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 The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated.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, 39% 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.
Valerie Massey works for NCSoft as a Community Coordinator on Auto Assault. What’s a Community Coordinator do and how did she get her start? Read on to find out.
Name: Valerie “Pann” Massey
Title: Community Coordinator, NCSoft
What’s your earliest memory of video games?
The first video game I remember playing was “Space Invaders” on the Atari that my father bought for my brothers and me when I was a kid, maybe around age 10 or so. We had “Pong,” as well, but I liked “Space Invaders” the most.
What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?
From middle school through high school and college, I was very involved in drama, speech and journalism. All of that has been a huge help to me in learning to communicate effectively, particularly written communication, which is a major part of my job on a daily basis.
What type of work did you do before you got into the industry?
Before I married and started a family, I had the typical student-type jobs, working at the campus library, a salesclerk in a department store, a receptionist/copy writer for an advertising company. After the birth of my first child, I was a stay-at-home mom and later the sole caregiver for my grandmother for many years before I got into the industry.
What jobs in the industry have you held?
Since starting my career, I have always been in community, though public relations and project management are also interesting to me and I’ve been trying to learn more about them as opportunities present themselves.
How did you get started in the industry?
It was during those years of taking care of my grandmother that I discovered Ultima Online and started down a road I didn’t even realize I was on until it took a sharp turn and I was suddenly standing on the bow of a ship off the coast of Iceland, whale watching with my then 15 year-old daughter who turned to me and said, “Mom, we sure are a long way from Jewett.”
Jewett, a very small Central Texas town with a population of less than 700 people was where we’d lived until 2000 when we moved to Austin, where I married someone I’d met through Ultima Online. If I’m ever told I have one year to live, I’d go back there because every day seems like an eternity. I guess I wasn’t cut out for farm life and the dial-up connection made for such unbearable lag that my UO friends dubbed me “The Lag Queen.” Still, that was my link to the outside world on those long, lonely days and I was grateful for it. When you’re taking care of someone who’s housebound, you’re pretty well housebound, too.
It was also through UO that I met Mike Wallis, currently the producer for Middle Earth Online. Back in 1998 when we first became acquainted, Mike was working for GTInteractive. He then went to Simon and Schuster Interactive and in 2002 began negotiations for S&SI to publish Eve Online, which was in development by CCP in Reyjkavik, Iceland. Mike liked the things I’d written for an online fansite and knew I had experience moderating message boards as well as the experience I had from my time in UO as a counselor and a seer. Mike told me that if he landed the contract, he wanted me to be his community manager, a real dream job for lots of gamers, particularly since I could work from home in Austin.
How long have you been working in the industry?
I have been working for a paycheck since 2002, though I had written for a fansite for several years and also spent two years in the UO volunteer program. People who volunteer for games or write for sites without being paid work just as hard as any of us who are actually employed by a game company. The passion is the same, the hours are similarâ€¦ I have a lot of admiration for them.
What does your job entail on an average day?
An average day includes lots and lots of e-mail and meetings. When I wake up in the morning, even before I get my first cup of coffee, I check my Inbox to see if there’s anything that needs immediate attention. That’s not so critical at this point, while Auto Assault is still in development, but for live games, you never know what could have happened while you were sleeping. Next, I’ll look at message boards and then head into the office for the daily round of meetings and such… and more e-mailing.
The e-mail load is an occupational necessity. As the information hub between the developers, the community and the online fan and news sites, there’s always a lot of fact-finding and information sharing that needs to happen. It’s not always the same questions being asked over and over again, which keeps it from getting monotonous.
Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.
There have been a lot of exciting moments, but probably one of the best so far was the day we launched Eve Online. I had arrived at the CCP office in Reykjavik about 30 minutes before the game servers were supposed to go up and I was so tired and jet lagged that it was just caffeine and adrenaline that were sustaining me. We all piled into the conference room and watched on the projection screen as one of the devs entered the game. It was so exciting to see all of our hard work come to fruition with these first players. One of players said, “I hope they bring the servers down at some point so I can eat and take a shower.” It was a huge compliment and we were giddy as a bunch of little school girls.
I don’t like not being able to give someone what they want â€“ whether it’s a beta account, an interview, or assistance with a problem they’ve had with the game. There is always a reason why I have to say no, but I don’t like it.
What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?
