at “Her Interactive”

Kathy has been working there for 5 years. Her Interactive creates games that are intended for women of all ages. Their main game is Nancy Drew and the 27th title was released on Friday September 7th.

Martine Poisson, Director of University Relations at EA

Martine works for EA. There is a mandate at EA to hire co-op students. Interns and new grads should apply by emailing jobs(at)ea.com

Sandy Spangler: Studio Designer at A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games

While working at A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Sandy was able to assist with the development of “Wipe Out” for the Wii and now they are making online and mobile games. The newest games are Family Guy online and Mech Warrior Tactics. Zombie cooking looks like something I would personally be interested in 😉

Laura Mae Brown: Monitization Manager at EA.

Laura has a specialty in excel, she used to be an investment banker and was “outed as a gamer”. Someone found her WoW box hidden in her room and that’s when she decided to leave banking and join a field where she was passionate: gaming.

She worked at Live Gamer: a micro transaction platformer, until the creation of League of Legends. She is now the monitization manager at EA.

Jen Donahue: Senior Director of Marketing for Free to Play Online Games at EA

Jen is a marketer for free online games at EA. As a child, she would play Zelda and Mario with her brothers, and often found herself passing the controller to them to beat a final boss. Jen wanted to make games because she wanted to beat the final boss by herself.

Jen believes that as a marketer, you need to make a game for the consumer and not for the designer.

Jennifer Brandes Hepler: writer at Bioware

Jennifer worked in Hollywood for many years and then transferred to gaming. She really enjoys working at Bioware. She has assisted with games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect.

There has been a bit of backlash from the gaming community at some of her comments regarding the amount of time she personally spends gaming, but she loves creating games and working in the gaming industry.

Jen Jenson: game designer and professor at York University

Jen is a researcher for video games and looks at educational impacts from playing games and the sociology surrounding gaming.

Jen was excited to share that the Canadian government just funded “Feminism in Games”. This will promote an activist stand and reclaim feminism. The agenda will include how men will have a voice in the game environment to make it better for the women who work in games and play games.


Highlights from the Panel

What do you like best or what is the most challenging about working in the games industry (for women).

The general consensus on the panel was that exciting and challenging aspects of working in the gaming industry are not affected by gender. The women enjoy working with a team that is passionate about the creation and distribution of video games. Jen Hepler said that “people are the best part of working in the game industry. Dedicated, fun, and smart people who are making products that people enjoy”.   The women on the panel expressed concerns around the consumers, community impacts, changing technology, and game design. However, being a woman doesn’t appear to impact the industry challenges.

One of the biggest challenges about working in the game industry is making changes to a new game in a series. Especially with games that have a large following.  It is hard to initiate change while trying to keep true to the story and characters.  Cathy, from Her Interactive, stated that “Nancy Drew is an established title so gamers want something “new” but they really don’t”. Gamers want to play the same game with better graphics, a new storyline with exciting twists, but the same feel.  This is a dilemma that game designers are often dealing with.  Researchers can see what gamers want by looking on forums and social media sites (twitter, facebooks), but it’s a struggle to release new games in a series that are actually new.

The first time I heard a game developer say that they didn’t have time for gaming I was a little shocked. What else could they possibly be doing? If you are going to develop games then wouldn’t you spend every waking moment playing games? …Assumptions like that was one of the biggest challenges for Jen Hepler. Being a mom, wife, friend, family member, and community member she finds that there isn’t enough time available to put 60 hours into a big RPG while designing games. Life is busy. Jen has been getting quick fixes with mobile games and games that she can play for 30 minutes and feel happy. She is not alone in that feeling. There are a lot of people in the gaming industry that just don’t have time to game as much as gamers do.

The gaming industry is going through a huge change and developers don’t know where the future is right now, so guessing where the industry is going is difficult (facebook, kinect, ipod, ipad, smart phones). Technology is evolving faster than developers can create.

Another challenge in the gaming industry is maintaining the integrity of a design concept with all the voices and people that impact the path of the game. When there is a bigger investment and more people involved, they all want to have a say on how the game is designed.

What games do women want and how has the industry been successful at providing this?

