Women's Equality Day 2023

Every year on August 26th, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of when the Nineteenth Amendment was certified as part of the US Constitution, assuring that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This day celebrates the women’s suffrage movement and honors the challenges women have faced in their journey to equality.

The games industry has historically lacked women’s representation both in the games themselves and behind the scenes in making those games. While there has been some progress with women in games over the past few years, it has been a difficult path to equality, one where we still have a long way to go.

In addition to adding Women’s Equality Day as a company holiday at Pipeworks, we also hosted an internal roundtable about being a woman in the games industry to honor the holiday.

We have also asked some of our women employees to participate in a Q&A about their time in this industry:

What is your name, role, and how long have you been in the game industry?
Monica: Monica, Game Designer, I have been in the industry since Jan 2019

Jadeite: My name is Jadeite, I’m a 3D artist here at Pipeworks, and I’ve been working in the games industry for a little over four years now.

Adria: My name is Adria, and I’m an Environment Artist. I’ve been in the game industry for just about a year now.

Dani: My name is Dani, I’m the Lead People Operations Partner here at Pipeworks Studios, and I have been in the game industry for 3.5 years.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the game industry?
What did your career path in this industry look like?
Monica: I was pursuing a career in Film/TV in college, but it was very hard as an Asian Femme looking person living in the Midwest. I tried to study for law school but got a bad concussion leaving me on bed rest for a year. I started playing video games for the first time to recover cognitively. I got hooked by its magic and decided to pursue a game dev career since law school was no longer an option due to my concussion (In hindsight, it might be a blessing in disguise... haha).

I started in Quality Assurance while studying game design in grad school. Later, I got an internship in production/localization because I was bilingual. I left the industry to work as an instructional designer when that company fell through (and the pandemic started). After school, I returned to the industry to work as a Community Manager and eventually got a job as a game designer.

Jadeite: I’ve been an artist and a gamer my whole life, so once I found out this was something I could pursue as a career, I went full force into it. I went to a film and performing arts high school, so this was a pretty easy decision. If I wasn’t drawing or 3D modeling, I was playing games, so I wanted to sink my teeth into that world and create experiences people could get lost in the same way I would. My career path in this industry was not typical, I was extremely lucky and got my first game job almost right out of college, and I’ve been in it since.
Adria: I’ve been playing games since I was a little girl. As I got older, I started to fall in love with video games and realized I wanted to be a part of making them. I was one of the fortunate ones that got into this industry just after graduating college.

Dani: I have always loved video games, and even though I work on the operations side, being part of a creative and innovative industry is important to me and the enjoyment I find in my work. I received my degree in Organizational Communication and was fortunate to start working in the games industry and the role I currently hold shortly after graduation.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in the game industry?
Monica: There are several challenges I have encountered. The first one is when I am in a room of men; sometimes, I will be talked over or not heard, maybe due to my softer voice. When I first started in game design, I learned to assert myself (somewhat aggressively) to be noticed, but then I got feedback that I was too “bossy” and “scary.” Secondly, I have worked with male leads/managers who are uncomfortable interacting with women. While luckily, many of them would still try to work with me regardless (and we became close friends after), I have leads who refused to communicate directly with me due to my gender, and it impacted my performance review because of that.

Jadeite: I’ve faced several challenges throughout the years, mainly in school and my early years just starting out in games. Not to go into too many details, but a small example for my day-to-day would look something like constantly having to prove myself and show that I was just as capable as my peers, which gets tiring.

Adria: One of the challenges I face is the internalized pressure to make myself more “palatable” to others. Rather than being direct, I find myself trying to be softer spoken to avoid being perceived as abrasive or rude. I think a lot of women, especially in male-dominated spaces, experience that added pressure to be more demure.

Dani: HR/People Operations is a female-dominated field, so I did not experience a lot of the same challenges that many women in game development do while trying to break into the industry. However, I have felt and witnessed the effects of underrepresentation since working alongside female developers. Being one of few women in a male-dominated industry has led to feelings of not belonging and imposter syndrome. Women must also work harder against stereotypes and biases that assume they are less skilled in the various aspects of game development.
Why is having more women in the game industry important?
Monica: When I first joined the game industry, it was still very macho (maybe it still is in some places); the issue is, you have a lot of seasoned cisgender white male game designers who have only designed for themselves and people like them for their whole career. They would make decisions that don’t make sense according to user research/player feedback, but it fulfills their player fantasy, which is, unfortunately, bad for business.

I advocate for diversity because our player bases are very diverse, so it is essential to have design input from people with different backgrounds and gaming experiences. In addition, design meetings with designers from other backgrounds encourage game designers to think beyond what they enjoy playing, leading to better and more inclusive game design.

Jadeite: There are lots of reasons! Representation for one, equality, and diversity. There’s no real reason why you shouldn’t hire women, and having a diverse team, in general, is great since this could give you insight into other areas you might not have thought about prior.
Adria: There are many reasons why having more women in this industry is so important. Our voices, our different backgrounds, and our unique stories add needed diversity to the games being made, from indie to AAA. Having more women in games also creates the representation that empowers young girls and other women alike to become artists, designers, writers, etc. Especially as a black woman, seeing the representation of other women and minorities in the game industry gave me extra confidence to pursue a games career.

