Smashing the glass ceiling in gaming

Smashing the glass ceiling in gaming

By Sophia Coney

January 3rd 2013 at 12:39PM

Lockwood's Sophia Coney discusses gender inequality and breaking into the industry

The theme of ‘women in gaming’ has been a big topic in the video games industry almost since the start of the sector itself, although the nature of this discussion has changed significantly over the years.

For a time, the games industry was construed as ‘male dominated’, because the majority of players were men. This perception has changed greatly and now, statistically, women make up 42 per cent of players.

Additionally, the PR and marketing sides of the industry have been inundated by women so that now male and female percentages are arguably equivalent – or very close to – in this aspect of the games production pipeline.

TOO LITTLE. NOT TOO LATE

However, this relative equality in numbers is scarcely reflected by the mere 15 per cent of women who are employed in the design and development side of gaming.

And the women who do work in development are often pigeonholed into creating fluffy, effeminate content that appeals to the ‘female’ audience.

This is a stereotype that many feel needs to be overcome by the industry as a whole and for which the industry itself is clamoring. Developer Lockwood Publishing is one such company determined to re-address the issue of ‘women in gaming’ as it pertains to the industry now.

With female developers and designers making up 20 per cent of Lockwood’s team, the company has begun delving into why the number of women entering the industry on the development side is so low compared to that of men.

Gaming is still seen as a very male pastime, though this has improved in recent years it takes time for those generations of girls to grow up wanting to make games.

A lot of young women now in their 20s have had the benefit of growing up through a golden age of consoles and that’s why there is a slight increase in women interested in working in the industry at the moment.

I personally have always been around games. I have owned pretty much every console since the Commodore 64 and enjoy most game genres. This familiarity with games and my interest in art was the perfect mix to get me interested.

Games, however, was not my first career path, when I left collage to do a degree there was no information available about how I could get in to the games industry.

I did a Fine Art degree and wanted to be a teacher. During my year out after my degree, I played a lot of Eve Online and made my own Flash games while working at a call center and it was during that year I discovered the Game Art degree at De Montfort University.

I worked hard to fund myself through a second degree, but found that a lot of the skills I already had were easily transferable. I started an internship at the end of my second year and have worked in the industry ever since.

POSITIVE EDUCATION

As a woman who loves working in the game industry, I believe that there is a lack of positive education about women in the game industry when it comes to career counselling for the younger generations.

While there are female game developers who would be seen as role models for this younger generation, it is often difficult to gain access to them to ask questions or for advice when exploring this career option.

Here at Lockwood we are actively involved with our local schools, colleges and universities where we give talks, offer internships and work with course leaders on their curriculum. I’d like to see more of this sort of action taken right across the game industry and the women of our trade pulling together to offer support and advice to young people.

LEARNING ABOUT LEARNING

That said the routes in to industry are not the same for everyone. I think it’s important that a job combines things you love and the things you’re good at and people should have this in mind when choosing a career path.

At the moment I’d say the best route in to the industry is for students to get a good degree in their chosen field and produce a strong portfolio or example work – which could be anything from a demo reel to a simple Flash game.

But choosing the right course can be difficult, there are a lot of courses with ‘games’ in the title and it can be confusing when there is so much choice. It is vital to do research into a course before you apply, go to the open days, try and speak to people on that course, ask about their track record for getting graduates in to employment, check to see if the course is accredited by the industry. Putting time in to selecting the right course is invaluable.

Many graduates struggle to get a job once they have graduated. Employers receive so many applications for each position they are advertising that it can be hard to get noticed.

My advice is to make every word and image count. CVs should be well laid out, communicate who a candidate is, their strengths and what they have to offer to the company and the role they’re applying for. Portfolios should only contain the best of a person’s work – five high quality images are better than ten mixed quality images. It’s all about clear communication and quality.

Getting noticed is only the first step. Once an interview is secured, there’s more preparation to be done to ensure the candidate gives themselves the best possible chance of achieving their dream job.

They need to show they are passionate about games and the field of the industry they want to work in, but this needs to be balanced with a friendly, diplomatic attitude and a willingness to work with others.

They’ll be spending a lot of time with the people they’ll be working with so it’s important that they can communicate well with people at different levels.

AN EQUAL FUTURE

The game industry is still growing and, as it develops, new opportunities will arise for those willing to put in the necessary time and hard work.

Today’s students and wannabe developers could be tomorrow’s industry leaders, shaping the future of games. If that future is going to include more games which represent women realistically and appeal to them commercially, then more women need to get involved in all areas of development.

Schools, colleges and universities need to deepen their understanding of the game industry in order to ensure they are offering the most relevant courses and the best paths to a solid education for game development to all young people with an interest in the industry. Work experience tutors and careers advisors should present game industry jobs as a viable option for those with science, maths and art backgrounds.

Game companies should be looking to provide positive role models, particularly to female students as women are still so underrepresented in the industry.

It is only through seeing and speaking with women already in the industry that the next generation of female developers will gain the knowledge and confidence they need to take the next step towards their gaming career.

Sophia Coney is director of publishing at Lockwood Publishing. She has a hands-on role in projects, while encouraging more women to consider games as a career.

www.lockwoodpublishing.com