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Celebrating International Women’s Day: More stories and advice | Pocket Gamer.biz

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Celebrating International Women's Day: More stories and advice | Pocket Gamer.biz

To mark International Women’s Day we reached out to the games industry to secure a snapshot of the women working in across games today. From founders to artists, game designers to CEOs there’s opinion and insight from every part of what makes games great.

Here are their stories, their advice for anyone hoping to follow in their footsteps and, most importantly, the areas and aspects within the workplace and the industry that still require change.

Here’s part one.


Ekaterina Shtirts, lead game designer, Roger That!, Belka Games

How did you get started in games?

It happened five years ago. At that time, I finally realized that a career as an opera singer and voice teacher wasn’t bringing me true joy in life. I made the decision to switch from the stage to the office and started learning game design. Why game design? As far back as I can remember, I’ve always played games. At some point, I thought, “What if I start developing them myself?”. So I dove into the industry to find the answer to that question.

We must not forget that women still do not always find themselves in equal positions to men.

Ekaterina Shtirts

What do you enjoy most about working within video games?

It’s the combination of creativity and pragmatism. It might seem that, unlike the music industry, we have more constraints, but in my opinion, that’s not the case. We have many more tools to surprise players and direct their attention. We can also turn creativity into data and analyze the results. Now, I use music as a special spice for our games.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to pursue a career in the video games industry?

Remember that you can create something that millions of people will see. Do it in a way that keeps them interested at all times. Human emotions spark the most passionate interest in something. So, my advice is not to be afraid to express and explore your emotions. This is the key to the hearts of players.

What do you think as an industry we can do better to make a more inclusive and safe space?

As an industry, we must not forget that women still do not always find themselves in equal positions to men. The key, in my opinion, is not to divide employees and colleagues by gender when addressing various work-related issues, whether it’s approving promotions or predicting employee performance. We shouldn’t expect anything from a person based solely on which restroom they use. Women are strong; they can and do make decisive choices, excel in leadership, write code, and contribute to making this world a better place. We just need to allow women to be themselves and respect that right!

What is something that you are really proud to have accomplished?

In this challenging time for the industry, I am proud to remain true to my values, support the company I work for in its development direction, and make sure not to forget that leisure is an important part of a productive day for an employee, which I always strive to be.


Nur Ugurlu, business development rep, ZBD

Celebrating International Women's Day: More stories and advice | Pocket Gamer.biz

How did you get started in games?

My entry into the games industry began during a funding round for a Turkish shooter title. Initially, my involvement was from a financial analysis perspective, but quickly, my interest and role evolved as I became more immersed in the creative and operational facets of gaming.

The industry was incredibly welcoming, with colleagues and other industry professionals providing support and guidance. The people I met during this time were not only supportive but also passionate about their work, which inspired me to dive deeper into games.

I then got introduced to the world of rewarded play, where it was possible to entertain a user, and also pay them for it! The players’ enthusiasm and the team’s willingness to share knowledge and experience made my transition into the industry smoother than I could have ever anticipated. This supportive community became the foundation of my career in video games, shaping my path forward.

One key area of improvement is being more open-minded in the creation of junior roles.

Nur Ugurlu

What do you enjoy most about working with video games?

What I enjoy most is the incredible diversity of communities and networks it encompasses. There’s truly a group for everyone, regardless of your interests, background, or the specific cause you’re passionate about. Whether it’s developers focused on pushing the boundaries of technology and storytelling, advocates for inclusivity and representation in games, or groups dedicated to using gaming as a tool for education and social change, the industry offers a place for everyone to belong and contribute.

The best thing about the industry is this sense of belonging and the collective drive to make a positive impact through our work. It’s not just about entertainment; it’s about creating experiences that resonate, inspire, and bring people together for causes that matter. This collaborative spirit and the multitude of causes it champions are what make the industry uniquely fulfilling and endlessly fascinating to be a part of.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to pursue a career in the video games industry?

This industry, despite its global scale and massive consumer base, is surprisingly small when it comes to professional networks. You’ll often find yourself running into the same group of people at different points in your career, whether at conferences, in online communities, or on new projects. This realization underscores the importance of kindness and the value of leaving a positive impact wherever you go.

Building a reputation for being supportive, collaborative, and respectful can open doors and create opportunities that might not have been available otherwise. Positive interactions not only foster a healthier work environment but also pave the way for future collaborations. Additionally, a willingness to step out of your comfort zone and take on new responsibilities is pivotal for growth in the video games industry. This field is characterized by rapid change and requires a continuous learning mindset. By embracing opportunities that challenge you and expand your skill set, you position yourself for personal and professional development.

What do you think as an industry we can do better to make a more inclusive and safe space?

