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Buh-bye

When I was a small child I really wanted to be business woman, no, really. When asked by my grandfather what I’d be doing when I grew up I proclaimed I’d be a “career woman”. I wasn’t wrong.

As I got older I was bombarded with glamour, things I should aspire to be: air hostess (I know we don’t call them that anymore), nurse (nothing wrong with that), vet, teacher all of these roles are respectable job titles.

In 1981 my next-door neighbours who were 10 years older than me and my little scraped knees were playing on something called an Atari. These lads would often take me down to the chip shop on the estate where there was this amazing arcade machine, but it wasn’t until 1983 when I thought *this is totally what I want to do*.

My parents bought a ZX Spectrum for me that Christmas and I started coding gently, you know I can still manage “Hello World”. This was the time that coding for women stopped being cool. At school I was encouraged into softer skills and peer pressure when you’re a teenage girl at a comprehensive is all about looks, not brains, silly rabbits!

Fast forward to like 30 years later and I’ve just left the intense world of game development. I wanted to combine everything I’d learned in games to encourage more gender-neutral topics, experiences and platforms, we’ll talk about that in a moment…

On and off I’ve worked in games in various guises for 20 years and it was only lately that I discovered that studio-based drama wasn’t for me anymore. I found my time in games development to be intense, it was! I have loved every failed title, every shipped success, every bomb and every waste of champagne, every gadget and every single embarrassing morning after moment. Why? Because I’m ready.

Was I scared out of it? Not scared, particularly, but it had started to be a bit like when I was being encouraged to do soft skills at school.

Additionally, I started to realise that the hungrier people became for a success, the more desperate they were and any girl knows that desperate people are not nice people. Little backstabs here, snide remarks there, casual sexism everywhere, but it’s not about the -ism as such, it was about the desperation. That need for men, and women (who are just as bad) to flog their grandmothers or clamber over dead or dying bodies to get the crappest promotions; which require more hours, more responsibility and cost-benefit-analysis seems to point to less or the same pay. The people I’d seen come up through the games industry had become bitter, wizened and dried up. It was awful.

It was obvious to me, in the last 5 years anyway, was that the only games that studios are interested in making are ones that the big AAA or mobile publishers want — a no-brainer of course but when every single game is a shooter, combat RPG or male-protagonist driven [insert your genre here]; I’d kind of seen enough. I’d been asked to write female characters which had a “toughened combat side”. Really? Or characters who are “are really brainy because they have massive boobs but wear glasses”. It had become a bandwagon of the same cycle of shit doing the rounds. And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I wanted to change how we made games, how we appealed to audiences and how we measured success, yet I was silenced, in every board meeting and at every turn.

The games industry should be a primordial soup of experiences yet it has become a depressing gruel: save for a couple of awesome developers and studios who are really trying hard to break through the generic mush.

This basic designy nonsense had become low-hanging fruit so I started to share this knowledge with my students when I used to teach games development. They saw this glamorous world of making games all day and simply enjoying the fruits of their labours which happened over the course of a week or something. After writing a hugely successful games development course, and showing them the REALITY of the games industry; only around 40% of students only ever made it into the games industry and a mere few more % made it to the end of my course.

Games dev is like all of those careers I listed earlier. It is hard work. It is thankless these days, unless you have time to E3, GamesCom or whatever (I have always avoided this mindless backslapping like the plague). I mean, come on, do some work.

So after trying, in my last few roles, to insert more real and friendlier titles into what I wanted to create: (let’s face it AdCap is gender-neutral and that game is simple, amazing and successful because it is simple) I decided to dive in and get cracking. Here’s what I did:

  1. Resettle. You must, must, must find a business coach to counsel your career-worn self back to life. Only then can you go for it. I used FutureSelf here in Malta, I’m more than happy to share their details.
  2. Leave the door open. Just because you’re taking a side step into another career, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still need project managers, producers, artists, sound designers, etc.
  3. Use it or lose it. Transferable skills, knowledge transfer are some of the things that start-ups forget when they are trying to make a fresh start or be a success. Like with #2’s tip, if you know something golden about your previous profession and you can apply it to what you’re doing now; you will win at life. Believe.
  4. Research. Be the change you want to see is like 90% of this because, especially in my case, I am my own demographic. It doesn’t mean I can’t learn more, and I have, in fact I’ve been able to build a lovely focus group from opening my understanding outside of the male-male-male-kids-kids-kids of games demographics.
  5. Enjoy yourself. I am so lucky to live in a country which has 300 days of sunshine a year. I spring out of bed, spend time catching up on my to-do or research demographics for the apps I’m working on. Then, I might take a walk on the beach or spend some time with my pets. One thing I am not is chasing success with my nose pressed to the grindstone. My bum is firmly on my seat but I’m never gonna kill myself to get success in the name of something, someone or somewhere again. Instead, I’m going to live and enjoy everything that being a successful SME has to offer.

So here I am, a mere few weeks in developing apps, publishing games and developing experiences that everyone should enjoy. I’ve got a good few new clients and I’m developing my own stuff and dipping a toe into the world of using third parties and building trust. Oh, and I still code and I still absolutely love it!

And Las Vegas is still in my sights though it’s over my shoulder now and the lights are fading because that’s all they are:

Just lights looking sparkly, against a simple town in a dry desert.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on August 24, 2016.

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Proud #slashie. I'm a published author of six books from island crimes to fat cats. Find me on Amazon.

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