22 fantastic winners and the lovely things people said about them – from last night’s IRL Awards

[Apologies but we don’t yet have the photos back from our photographer, so I’ve stolen these from Twitter, feel free to ping a pic of your category and I’ll update, or we’ll have the proper ones from early next week]

The last 18 months have been tough for everyone but many have risen to the challenge exceptionally. So as part of our industry comeback event – IRL – in London last night, we decided to applaud those efforts.

The industry has made a huge contribution to society over the last 18 months, connecting people and entertaining them as other options ran dry. That was a huge collective effort but for these awards we asked the industry for their personal heroes over the period and aked them why they stood out. 

So in front of a sold-out venue with over 500 attendees, myself and Frontier Development’s Hollie Bennett handed out the trophies with help from our event founders and partners. Here’s who won and the lovely things that their colleagues and peers had to say about them.

NEW IMPACTS – presented by Adrian Blunt from CCP Games’ London Studio
This award is for the brightest new starters. Those who joined the industry during the pandemic, mastered Zoom meetings, made an immediate impact to projects, and felt immediately indispensable – even if you’d not yet met them in person.

Winner: Taya Beleanina from Game If You Are
“She made a tremendous contribution to the business, designing marketing strategies for a range of indie games, and that she consistently plays an active role in making the industry a better, fairer place.”

Winner: Charlotte Callister from PressEngine
“To put it bluntly, without Charlotte, I personally would have burnt out… Her mastery of our platform, and her drive to help the company grow through our social channels and interaction with users has been an absolute delight.”

Winner: Karla Reyes from Code Coven
“Karla achieves beyond what I would have thought possible in order to sustain long-term change. She works incredibly hard and always with positivity and is the type of person that we need to ensure stays in this industry for decades to come”

CSR INITIATIVES – presented by Mike Wallen from Keywords Studios
We asked the industry what it had done to make the world a better place (apart from making great games!). And they told us about their best initiatives and the people who championed them.

Winner: Kelvin Plomer for Lockdown Mental Health Support Initiatives at Jagex
In an exceptional year, Kelvin led initiatives that facilitated the donation of more than £445,000 to Jagex’s charity partners at a time when it was needed most – it was the largest donation they have been able to make in 20 years of operation.

Winner: Pine Hoverfly Campaign from Marvelous, Jellymedia & the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
This campaign helped bring a critically endangered pollinator back from extinction in the UK. Thanks to Marvelous’s donation, a new breeding facility was built and after four months the results have been astonishing, with a real chance of it making a return to the wild.

Winner: Magic the Gathering – Black is Magic by Wizards of the Coast
Black is Magic was a philanthropic content drop that brought to life the stories, cultures and achievements of many different expressions of Black identity. Proceeds from the content benefited the game design, digital art and game development programs of Black Girls Code.

COMMUNITY VISIONARIES – presented by Paul Sulyok from Green Man Gaming
Games can be much more than just entertainment. In this category we looked for those who have reached beyond the usual experience to build powerful and positive events and initiatives with their communities to better connect and improve our society.

Winner: Leah Dungay from the National Videogame Museum
“Just 10 days after it started, Leah responded to lockdown by creating live streamed games development workshops for families with children aged 8-13. Nearly 5,000 families took the workshops, with very high completion rates, and parent feedback has been excellent, with one saying it was ‘The best activity we’ve done this summer’.”

Winner: Chris Entwhistle from Improbable
“Chris was the producer on ScavLab, the genuinely ground-breaking 10,000 player shared communal hub in our game: Scavengers. It was a moonshot project led by a charismatic, brilliant producer, which served as a vision everyone could get excited about and organise around.”

Winner: Lauren Moses from Code Coven
“She has helped empower marginalised people by offering a safe space within the industry, surrounded   by people like themselves as peers and mentors proving that career progression is possible. She seeks out as many opportunities as possible to boost, promote, and support underrepresented voices in the industry – and creates her own when there aren’t existing ones.” 

ACCESSIBILITY HEROES – presented by Loreto Sans Fueyo from PTW
Our games and our industry must endeavour to provide access to all, whether that’s via a game’s UI, or building a more accessible office space. We asked you to tell us who led your efforts in these crucial areas.

Winner: Douglas Pennant from Creative Assembly
“Doug has been promoting and advocating for accessibility in games both within CA and within the wider industry for years. He began CA’s Accessibility Employee Resource Group, and has spoken at external studios and a variety of education establishments about the principles of accessibility, focusing on colour blindness. With his GDC talk recognised as one of the best of the year.”

Winner: Stacey Jenkins from SEGA Europe
“Stacey got hired at our company during lockdown, but still very quickly founded a disability group within the company, open to both disabled and non-disabled staff. She didn’t stop at that though; she’s been organising loads of webinars with incredible panel members from outside the company to better help attendees understand all sorts of disabilities, and the impact of accessibility in our games. It’s been incredibly eye-opening so far, and she has many more events up her sleeve!”