One key area of improvement is being more open-minded in the creation of junior roles. By designing entry-level positions that are accessible to individuals from diverse backgrounds, we can lower the barriers to entry into the industry. This approach encourages a broader spectrum of talents and perspectives, enriching the creative process and making our products more representative of our global audience. Moreover, prioritizing open communication and transparency is crucial. These principles are foundational for building trust and ensuring that all voices are heard and valued. By fostering an environment where feedback is encouraged and acted upon, we can address concerns and challenges that may arise, making everyone feel supported and respected.

What is something that you are really proud to have accomplished?

One of my proudest accomplishments has been my involvement with the Women in Games organization. Through my work with them, I’ve had the privilege of participating in and contributing to various events that aim to support and encourage women in the gaming sector. Attending talks and panel discussions, I’ve not only gained invaluable insights but also shared my own experiences, aiming to inspire and empower attendees.

Engaging with younger women who aspire to work in gaming has been particularly rewarding. By offering advice, sharing knowledge, and providing mentorship, I’ve helped them navigate the challenges and opportunities within the industry. This work is important to me because it not only fosters a more inclusive and diverse gaming community but also paves the way for the next generation of talent, ensuring the industry continues to evolve and flourish.


Maria Plendukova, project manager, Bermuda Adventures, Belka Games

Celebrating International Women's Day: More stories and advice | Pocket Gamer.biz

How did you get started in games?

Since childhood, playing games, I couldn’t even dream that one day I would be involved in their development. I remember watching my brother complete missions for hours, eagerly awaiting my turn to sit at the computer. After university, having studied as a manager, I realized it was time to enter the IT field. At that time, there were plenty of opportunities for junior specialists, but I was particularly drawn to game development. I remember persistently sending out my resume, confident that my motivation to learn and interest in the industry would strengthen developer teams! And so it happened.

Play a lot of games, analyze your gaming experience, and answer the question of how that experience could be improved.

Maria Plendukova

What do you enjoy most about working within video games?

Game development is the intersection of such diverse worlds – art, technology, creativity, data, and product economics. That’s exactly what I love! Every day brings completely new tasks and challenges. Additionally, game development is about a powerful community of people who are passionate about what they do and inspire others with their example.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to pursue a career in the video games industry?

Play a lot of games, analyze your gaming experience, and answer the question of how that experience could be improved. I also like the approach of finding ideas for games in the real world. Many concepts have been developed in other fields such as film, marketing, and sports. These “mechanics” are firmly integrated into our lives; they just need a new interpretation.

What do you think as an industry we can do better to make a more inclusive and safe space?

As game developers, we should maintain a dialogue with users. Understand who our players are, what values and interests they have, what concerns them today, and how we can make their day a little better.

What is something that you are really proud to have accomplished?

I am proud of the results achieved by the teams I work with! Every day, we tackle complex, non-trivial tasks, find solutions, and draw inspiration from the successes of our colleagues. At Belka, we conduct extensive research, testing, and support a culture of open feedback and creativity. I take pride in being part of all this.


Carin Huurnink, senior animator, Warcraft Rumble, Blizzard Entertainment 

Celebrating International Women's Day: More stories and advice | Pocket Gamer.biz

How did you get started in games?

I started my career in game development right after graduating from the bachelor program Communication and Multimedia Design. This program had a broad selection of courses, including web design, video editing, game design, and 3D modeling. While exploring different subjects I absolutely fell in love with animation and spent most of my time honing these skills. In my final year, our animation instructor was looking for students to help a local serious game developer with the animations in their new game. Of course, I jumped at the chance! After graduating I was employed by that same company as a junior animator.

We don’t need an echo-chamber: creativity and innovation come from people with different backgrounds, upbringings, and cultures.

Carin Huurnink

What do you enjoy most about working within video games?

The best thing is collaborating with different disciplines. It’s so much fun working with VFX artists, game designers, character modelers, sound designers and so many more different areas of expertise, with the mutual goal of creating the best game possible. It’s our job as game developers to create fun and this results in fun work environments.

I also really enjoy the technical side of working as a gameplay animator. Building state-machines, polishing transitions, defining parameters and triggers, finding creative solutions – these are my favorite day-to-day activities.

Furthermore, I get to play god: breathing life into characters and developing a personality from scratch is very rewarding! The technical and artistic side serve a mutual purpose: forming a bridge between game mechanics and a good player experience. Communicating with the player through motions, sort of like sign-language. It’s very rewarding when all pieces fall together.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to pursue a career in the video games industry?

One of the first things I would recommend is to orient yourself in industry. Join networking events and be curious. It’s important to hear different perspectives from people that work within the game industry. It can be daunting to go to these events but remember that everyone present is willing to talk to you – it’s the reason they’re there!

