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'This industry's in need of a shake-up'
'This industry's in need of a shake-up'
May 6, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

May 6, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Console/PC, Design, Production

"This industryís in need of a shake-up, but one that should be designed to benefit all developers, males and females alike."
- Rhianna Pratchett, lead writer on Tomb Raider and originator of #1ReasonToBe.

This year's GDC brought a number of standout sessions, including the well-attended #1ReasonToBe panel, now available in the GDC Vault. But one influential voice not present at the panel was the hashtag's originator, Tomb Raider and Mirror's Edge writer Rhianna Pratchett.

Now in a new interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Pratchett - who was unavailable to attend the panel at GDC because of a schedule conflict - shares her own coda to the talk, which discussed not only industry sexism but the empowerment working in games can offer.

The problems highlighted by #1reasonwhy were shocking, saddening and predictable in equal measure. It doesnít matter how Ďspecialí your industry is, thereís no excuse for some of the sheer asshattery which that hashtag revealed. However, maintaining a sense of perspective is vital. Yes, itís important to talk about the fight, but itís just as important to remember what weíre fighting for.

The main reason why I started #1reasontobe is because I believe that raising awareness of what a great industry this can be, and what opportunities there are for men and women alike, is fundamental in tackling these problems.

Pratchett doesn't deny that sexism is an issue within games development. "Sexism exists in the industry, because sexism exists in the world," she says. "When you have any industry thatís skewed in one gender direction or another, then sexism is an unfortunate by-product. Men donít always get an easy ride in the field of nursing, for example."

Overall, however, Pratchett doesn't look upon workplace sexism as some final battlefield but one of many the industry needs to address collectively.

My gut feeling is that, by and large, it isnít necessarily male attitudes which [are] keeping women out of games development or cause them to burnout. Instead, itís a combination of a poor work-life balancing conditions, a lack of awareness of the opportunities out there and dwindling creative diversity. And these are problems that have a huge impact on the industry as a whole.

[...] We need to place stronger emphasis on improving working conditions, burnout rate and industry awareness. Ultimately, thatís what will improve the quality of the games and the lives of those who create them.

The interview also delves into Pratchett's goals with Lara Croft's reboot in the new Tomb Raider and the shift in critical perception of the title after she was announced as story lead. You can read the entire interview here.

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Jonathan Murphy
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The shake up is coming. If the PS4 and Xbox Infinity are $500 a piece you will see epic financial loss. They are banking too much on the American, Japanese markets(both in economic decline). They should lower the prices drastically and aim for the world stage like Valve.

Kujel Selsuru
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Valve is PC only and PC games tend to require high end specs if they're not indie games. Yes valve offers some but the majority of their offerings are AAA PC games.

Thomas Happ
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We definitely need more women in our industry. Also I'm interested to see statistics as to the proportion of women in indie development compared with AAA development.

Kujel Selsuru
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That would be interesting to see but I imagine if there is a difference it's not much. It's not just assholes who keep women out of our industry but also culture and to some degree biology (females just aren't as interested in the technical fields).

scott anderson
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@Kujel: I'd like to see the research you've read about the biological reasons for females not being interested in technical fields :).

Kujel Selsuru
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@Scott My statement is based on years of observation, females just show lest interest in tech, math, science, etc. They are just as capable as us males but they don't tend to take as much interest in these subjects.

Rebecca Richards
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"My statement is based on years of observation,"

i.e. you just made it up.

Kujel Selsuru
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@Rebecca I've tried talking to many women about tech and nearly always they have no interest, I was also talking to my wife about this observation and she concered, so no I didn't make it up. Females do (probably do to biology) have less interest in tech! I'll wager it has something to do with the difference in the amount of grey matter in the male brain compared to the female brain. With all that said that does not mean females are less compitent in tech feilds nor does it mean I think that either, just that they generally have less interest!

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Jonathan Jennings
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As a kid who was hired straight out of school I actually would agree if people in my position had an affect on the creative direction of most or even some of the games I have workedo n . the fact of the matter at least in my experience is that starting at the bottom means just that . though we perform endless crunches they are usually for older more experienced people who maintain creative decisions and control if it's a lack of creativity or interesting experiences it's not the fault of the kid so to speak.

Ariel Gross
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"Sexism exists in the industry, because sexism exists in the world," she says.


Ian Richard
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"We need to place stronger emphasis on improving working conditions, burnout rate and industry awareness. Ultimately, thatís what will improve the quality of the games and the lives of those who create them."

Heck, yeah! Let's shake this industry up!

Erin OConnor
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The game company that is going to shake up the industry is Valve.
Google and read their employee handbook.

Michael O'Hair
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Are they a new company that's going to blow the world's socks off?


Oh. Looks like they've been around for a while.
They sound a lot like [insert company name here].
And they haven't blown anyone's socks off since 2004.

Joe McGinn
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Hear, hear! Great interview, agreed with almost every word.

