OPINION: The European Women in Games Conference 2017 paints a bright future for the industry

Women in Games CEO Marie-Claire Isaaman (pictured right) talks to MCV about the success of its recent European Women in Games Conference and how it paints a bright future for the industry.

Our seventh annual conference earlier this month highlighted the key role women play in the European game industries as designers, makers, thinkers, educators, players and everything in between. 

The extra time afforded by the new two-day format allowed for more diverse subjects and speakers than ever before. We had panels on making and designing games, social media and personal branding, VR, business, HR and increased discussion about the educational pipeline. 

This was fitting, as our host was the wonderful East London Arts and Music – a progressive educator with a strong commitment to diversity – on the first day of its new academic year and its new games design course. 

Our two Amazon Appstore sponsored headline speakers, Anita Sarkeesian and Brie Code, were major attractions. I interviewed Anita – an award-winning critic and executive director of Feminist Frequency – in a ‘fireside chat’. Often, interviews with her focus on the misogyny and abuse she’s suffered online, so it was great to have the chance to move beyond this and to discover more about Anita the person and what really motivates her.

Brie Code’s closing keynote was an altogether different proposition. More performance piece than talk, it resulted in people running up to me afterwards describing how she had just ‘blown their minds’. I suppose such a provocative, playful experience was to be expected from the creative director of a studio that makes games with people who don’t like games – but even so, it was amazing. 

If we have monocultural inputs, we only get monocultural outputs.

Marie-Claire Isaaman, Women in Games

The generous amount of sponsorship this year is an encouraging signal. It demonstrates a growing realisation among progressive companies that gender equality and increased diversity in games is ‘a good thing’. Our sponsors included Rovio, ustwo games, Epic Games, SimBin Studios, Dovetail Games, Tamalaki Games, Wargaming, University of Brighton, ReFIG, Centre for Digital Entertainment, Gamesindustry.biz and Google Women Techmakers. 

Our awards included a new Mobile Games Award in collaboration with IMGA, our annual Student Awards, and The European Women in Games Hall of Fame Award 2017. Two of our sponsors announced new female-focused initiatives at the conference: Rovio’s forthcoming MumJam – designed to encourage mums into and back to the game industries – and SimBin Studios Women and Wheels – the world’s first women-only car racing esports competition. 

Over the two days, people kept saying to me how great it was to be in a working college, surrounded by such a diverse and enthusiastic group of young people embarking on their journey into the game and creative industries. I believe this added focus and drive to the conference, reinforcing that we have to make games education and the game industries equally accessible, welcoming and rewarding to all our young people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background or anything else. It only makes us stronger. 

If we have only monocultural inputs, we only get monocultural outputs – and everyone knows these are neither innovative nor sustainable. To thrive in an increasingly uncertain future, we must grow and retain all our talent more effectively, without prejudice. However, going on evidence from our wonderful 2017 conference, I’m optimistic times are at last beginning to change.  

Marie-Claire Isaaman is CEO of Women in Games (WIGJ), an NPO that works to address gender imbalance, inequality and lack of diversity in the games industry. She also works as a games educational consultant and researcher.

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