Introducing yourself and asking a genuine question is often a great start for a conversation. Find your passion and show your passion. It takes many hours to master a craft and loving your profession makes it so much easier to commit. The saying “dress for the job you want, not the one you have” translates to your portfolio: show the work you are most passionate about and would like to work on once employed. This will increase your chances of getting that dream job.

Social media is a great place to network, learn and grow. Follow people who inspire you and analyze their work. What makes this particular animation so great? Is it the timing, arcs, or smear frames? How can I use this knowledge to improve my own animations?

Make a plan. Set big goals and cut them into manageable chunks. Ask yourself: what subgoals are vital stepping-stones towards my bigger goal? By ensuring these sub-goals are achievable within a couple of weeks, the big goal becomes less overwhelming. It will be easier to see progress, and this will motivate you to keep going!

Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Imagine: you really don’t want to work on a certain animation because you don’t know where to start or how to animate that (yet) and you’d rather go with a different idea. This is exactly when you should accept the challenge. You’re reluctant because it’s out of your comfort zone, but this is also the only place where growth happens! Collaborate with other disciplines and learn what their job involves – show interest. It helps you form a bigger picture of the game-development pipeline, anticipate the needs of your team-members, and helps you see the wider impact of the decisions you make within your craft.

What do you think as an industry we can do better to make a more inclusive and safe space?

I think that the best way to improve inclusivity and diversity within our industry and our games is to form a diverse foundation of game developers. We should search for candidates who are both skillful and a culture add to the team – not necessarily a culture fit. We don’t need an echo-chamber: creativity and innovation come from people with different backgrounds, upbringings, and cultures. Listen and learn from each other.

What is something that you are really proud to have accomplished?

During my bachelor program I set a 10-year goal to work at Blizzard Entertainment, exactly 10 years later I was hired and joined the Warcraft Rumble team. I’m proud that I kept pushing myself and never gave up, because I’m loving every single day.


Frida Külper, game programmer, Midjiwan AB

Celebrating International Women's Day: More stories and advice | Pocket Gamer.biz

How did you get started in games?

When choosing which high school to attend, I had a tough decision to make between studying visual arts or programming. I ultimately went with programming, and at the end of my university education I started thinking about what I wanted to do with the programming skills I had acquired. I grew up with Sonic, and over the years games had become a great part of my life, so the number one choice felt obvious. But I didn’t take a straight path into game development nor did I want to work on just any game. Back then the dream was to work for thatgamecompany or Media Molecule, but it felt like a very distant one.

After a few years as a general software engineer and iOS developer, a colleague showed me a Toca Boca game. I immediately decided that this was the kind of game I wanted to work on – where so much love is poured into creating tiny interactive gems of pure fun. Toca Boca at that time felt a bit like an indie studio.

I think that’s the dream now – small studios where you get to be creative and put your soul into crafting pieces of interactive art. That’s how I ended up at Midjiwan – a tiny indie studio where we work on Polytopia, our founder’s vision of a perfect turn-based strategy game, set in a quirky and lighthearted world that he and his brother dreamt up.

Some parts of the industry still struggle with crunch culture. That needs to go, of course.

Frida Külper

What do you enjoy most about working within video games? What’s the best thing about the industry?

When you start to see the vision come to life, when you start to get stuck playing the game while testing something, or when you tweak a piece of interaction until it’s just right and you can’t stop playing with it because it feels great. Maybe it isn’t something you did, but an achievement from one of your team mates. It could be a graphics delivery that makes the thing you work on look fantastic, the game designer arriving with a new idea that makes you excited because you know it’s going to be amazing, or the sound designer dropping in a cool sound that makes some little detail the best thing in the game. The best thing about the industry is surely the passion that people put into their work.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to pursue a career in the video games industry?

The most important thing is to just dare to go for it, whether it’s applying to your dream studio or starting your own. But I think it’s also valuable to realise how many different ways there are to be a part of the industry. There are so many roles that you can take on. When I was a kid I had no idea you could be a sound designer, game designer, level designer, writer, community manager… There are so many fun things to do! And there are many different kinds of games to work on too.

You can make amazing games with really simple means, or you can work on projects with state of the art graphics and physics. And everything in between; they’re all equally valid. And it really doesn’t matter how you go about acquiring the skills you need to build the kind of games you
want to make.

We’ve had a lot of amazing people come from specialised game dev educations, or with fancy university degrees, but some of the very best have had no formal education at all. Do what works
best for you.

What do you think as an industry we can do better to make a more inclusive and safe space?

Internally, we need to make sure we have good working conditions. Some parts of the industry still struggle with crunch culture. That needs to go, of course. But going further, I think our industry can allow for more freedom and flexibility for their employees. We should have more control over how many hours we work, and when.