Michael O'Hair
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The shake-up is most likely not going to be a huge earthquake that changes the landscape overnight.
It's going to be a series of small tremors that alter things in little ways, over time raising hills and creating valleys where there were once flat plains.
Interactive electronic entertainment (computer and video games) have been in a state of constant and inevitable change since inception. Obviously.
Question: when you were young, what kinds of games did you want to make?
Super Mario Bros.?
The Sims?
Call of Duty? (Maybe that's TOO young...)
The young people, both male and female, inducted into the industry of games have those things in mind. They want to replicate the experiences they enjoyed when they were introduced to games, and share the emotions they felt back then.
At the same time, the are indoctrinated to the concept of market forces dictating the products they create; if Space Rifleman Deathmatch is popular at the time, there's a good chance that many will be involved in a Space Rifleman Deathmatch clone sooner or later. If variants of Space Rifleman Deathmatch are at the end of their novelty, the opportunity to create oddball products that haven't been done before appears. And then is subdued when a new platform or technology plateau is reached.
With new home console platforms becoming available to consumers in the coming months, and a reset of the technology/complexity curve that comes with it, many titles will be expected to be simple experiences to showcase the technological (read: graphical fidelity) of the new platforms.
New Space Rifleman Deathmatch clones.

Looking into the cases for the "shake-up":
"1.) a combination of a poor work-life balancing conditions,
2.) a lack of awareness of the opportunities out there and
3.) dwindling creative diversity.
4.) We need to place stronger emphasis on improving working conditions,
5.) burnout rate and
6.) industry awareness."

1.) Improving poor work-life balance conditions depends on either employees either demand better working conditions from their employers, or refusing to work for employers who promote poor working conditions. Possibly outdated metaphor: if you don't like working at Foxconn, stop working at Foxconn.

2.) The variety of opportunities are right outside the window, constantly in the enthusiast media, and an e-mail or two away. Awareness isn't the issue, it's lack of pursuit of those options.

3.) Creative diversity will not exist in an environment where Product X sells incredibly well and everyone else has to have a variant of Product X to keep the cubicle farm lights on and everybody fed. New, untested ideas are not welcome in environments banking on sure-things and home runs.

4.) To draw a path to improvement, the facets that require improvement need to be identified. Can project planning and pacing be improved? Can schedules be improved? Do managers and leads need to be less or more involved in steering? Do publishers need to be educated on more reasonable milestone timelines? Is the latest project-development-framework-of-the-week not working, or is it being executed incorrectly, and in what ways can it be improved?
Is there a diversity issue? Does the team need more men, women, people with red hair, people with blue hair, short people, or tall people? Is the lack of people born and raised in Kansas causing the project to run late and require a big crunch at the end?

5.) Study burnout and career change rates. How many game development staff have abandoned the trade to pursue other careers, and in what fields? How many of those were straight out of school, and how many were aged veterans? Was there an exit interview, and what reasons were given for pursuing other opportunities? Was the desire to start a family or spend more time with their kids and significant other stated? Was it "a**hole attitudes" (it's in the source article), and did the gender of the a**hole matter?

6.) With industry awareness, there is also audience awareness. The assertion is that: "The industry is used to targeting the male demographic, at least when it comes to triple-A, non-casual titles." That would explain why so few females play triple-A games and males do not play casual titles... wait, that isn't right. Doesn't that kind of reinforce stereotypes like
"Only girls play The Sims" and
"Only boys play Quake"
which are not true in the least.

Audience quadrants were mentioned: male, female, age25; and the need for products to appeal to all four quadrants simultaneously. However, accuracy when targeting specific demographics isn't exactly hitscan. Players aged 30+ who have played games since 1985 and previous may enjoy games aimed at players younger than them. How can a game be rated "M for Mature/Manly" (ages 17 and up) when the vast majority of players are under the age of 16 (or sound and act as if they are not yet old enough to drive or shave)? Female players may enjoy games that male players enjoy. On the opposite side of that coin, male players might not enjoy a game specifically targeting females under the age of 12 in a pink box with ponies and sparkles all over it...
... unless the My Little Pony franchise is involved in which case no logic can be used to explain that ...
... other than these males somehow appreciate something that is innocent, colorful, and funny...
... for some reason.
Someone please explain this Brony concept. Either media demographics are horribly organized and clumsily verified, or we are approaching the End of Days.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Brandon S
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Hm think the Brony concept is rather simple , it not too different than the K-ON Phenomenal in Japan . Got a generations of guys who've grown up with Japanese related fantasy materials , and due to Japan lack of a christian background and other reasons like manga- cartoon fantasy/lack of nihilistic realism in Japanese entertainment .They have made colorful (personality cute and sexy female characters ) and will tell a complete story with drama or action regardless of how silly the concept looks to an outsider. So here comes along an America artist Lauren Faust who takes female archetypes and make them into likeable funny characters with a full range of personality without making them generically political correct and integrates pop-cultural references that only adults would get . So the audience who now culturally use to seeing woman as main characters has no problem watching My little pony . But this is probably different from the douche who plays call of duty and is offended by the existence of a female solider on the battlefield due to it lack of realism .

Brandon S
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And I would argue yeah.. the research into demographics is probably awfully done and more used to reinforce either the beliefs of Conservative publisher or very Political activist groups view points and chants, and is not in anyway scientifically based. Not just even gender based, you would have to factor in country /culture differences in play styles and buying habits.