Women face challenges in the video games industry as they do in many tech and hard science fields, where an occupation once looked upon as socially debilitating has, especially with the increasing mainstreamization of games throughout the 21st century, generated its own gatekeepers and rules of cool. According to Wanda Meloni, founder of M2 Research, women currently comprise less than 15% of the games industry.
To say that any one female designer is part of a small group, though, runs the risk of skimming over the many influential creative professionals who have made video games a central part of the world’s fun. For every woman on this list, there are many others working in the games industry in art, design, programming, marketing, management, and more. Even so, it’s not unusual to find a development team comprised of only, or mostly, male workers.
While this list aims to show the breadth of occupations held by women in the gaming industry, and the depth of their contribution past and present, it is by no means exhaustive, and presented in no particular order:
Starting with the longest continual career of any woman in game development, Romero began work in the industry in 1981 as a game expert, working on the Wizardry hotline to answer gamer questions. “I had to know everything there was to know about the games,” she told us. She climbed the ranks to become lead designer on the influential and award-winning RPG Wizardry, and went on to work for Atari on the Dungeons and Dragons series. She currently serves as the Program Director for the Masters of Science in Games & Playable Media program at UC Santa Cruz and has developed a series of non-digital games, as well as being active in the study of sex in video games and in historical game archiving.
Currently Executive Producer of the Halo franchise at Microsoft Studios, Kiki Wolfkill previously served as an art director for Microsoft projects including Project Gotham Racing, Mass Effect, Gears of War, and Forza Motorsport. It has been her task to spearhead the 343i team not only on Halo 4 and beyond but also to keep track of the spin-off comics, novels, and other material that make up the franchise. Wolfkill’s next work will presumably be the sequel to Halo 4.
Hennig made the news recently when it was announced that she would serve as writer and creative director for Visceral Studios’ upcoming Star Wars title. Previously, she was creative director and head writer for the Uncharted franchise, beginning with Drake’s Fortune, and contributed to the Jak and Daxter series. She has won two Video Game Writing Awards from the Writers Guild of America, while Uncharted 3, which she wrote and directed with other developers, won a slew of Game of the Year awards in 2011, following in the footsteps of its lauded predecessors.
Kyogoku was co-director of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, teaming up with Isao Moro to produce the highest Metacritic-ranked game in the Animal Crossing series. She also served as a writer on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure. During her work on Animal Crossing: New Leaf, she emphasized the game’s fun, sense of exploration, and calmness as both a contributor toward and a result of the peaceful gender diversity on the development team. Like Brenda Romero, Kyogaku also worked on a Wizardry title, Tale of the Forsaken Land.
Yu, currently employed by Naughty Dog to work on PlayStation 4 projects, created her first video game at age 12, before she knew that anyone else in the world created digital playgrounds for a living. She went to college for nuclear physics and helped create digital tools to model space shuttle behavior. But the game industry kept calling, and Yu moved into game development, where she worked as Director of Technology and Gearbox software, and modified the Unreal Engine 3 which made Borderlands possible. Microsoft Studios then hired her to work in 343 Industries on Halo 4’s lighting design and facial animations. She joined Naughty Dog in November 2013 as a graphic programmer.
Jaquays began her career as a writer and level designer for both tabletop games and video games. She authored several official Dungeons and Dragons scenarios after starting out as the editor of a fanzine, then moved to the video gaming world in the 1980s, where she designed conversions of many popular games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision home arcade console. She has also worked for Electronic Arts and other large game companies throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including doing art design for Halo Wars and Age of Empires III. More recently, she was the lead level designer for the World of Darkness MMO and is a founding member of Olde Skuul, a game development studio formed by four female veterans of the video game and tabletop game industries.
If you’ve ever wiled away an afternoon playing The Sims, you have Bradshaw to thank. After working on the production of Monkey Island II: LeChuck’s Revenge for LucasArts, she moved to EA’s newly acquired studio Maxis in 1997 and worked on many Sims games since, including as Executive Producer of The Sims 2. Bradshaw also worked on the production of Spore with Maxis founder Will Wright, and was promoted to senior vice president of Maxis in October of 2013.
Santiago is the co-founder and former president of thatgamecompany, creators of elegant, artistic games such as Journey and Flower. In 2004 and 2005, she designed game mechanics to teach US Army Officers cultural sensitivity and negotiation, in collaboration with the University of Southern California. She served as director of motion capture on a variety of projects, including The Lord of The Rings: Battle for Middle Earth. She and her partner Jenova Chen founded thatgamecompany in 2006 and released the award-winning Journey to the PlayStation Network in 2012. Santiago left thatgamecompany in 2013, and is now in charge of developer relations for OUYA.
Sampat is a senior game designer at mobile game company Storm8 and creator of indie games in both digital and tabletop formats. Her Flash game How To Be Happy is a dating sim which attempts to replicate the feeling of dating – mostly the frustration, and the “twitchy anticipation of trying to read social cues.” Nineteen is an interactive autobiographical story about attempted suicide. Previously, she also worked for Loot Drop, the company behind the Facebook game Ghost Recon Commander.
Kim Swift was one of the minds behind Narbacular Drop, the game which so thoroughly caught Valve’s attention that they hired Swift and her classmates directly out of DigiPen Institute of Technology and put them to work refining Narbacular Drop into the award-winning and enduring Portal. Swift also worked on Left 4 Dead, and was a lead developer on Left 4 Dead 2. In April of 2014, she was hired by Amazon to work as senior designer on as-yet-unrevealed projects for Amazon Game Studios.