We need to have space for having fun at work, to get to know each other and to be nice to each other. That’s the downside to passion, it’s easy to hurt people when you get too goal-oriented. We’re part of a society where so many people are lonely, depressed and stressed. We need to do our part in changing that.

Externally, we need to continue to make games for all kinds of audiences. That’s how we inspire people with different perspectives to join the industry and push our culture even further. We need to remember our biases and be aware of when we apply stereotypes, and try to challenge the norms when we have the chance. And we need to foster good communities around our games.

What is something that you are really proud to have accomplished?

This is a tough question. I am very proud of every game I’ve worked on and released, and the team effort that went into them. Some of the user feedback those games have received over the years has made me very proud. A lot of us struggle in different ways in life, and games can be a great relief to some. Being part of that is awesome!

Apart from that rather general answer, the most exotic project I’ve done at Midjiwan was bringing
Polytopia to Tesla cars. I got to work closely with a team of fun and talented people at Tesla. It sure felt cool being one of just a handful of games on the Tesla.


Julia Seifert, office manager & talent scout, KeokeN Interactive and Women in Games Ambassador

Celebrating International Women's Day: More stories and advice | Pocket Gamer.biz

How did you get started in games?

I started to get in touch with the game development industry first by working with content creators and their community since 2014. That naturally evolved into fostering collaborations between independent game developers and creators and so I found my place in the industry without being trained in the traditional departments like art, design or programming. I discovered very quickly that a lot of good development projects fail when it comes to the administrative or more people-centric part of a company and so I incorporated my hobby into my career working as a coworking manager in a Northern-German innovation hub for early stage startups.

Together with an amazing set of people, I co-founded a non-profit gamedev association to support early game devs through a strong community and connections to talent. That led me to where I am today, as an office manager and talent scout at Dutch developer KeokeN Interactive.

We need to raise even more awareness of the discrimination and repression that women and especially queer people face while playing games.

Julia Seifert

What do you enjoy most about working within video games?

It’s the sheer creativity that surrounds us all every day. All my colleagues and peers know so much about their respective disciplines and every day I am learning something new, especially as someone who is not a game designer or programmer.

What’s the best thing about the industry?

The best thing about the video games industry is the broad spectrum of interdisciplinary knowledge and creativity. Creating games encompasses so many different skill sets – artistic, logical, organised – that I am sometimes in awe about how this came to be.

I have never seen a forward thinking industry with so many people from different and diverse backgrounds. I think a lot of people think that you have to choose a specific study or route to work at a game development studio, but – coming from someone who did not do that – everyone has their place in the industry if they love working with games.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to pursue a career in the video games industry?

Networking is my biggest advice. There are tons of offline and online communities not only for “gamers”, but also for people who want or already are working in the industry. A lot of these communities are helpful because people are sharing their stories or supporting others working on their game jam games or portfolios.

My biggest advice concerning networking is to treat it as a skill one has to learn. And especially networking as an introvert. I see so many young people that are afraid of networking because they think their introversion hinders them at events, like me at the beginning of my journey. But becoming outgoing during an event is just something that gets better the more I do it.

What do you think as an industry we can do better to make a more inclusive and safe space?

Inclusivity has taken big steps in recent years, but we started from a pretty grim place with a lot of stereotypes against women who play games and women who make games. The game development industry itself is more aware of biases nowadays but there are still improvements to be made when it comes to gender discrimination through workplace policies. We need to treat our industry as a serious industry with rules and regulations for employees and not just “another creative, fast paced industry” that drives itself into burnouts.

While we have already made a few steps in the right direction in the game development industry, we need to raise even more awareness of the discrimination and repression that women and especially queer people face while playing games. Support groups or queer-led gaming communities are carrying the gaming industry on their shoulders, but they are sadly oftentimes only volunteer run. We need more of these safety nets!

What is something that you are really proud to have accomplished?

I am very proud of my work creating a small mentoring program in the form of portfolio review events, especially since the idea formed together with a friend from another game development company, Sacha Blom of Paladin Studios. Collaboration between companies in the same industry is rare since everyone kind of wants their piece of the pie, but Sacha and I understood quickly that our companies have different needs and that we can work together on these events.

We wanted to give students and beginners the opportunity to get feedback from professionals in a chill environment without the pressure of a job interview. We started with three events in 2023 and brought about 100 students together with around 15 professionals from three companies – KeokeN Interactive, Paladin Studios and Nixxes Software.

I can only encourage everyone that is able to share their experience to create these kinds of events, as they are not only valuable for beginners, but also a great experience for our fellow gamedev colleagues.

 

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