Industry insights: Game on

by Annette Wagner PAX Australia is the ultimate celebration of all things gaming, technology, and culture. This premiere video game convention was held over three days at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, closing yesterday. So what has this to do with CWC?

When I think gaming, I don’t often think of women, but there are increasing numbers of women who work in this industry. According to Giselle Rosman, it’s an industry that is growing quickly as technology continues to change our lives.

Giselle kick-started her games career in 2007, and has worked tirelessly across many aspects of the gaming industry. She currently runs the Melbourne chapter of the International Game Developers Association and is an advocate for women in gaming.

How did you end up working in the game industry as a business administrator at Hipster Whale and executive producer of Global Game Jam? 

I had been working as a games educator from 2007 to 2009, a job I’d heard about from a friend when I was itching to get back to work after having had two wonderful children. It wasn't a great time for the Australian industry, with lots of studio closures and very few graduate opportunities for students. Along with some friends, we rebooted the International Game Developers Association Melbourne Chapter (IGDAM) in November 2009. We still meet monthly and have more than 100 game developers attending each time.

Through IGDAM I started running the Melbourne Global Game Jam in 2011, and got more involved on a global scale each year in a voluntary capacity. I was asked to join the executive committee and then had a stint on the board before taking on the executive producer contract in 2015.

I also got to know Matt and Andy of Hipster Whale “before they were famous.” When Crossy Road took off, I offered my business administration skills when they needed them.

What sort of training did you complete, and what program knowledge did you need, to start working as a business administrator and executive producer? My roles in games are a bit “left field,” as is my formal training. I completed an advanced diploma of business administration back in the day, and have fallen into event management roles though my career and hobbies.

As a business administrator and executive producer, what does your job involve? 

For Hipster Whale I do general admin tasks, including accounts management, HR, and dealing with office management and email enquiries. I've also been involved in setting up and expediting merchandising plans, and working with film and television studios that are interested in having Crossy Road in their productions. It's been wonderful to see Crossy Road arcade machines pop up all over the world, and to know you had something to do with that.

Global Game Jam is a people and time-zone management role. The buck stops with me for running a 48-hour game-making “hackathon” in January, which in 2016 was held in 93 countries over more than 630 sites. This involves a lot of project and people management, looking after sponsors, and managing social media and the website (globalgamejam.org), about 40 regional organisers, and more than 600 participants (jammers). We have a very busy Slack at peak times!

Game designers often create video games as part of a team. They come up with the game’s concepts, characters, setting, story, and game play. Designers must work with artists and programmers to create the scripting language and artistic vision for a game. Do you have any tips for managing the creative collaboration process?

I am only very peripherally involved in any creative processes with relation to game development, but I do work in a small team at Hipster Whale, and a big team with Global Game Jam, and it always comes down to two things: communication, and respect for your colleagues.

Do you use any apps or project management and time saving processes to remain agile and manage such a multidisciplinary process? I live in Slack and Trello, mostly, with a hefty side-serve of Google Drive. I live by lists!

Game development can be a highly complex, intensive process lasting two years or more, requiring teams of programmers, artists, project managers, writers, musicians, and many others.  What projects have you worked on and how long have they lasted?

While I don't directly make games, I was involved in the development of Disney Crossy Road, a process that took twelve months. Given that the original Crossy Road was developed in twelve weeks by three people, it was quite a different process. Working with a publisher like Disney was a great experience, too. The opportunity to visit Pixar when I was in California last March for the Game Developers Conference (GDC) was a special treat.

We also worked with another studio, 3 Sprockets, and Bandai Namco on the release of Pac-Man 256. The process for the original iOS and Android launch took around six months. It's since been ported to Playstation 4 and XBox One.

Global Game Jam takes about nine months of preparation. The first five months are relatively low-key, then the next four are a whirlwind of managing and coordinating all of the elements and organisers involved in such a big and regionally diverse event.

What percentage of the game industry is female? Is this changing? If so, how?

I did some research about three years ago and found that just over ten percent of the Australian games industry identifies as female. Looking at the number of women studying games, there is certainly potential to improve this ratio. There are a lot of great people looking at how to address this imbalance and creating events and spaces for women and girls to get comfortable with game development. Programs like She Makes Games have the potential to inspire the next generation of women in games.

Are some games predictable in their representation of women? Is this likely to change with women behind the scenes? 

In short, yes, the representation of women in games is often lazy and relies on clichés and two-dimensional window dressing, with some notable exceptions. I do believe that by including more women in the creative development process, the representation of women can be improved. If you have more women writers, for example, it means their characters will be developed with a closer personal understanding of the nuances and range of what it means to be a woman or girl.

Is there a focus on games made especially for women? 

There are games made with women as their primary target market. The industry is recognising that women make up around fifty percent of the market (which is no great surprise, given that play is not a gendered thing). The other market segment that's often overlooked—despite accounting for a sizeable market segment—is more mature game players. The average age of video game players is 33 years. Not 15. Not 20. The industry is learning this. I think in the future more games will be made to meet the needs of a greater range of market segments, especially women and older game players.

What are your predictions for the game industry? 

The games industry is always changing rapidly in terms of processes and tools. Recently, the rise of VR [virtual reality] is notable, and that's not going anywhere any time soon. The use of both VR and more traditional game design techniques in areas like “serious games” will continue to increase. And the integration of game design methodology into non-traditional game spaces, such as advertising and marketing, will also increase.

Annette Wagner is a designer, marketer, creative consultant, artist, and writer. She is also on the board of the Creative Women’s Circle. Obsessively passionate about the arts and the creative process, she is determined to not talk art-speak and instead focus on supporting and sharing concepts and insights most creative types crave to know.