Winner: Everyone at SpecialEffect! (collected by Liam Lawler)
SpecialEffect usually runs an intensive in-person service delivery team to homes and hospitals. The pandemic meant big changes, but the charity has been able to continue providing assistance, while ensuring the safety of our vulnerable service users, by transitioning to entirely online support and remote provision. Despite the challenges, it managed to meet a rising demand for our services and supply equipment and support to 100s of disabled people.

HEALTHY LEADERS – presented by Shaun Rutland from Hutch
Balancing the needs of the team, the needs of the project and the needs of the company is rarely easy. We asked you to tell us about the leaders who have got it right over the last 18 months and proved that making great games is about looking after great people.

Winner: Kit Goode from Wushu Studios
“As a new employee I’ve never felt more accepted and happy within a company. Kit made it very comfortable for me to start my role, always willing to help with all my questions and I never felt judged. Coming from a very low period and entering a new company/industry, Kit has helped take so much worry/pressure off my shoulders and they’re just a wonderful human being.”

Winner: Tara Saunders from PlayStation London Studio
“Tara is exemplary at leading with kindness at the centre of all her actions. She has particularly shone over the last year, putting the team’s mental health and wellbeing above all else. She frequently asks for feedback, fosters a transparent environment so that everyone’s input is considered, listened to and importantly – actioned. Her strength as a leader that believes in balance has created a lot of trust in our culture..”

Winner: David Bowman from Creative Assembly (collected by Douglas Pennant)
“David continues to show his compassion and prioritization of people and team health at every turn, especially through COVID. He embodies the values and inclusive behaviours that Creative Assembly promotes, being a fantastic listener and mentor. Don’t just take my word for it, it’s truly wonderful to read the recommendations individuals across the industry have left for him on Linkedin!

DIVERSITY CHAMPIONS – presented by Mike Wallen from Keywords Studios
We all know the games industry needs to be more diverse, so as to better reflect the demographics of players and potential players. We asked who has been your company’s diversity champion, working to improve the demographics or opportunities of minorities working in, or looking to work in, the industry.

Winner: Cinzia Musio from Splash Damage
“Cinzia has been driving Diversity and Inclusion at Splash Damage for several years as a side-gig to her full time role, but last year was promoted to be the first full-time Diversity & Inclusion Advisor in the industry. She is an incredibly hard worker and gives her all to any project she undertakes, and is truly the definition of a servant leader, being both kind and patient.”

Winner: Anisa Sanusi from Limit Break (collected by Anna Hollinrake)
“The Limit Break programme has had a particularly great year, by opening up to new marginalised groups, and ensuring the program is at its most inclusive, resulted in several thousand people trying to get a spot in what is now known as the best mentorship program in the industry. With one saying: “I am sure that Anisa is one of the main reasons the new generation in games is proving to be the most diverse ever.”

Winner: The Tentacle Zone Incubator from Payload Studios
The incubator focuses on nurturing and growing indie studios with founders from backgrounds under-represented in the games industry. With one supporter telling us “it was a super accessible and friendly space that allowed me to get access to an expansive pool of knowledge to help grow my startup studio. Being amongst a group of like minded individuals from similar backgrounds was super useful. A group of people I will now be friends with forever, as we all grow, and I wouldn’t have had this without the incubator.”

LOCKDOWN HEROES – presented by Rosie Taylor and Sarah Sorrell from Safe in our World
In this category we looked for the staff that stood up to keep everything running smoothly for your company in 2020. The ones who kept their head, and helped everyone else keep theirs, in the unprecedented chaos of the pandemic.

Winner: Alex Bell from Sports Interactive
“Alex has been at SI for over 20 years and is one of the hardest working, most empathetic, team-concerned people you will ever meet. During the pandemic he was better still. He oversaw home office equipment and new benefits for all, while we also moved office with a new fit out, plus he helped onboard over 60 new team members, and all that while helping look after two toddlers at home as well!”  

Winner: Stuart Godbolt from Hangar 13
“From the very start of the pandemic, Stuart has been a super star working tirelessly to help ensure that every one of our employees were able to safely work from home. All throughout the lockdown, he provided the team with the necessary tech support required and has done so with a smile on his face and maintained his calm, laid-back demeanor. Stuart continues to provide a tailored service for everyone whilst we navigate through our way to hybrid working.”

Winner: Joanna Haslam from Snap Finger Click
“With limited access to hardware during the pandemic, Jo took on the role of QA alongside designing our Family Feud title herself. For our next game, Jo adapted her usual paper prototypes to a remote situation using PowerPoint, WhatsApp, and Zoom to play with the team. We’re now working on a digital prototype of this, to let us pitch titles to clients remotely. While many have seen the pandemic as a challenge, Jo has seized an opportunity to gain access to new business.”

Winner: Helena Morris from Failbetter Games! (collected by Callum Underwood)
“Helena is incredible at ensuring the smooth operation of our studio, but during the lockdown she was a literal hero. She was instrumental and phenomenally fast in organising couriers to get everyone’s equipment delivered to their home. She organised the office closure after we decided to become permanently remote. And all of this whilst pregnant with her second child and dealing with her own house move. I Don’t know where we’d be without her. She’s MY lockdown hero and she deserves to win!”

Thanks again to all sponsors and partners, to everyone who nominated their colleagues and peers, and everyone who came on the night and supported the event. 

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