Beginning of Women in Games International
In 2003 Sheri Graner Ray had been moderating a growing and very active mailing list for women in game development. This list had been was hosted by the IGDA since late 1998 and was the basis for the Women in Games Special Interest Group of the IGDA (WIG SIG.) She decided the list was large enough and there was enough interest that it was time to consider putting together a conference just for women in game development.
After asking around for recommendations on who could help her do such a thing, she had lunch with the person who headed The Game Initiative, the organization that ran the fledgling Austin Game Conference. He encouraged her to do it and offered her his help. Sheri decided she would need some people to help her put the conference together and so she recruited Laura Fryer, Ellen Guon Beeman, Mia Consolvo and Kathy Astromoff to be her board of directors.
The group met and, with the help of the board of the Austin Game Conference and The Game Initiative, the very first Women’s Game Conference began to take shapei. The date was Sept 9-10 2004. The WGC was marketed as an “add on” to the AGC and would run concurrently with it. People coming to AGC could attend the WGC events for a small additional small fee. The idea was this would incentivize more women to come to the AGC and then attend some of the WGC as well.
Women’s Game Conference T-Shirt
While the group had originally intended to call the conference the Women in Games Conference, that name had already been claimed by a UK group hosting their first event called Women in Games Conference and scheduled for June of the same year.
From the first, the board decided that this conference would be different from a mainstream conference. There were no “tracks” and the entire conference was held in one large ballroom at the Austin convention center.ii The audience sat at round tables to help facilitate conversation and start building networking connections. The speaking panel was 50/50 gender mixed. Patricia Vance, director of the ESA, gave the keynote to rousing applause.
165 women attended that first event. The energy and excitement was amazing. Even people who did not pay to attend the WGC snuck in the doors to find out what was going on. Several commented that the atmosphere in the WGC reminded them of the early Computer Game Developer Conferences. The event was a smash success with many of the attendees begging the staff to host the event again the following year.
However, when it came time to plan for the next year’s conference, obstacles got in the way. The Game Initiative was in negotiations to sell the rights to the Austin Game Conference to the group that owned the larger Game Developers Conference and unbeknownst to the board of directors of the Women’s Game Conference, that WGC name was involved in the negotiations as well. The owner of The Game Initiative removed our original board of directors from the event and appointed new board members.
Despite this setback, the power and energy of the WGC had been so strong that Sheri felt it was something that needed to continue. The Women In Games SIG of the IGDA was a growing group, but due to their affiliation with the IGDA, it was not in the position to put on events specifically for women game developers.
Sheri felt there was a need for these types of events to continue and so decided to put together a new organization that could put on women’s events and conferences on their own hook.
So in 2005 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Sheri, Mia, Ellen, Laura and Kathy sat down and decided that it was time to put together a women’s game development group and Women in Games International was born.
Founders of Women In Games International – from left to right, Kathy Astromoff, Sheri Graner Ray, Mia Consolvo, Laura Fryer, Ellen Guon Beeman
From the beginning WIGI was dedicated to supporting women in the game industry as well as those interested in finding a career in the game industry. To do this the BoD decided to host conferences in the game development hub cities. These conferences would be one day and half day events, similar to the first conference. They would have mixed gender speaking panels, round tables to sit at and no “tracks” to separate the attendees. Their first event was held in San Francisco with John Romero as the keynote and the Frag Dolls as featured guests. From there WIGI held two events per year in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin.
Of particular note was the Austin event. Sheri did quite a bit of research before finally locating Dona Bailey. Ms Bailey had served as the lead programmer and creative lead on the classic stand up arcade game, Centipede. However after releasing Centipede, Ms Bailey left the game industry completely. It took Sheri quite a while to locate her and then, once found, to convince Ms Bailey that the women in the industry really valued her contribution and wanted to hear what she had to say. The WGC event in Austin was the first games industry event Ms Bailey had attended since leaving the industry.
Feb 19 2006, John Romero keynoted the event in San Francisco. The presence of the Frag Dolls as speakers at the event was controversial.
Sept 5, 2006 WIGI conference on the Microsoft campus
Jan 2007, WIGI conference at EA with Lucy Bradshaw as keynote
April 2007 – in conjunction with Savannah College of Art and Design – Advancing your career in game development. Jen MacLean served as keynote
August 2007 WIGI conference in Austin – Dona Bailey keynoting
After the Austin event, WIGI found the pace of trying to hold two conferences a year to be too strenuous for a very small non-profit to keep up. All the original board members, with the exception of Sheri, had amicably left the board due to pressing family and/or career schedules. So rather than take on fully hosting events, the organization began to support other events by providing speakers and content for diversity tracks at other conferences such as SCAD, the Austin Game conference and others.
Eventually the organization found the perfect balance to be providing high quality mixers and networking events at major industry events and, on a more local scale, providing small events comprised of a short program followed by a mixer.
A. Building Community for Women in the Game Industry: In 2006, WIGI was among the first organizations to create a group on LinkedIn. At that time, “groups” were a new functionality on LinkedIn. The WIGI group was created to help build community for women in the game industry.
