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Women of Noble Steed Games: IWD 2022 Part 1

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we recently spoke to a few Australian women working in game dev to celebrate the work that they do and find out their thoughts about gender inequality within the industry. To start off with, here’s the chat with the women within our own team!

Noble Steed Games is a small, close knit team, and it wouldn’t be the same without Sophie James, our Game Artist, and Maddie Todhunter, one of our Unity Developers. Here’s part one of our chat together about the state of the Aussie game dev industry for women!

Ann: What are some of your favourite games and why? Do you have any projects made by women to note?

Sophie: None of my favourite games are made by women so I had to seek some out. This question gave me incentive to seek some games out made by, or had a big part done by women. I do look up to a lot of women in the industry though. A female character that I really like is Alyx Vance (Half Life 2) because seeing her made me want to make my career in game design. That game was just awesome and inspiring and she’s a great character.

In terms of real life women, Lauren Cason. She was the senior artist of Monument Valley which has such a cool style, like MC Escher. It was the mobile game that really made me believe in mobile games as a medium. 

Screenshot of Monument Valley by UsTwo Games
Monument Valley by UsTwo Games

Maddy Thorson is another one, she was the lead developer and writer on Celeste, but she’s done a lot of other stuff as well. I also liked how her and her team were a small team and how she was really driven to create it. They all just organically connected with these other indie artists and stuff. Like the person writing the music for the game, whose name I forget, they contacted her on soundcloud and went: “We really like your music, do you want to work with us?” and that person made the music for Celeste. This nice small project turned into a really good game.

Ann: Now that you mention it, I can’t think of any in-game female characters that I like and look up to much.

Sophie: Yeah, me too. I look up to Alyx because Half Life 2 is the game that made me want to get into my career in games. In terms of character complexity though… I don’t really have any either.

Ann: Off the top of my head, maybe because it’s on Slack and such, but maybe the protagonist of Horizon Zero Dawn comes to mind?

Maddie: Yeah, Aloy; she’s pretty cool!.

Ann: But I haven’t played the game! I don’t know her story!

Maddie: Something similar came up in a conversation with someone recently, and one of the things I’ve noted is that I never played TF2 growing up but have played a lot of Overwatch. During our studio hangouts playing TF2, that was my first experience with the game. Overwatch is very obviously inspired by a lot of things in TF2, but all the characters are just dudes, all men. Meanwhile, Overwatch has such a broad cast of characters from different backgrounds, in all shapes and sizes, genders and amount of robotics.

Screenshot of Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch, and their roster of playable characters.
Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch, and their roster of playable characters.

Sophie: And then when they tried to add female characters to TF2, it was like. “Yeah! Scout’s mom.” She’s not even in the game, just in the lore.

Maddie: Women, they exist?!

Sophie: They exist! To have babies :/ that then get sent off to fight all the other guys…

Ann: Funnily enough, the demographics for TF2 gamers is pretty even I think, quite a number of women actually play TF2.

Maddie: Isn’t there a comparison between the perceived number of male and non male players with actual player demographics, and how it’s mostly 50-50?

Ann: Well if it’s a fun game, people will play it. Though, it’d be nice if the characters in the game reflected the actual people playing it.

Sophie: Yeah.

Ann: What about you Maddie?

Maddie: I think part of this is my own personality, not spending enough time looking into who made the game. Maybe I know the studio as a whole, but not individuals. So I don’t have a huge number of role models. That being said, any of the big names I do know… are generally men. I think that’s another issue of representation, as all the big names in the industry are usually men… I had a quick google of all the female devs who are big names, trying to refresh my brain but I didn’t know any of them very well. There were a couple recognisable voice actors and artists, Esports players like Geguri playing Overwatch at the highest level… but yeah I just don’t know any big female names and don’t want to take full responsibility for that, I think it’s an industry issue.

Ann: I don’t think it’s your fault, when I was writing/preparing for this, I was looking up actual stats. In Australia, 70% of the game dev industry are men, just about 20% women and 3-5% gender diverse folks. That’s not great!

Sophie: Last time I did it for Uni, I did notice that the stats aligned with COVID, even though it was still tiny, the percentage of women and gender diverse folk had gone up. Like way more, relatively speaking than the last few years.

Ann: I think it was mentioned that the pandemic made it easier for people, but at the same time a lot of people were let go because of it. Perhaps there was bias there with women in industry in that, but nothing too conclusive. But the proportion of women has definitely improved over the years… could be better but it’s at least better than say, earlier years with 90% men. At least it’s improving. I suppose this segways into the next question: How do you think the Australian indie/game dev industry can help better support women in game dev?

Maddie: I think the obvious answer but the biggest answer is, representation and how there’s a vicious cycle. Because you don’t see people like you there, so you don’t go there. Or think you won’t do well because you don’t belong. Seeing more women in successful positions or having more good role models, the more likely women are going to follow in their footsteps. So yeah, just representation amongst industry names.

Sophie: Yeah totally. Another aspect of that is, more roles… I know a lot of female game devs and artists who are in the industry, but they’re the same level as me, where we’re quite junior and not recognised. People in higher and recognised positions, like those that speak at GDC or E3, those people are the most visible to not just to those within the industry but the public as well. Having a more diverse cast within the public eye so that more people who aren’t in the industry can go “Yeah, the lead director for that game is a woman. ” or “The owner of that studio is a woman.”

Screenshot of stats on female presenters at E3 in 2019. Source.
Stats on female presenters at E3 in 2019. Source.

Maddie: Like in that vague way that I do know guys who do stuff.

Sophie: Yeah! Get it to the point where you’re memeing them, you know? Who’s that guy who’s the head of Bethesda? That Nintendo guy?

Ann: Who’s that dude who made Death Stranding again?

Sophie: Hideo Kojima?

Ann: Yeah Kojima!

Sophie: Yeah! Everyone knows him for being art house and weird. He’s like the David Lynch of gaming. Nobody understands him but everyone’s like: “It’s art!”

Ann: And I think the game’s pretty popular, I know these men even though I don’t play the game!

Maddie: We just don’t have the same experience for women.

Check out Part 2 for the rest of the conversation!