Career Advice from Women in the Digital Games Industry
By Katie Gall and Lauren Clinnick of Lumi Consulting
Katie Gall and Lauren Clinnick are advocates for the Victorian digital games industry. Based in The Arcade, a collaborative business space in Southbank, Gall and Clinnick provide publicity, marketing and strategic development advice to Victoria's emerging games and tech companies. Pressing Play is their investigation into girls and games – advice for women from women on how to make a splash in a male-dominated sphere.
So you want to start a business in the games industry? Rad.
You are walking into an ant nest. Know this. You will experience a multitude of failings, a great helping of 'you don't know what you're talking about' and a side order of imposter syndrome. It's still worth it.
In my recent quest to become master of the universe (read: happy, rich and have spare time), I uncovered a piece of critical life advice: perfection is not a prerequisite to success. In business you don't have to be the best to be successful and do what you love. We have to stop the innate perfectionist attitude that sets us up for failure before we even begin.
A year ago, myself and my business partner Lauren left our full time jobs to make a start in the games industry with our own business, Lumi Consulting. If you want to be in the games industry, you can. Just start—don't wait for the offer to come to you, don't wait to have enough experience. Find a way and begin.
Our company operates from a collaborative working space in Southbank called The Arcade. The Arcade is a vibrant asset to the Australian games industry, housing over 24 companies ranging from solo developers to larger games studios, publishers and marketing agencies. Lauren and I are two of only twelve women in the building. When we began our business we were grateful for the advice and time that were generously offered by those around us.
To share with you some of the talent and kindness in the Australian scene, we interviewed ten women in the Aussie games industry about their failings, motivations and tipping points — all in the hope that anyone wanting to make a start can learn from their experiences.
- Anna Irwin-Schutze - Co-Founder and Director of Sound Librarian
- Delaney King - Director of Darkling Games
- Nici Goodfellow - Co-Founder of Zimzala Studios
- Christy Dena - Co-Organiser of Universe Creation 101
- Nicole Stark - Co-Founder of Disparity Games
- Dani Landers - Director of Studio Fawn
- Megan Summers - Co-Founder of Screwtape Studios
- Andrada Tudor - Owner of Andrada Makes Games
- Ceri Davies - Team Leader of Early Worm Games
- Kim Allom - Associate Producer of Defiant Development
What do you wish you knew before starting your own studio or project?
Anna: The amount of time that I get to spend on creative activities is so small compared to marketing, maintaining our web presence, accounting, web design… the list goes on!
Nici: The key thing is to be passionate about what you do, and if that passion isn't there, stop pursuing it.
Delaney: Keep a cash flow reserve for gaps between clients, and get everything in writing—especially when working with friends—and never work on a funded project for free.
Nicole: Products need to be marketed—you can't just make something really well and expect people to find out about it.
Ceri: I really wish I could back in time and tell myself "if you want others to believe in you, you need to believe in yourself first". Also, technology will always be a butt when you need it to work the most, so prepare by keeping backups of your work and installation and driver files.
What are some productivity tips that have worked for you?
Anna: I've learned to switch the internet off for most of the day, and only check email and social media three times a day.
Delaney: Break tasks up by order or risk and requirement, scheduling the risky things and those absolutely required first. Aim for a 'complete' state as soon as possible - for example, if you want twenty playable characters in your game, start by getting one in completely, then two, then three. Don't put in twenty partially-done characters; that way, if you run out of time the game is still shippable.
Kim: Lists! And lists of lists! One thing that's worked for me is to note down even the most trivial of tasks. Moving these tasks into a 'Done' section in tools like Trello is super satisfying and extremely motivational.
Nici If you're developing a game, be sure to check that it's fun at the core—if it doesn't show promise, you can dump it at an early stage without wasting valuable time creating deliverables like the front end or final art before playtesting.
Nicole: Maintain a routine, and make sure it includes sleep, exercise and getting out and about. You need to look after yourself as well as your project.
Andrada: When you're feeling overwhelmed by the gravity or complexity of a job, list down all of the sub-tasks to let your mind map out an approach. Even something like 'debug this line of code, then go make a cup of tea' on your to-do list has a bit of discipline in it, and you'll feel good about rewarding yourself afterwards.
Ceri: I start each day with my team by asking individually what they're working on, how yesterday went and if they have any queries or clarifications about next steps for the day ahead.
What can others do to support women in studio/project management?
Kim: Others can support women in studio management the same way others are supported; via feedback and recognition for good work.
Delaney: Establish a well-advertised and highly visible zero tolerance sexual harassment policy, and well thought out maternity and paternity plans with support. Senior managers should reinforce the value of women leaders and their work in front of teams, and make sure women are included and supported on all levels.
Nici: Offer moral support and don't let others plant seeds of doubt in her mind about her competency. Be positive about the organisation's projects and congratulate her and her peers equally on their successes.
Dani: However you can, offer support to women in studio management through advice, sharing resources openly or by signal boosting to support her goals.
Nicole: Accept us! I lost count of the number of people who said they'd never had a meeting with a woman before. It's exhausting to fight through that first reaction.
Christy: Include women speakers when covering leadership and management at conferences, industry events etc.
Ceri: Make sure you, and your workplace provide a safe environment where women feel comfortable to bring up any issues, and can trust that any concerns will be dealt with professionally and with respect.
What is your 'recommended reading' for aspiring female studio/project managers?
Anna: Seth Godin's 'The Dip' — a very helpful in understanding the process of building a successful company.
Nici: Read texts that aren't related to games—every art form has something to give or inspire. Broaden your scope and read on film, architecture, art, history or anything!
Dani: I suggest reading about what has helped others find success. As you dig deeper into the stories of successful people, you begin to discover just how much failure there is in success.
Kim: Something happened, either a switch flicked in my brain or I had one of those 'aha!' moments, while watching Jane McGonigal's TED Talk titled "Gaming can make a better world". After watching it I sat in silence, followed by the realisation of how moved I was - and that maybe I could be part of something that inspires global change for the better. After watching Jane's TED talk I started looking at games-related courses, enrolled and the rest is history.
Nicole: Dale Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'. It's outdated in a lot of ways, but makes really helpful points about approaching business relationships with empathy and friendliness.
Megan: Dan Irish's 'The Game Producer's Handbook' is a great starting point for the many jobs and tasks of a producer.
Speaking to these inspiring women highlighted the diverse motivations for working in the games industry. Not only do these women lead in their fields and work hard to offer education, engagement and entertainment for consumers, they are also driven by their own motivation to learn and to create high quality work.
Many of these women aspire to build companies that inspire their employees, motivated by the desire for satisfying life. The overwhelming message is that these women do what they do out of love for the creative medium of games despite the challenges we face.
Don't be afraid to fail. Fail often, fail hard and learn from it. After all, nobody's perfect.