This actually turned out to be a more gender neutral answer than I had anticipated. The most common barrier that women/girls have with gaming is physical access to the games. Jen Jenson (York University professor) has found that women want to play the games that they choose and to be better at it. They want access to consoles at home. Studies have shown that women/girls are not bought games unless they are “pinkified”. It’s not necessarily “what women want” but what do they have access to.

The statement by Jen Jenson was followed by Jen Hepler claim that the question should not be “what women want. It should be what do interested non-players want”. How do you get games to appeal to people who aren’t currently playing them. It’s not just about women. There are a lot of women who play games. There is a controversy with Borderlands “girlfriend mode” but the real premise behind that mode was that it helped people participate without being an expert. It was intended to include people that are interested in gaming but not quite sure of themselves yet. Girls don’t want to sit and watch. They want to be involved without being an “expert”. They want something smart, character driven, and with a good story. Girls want games that they want and how are they going to know what they want without access to it.

The industry will succeed at games for women if they take feedback from the game players. Do what the consumer wants and develop it for them. Get the players feedback and make changes based on that.  One of the audience members (a male game designer student) was unsure how to go about creating a game for 4-8 years old girls. It was recommended that he speaks with girls that are 4-8 years old, talk to their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and older children to see what they think. Keep an open mind and ask questions about what the specific gamer audience would enjoy playing. Get suggestions from the gamer (girls 4-8 years old), and make a game that includes their feedback. Have a team of developers that have been around or have access to girls in that age range to find out what their interests are. It’s not about making “games for women” it’s about making games for your target audience.

Should we make and market more “Core” games to women?

In case you are wondering what a “core” game is …it is basically any game that you are intensely involved in. Core games include shooters, racers, and some RPGs. For example, Gears of War, Halo, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Fable and Dragon Age.

The panel was split on the response to this question. Half of the women believe that “core” gamers like “core” games. There doesn’t need to be a change to how the game is created or marketed. Women that like core games, will seek them out and enjoy playing them for what they are. If you are going to play Mass Effect or Gears of War, you will play it regardless of if the dollars went in to make it more pinkified.

On the other side, core games can be seen as a barrier for women because is that it feels like a guys game. According to Sandy Spangler, women have said that “it’s not a club I’m invited to”.  Having characters that are aspiration for other women in core games might be a good compromise. Instead of a sexy bimbo that slaughters zombies (Lollipop Chainsaw) have women characters that are inspirational and strong.  Another way to  join the “boy’s club” would be to offer different game modes that would embrace women gamers who might be interested in core games. This can be seen with the new DLC for Skyrim (Hearthfire). Gamers can now buy land, plan, and build houses. New materials and resources will be needed to create the house. It’s got a bit of the Sims and Minecraft. This brings in gamers that wouldn’t necessarily like the fighting and exploring of Skyrim but want to play a beautifully developed core game.

If it’s not a game that is designed for women gamers, that’s ok!  Women gamers are the same as men gamers in the sense that each person will have a different type of game they enjoy playing.  Realistically speaking, if you propose a game to investors that is exclusively for women, you will not get as much funding. It means that games for women will always be smaller with smaller budgets because of the audience size. It’s about creating games that appeal to both women and men equally. That way the developers get the funding need to create a masterpiece.

Should guys make guy games and girls make girl games?


A part of being a designer is putting on different “hats” and play and create different types of games for different types of people. You want to have mixed teams with as many different perspectives as you can get. The more diverse backgrounds on your team will open doors for how you can bring in a whole different audience.

Finally, do we think Women and Children gamers will rescue the game industry?

The gaming industry has been around long enough that it’s got so many new platforms and new players. There are a lot of hardcore gamers that are angry that the games they love to play will change and developers will only make casual, mobile, girly games. But as long as there are people willing to spend money on hardcore epic titles, they will continue to be made.

It’s not women and children, but the responsibility is on individuals. It’s up to us to adapt to the gaming industry and adapt based on the growth and culture of the industry. Keep buying and playing the types of games you enjoy and they will keep coming.

Having a bigger audience with more gamers is only a good thing!

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