SOE: Schooling The Industry On Sexism
Why the developer is using its G.I.R.L. Program to give young women a way into the industry
There's been a lot of talk lately about the struggles those of us without a penis might face in the games industry. Kim Swift has blogged about it, hundreds of women have tweeted about it, and that's only recently. And while all that talking about it is crucial to raise awareness, so are actions that can help to combat it.
And that's why the Sony Online Entertainment G.I.R.L. Program is so important, whatever is in your underwear. It's not just talking the PR talk about the importance of finding a gender balance in the industry, it's actively encouraging it with a scholarship that's delivering real results, and jobs, to young women looking for a way into the industry.
We spoke to SOE's senior VP of global sales and marketing and the spokesperson for the program, Laura Naviaux, about why a company with so many drains on its time and resources would spend any of them on this sort of program, and why Naviaux was so proud to be fronting it.
"It's definitely near and dear to my heart considering that when I started in the games industry almost 15 years ago there were far fewer women," she tells GamesIndustry International.
"Over the years we've watched the games industry evolve, and now people are gaming from every walk of life because of mobile devices and the different platforms. The genres are evolving and now there's a game for everybody. So it's imperative that we have people on the development teams that are women, because you can't have 18-34 year old men making games for every type of demographic."
It's an interesting idea, that so far the majority of the games we play have sprung from such a small section of the population. You might feel that it's obvious, looking at the content, and you might not, but increasing the diversity of the industry can only mean more and more ideas to play with.
And that's where the G.I.R.L. Program comes in. It offers young women in America, aged 18 or over and studying an undergraduate program related to video games, a $10,000 scholarship to use towards college tuition and expenses and a 10 week paid internship with the company.
A testament to its success is what the winners have gone on to do. The winner of the very first scholarship in 2008, Julia Brasil, is now an environment artist at Secret Identity Studios in San Francisco. On finishing her internship at SOE she joined the company on contract, and then as a full time worker.
"We've proven that these interns have had long term employment here, so it's not like 'urgh, we have to fulfil this 3 or 4 month obligation,' they've come on board and become full time employees, and that's when you really know it's working," says Naviaux.
"You can't have 18-34 year old men making games for every type of demographic"
She name checks one of SOE's artistic veterans as a driving force behind making sure the interns get the most out of their time with the company.
"Joe Shoopack, our director of artistic development, he's been one of the people that cares a lot about it and he's the one that has been seeing it through and really mentoring these interns in making that transition a little bit easier on them as they get onto a full game team."
Some winners haven't gone on to game careers, but have found employment in the design world. The 2009 winner Rebecca Gleason is now a UX designer at Gifts.com, and 2010's, Sylvia Liu, is a colour stylist/background painter for Transformers Prime at Hasbro. The more recent winners are still completing their studies at art colleges in California.
Naviaux says the scholarship is an outward sign of the balance she thinks SOE has managed to achieved, and cites female leaders and an environment where everyone's opinion matters as a few more of them.
"We have a lot of women, and a lot of women in every different type of department," she explains.
"A lot of people at SOE would really talk about this family atmosphere, in that there's a lot of mutual respect regardless of your race or religious background or even gender, so I think we're a much more approachable friendly place to work."
She's keen to point out that the scholarship really reflects her experience of the company, that the sense of equality is simply built into life at SOE. She mentions that recently she was walking through the Planetside 2 development area at SOE, and noticed what a heavily female team it was.
"I didn't even realise that we had that many on a game like Planetside 2," she says.
"It's whether [gender diversity] is woven into the fabric of your company and if that's the case, and I think our commitment to this scholarship really shows that it is, then it will be. But when it's forced or people feel like it's not really important or part of the corporate values, then that's when people have those negative experiences."
And does Naviaux foresee a time when this sort of opportunity won't be necessary any more? When it can just be a competition for young people who want to break into the industry, when gender stops being an issue?
"I think we're going to get there. I think we have to. If you look at the mix of people gaming today it's right down the centre, it just depends what your definition of game is. And I think that's what needs to change, that's what needs to evolve, that stigma or stereotype of "a gamer" needs to change."
The 2013 Sony Online Entertainment G.I.R.L. Program will start accepting submissions next month. To stay up to date on the competition requirements and dates keep an eye on the official Twitter feed.