Making Games with Girls


I snapped the above picture yesterday during the lunch portion of a marathon meeting to interact with our community to discuss issues, explain features, and generally be there to support our game. I've worked for Maxis for about 9 years now and we just launched The Sims 4. I don't snap a ton of photos at work for fear of sharing something that's going to leak and get me a stern talking to, but this one somewhat accomplishes what I need.

You'll see two women in this photo and the shoes of another. The empty chair on the right belongs to another woman, and behind the back wall sits our executive producer, who is also a woman. We'll get back to why this is important.

There's a kerfuffle going on right now in the video game demographic that I believe is called "Gamer's Gate" at this point, which is a hilariously hyperbolic comparison (as all "Gates") to Water Gate. Under the pretenses of protecting the hobby from corruption and casual influence, an internet mob of men have begun harassing women in a blanket manor. It's ignorant, disrespectful, and ridiculous.

I don't have much to contribute to this topic that hasn't already been said, except a brief mention of my personal experiences. I've worked at Maxis for about 9 years now and that means I've made a lot of games with women. I don't have comparative stats, but I would wager we have one of the highest percentages of women on a development team in the industry. Obviously, an indie team of 6 with 3 women will beat our 20-30%, but as an organization with hundreds of people, I'm proud of that statistic, and proud of where it will continue to go.

We have women in all roles: Engineering, production, design, all art disciplines, UX, Audio. I have been excited and taken aback by the 50/50 split along gender lines in many meetings. I'll be a dad one day and there's a good chance I'll have a girl. These sights are promising, especially if she wants to enter tech.

Our production team, and therefore our leadership team, has a very large female contingent. The producers who led our efforts in Build Mode and Create a Sim for The Sims 4 are both women. My boss, my dotted-line boss, my bosses' boss, and my bosses' bosses' boss are all women. In fact, Lucy Bradshaw is the highest female in our corporate organization on our CEO's advisory staff and she runs our studio. Pretty cool.

So, we're still mostly a dude fest, which takes time and cultural shifts to correct, but we have a lot of women and we have them in positions of authority. As you might expect, working with women instead of men has its differences, so I thought I'd outline them.

  • For starters, I've seen my female co-workers take maternity leave. Oh...wait. I actually have 2 male co-workers on multi-month long paternity leaves right now. Okay. Scratch that difference.
  • Well, I definitely work with some women who aren't very good at their job. Hmmm. Never mind. I work with some duds who share the opposite chromosome.
  • Oh! I know for a FACT that the women's bathroom is far cleaner than ours. Boom! Difference.

Jesting aside, there really aren't any differences. I have just as many female co-workers who wear Dr. Who graphic tees as the guys. Both groups are annoying and have terrible taste in television. I have female co-workers from whom I learn daily and try to emulate. I have male co-workers with whom I do the same. Women, like men, offer a unique perspective on various aspects of life. The views of a mothers differ from those of a father at times. The perspective of a woman in a romantic relationship might vary. The things a girl raised in the 80s versus a boy raised in the 80s bring to a design discussion are also different shades at times.

All of these perspectives are good, especially for a game like The Sims. Traditionally, our audience is split very close along the gender line of 50/50. Yes, that's right. It's not a game for girls, but a game for people. I, for one, know nothing about pregnancy. My tuning suggestions are based on stereotypes and pop culture. My boss, however, has had a child. I'm going to trust her instincts on such a feature, much like I would trust the foodie's input on our cooking system. I know by referencing pregnancy I'm perhaps lending my argument to that of girls only know girl stuff. So, if it helps, my boss and I argue about UI, gardening, Emotions, the tutorial, videos, and more.

I'm most definitely preaching to the choir, but that's generally how these discussions go. I'm thankful to work with so many women as I'm confident otherwise I would be a different, less interesting, and less whole man otherwise. There are numerous cases of dude focused offices acting horribly to their different co-workers, be they women or people of color, and I'm blessed to be surrounded by a culture that doesn't do that.

The key thing to take away is this: we all make or play games because it's what we like to do. And for the former, it beats a real job. Remember that one person's involvement in a thing does not preclude or affect your involvement in any way. Be fair, be kind, be accepting.

Game on, regardless of your private parts.