Getting more women in games
Panel at Game Connect Asia Pacific stresses that the games industry needs to be a safe place that fosters diversity
A panel at Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) this week aimed to steer the discussion of women in games back toward more productive ends after a grueling few months in which women in the industry have been subjected to repeated harassment, threats, and hate campaigns.
The panel first considered the low number of women entering the industry in recent years. Only 22 percent of respondents to the IGDA Game Developer Satisfaction Survey for 2014 identified as female, with just 10.45 percent of full-time employees in the Australian games industry being women. Screwtape Studios co-founder and Defiant Development quality assurance lead Megan Summers suggested that conditions for women have been improving, and that some companies are already "doing it right," but right now a combination of fear and ignorance that women can even be game developers may be keeping people out.
Former PC Gamer Australia and PC PowerPlay journalist and current lead designer at Mighty Games Group Timothy Best questioned why games development is male dominated when other fields of communication such as journalism and human relations tend to have high numbers of women. "I don't know why that balance doesn't translate more into games," he said. And without the balance he suggested we are missing out on new stories.
Panel chair Rebecca Fernandez (pictured above), a games programming teacher at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment and the chapter leader of IGDA Sydney, thinks that women at large are missing out on the joy of programming - which she likens to Harry Potter climbing on a broomstick and realizing he can fly. The panelists agreed that coding should be taught in schools, as is being done in a new curriculum just introduced in the UK, because it will equip girls with vital skills and expose them to IT at an early age.
They then looked at enrollment in computer science study at university level, which veteran digital games artist Delaney King (formerly of Microforte, Autodesk, and Epic, among others) pointed out has been historically tied to marketing. It flattened out after the introduction of home computers in the mid-1980s, following a steady rise in the years prior.
Computers were advertised as being for boys, and the statistics suggest that took a toll on the gender split in technology. This trend took a hard and sudden turn down in the early 2000s, with the panel suggesting that some combination of the dot-com bubble bursting and the rise of hyper-masculine first-person shooters and hostile online gaming environments may be to blame.
Whatever the reasons for women being scarce in game development, the panelists argued that the best way to improve diversity in games is to have more diverse teams. That should not be an arbitrary move, though; mandated diversity may be counterproductive, as Summers admitted that she's been harassed for hiring men over women even when a male candidate was more suited to the role.
Studios should generally pick the best person for the job, the panelists agreed, but "when two people are equal," Best said, hirers should "go with the diverse voice." Women and girls account for half of all video game players, and there's huge variation in tastes and preferences both across and within genders, so increased diversity can only help to make more people feel welcome in a games community that has expanded rapidly following the broader proliferation of smartphones.
Getting that diversity will take more than just stamping out sexism - institutional or overt. King cited a survey finding a $10,000 wage gap between men and women of similar ability and experience in the games industry, plus another $10,000 separating artists and coders. "So a female artist earns $20,000 less than a male coder," King said, and that difference sometimes gets explained away as being "for maternity leave." Shrinking the gap may be as simple as improving mentoring in the industry, Fernandez suggested, so that people would learn how to ask for raises or boost their negotiation skills.
In order to bring more women into the games industry, the panel concluded, it needs to be a safe place that fosters diversity and has strong support groups such as the Australian WIDGET organization. In spite of recent negativity, they suggested that conditions for women in the games industry are improving. Best said that in Australia, at least, word spreads quickly about any developers who do exhibit sexist behavior, and King said that she's seen women in games forming stronger communal bonds this year in a trend that will be good for both outreach to young women and support to women already trying to find their way in the games industry.