"...all four women in the studio are really different. Assumptions about us - about women - aren’t going to work!"
International Women's Day can be an odd time of year. Given how difficult the industry can be for us sometimes, all the minorities that exist in the industry should be celebrated every day - most of us went through a lot to be in the position that we’re in today.
Anna and I were the first non-male employees at Balancing Monkey, and I think we always had an unspoken understanding that we wanted to make the company an awesome place for women to be in. Then, Sarah and Mereana joined us and added more variety to our little studio.
This seems obvious to me, but it’s worth pointing out that all four women in the studio are really different. We span three generations (Gen X, Y, and of course Z), have different ways of thinking about things, different beliefs, tastes, and all the other things that a person can have variance of in life. Assumptions about us - about women - aren’t going to work!
To get to know us better, here’s some words from each woman at BMG, about our journeys, and about our future goals and feelings about the games industry.
Mereana, Programmer/Game Designer -
I’ve played video games since I could hold a controller/reach the keyboard by standing in a chair. Spyro, Ratchet and Clank, Crash Bandicoot, Pokemon on my 3DS - I’ve always loved 3D/2D platformers, puzzle games and RPGs. I decided I wanted to work in game development when I was still a teenager (giving up my previous dreams of being a forensic scientist, thanks CSI). But initially, I wanted to work in character design and concept art. When I started my degree, the game development paper required students to learn how to code in order to realise our ideas, and I discovered I love programming for the same reason I love puzzle games - figuring out the solution to a problem is something I genuinely enjoy.
I’m incredibly grateful to Sam and Anna, the Directors of Balancing Monkey Games for giving me my first studio role - taking on a junior can be a big risk for a small company. However, it aptly shows that a big part of the ethos here is actually putting your money where your mouth is - committing to bettering the games industry and engagement with diverse perspectives is done directly, through community work and actively hiring people with different backgrounds and cultural ties. Their goals as a studio around creating games that aligned with their beliefs around environmentalism and community really connected with my personal ethics that stem from being Māori. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be working in such a fantastic place as my first position - the games industry has historically been a rather difficult place for women to establish themselves and feel confident and supported in their work. I’m incredibly happy that I get to feel confident and supported in my first studio position.
My biggest dream for the future of the games industry is that as more companies hopefully(!) take an active stance like BMG, more women with fantastic skills and stories to tell will be able to do so. Then the girls and young women who may have found the industry too hard to crack will see the role models they can aspire to, and access the support systems they need to be able to tell their stories too. This was one of the reasons I so enjoyed being a tutor for the degree I had completed prior to joining BMG - I hope that seeing a woman in the role of a teacher for a gamedev paper gave the women in my class a little more confidence. I’d love to teach again in future, after I’ve spent some time in the industry and have acquired a wealth of knowledge to share.
Sarah Latta, Producer -
My earliest memory of video games was playing ‘Lego: Star Wars’ with my Dad on the family computer, a memory I will treasure forever. But even after completing my Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Otago in 2018, I had never considered a career in the games industry until I began freelance producing - specifically in theatre. This was around the time that the global pandemic hit and we were all thrust into an unknown period. However, in that time, I got to experience how fun games could really be again by buying my first Nintendo Switch and diving into… you guessed it, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and even dipped back into the old Lego games, bringing back all the nostalgia. But when BMG got in contact with me, I found myself at a crossroad. At that same time, I was almost going to leave being a Producer behind and head into Journalism, as another love of mine is writing. So, I found myself with a defining choice to make - do I venture into journalism or do I step into the games industry? Six months later, joining the team at Balancing Monkey Games has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I was so excited but so nervous about stepping into my new role at BMG. Not only because I had a lot to learn, but also because I didn’t have a huge amount of knowledge of the industry itself. But the team has been amazing by teaching me things I didn’t already know without judgement, and allowing me to grow into a role that I am excited to come into the office and do everyday. It was refreshing to know that the studio's pillars centred around environmentalism and supporting communities, but also gender equality. Historically, the games industry has had it’s dark moments for gender inequality, so to see a studio challenging that and empowering women, not only in our studio but in the wider community, was a great thing to see and now be part of. I now work in an office, where we can all speak openly about our thoughts and ideas, and be heard by acknowledging that we all come from different backgrounds - but also where we can stop and laugh together too.
