From time to time, there are interesting bits from our interviews that don't really fit well into the rest of the story, but are still worth reporting. Rather than relegate them to the trash bin of unpublished work, we'd like to repackage them into columns intended to provide additional insight on a variety of topics. While the exact format of these columns will change from entry to entry, we will publish them under the banner of 'DLC.'
At GDC earlier this year, I spoke to Maximum Games CEO Christina Seelye just ahead of the company's announcement of its new publishing label, Modus Games. Though most of our conversation was focused around the company and independent publishing in general, it ended by taking a rather natural turn to the topic of women in the games industry -- specifically, as Seelye is, at the C-level.
Though Seelye is an unapologetic advocate for getting more women into games jobs in general, she specifically hones in on the importance of women being hired, trained for, and promoted to high-level executive roles across the industry -- a place where women are currently scarce. Diversifying the top-most levels of game companies is, Seelye says, the key to seeing more gender diversity at all levels of the industry, as well as represented in the content media companies produce.
"You want to be C-level? You need to own the P&L"
How does Seelye want to see that accomplished? Through sponsorship.
"It's really important for us to go out into the entry level and middle management, and both women and men need to sponsor -- not mentor -- women in these different roles," she says. "Women especially have always been told they need someone to mentor them. Mentoring is a good process, but that's like telling you, 'I'm going to help you, be there for you, talk to you, coach you.' It's still on you.
"What we need is someone to sponsor. We need men and women in executive-level positions to identify talent in middle management, and get those girls to head into positions where they have profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities, for example. Women tend to move toward roles in marketing or HR, where someone else owns that P&L. You want to be C-level? You need to own the P&L.
"There are all those studies about women where they won't go for jobs that they don't have most of the qualifications for, where men feel they can have just a few of the qualifications and will apply for it. That's where sponsorship comes in."
As for young women and girls who want to follow in her footsteps and aspire to C-level positions in gaming and tech, Seelye's advice is simple: get comfortable with math.
"If you want to be in a C-level position you have to be able to walk around in math. You have to understand the numbers and you have to understand the business and you have to be math competent. I'm not saying you have to have coding or engineering math, but you have to have a high level of business math.
"At the younger level, we need to get girls way more math comfortable and get away from this whole, 'I'm not good at math.' You're fine at math. I'm not doing much math other than multiply, divide, add and subtract. But I understand it, and I have an intuition around it. I understand what the numbers mean."
Willing to wait for Google Stadia
A few days later, still at GDC, I chatted with tinyBuild co-founder Alex Nichiporchik mere hours after Google announced its upcoming streaming platform, Google Stadia.
Though tinyBuild is (at least as of GDC) not currently developing for Stadia, Nichiporchik is intrigued by the technology, if cautious. He believes that Stadia has the potential to be groundbreaking for independent developers and publishers (and we noted in our discussion the presence of smaller companies like Tequila Works on board at launch), but tinyBuild is content to sit back and let others figure out the nuts and bolts before taking the plunge.
"I want to try a couple of things that are quiet and independent," he says, "I've been dreaming about large-scale multiplayer since World of Warcraft, and there are some things I want to try and see if they actually work. But I'm always really cautious about these kinds of new things that everyone jumps on and where people throw money around. The danger there is, well, what happened to VR? There's a lot of funding coming in, business plans get formed around that funding, but consumer funding never arrives. Then, like a house of cards, it just collapses."
"There's a lot of funding coming in, business plans get formed around that funding, but consumer funding never arrives"
I ask his thoughts on whether Stadia would deliver on its promise of greater gaming accessibility, and Nichiporchik acknowledges the possibility is there, but adds that the bigger opportunity (for him) is the ability to skip big day-one patches and massive downloads for updates. He then returns to the potential he mentioned earlier for MMOs like World of Warcraft and other multiplayer endeavours.
"Think about large-scale multiplayer games," he says. "They're mostly limited by the clients, by your PC. Because the amount that your PC can process and then upload to the server and then bring back down to synchronize is very limited. When you don't have the client in the equation, then suddenly you can have 10,000 people sending their information to the cloud, then beaming down to just a passive video screen. Then you can do things that are not possible this generation.
"A platform is great, but if you look at any new generation console, [they announce it by showing] the hardware, what it can do, and what they're shipping with it. I hope in the near future for launch, [Google] shows something that cannot be done on any other console."
Killer VR apps could give life to VR gaming
In two separate but GDC-adjacent chats, I spoke with Unity CMO Clive Downie and director of XR Timoni West. Both conversations (West's especially) included discussion of the future of AR and VR development tools at the company, but one interesting thread that came up in both talks was that of innovation outside gaming.
Though Unity is thought of mostly as a game engine, both Downie and West remind me that it's used for countless other types of development -- especially XR. And just because VR specifically hasn't exploded in gaming, Downie says, doesn't mean it isn't thriving in other sectors -- sectors where advances may or may not eventually translate into innovations for this industry.
"If we can just get [better modelling tools] on these little, consumer-grade headsets that are coming out, people are going to spend hours in there and love it"
"We're very much involved in fuelling the pioneers of consumer VR," Downie says. "Baobab [Studios] is a great example. They make wonderful VR film experiences and just can't help winning awards for it. We fuel that market. There's a place for VR; it's successful in one area, it's continuing to be grown in another, and we just want to be able to fuel the creators in it."
West also mentions film, as well as various VR apps for modelling and animation that are exciting to use on their own, not just as tools for development.
"Even for virtual reality headsets today, there are some killer apps -- they're just very specific use cases," she says. "The reality is that the VR tools we have are some of the best 3D modelling and animation tools out there. I've seen beautiful sculptures, amazing music videos; I've seen and cried over animations. If you're a creator, you can go in and make whatever you want.
"The downside is, though, that the devices these are on are finicky, expensive, needing-a-PC devices. If we can just get it on these little, consumer-grade headsets that are coming out, people are going to spend hours in there and love it."
West ultimately concludes on a hopeful note of a future where high-fidelity VR would reach lower, consumer prices, positing that improving technology may eventually result in AR and VR transforming how we think about computers on a day-to-day basis. For now, though, she is excited about the current state of the XR market, which is seeing a cheaper, untethered headset (the Oculus Quest) and a more expensive but high-fidelity headset (the Valve Index) launch simultaneously, each catering to different audiences.
"I think it's cool that we have two fields for virtual reality headsets in 2019," she says. "You've got consumer-grade, standalone headsets that are pretty airtight. You feel comfortable giving them to your non-technical family member and having it actually work. And then on the ultra high-end side, there are these new headsets that have much better displays and show text much better.
"Text is important specifically if you're a coder working in virtual reality and want to debug something. Or if you're in education, or if you're doing industrial training, you really need crisp text and that's not something we've had until this year. We've got the tools now, the high-end displays we need, for those who have these specific use cases."