From interactions I’ve had with various people, I find that the common misconceptions are that all I do is moderate message boards or that I have all this free time to play games. Neither is true.
Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men?
I sincerely feel that my being a woman has nothing to do with it, though I will certainly acknowledge that women are still in the minority in the industry overall. There was never a time at Simon and Schuster Interactive or at NCsoft that I felt being a woman had any bearing on how I was treated or my ideas were received. Maybe it’s different at other companies and I’ve been really lucky not to have worked for them.
Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer?
Oh, yeah, definitely hardcore, though I don’t have as much time to play as I used to â€“ which is kind of ironic, I think. Since my husband and I are both avid gamers, we tend to spend our weekends gaming together so that’s when I get most of my playtime in. I try to play for at least a couple of hours in the evenings during the week, then put in another 20 or more hours on the weekends.
What settings and genres do you enjoy most?
I’m a fantasy nut, so the games I’ll go for are usually “sword and sorcery” types, like Neverwinternights and World of Warcraft. I loved City of Heroes, too, which kind of surprised me since I’ve never really been into comic books. MMOs will usually win out over stand-alone games since I’ve gotten used to interacting with other people and really enjoy that more than wandering through a game world alone.
If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?
Phantasmagoria is still my favorite all these years (and games) later. That was long before MMOs were popular, so it was a stand-alone horror game back in the day when Sierra was in its prime. I had never seen anything like it, all live action, and the story was compelling and creepy (in a good way!)
If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience that includes women, what would that one thing be?
Stop trying to figure out what women want and just focus on making a fun game. If it’s fun, women will play it, the same as men. The women gamers I know don’t care about fancy hair-dos or pink nail polish on their avatars. They want to blow things up, improve their characters and have a good time. That’s not gender specific. That’s a basic principle of good game design.
The game I’m working on now, Auto Assault, is a vehicular combat game set in a post-apocalyptic world. Through the clever use of the Havokâ„¢ physics engine, players can smash into things, jump over stuff and pretty much blow up anything they see on the screen, so there’s lots of action. It’s unlike anything else in the growing list of MMOs and we’re very excited about it.
Do you have any advice for people who would like to get into the industry?
Stay the course, don’t get discouraged and never stop learning. It’s not as easy to get your foot in the door as it used to be and you’ll need to be the best in your field to accomplish that. If you want to be a world builder, use mods to make map after map and hone those skills. If you want to be an artist, stay on top of the latest and greatest programs and learn them inside and out. If you want to write fiction, read everything you can get your hands on and then draw from that knowledge to create awesome stories. Get involved with game communities, make contacts whenever possible and don’t give up.
What are your favorite games?
My favorite games, besides the aforementioned Phantasmagoria would have to include Ultima Online, which I played for about six years, because of its versatility. I also loved many of the other Sierra series like Gabriel Knight, Quest for Glory, Laura Bow, and King’s Quest. Rollercoaster Tycoon was a favorite because I loved building the parks even if I never managed to build a decent roller coaster.
I could do page after page of favorite movies because I am a huge fan of so many different ones. If I had to narrow it down, I’d have to say my absolute favorites are The Wizard of Oz, Braveheart, The Godfather (I & II), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Pulp Fiction, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Boondock Saints, The Usual Suspects, Steel Magnolias, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Death to Smoochy and â€“ of course â€“ Hook.
My favorite authors include John Steinbeck (East of Eden), John Irving (The World According to Garp), Stephen King (It), and George RR Martin (The Song of Fire and Ice series. Where’s #4, George?!!).
I am inspired by people who stay true to themselves and their ideas, keep their word and actively seek to encourage others without ego or unsolicited judgment. I admire Richard Garriott for his creative vision and unparalleled generosity, Steve Snow for his drive and determination, Carly Staehlin for paving the way and Richard Weil for his infinite patience. My mom ranks high on the list, too, for the way she managed to raise three decent human beings while gaining success in a predominately male industry.
What do you like doing in your free time?
In my free time, besides gaming or watching movies with my husband, I love to spend time with my daughter. I’m very fortunate that we managed to get through her teen years (so far) without any of the dreaded angst and drama that most mother/daughter relationships endure. She’s nearly eighteen, so we still have a ways to go, but so far it’s been much better than I’d expected and I’m proud to say that she’s one of my favorite people in the whole world.