The Average Gamer

Attracting Women into Game Development

I notice today that ‘Attracting Women into Game Development’ is one of the sessions for the Game Developers Conference 2006.

Well, I can think of one reason why they’re lacking women. Offer me a bloody job! I want to develop games!

I may not have the technical whiz-kid C++ expertise for a programmer’s job but there are plenty of project management and other production jobs out there that I could do very well. I’m sure that being a trained programmer who’s developed other software would count for something. But anyway, personal bias aside…

There are four major obstacles to attracting women into games development. In no particular order they are:

  • Requirement of prior experience
  • Knowledge that the industry exists
  • Quality of life
  • Attraction to science

Prior Experience
Bringing a new demographic into the would require the games industry (and any industry for that matter) to be willing to hire and train up someone with no prior industry experience. It’s such a basic solution, I don’t know how these people consistently miss (ignore?) it year in and year out. The logic seems to be:

You don’t have enough women in the industry.
You want to hire more women in the industry.
So you make sure that all your job advertisements have “Experience as an Assistant Producer on at least one games title from conception to launch highly preferred, games experience a must and management experience essential. ”


I just pulled that quote off Datascope for an Assistant Producer job. Of course you’re not going to attract new people if one of your non-negotiable requirements is prior industry experience. *sigh*

I know it’s the same throughout most UK industries. That doesn’t make it any less disheartening.

Industry Awareness
The next big obstacle is simply the knowledge that there are jobs out there. In my three years at uni studying computer science, the sum total of job ads I saw relating to the games industry was… zero. The careers service’s information pack was a printed-out list of websites that they had pulled off the internet and they couldn’t provide any advice on how to get started. If you’re already working in another industry, you don’t ever hear about games development companies. They only ever seem to recruit through the specialist agencies so obviously if you’re not already looking at games development as a career opportunity, you’re not going to stumble across it.

Even for those of us who do the research, there seem to be only two routes. 1) Start as a tester on a rubbish wage and work your way up. Mmm… appealing after 3 years at uni racking up debt. 2) Get established in your chosen job role and then apply. Still requires years of experience in a field you don’t even want to work in before you’re even considered by a games company.

I’m not saying they should make it easier and just hire weaker candidates, but for the fresh graduate with no experience it’s almost impossible to get in unless you’re a brilliant programmer who’s been coding as a hobby for years, or a talented artist. If they want new blood, companies need to be willing to put in the investment to train those new people. Even for an established project manager, out of fifteen job adverts on Aardvark Swift today, only one of them doesn’t list prior games industry experience as a requirement.

Quality of Life
Once you find a company willing to take on someone from outside the industry, there’s the giant spectre of Quality of Life that hangs over it. What sane woman (or indeed person) is going to give up an established career at a firm that offers flexible working hours, a company car and day care facilities in favour of 40 hours a week of unpaid overtime? This is a big issue that’s much more thoroughly and personally discussed here by ea_spouse.

The uptake rates of science-based courses are dropping in this country year after year. In order to address this, kids need to be encouraged from before GCSE-level to continue with science. Most girls (and boys) these days have been exposed to more than one console game each. What better time to tap that youthful enthusiasm and energy than right then? Run presentations on the vast range of opportunities in gaming around the time of course selections? Kids who are considering going into medicine know that they need to study at least two science subjects for their GCSEs. Why not encourage other kids to target game development as a career? They’re already playing them.

You may have noticed that all of these can apply equally to men and women. That’s because I believe that there’s no inherent gender barrier to gaming recruitment and the current bias is due to historic recruitment practices. Most people I’ve met in game development don’t come anywhere close to the level of misogynism that you hear about in sectors like banking, yet banking still attracts plenty of female applicants. The game development industry needs to get its affairs in order to recruit new people, not just the self-confessed lifelong geeks and hobbyists that are the only group it freely admits.

Do I just come across as a bitter reject? Hmm… maybe I am, but are any of my comments unjustified?