My name is Rebekah Saltsman and I co-own Finji with Adam "Atomic" Saltsman. I don’t just run a company with Adam, I am also his wife. I am up here today, after years of maintaining relative invisibility in the industry, to talk to you about what is on my mind. And there is a lot going on up here.
Standing up here, I could regale you with stories of our successes and failures or our dramas - we’ve done a lot of stuff wrong, a lot of stuff right. We have trusted the wrong people and the right ones. But that is not what is on my mind today. Today I am going to tell you a little about what it is like to run a company like Finji and raise children.
I am a mom. I have two beautiful sons, Kingsley and Finnegan, who have changed who I am. I am also the “default parent.” Everyday, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, our boys come to me first if a knee is skinned, a head is bonked, a night terror terrorizes. I am the parent who takes them to swim and dance and gymnastics and soccer. I monitor the doctor appointments, the preschool progress, the growth charts, the health histories. Adam is always there, maintaining a level of involvement with the boys unheard of a generation ago, but it is my responsibility to make sure the kids are on track day in and day out. Adam gets designated, reliable work days while I take care of the boys.
I am also the CEO of Finji. I contribute to design, handle the finances, legal, console partnerships, and monitor and co-mentor our Partner Publishing projects. Steve Swink once called pre-kid me the Indie Cub Scout mom - and that is never more true now that I am actually a mom.
I want you to take a moment to think of all of the women you know in game development. In general, they have it pretty hard. The playing field is not level. As you are thinking of all of the women in your network, do a quick head count on all of the them that have kids in independent and AAA.
Up until last week I knew 2. Total. Over the course of 4 days and a whole lotta retweets, about 21 moms who talked with me over email and twitter, with kids ranging in ages from 3 months to 23 years old, came out of the woodwork. Only 2 of those 21 women are at GDC this week. 3 including me.
We are a lonely club. Our closest compatriots are culled from hometown freelancers, writers, and artists who also have children and who almost understand what we do everyday. But none of them are actually in gaming. When we work, at off-hours when the kids are asleep, standing in the kitchen checking email, making phone calls and making dinner day in and day out - we snatch at whatever time we can to chip away at our to-do list. We do this mostly alone without the option to hang out online chatting with other game developers.
As a young parent, especially, you will not get out much. The year before our oldest was born, we traveled a lot - 14 weeks were spent out of town. I went to almost all of the local Austin events. That stopped the day our son was born. I didn’t go to any local events until our son was 6 months old and my attendance at those stopped when the local events moved to a later time on a weeknight. I didn’t travel anymore. My new world was my home and the grocery store.
But the kids get older right? Sure, they do - but now those kids are mobile! At 12 months, it’s choking hazards, at 2 it is your attention. Actually, this won’t change until they move out.
Imagine you have a phone that is always answered and is only set at the loudest level. You always have that phone with you. You can attempt to ignore the person on the phone, but they will just keep talking, louder and louder. Welcome to attempting to work with a preschooler in the house.
My weekly schedule has no downtime. I am on kid duty from the time the kids wake up (6:30AM) to the time the kids go to bed (8:30pm) 7 days a week. If all things are going well, I get to work on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. These dedicated work hours, which are never guaranteed from week to week, are the only hours specifically set aside for me to work uninterrupted.
Everyday I sneak in minutes here and there. I answer emails while the kids eat lunch or the bath is filling. I squeeze in everything else from 9-11pm after the kids are in bed. Emails, google hangouts, Finji business-y stuff, new build checks. Everything.
Indie moms never have enough time. We work everyday of the week often late into the night cutting sleep instead of falling more behind.
One mom said this and it has stuck with me: “I should be able to make my career decisions independent of whether I’m going to be able to leave to pick up the kids or whether I’m avoiding crunch time.”
Every decision we make, our career decisions, our relationships, EVERYTHING must be framed in the impact on the family.
So, how are we doing emotionally as women working in independent game development?
We are hanging in there. We are attempting to create a new way to do things for the women to come after us. We are dealing with the same prejudices in the industry against women that are present in tech and AAA but we are doing it alone, from the relative comfort of our home. We were unprepared for the task of juggling children and work and our collective motto seems to be “just make it work.”
But while we are making it work, and good heavens are we making it work, even with what seems like a million things preventing us from working in this industry. Our most important currency, our time, is rationed by the constraints that being a mom and default parent have put on us.
So many of us have dropped the “other hobbies” you know those things like watching awesome movies, playing music, reading, talking to friends, going out… We work too much.
We control every aspect of our life to make this work. Our internet presence, both personal and of our children is protected and private. We must be careful. We are constantly reminded of who we, moms, were before kids- how once we were superstars in development or art or music or business, and how now we are some how less to you.
But let me assure you, we are so much more. We are better and way more badass than we ever were before creating actual human life and raising those humans from birth to adulthood.
We are different. Not alien. We love games - making games, playing games and teaching our children about all the amazing things created every single day in our industry. We are here and even though you may never meet us because we will never get out at night or away to things like GDC, we are a part of this industry, we love it, and we aren’t going anywhere.