In late 2018, Meagan Marie was excited about publishing her book Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play, a resource for women interested in a career in the games industry.
She had only started talking with publisher Prima Games about doing the book a year before, but the appeal of the project was enough to offset any concerns about a tight turnaround time.
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Marie explains: "For me it was about highlighting how women have always been involved in the games industry, and highlighting some of the iconic women in the industry people know, all the way up to younger women who are defining and changing the space of video games in the future."
Marie put together 100 profiles covering women from throughout the industry's history, from celebrated designers and entrepreneurs to successful but less known women working in marketing or retail. As if that wasn't work enough to pile on top of her day job managing the Crystal Dynamics community team, Marie also packed the book with various essays and dozens of "A Day in the Life Of" pieces to show aspiring industry entrants just how many different ways there are to be a professional in gaming, whether it be in development, recruiting, journalism or streaming.
"At the time, Prima was interested in expanding primarily beyond strategy guides and into a gaming culture label, and this was basically the first project in that label," Marie says. "Skipping ahead, unfortunately like a week after the book published, Prima found out they were being shut down, which was a surprise to everyone and it resulted in the book flying a little bit under the radar."
"Unfortunately like a week after the book published, Prima found out they were being shut down"
She adds: "It was something we were all very bummed about because we were just starting this journey to do this culture label at Prima. But we all felt very proud that this was one of the last publications that Prima put out before the label closed because it was something we were all so passionate about and proud about, and hoped would really become a resource for the industry."
It would be hard for the book to achieve that goal of being a resource if it were out of print or unavailable, so after a few months, Marie says she approached Prima owner Penguin Random House about purchasing the rights to the book. They were receptive to the idea, but funding was an issue.
Marie says she scoured for funding for a couple years and reached out to a number of parties before floating the idea to Crystal Dynamics.
"I don't know why but I didn't think to ask the studio," Marie says. "I just wanted to try to do this on my own at first, but I should have tried at home. I should have tried with Crystal first because it fits so well with our culture, and they emphatically said 'yes.'"
Crystal Dynamics acquired the rights to the book, and in March released it as a free download on the studio's website.
"My goal with the project was always to try to provide a resource I think I would have appreciated having when I started in the industry," Marie says. "Going free, sharing this and removing that physical barrier to entry for people to be able to download it wherever they are in the world, it was just a no-brainer and made perfect sense. We were all on the same page about it."
"The number one thing I got from women is that it's really easy for us to focus on all the negative elements... And that often gets more attention than celebrating things that women have done"
As Crystal Dynamics co-studio heads Scot Amos and Ron Rosenberg said when they announced the plan to distribute the book for free: "We look forward to seeing how it inspires even more women to thrive at making great games throughout the industry. This is more than just a book to us, it's a personal mission of our company."
Things have come full circle in a way, as Marie says the book was largely shaped by a poll she conducted of women working at Crystal Dynamics when the book was little more than a concept. She knew she didn't want to do a history of women in games because it wouldn't have been possible to be comprehensive, but the possibilities were open-ended beyond that.
"The number one thing I got from women is that it's really easy for us to focus on all the negative elements, to focus on the sexism and the really frustrating and hurtful things that have happened in our careers that have affected us or influenced us moving forward," Marie says. "And that often gets more attention than celebrating things that women have done."
While Marie says she wanted the book to celebrate women in the industry, she was also wary of distorting people's views, of glossing over or ignoring the difficulties that women have too often faced in this industry.
Fortunately, she believes conditions for women are generally improving, and attributes that in part to the advent of social media platforms.
"I think the best way to advocate for women in games is to give them platforms to talk about their work and their experiences. That's one of the things I think has made a huge difference."
She adds: "Seeing how much the industry has changed since [the mid-2000s], I don't think it's a coincidence and is in large part tied to social media really becoming the place where all these sorts of conversations happen. Hashtags, social campaigns and so on, these things that are basically giving people a voice whereas maybe they didn't know where to express themselves or find communities for support previously."
While she readily acknowledges social media platforms have amplified more negative and sexist voices as well, Marie believes they have had a net positive impact in making everyone more aware about what is and isn't acceptable.
"Every generation paves the way and makes it better, easier, and more welcoming for the next"
"When I started in the game industry, I wanted so badly to be one of the guys and I didn't want to be seen as high strung, or 'that woman,'" Marie says. "I often didn't even realize I was being treated in a sexist way at industry events."
She recalls her days at Game Informer and telling a co-worker a story about an inappropriate comment she received at an E3 afterparty that she had brushed off.
"He stops me and was like: 'Meagan, that's so inappropriate. You can't just let that person behave like that.'"
They went to the offending person's PR team, who had a conversation with him to ensure he wouldn't do that again, Marie says.
Some unpleasant experiences aside, Marie adds she doesn't hesitate to encourage girls who might be considering a career in gaming.
"There are things you need to do your research about, but I would absolutely not tell women or young girls not to work in the industry," she continues. "The more women, the better. The more diverse opinions, the more representation -- and not just gender representation but intersectional representation -- that's so incredibly important. Every generation paves the way and makes it better, easier, and more welcoming for the next."
That much is clear when listening to Marie talk about her experience with the book's initial run with Prima Games. Given the publisher's unfortunate shuttering, it was never likely to realize its potential financially, but that was never the point.
"I never actually had any visibility on sales numbers," Marie says. "And that's fine for me. From a personal standpoint, I think the first week it was published -- when I started seeing picture of parents giving the book to their children, saying they've always wanted to work in the industry but didn't know what to do -- that stuff was it for me. I probably started crying ten times that first week when people would me those photos because it meant so much to me.
"If increasing the accessibility of the book by making it free means more people have access to those resources, that's success for me."