My hope for the future is that we continue to see more acknowledgement and empowership of women in game development teams. But also, for the women still to enter the industry, for them to be able to see women out there in these careers and think “if they can do it, then I can do it too!” and I hope I can even be that person for someone someday too. It has been great to see games evolving over the years as they continue to break new ground, not only by beautiful graphics but also including strong women heroines as the main protagonists.
To the upcoming women game developers: Take that leap, and take it confidently. My fellow women game developers around the world are out there working hard and continuing to break new ground everyday, and cannot wait to have you part of our future teams. Keep persevering, you got this.
Emily, Community & Media Manager -
Despite having played games through my childhood and teen years, it never occurred to me that there were people making the games that I cherished. It took a friend pointing out that studying the art of making games was an actual, real and viable thing that you could do! At a university, no less! That brief conversation in 2013 led me to quitting my burgeoning but very much despised career in telecommunications in 2015 to study game development full time. After a long journey that has been difficult but rewarding, I’m so happy and grateful to be working in the best job I’ve ever had, with some remarkable and incredible people.
For me, the thing that sets Balancing Monkey Games apart from other roles that I’ve worked in (in and outside of the industry) is that people listen to me, and take me seriously. As a young woman, I’ve found that people can ignore your suggestions, your skills and your experience - this is obviously deeply frustrating. To the average person, being heard and trusted doesn’t seem like something that would be that much of a big deal, but it was for me. It’s had an enormous ripple effect through my life, and I look back at the game developer I was before I began with BMG and balk at how different I am. I’m so much more confident and content.
I hope by the time I’m a wizened old game developer with many weird and wonderful experiences under my belt, the workplace as a whole is more accommodating to each person. We all think, feel and learn differently from one another, and I don’t believe that there is a one size fits all approach. This might sound very “community manager” of me but I’d love to see more empathy in the workplace, especially so in the games industry. Let’s nourish each other's creativity and let everyone who wants to create games thrive!
Anna, Managing Director -
I’ve had a varied and zigzag career, which has given me a wealth of experience in understanding and dealing with people, group dynamics, administration, and finances. Game development was always something that my husband Sam was interested in, not me. I enjoyed playing games like SimCity, StarCraft and The Sims before I had children, but afterwards I found I no longer had the time or patience to really immerse myself into the world of a game.
When I finished my MSc in Psychology, my husband decided that it was his turn to disappear in the evenings and weekends and start working on creating a computer game, which had long been his dream. Very early in the process, we decided to form a company to manage all the financial aspects of development, and I was an equal shareholder. Sam and I made all the financial decisions about the company together, including when he received funding to allow him to quit his day job (which was our family’s main source of income) and work full time on Before We Leave.
The game was successful, and I decided to leave the job I had been doing for five and a half years (managing a medical centre) and come on board as the Managing Director. Sam had been finding the burden of managing all the administrative side of the business while still supporting and updating Before We Leave extremely stressful, whereas this was stuff I had been doing for years. I found that although managing a company of four people selling a lovely relaxing computer game was a far less terrifying prospect on paper than managing a medical centre with 5+ doctors, 4 nurses, 4 receptionists, 2 cleaners and 5,500 patients through a pandemic, it still had its difficult moments! Nevertheless, I was very happy to make the move, and I have never regretted it.
I love being a boss. I found early on in my management journey that it is very much like being a mum: your job is to figure out who your staff are and how they tick, look after their wellbeing, and make sure they have everything they need to fulfil their potential. Also, I love that I can make my own hours – I’m not tied to a reception desk or opening hours – and I can work from home very easily.
In everything I do, I’m always trying to look after people and make the world a slightly better place. To that end, Sam and I are determined to set an example in Balancing Monkey Games for how the game development industry should be. That’s why we’ve instituted a four day work week, and we take diversity, accessibility, and environmental issues very seriously. We have a no crunch policy and I regularly check in with everyone on the team to make sure that they’re all doing well and our processes are working for them. I’m hoping that all the things we’ve had to put into place to make everything work during this crazy pandemic time will translate to a really happy productive work environment when the world returns to some kind of normality. May the new normal be inclusive, accepting, and healthy for everyone!
Thank you for reading our International Women's Day Spotlight! If you're keen to support Women Creators, go check out the Women's Day Sale on Steam - there are so many wonderful games and creators there that deserve your support.