How to Satisfy Women
By Susan O'Connor
Take a look around your studio. Are there any women there? If not, maybe it’s time to start thinking about recruiting female talent.
"Why?" you say, "Things are fine the way they are.” Well, I can think of at least one reason, and it’s a really good one, too. It’s a little crass, but it’s sexy too. Want to hear it? Come closer; let me whisper in your ear.
The reason is money. As in, the women will bring in the money.
Doubt me? Don’t. Look at the gaming industry; without a doubt, it has the male market in its ass pocket. No self-respecting hormone case would be caught dead without a PS2 or XBox holding a place of honor in his flat. There’s not much more room for expansion, unless someone is planning to grow more young men in a futuristic Matrix farm.
No, the untapped market is not the friends of your male employees – it’s everyone else. Although stats are showing that demographics are broadening, a lot of people are just not playing games – yet. The money truck is on standby, waiting to unload on the studios that can build games that appeal to a broad audience, including women. Think Sims; think EverQuest. What better way to tackle this challenge than adding some female developers to your talent pool?
Plenty of savvy studios are already picking up on this fact and are actively hiring – and retaining – female employees. Studios that don’t, may find themselves left out in the cold – and out of that revenue stream.
When the number of female gamers – and game developers – reaches a critical mass, we’ll start seeing some surprises on the market. We’ll start seeing new art styles, new interaction models, new payoffs and new pursuits – things that will make gaming as a whole that much more interesting.
I’ll be the first to admit that finding female gaming talent is easier said than done. Most women don’t consider gaming as a career – either because they don’t play games themselves, or because they don’t see the work as a viable professional pursuit.
In the service-minded spirit of men’s magazines everywhere, here are a few practical tips on how you can find the ladies – and keep them once you’ve got them.
Recruit aggressively. Connect with the community. Start teaching a class in your community. Keep your eyes peeled for women at local IGDA chapter meetings and industry conferences. Look for women’s names in the trades and in the credits. Start building professional relationships now, with an eye towards the future.
Recruit imaginatively. One common complaint is that women simply aren’t submitting their resumes to companies. Well, the gaming industry as a whole hasn’t done much to make women feel at home. So if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammed. There are plenty of female artists, musicians, writers, producers, and even programmers in the world – and most of them are not in gaming. But they’re out there, ready and possibly willing to bring their skill set to your office. Advertise in unusual places – architecture magazines, university English and film departments, product design expos. Get creative.
Set up internships. Internships are a great way to demystify an industry. Let (female) students see that game development can actually be fun. It’s not all weird, barefoot guys sitting in dark cubicles building tanks on their computer screens. Plenty of people have that perception; shatter it.
Hire people you don’t know. Every industry must deal with the issue of favoritism. People just like to hire their friends, or people they know. This could transform your studio staff into the Borg. And, of course, there are always the legal implications of such preferential treatment. Advertise in the local paper and consider all applicants.
Take a second look at your employment ads. Are they aimed primarily at men? If so, why? Are you having a hard time finding male applicants? Um, yeah. And if those ads were to say (in so many words), “This is a great place for women,” would men stop applying? Mm, probably not. So if your ad currently features bikini babes standing around a pool, ask yourself if a bit more creativity isn’t in order.
And if nothing else…
Place women in leadership positions. If female applicants see their gender brethren in top spots, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they don’t have to waste much energy justifying their existence. This, more than anything, will be your key to success.
The fact is, women have found such success in other industries that the idea of scratching and clawing their way to the top of a misogynistic industry simply doesn’t appeal. Studios will have to make an active effort to overcome that stereotype before women seriously consider entering the field.
Which leads us to the second part of the equation – keeping women in the industry long enough that they reach upper management. Often, women take a “this is bollocks” attitude and quit the industry in disgust before reaching that corner cube. Their reasons are varied and personal. But there are some things that can be done across the board to make the industry more appealing to the fairer sex.
Design for community. Cross-pollinate. Are men and women talking to each other in your studio? Or are the separated by workgroups, oblivious to one another? At one studio, there were no female programmers – and only a few female artists. The studio layout was such that the programming pit was in the center of the room, and the artists sat against the outside wall. Artists often crossed the pit to talk to one another – and, of course, they inevitably talked to the programmers as well.
Support career growth. This applies to all of your employees, of course. Send them to conferences. Suggest that they speak on panels. Offer financial incentives for classes and seminars. It’s a no-brainer – just make sure it’s an approach that’s applied across the board. If women aren’t taking advantage of your offerings, find out why. Which leads me to my next point…
Groom your talent. Men have historically found professional mentors – men who help their protégés to learn the twists and turns of the career ladder. Provide the same access to all employees. Make a time investment in the ones that show promise. The sad fact is, most women don’t promote themselves as aggressively as most men, and so they are often overlooked.
Expect a hell of a lot. They’re not hood ornaments, they’re employees, and as such they’re expected to do their jobs, and do them well. Hold them to your own high standards. Don’t tolerate shoddy work – from anyone. Girls in school are often helped along, while boys are expected to excel, and it is too easy for this moronic double standard to become second nature in the workplace.
Look around your studio. Is it female-friendly? Or is it a laddie mag run amok? If you lack a bit of perspective, ask yourself, Would I want my wife working here? Or my daughter? If the answer involves your dead body, you’re facing an uphill battle when recruiting female talent – talent that could help you tap into oh-so-fat revenue streams.
And if nothing else…
Make better games. Quality cuts across gender lines. Make games that are so damn good that people will not only want to play them, they’ll want to help you build them, year in year out.
For the sisters who are already in the industry, here’s some food for thought:
Drive your own career. Be visible. Speak at conferences, write papers, and chime in on listservs. Make yourself known. Your visibility will inspire others. Also, when the time comes to leave your present studio, potential employers and coworkers will already know your name. If you’ve got the skills, your gender is a plus.
Get involved with your community. Join the women_dev listserv. Track down female colleagues in your town. Attend IGDA chapter meetings. Talk shop; compare notes. Community listservs can be great reality checks, especially if you are one of the only women in your studio.
Make more better games. Advocate for your own ideas. Odds are, they’re different from those of your male coworkers. Good. As Seonaidh Davenport, program manager at the LIFE group at Microsoft, says, “I think that we need to expand the kinds of games we make—not putting a pink wig on the chess pieces, but expanding the range of what games offer in terms of electronic entertainment, the activities, stories, environments, and interaction available.”
An Example: Maxis and The Sims
When it comes time to prove the positive impact women have on game development, there is no better example than that of The Sims. It is fact that The Sims is the best selling PC game/franchise of all time and is often cited as having a very broad audience (from your nana to your younger brother). While Will Wright developed the original concept for the game, the development team was an equal mix of male and female staffers. Further, Maxis’ general manger is a woman, one Lucy Bradshaw. What more can be said about all that estrogen floating around Maxis?
Today, more girls are gamers than ever before. Which means that in the future there will be more female game developers than ever before – and they’ll be so integrated into the community that this article will be completely irrelevant. Let’s drink to that.
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Susan O'Connor, a five-year veteran of the interactive entertainment industry and freelance writer makes you laugh from her studio in Austin, Texas. View her gaming portfolio at www.susanmary.com.
A version of this article first appeared in the February '03 issue of Develop magazine.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the IGDA.