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Killer Women: Ellen Beeman

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by on January 28, 2005 at 12:00 am

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 The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated.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.

My first subject is Ellen Beeman. She works for Monolith Productions as a Producer on the upcoming MMO title, The Matrix Online. How did she get started and what does she do as a Producer? Read on to find out.

Name: Ellen Beeman
Title: Producer, Monolith Productions

What is your earliest memory of video games?

My father brought home a brand-new Atari 2600 when I was a kid, and that was it, I was hooked! I played a lot of Apple II and other games in high school, and even did a little game programming on a TRS-80.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I could have a career in video games when I went to college. If I could go back in time, I would have studied programming, and also taken more art classes, even though I’m completely useless as an artist. All of that knowledge would have been tremendously useful to me in my career. When I went to college, I thought I was going to have a career in the State Department, and took classes appropriate to that.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

I worked in television for several years as a freelance writer, and also started writing novels, then went to Sierra as a project manager. After Sierra, I worked at Origin as a project director. After several years at Origin, I went to Electronic Arts. After EA, my husband and I started our own game development studio, Illusion Machines. I worked with Mary-Margaret.com as a recruiter after we closed IMI, and when I realized that I really missed working in an internal development studio, I joined Monolith as a producer.

Would we recognize any of your freelancing? TV episodes we might have seen?

I wrote for “Jem” and three other childrens’ television shows. My two “Jem” episodes were recently released on DVD, actually.

What kind of novels did you write? Anything I can go buy at the store today?

I’ve written three modern fantasy novels, two of which were with Mercedes Lackey, and one science fiction novel, which was based on the Wing Commander game universe, actually… I was a writer and/or project director for several of those games. I publish as Ellen Guon.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? How did you get started in the industry?

Completely by chance. My friend Christy Marx, a very talented television writer (who had also helped me break into television), was working with Sierra, and somehow convinced them to interview me, even though I only had very minimal project management experience. It was probably the strangest interview ever… I casually mentioned that I was also an Irish fiddler, and coincidentally enough, it was their company holiday party, and an employee had brought in her violin. The next thing I know, I’m playing a Scottish jig for the entire company. They must have liked it, because they hired me.

How long have you been working in the industry?
Do I have to admit that? Okay, I will… since 1989.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

My current job is unusual, in that there are multiple producers on this title, and we share responsibilities. As of today, I’m involved in legal issues, recruitment and personnel, and game story and dialogue. My specific role varies on a daily basis, to be honest. In a more typical internal development producer role, I’d be responsible for the overall quality of the game, scheduling, and being the liaison to the publisher.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

Too many to count! The best moments are when you “Gold Master” a game, and later when you see it on the shelf in the stores. There’s nothing like that.

What games did you work on that went Gold?

Too many to list! Twenty-nine games, at the last count.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

I think the misconception is that producers have all the power in a game project. It’s just not true. You lead the team, but they have to want to go in that direction. And you always have to answer to someone.

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?

Not really. I think this industry values people with talent and drive, and that matters more than anything else. Veteran female programmer Nicky Robinson tells a great story about how she burst into tears to get someone to return her company’s dev system to her, but I don’t have any great stories like that!

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I am a hardcore gamer, and as for the hours a week I get to play… not enough! At the moment, I’m primarily playing some of our competitors’ MMP titles.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most?

I love massively multiplayer online games, casual games, first person shooters, real-time and turn-based strategy games, racing and flight combat simulators.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

The Matrix Online, of course! The team is doing some amazing work, and the Matrix movies setting is perfect for a massively-multiplayer online game.

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a female audience, what would that one thing be?

I think it’s more what –not- to put in your game, as opposed to what you put in. I’m a big believer in “gender-inclusive” game design. Just don’t put in anything that alienates the female player, basically.

Do you have any advice for females who would like to get into the industry?

Learn your chosen craft. Build up a great skill set and portfolio. Connect with industry people who can introduce you to potential hiring managers. Be ready for the opportunities when they come your way. “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

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