Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.
So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.
Jennifer Bullard works for Aspyr Media, a company originally started to bring quality games to the Macintosh, but has recently branched into the PC market. She is a Producer working on an unnamed project. Here’s what she had to say:
Name: Jennifer Bullard
Company: Aspyr Media
I was about 11 or 12 when my dad got a Commodore 64. I played Lode Runner to level 68 before my much younger sister used it as a Frisbee. Whenever there was a computer around I played games.
What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?
I have a BA in Psychology & Industrial Labor Relations. I believe both prepared me well for the management work that I now do.
What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?
Before I was in the industry I worked as a Technical Recruiter. Inside the industry I worked starting in QA, moving to Design and eventually into Production.
Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?
Definitely chance, sort of a lark really. My husband had just gotten a job at New World Computing in LA and we had moved from the Boston area. While looking for a â€˜real jobâ€™ I took an opening in the QA department and became Lead within a month and Associate Designer in two months.
How long have you been working in the industry?
Since August 1998
What does your job entail? What is an average day like?
My job entails managing and scheduling a team of around 20. I also get to dabble in contracts, negotiate between development needs and publishing requirements. There are peaks and valleys with Production. One week you are frantically putting out all of the fires and the next few days no one needs you and itâ€™s quiet. Enjoy the quiet moments because they donâ€™t last long.
Most interesting was the press event for Backyard Wrestling. Not only had I never seen a wrestling match up close, but I got to see it ICP style. What an eye opener. Quite literally Babes, Blood and Barbed Wire in the ring, but the stark contrast was how nice those young men were outside of the ring. If you ever get a chance to meet me in real life ask to see the pictures.
What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?
Lack of management training and â€œnot invented hereâ€ converge horrendously on our management and business landscapes. Too many companies fail because they lack basic management or business skills. No company can truly operate without legal, HR, accounting, sales & marketing. Even if that is outsourced, you still need those support services for your business to run. A two man operation is going to need an accountant at the end of the year, a lawyer to protect their intellectual property and someone to move their product.
There is this underlying belief that other industries have nothing of value to offer our industry, or that weâ€™ll invent a better way. Fact is we could learn a lot from people who have been successfully managing companies, large and small. On the same note companies could look at success stories in our industry and pick and choose what has worked for them. Not every company is going to want to use every technique or style, but there is something out there for you.
What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?
People believe just anyone can jump into the role of Producer, or that it only requires some limited on the job training. That isnâ€™t true at all; you need to understand the basic management principles in order to do this job, and having a strong mentor for a couple of years is beyond value. There is a lot of training and education that goes into being a good Producer, and with the amount of authority a Producer has each company should carefully choose someone who can actually do the job.
Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?
There was once when I felt disadvantaged as a woman. One employee obviously didnâ€™t have a stellar opinion of women in general and he was in a position of authority. In the end it didnâ€™t stunt my career because I simply worked around him, but it was a miserable time. Twice more it became obvious that my co-workers werenâ€™t used to dealing with women, but in those situations it didnâ€™t impact my job for any length of time.
Only one person had ever said they were ecstatic I was on the team because I was a woman. He pointed out that on all-male teams there was usually too much testosterone at the office, but with the addition of a few women the levels lowered and work proceeded smoothly. I was hired before he was, so it wasnâ€™t a factor in my employment, but it certainly helped our working relationship.
The only story that really sticks out is this one time in QA. I canâ€™t stand the smell of BO. So after a few weeks of OT at my first job in the QA department I started burning a scented candle. The lead designer walks in and asks, â€˜whatâ€™s that smell?â€™ I answered with, â€˜My candle, because it reeks like BO in here!â€™ at the top of my lungs. The guys were offended because they claimed to have bathed. I pointed out that they werenâ€™t washing the jackets being worn day in and day out. Next Monday the entire QA room smelled like Downy.
Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?
Iâ€™m not hardcore anymore. After about 6 years of gaming 4-6 hours a day I realized that it was time to get off my duff and lose some weight and have a better balanced life. So now I only play about 4-6 hours a week.
What settings and genres do you enjoy most?
RPG, RTS, casual games, Adventure games
Canâ€™t stand FPS or platformers
Diablo II â€“ I played it endlessly and Blizzard needs to get off their rear ends make me another dammit!
Sims â€“ I never played it as much but the concept is so freaking awesome, so it is a title to be respected for the sheer following and accomplishments. Spore is probably going to slot in above Sims and make me want to play it for hours too.
If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?
Itâ€™s not so much put in as take out. Take out the boobs folks. I just donâ€™t need to see some jiggling gyrating out of proportioned sex object. Never once played the Tomb Raider series because Lara Croft was all T&A and that bugged me to no end. I was playing Balderâ€™s Gate for the PS2 and the bartenderâ€™s boobs jiggled while she talked, she massaged herself regularly and the night elf threatened me with a pole dance. It was vulgar and if it wasnâ€™t the *only* game to play with my husband at the time I would have returned it.
Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?
I think women are starting to get notice, but weâ€™re not a genre. Women are a demographic and need to be marketed to, but donâ€™t need â€˜specialâ€™ games. I donâ€™t need a different RTS or FPS than the next guy, just please put reasonable clothing on the women characters and have them do something besides giggle and jiggle. Games like Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale had attractive female characters that were strong Paladins and powerful magic-users, without the vulgar sex approach. If you wouldnâ€™t show your mother, sister or grandmother the art image without blushing then I probably donâ€™t want to see it either.
If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?
Unfortunately no, the title hasnâ€™t been announced yet.
Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?
Play games, get a degree and act professionally. High school and college level antics will not get you hired or help you keep a job. The demographics of the game industry are maturing, so unprofessional behavior is unwelcome in most companies. Thatâ€™s not to say donâ€™t have fun, but leave the fart jokes and crude humor at home.
I am an action junkie. Anything where stuff gets blown up and the characters are having fun do it, like XXX or Block 13 has my attention. Every so often I like chick flicks, but more along the lines of Princess Bride. Horror movies are a great fun for me, but I prefer the suspense to the gory hack-n-slash. Fairly picky about comedies and donâ€™t watch too many unless my husband is hyped to see it.
Anything by Terry Pratchett or Anne McCaffrey has always been a good read. Iâ€™m in the middle of a series by Lynn Fleweling. Iâ€™ve read a good portion of the usual like Dragonlance, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, etc. Mostly I find a series and go with it. In my experience most authors have a good idea once or even twice, so I tend to bounce from series of books vs. following authors.
My inspirations tend towards the natural side of life. I like to get out and walk in any natural setting to just stand and look all around. Iâ€™ll stare out windows at work and watch the world go by.
I paint Reaper Miniatures and molds that my husband casts. He creates dungeons and castles and I paint them and set up the dioramas. Itâ€™s a fun activity that we both do together and afterwards we have detailed scene to do table top RPGâ€™s with.
When walking around or visiting I take lots and lots of pictures and then edit them in Photoshop. My father in law is a professional photographer, so heâ€™s been teaching me some techniques. I also edit older family photos, repairing them of damage and making copies for family.