Debant currently works as a game designer at Ubisoft Montreal, and is the leader of the game mechanics team for Child of Light. She was one of a small team, which also included Mélissa Cazzaro, who worked in the UbiArt Framework Engine to create the game. Previously, she has worked on the game Alone in the Dark from Eden Games, and as a lead game designer and level designer for Phoenix Interactive. She has been active in the industry since 2004.
Continuing in the Ubisoft realm, Raymond is managing director of Ubisoft Toronto, where she produced Assassin’s Creed, and served as executive producer on Assassin’s Creed 2 and the upcoming Watch Dogs. Raymond got her start as a programmer for Sony Online, where she worked on Jeopardy! andTrivial Pursuit.Starting in September 2010, she saw the beginning of Ubisoft Toronto and oversaw the creation of its teams of developers, at the same time working as executive producer on Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
Kipnis is a senior gameplay programmer and AI programmer for Double Fine Productions. She immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine, and is best known for her work on Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. Double Fine was her first employer in the game industry, where she studied under Dave Dixon, the lead programmer for Psychonauts. She is currently working for Double Fine on the point-and-click game Broken Age, which began life as a kickstarter project.
Wu is the head of development for Giant Spacekat, an independent, all-female team of game developers who plan to release their first game, Revolution 60, for iOS in 2014, followed by ports to PC and Mac. Giant Spacekat was founded in 2010 by Wu and Amanda Warner. Wu previously worked as a freelance illustrator for science fiction magazines.
Miner operates on the technical and operational side of the gaming world as technical project manager with Riot Games, creators of League of Legends. Among other tasks, she oversaw the operational side of the launch of the game to countries around the world. Miner previously worked in IT and operations as a program manager for Microsoft. Independently, she worked on a two-person team called Cherry Picked Games to create a pen-and-paper RPG.
Reddy made a big impact on a big planet as studio director at British video game developer Media Molecule, creators of the LittleBigPlanet series. Media Molecule was acquired by Sony in 2010. While Reddy appeared on the BBC list of 100 most powerful women in Britain, she is actually native to Australia, and was also named Australian Woman of the Year in the UK by Qantas airlines and Australian Business, and was born in South Africa. She found her way into the gaming industry through Perfect Entertainment, the studio which created the Discworld games, and received Microsoft’s sixth annual Women in Gaming award in 2014. She is currently working on a PlayStation 4 title for Media Molecule.
Hunicke, the founder of Funomena, also received a Women in Gaming award from Microsoft in 2014. At Funomena, she aims to create multiple projects, including an educational game incorporating real-world movement. Prior to founding Funomena, she started her career working at Maxis on MySims and Boom Blox, and served as executive producer for Journey. She also organizes and teaches at the Game Design Workshop at the Game Development’s Conference in San Francisco.
The program director at the Game Developers Association of Australia, Rosman is best known for her event coordination. She has been a member of the International Games Developers Association since 2009 and is the principal organizer for Melbourne’s Global Game Jam, which attracted 169 developers to the city for a 48-hour creation jam in 2014. Rosman was also nominated for Microsoft’s Women in Gaming award in 2014.
Co-founder and managing partner of Wixel Studios, one of the first game companies in Lebanon, Abbas helped the seven-person team create the mobile game Survival Race: Life or Power Plants, a post-apocalyptic tale of a 60-year old botanist and a race car champion teaming up to fight mutant plants. Abbas is the head of the art department at Wixel.
Rhianna began her career as a writer in the newspaper business before turning to video games in 2002 and getting nominated for a BAFTA for Best Video Game Writing in 2007, for the game Heavenly Sword. Pratchett was a main writer and co-story creator for Mirror’s Edge and the lead writer for the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider. She also wrote the script for Overlord for Triumph Studios and penned comic book tie-ins for Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge, as well as writing background dialogue for BioShock Infinite and Prince of Persia.
Finley has helped create many notable games over the course of her career, including BioShock 2, on which she was executive producer, BioShock, on which she worked as a project lead, and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, for which she was the development director. She was vice president of product development at 2K Marin for two years, and executive produced The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. She is currently an executive producer at Telltale Games.
Fryer was one of the earliest members of the Microsoft Game Studios, and was also the director of the Xbox Advanced Technology Group and a founding member of the Xbox project. She began working for Microsoft in the 1990s and gained experience in the production and business of video game design. Fryer was responsible for shipping Gears of War and Gears of War 2, as an executive producer at Microsoft Game Studios.
Along with the programmers and designers in the video game world come the writers, a group who can often be overlooked even though their scripts carry everything else in the game. Susan O’Connor has written scripts for BioShock, and Far Cry 2, as well as the Tomb Raider reboot, and contributed to the cancelled Star Wars: 1313. She is the founder of the Games Writers Conference, held in Austin, and currently runs her own games writing studio, where she offers script writing and “firefighting” – last minute changes if the game isn’t flying with playtesters and early reviewers – to high-profile clients.
Manley has been a fixture in the games industry since the 1980s. She created Dungeons and Dragons games for Strategic Simulations, and in 1991 became the first ever project manager of an Electronic Arts development team. More recently she has worked as a consultant to companies including Global VR and Ubisoft, and as a part of Old Skuul has created an updated version of the 1988 game Battle Chess called Battle Chess: Game of Kings.
Ridgway is currently employed as a jack-of-all-trades in audio, writing, and design at Valve. She served as both audio director and an AI writer for BioShock, Brutal Legend, and Costume Quest, and won Best Audio at the Game Developers Choice Award and a slew of other accolades for her work on BioShock. She also has an independent presence as a game audio consultant, Emily Industries, where she specializes in music direction and sound design. “I specialize in making games sound like they do in your dreams,” she writes, “if you dream about excellent game audio like I do.”
Tell us about more women that are rocking it in the video game industry in the comments section!