Dani: Representation matters for so many reasons! Teams and work environments are strengthened through diversity and having a variety of perspectives. Women bring diverse backgrounds and experiences to game development, resulting in unique games and a broader audience. Their experience is necessary to avoid stereotypes and to produce characters and narratives that authentically represent women.
How can we encourage more women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated industries and roles, like game development?
Monica: I don’t want to sugarcoat this; working in the game industry will be much harder if you are not a man. Depending on the discipline, some are harder than others. I recommend that every woman who wants to join the industry actively seek and form allies with other game developers with marginalized identities. While I haven’t met many people with the same identities as mine, I have been getting a lot of help from other game developers with marginalized identities who taught me what to expect, being the only woman in the room, and how to detect and navigate toxic situations. If you cannot find allies in your workplace, you can always reach out to the growing number of organizations that aim to create opportunities and allyships for gender minorities in game dev.

Also, be careful with predatory places that charge you a lot of money and promise to send you to the game industry. Some places like International Game Developers Association and Code Coven (Limit Break if you are in the UK) will help pair aspiring game developers with diverse backgrounds with game devs willing to provide mentorship on the side, which can be very helpful.
Jadeite: Treating women better would be a start. Male-dominated industries also tend to have a huge “bro-culture” as well, which typically degrades women, sadly. A concern for many women as well as the pay inequality that happens. I think being transparent with salary and wage compensation could be helpful in the process. Within the last few years, I’ve seen more companies branching out and adding small benefits for women. For example, menstrual leave, accommodations for mothers, and longer maternity leave which can be a huge deal for some women when looking for a job.

Adria: A way we can do that is by making those industries more inclusive. Showing that women exist in those spaces, not just at an entry level but also in leadership roles.

Dani: Encouraging women to pursue careers in male-dominated fields comes down to creating inclusive environments and breaking down existing barriers. At the earliest stages, it’s important that girls and young women have exposure to STEM/STEAM programs. This can be accomplished through increased access to internships, job shadows, and targeted programs or workshops in these fields. Within our companies, we can play a significant role in raising awareness of gender disparities to help educate the workforce and combat bias to create more inclusive cultures that attract and retain women. Additionally, policy changes within companies should be implemented to help overcome some of the barriers women face in male-dominated industries. These efforts could include mentorship/leadership programs, increased parental leave, Employee Resource Groups, and inclusive hiring practices.
What progress have you seen in addressing gender-related issues in the game industry, and what steps can we take collectively to accelerate that progress?
Monica: The fact that women can openly talk about their negative experiences without worrying about never getting a job in the industry again is already a bit of improvement from when I first started. I started to pursue a game dev career shortly after Gamergate, and everyone thought I was insane. Even with the few short years I’ve had in the industry, I can already see the improvements from the DEI initiative to more women taking leadership positions.

However, as an industry, we still have a long way to go regarding creating a safe space for women. Many game dev events are very alcohol-driven, which doesn’t help. Early in my career, I often had to put myself in unsafe situations for opportunities to make connections or talk about design. We should have either more alcohol-free alternatives for game dev gatherings or have strictly moderated events where we can keep out predatory behavior (which requires more staff and budgets).

Jadeite: A lot of what I would describe as horror stories have come out throughout the years regarding the treatment of women in games. As a result, I’ve seen more companies establishing policies to protect women and minorities in games, which is a start, I suppose. Not having these events occur should be the goal, and I think more companies are trying to stay true to that.
Adria: While I’m still new to the games industry, historically it hasn’t always been as diverse as it is today. Progress has been made, with more women joining the industry every year, but there’s still a long way to go. Collectively, we can invest in it by mentoring or encouraging more women who are trying to break into the industry.

Dani: I am happy to see an increased effort to raise awareness, implement diversity initiatives, and produce inclusive characters and narratives in recent years. However, there is still a long way to go. Although a lot of these initiatives are reactionary, they will contribute to improved representation within the industry, eventually fostering more proactive and progressive policies for women. To accelerate progress, spreading awareness and advocating for equality remains important for individuals while implementing mentorship programs, increasing transparency, and reducing bias through policy and process are important at company and industry levels.
What initiatives or programs have you found effective in promoting gender equality and diversity within game development teams?
Monica: Quick plug for Save Point Gathering. It is a global game dev network for people with marginalized genders that I am on as part of the leadership group. It hosts monthly online gatherings and many in-person events at various gaming events. We do our best to create a safe, supportive space that many women may need help to afford at the workplace. It was super beneficial to stay in the industry during difficult times and helped me with my ongoing imposter syndrome. The place is open to anyone who identifies as a gender minority and works in the industry.

Jadeite: I’m not well versed in this area. Still, something I heard about recently that might be helpful was some companies using a system that disregards things like race and gender in the hiring process, so the focus point is your skills and abilities.

Adria: Women in Games International (WIGI) is one organization that comes to mind. Their mission is to advance economic equality and diversity in the global games industry. It’s an organization that regularly makes space for and elevates women's voices in this industry. I think groups and organizations like this contribute to creating a very visible representation that women looking to join the game industry need to see.

Dani: I have found that Employee Resource Groups, mentorship programs, and continued training and education around the inequalities that persist in the game industry have effectively created more inclusive environments.