Women in the gaming industry
“You haven’t noticed us? Then you need to improve your network!”
Computer game development and programming was once a field largely dominated by men. But there is a sea change underway: we spoke to five women from the gaming industry.
By Romy König
“Men and women on a level playing field”
Jennifer Pankratz, game designer at Piranha Bytes and mother of two, is easiest to reach in her home office. Her industry, she says, is ideal for family and work-life balance, and working in the office for two half days while on parental leave is not an issue.
Nearly half of all gamers in Germany are women. I am one, and role-playing games in particular have always fascinated me. Gaming got me into the gaming industry. The Piranha Bytes studio was looking for a tester for Risen. So I played the game about 30 times, looking for bugs and passing them on, then I started fixing them myself later on. At the time, I was the first and only female developer in the studio, working with 26 men. After a year, I switched over to story and game design. Mansplaining and the gender gap are not issues for me. The fact that I am a woman has never made a difference for my job, not then and not now, not for me and not for my colleagues. I think this is encoded in the DNA of the German gaming industry where everyone is respected, regardless of origin, nationality and yes, even gender. That’s why I encourage women to come join us; the doors are wide open.
“You haven’t noticed us? Then you need to improve your network!”
Jana Reinhardt is a freelance game designer and developer and runs the Rat King Entertainment development studio in Halle with her partner Friedrich Hanisch. She has stopped updating her diversity Tumblr with portraits of women in gaming.
Anyone who looked at how my business partner and I divvy up the work might think we were a complete cliché with a man for the bytes and a woman for the colour. He is a programmer who builds 3D models and thinks about level design and script, while I deal with game design, graphics, illustrations and animation. I truly don’t support this kind of role division. For a long time, it really bothered me that there were so few - or so few visible - female developers, programmers, sound designers in the industry. Just seven years ago, when we founded our Rat King studio, I was one of just a handful of women at the gaming conferences. Where is everybody, I wondered, so I started the Video Game Niñjas diversity list. I set up a Tumblr page to feature portraits of women enriching the gaming industry worldwide. Things have changed a bit in the meantime. Women are bolder about taking a front-row seat, showing up at events and supporting each other. Today I tell everyone women have arrived. And if you haven’t noticed them - then your network is not deep enough. At any rate, I haven’t updated the diversity list for quite some time.
“Women can spotlight new game ideas”
In 2014, Melanie Taylor founded the development studio Osmotic Studios in Hamburg. The graphic designer has since emigrated to Australia and where she works as a consultant for the German indie games industry.
The preconception that women struggle to solve technical or design problems is pretty deeply imbedded in Germany’s culture. It’s different in Australia. But even in Germany, women are increasingly making inroads into product-related and technical areas. In 2016, our first intern was a female computer science student who had already developed her own games. Our industry desperately needs women. Constantly recycling the same gaming mechanics, characters and settings has wasted a lot of potential. Rising numbers of women will enrich both the industry and the games, as they are likely to spotlight new ideas and issues. Even back in my graduating class, three out of nine students were female, which really helped me in my career. When I then founded Osmotic Studios with two male classmates, I always felt they treated and valued me equally, but unfortunately that is not always the case in our branch. Would I still advise women to get into the gaming industry? Absolutely! We need more women! My tips: be self-confident, pursue your own goals, and don’t let anyone belittle your skills.
“Women make up just twenty percent of the industry, not nearly enough”
Nina Simone Müller is head of the Rainbow Unicorns studio at Goodgame Studios in Hamburg. People talk about football at work at lot, and things can get a bit heated sometimes. And the men can get in on the conversation too.
When I started as an intern ten years ago, the men in my first studio were not used to having a woman on the team. But the boss was progressive, and he also hoped I might be a positive influence and have a calming effect on the team. He thought the presence of a women would discourage the men from talking so much, and so heatedly, about football. Even later on, when I was already working as a game designer and producer, people automatically turned to me if there was a need to mediate between colleagues – male obviously. And in production, I was often assigned to games targeting a female audience. I kind of get it though. Even if I do not want to support this kind of categorical thinking, I am still a fan of mixed teams. A good gender balance is always good and can bring new and different perspectives. I would like to see more women in game development. Women only make up twenty percent of the industry, not nearly enough. So I’m really glad more women have been applying here lately. Next year, for example, our first female programming apprentice will sit her final examinations.
“Women really stick together”
As Head of Art at Chimera Entertainment, Julia Schneider needs stellar communication and organisational skills. Additionally, she says, a passion for games, flexibility and team spirit will help you do well in the gaming industry.
So far in my career, I have never felt that men respected my authority or abilities less because of my gender. I also never felt it was harder for me to get into the gaming industry. On the contrary, my impression was that people were quite keen to increase the percentage of women. Women in the gaming industry really stick together. We have a “girls’ lunch” once a month where all the women from the company go out to eat together. A few years ago, women were still the exception, not the rule in the gaming industry, but I have watched our numbers slowly increasing. I would tell any woman who is personally interested in the industry to go for it, regardless of whether it might be a male-dominated profession. But more outreach is needed, as the jobs in the gaming industry grow more diverse and there are more training opportunities. A lot of women aren’t aware of this trend, or have the wrong idea of what awaits them in the gaming industry.