Belinda Van Sickle, who would go on to become Executive Director of the organization, attended an early WIGI event after nine years of employment in the video game industry. One of the main things she noticed at that event was no familiar faces. The game industry was still relatively small and she always would see friends and former colleagues at game industry events. But at this event populated by mostly women, there was no one she knew. Van Sickle realized it was due to the fact most of the attendees were women—and she didn’t know many women in the industry.
Van Sickle wanted to help women build their video game careers and she believed in the power of community. She approached the WIGI principals and suggested the idea of work toward community for women in games. She started the LinkedIn group and later that year began the WIGI Community Mixer Series.
The Community Mixer Series began in November 2006 in Los Angeles. In 2007 it spread to several other cities including New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago, Austin and Sydney, Australia.
The Community Mixer Series continued in 2007 and 2008, then morphed into our local Chapter program, the D-L-C program and our larger event development program with networking mixers and parties at major game industry conferences.
B. Creating Online Community: WIGI has worked since 2006 to create a stronger online community for its members by increasing its social media presence. WIGI has active groups on social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter with regular announcements about organization events and programs as well as postings about industry events and articles relevant to women and diversity. WIGI also regularly posts partner messages providing news and information about diversity content across the tech landscape.
WIGI members closely follow our work via social media and utilize as a means to keep up with important events and programs as well as to find job opportunities and post their own diversity-focused events and information.
C. Inclusive Major Industry Conference Events: In 2008, Women in Games International hosted its first networking mixer at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. This annual event quickly became the largest female-focused networking event in the worldwide video game industry.
The networking celebration has been held within walking distance of the Moscone Center at colleges, museums and other major San Francisco event venues. Photos from every year show some of the most positive images of female game industry professionals relaxing and conversing with male colleagues ever taken of game industry professionals.
As of 2015, our event annually hosts over 500 people and boasts the largest female to male ratio of any open invitation event in the video game business. Women in games have come to rely on the annual WIGI GDC party as the best place to relax after the show and get the chance to network and do business with high-level game industry leaders.
In 2009, WIGI started annual events at E3. For the first few years, the focus was on business networking and WIGI partnered with Blacks in Gaming to increase the diversity reach.
In 2011, to serve the much larger E3 population, WIGI organizers morphed the E3 annual event into a major entertainment affair to welcome as many people as possible to join with WIGI members and celebrate the game industry.
Since then, the event has hosted 1000 to 2000 people at major downtown Los Angeles nightclubs and offered large-scale entertainment acts and world class DJs. Again, WIGI keeps the event an open invitation to emphasize inclusivity of everyone in the game industry as part of the effort to increase diversity by creating environments that are not divided and exclusionary.
D. Chapter Program: In 2009, WIGI started its first regional chapter in Vancouver, Canada. The chapter program quickly expanded to include chapters in several cities. It was quickly made easy for new chapters to be created with the creation of WIGI’s “Chapter-in-a-Box” package. Utilizing a simple step-by-step instruction document, new chapters could be formed starting with monthly networking mixers, then quarterly panel discussions. Many individuals and small groups learned leadership skills and formed local groups using this simple method. The program continues to expand and the WIGI Executive Team provides support and outreach.
E. Incorporation as an Independent Entity: In 2009, after a few years of using the IGDA as its fiscal receiver, WIGI incorporated as a California Not for Profit independent corporation. The organization had grown significantly and needed quick and simple access to funds as well as fully independent ability to contract with sponsors and service providers. A board was chosen among the active leadership and incorporation legal services were provided by one of many supporting companies.
In 2015, WIGI became a U.S. federal 501c(3) non-profit corporation with full tax-exempt status.
F. D-L-C Program: In 2009, another WIGI program was implemented, the D-L-C—Drinks, Lectures, Community. This simple format panel discussion was implemented to offer local groups and chapters the opportunity to create educational panels with a networking component. Local colleges and companies offer space for a relevant panel discussion, and afterward, attendees retire to a local bar or restaurant for refreshment and networking.
The events were so successful, they were quickly integrated into the Chapter-in-a-Box program as part of local chapter events. Game industry folks were able to learn about new technologies, career skills and other important topics without having to attend major conferences.
G. Conference Panels and Consulting: In 2010, WIGI began partnering with major game industry conferences to create panel discussions and consult on diversity content. WIGI started as a major partner of the 2010 Casual Connect Gamesauce conference. The organization provided the keynote speaker, several panelists and content for a daylong diversity conference.
WIGI continued this trend with several other conferences including GDC, the LA Games Conference, the Game Marketing Summit, DICE and many other industry conferences. The organization continues to consult with conferences across the tech industry to create panel discussions, suggest panelists and engage in media partnerships.
H. Partnerships with the IGDA: Since the inception of WIGI, the organization has partnered with the IGDA on many programs and events. The Women in Games Special Interest Group has been a partner with WIGI on conference panels and events. IGDA itself has partnered with WIGI on holiday parties and other industry networking events. The two organizations have long been allies with a shared objective—to improve the game industry and opportunities for game industry jobs. Organization leaders are close friends and colleagues who often speak about ways to work together, to avoid duplication of effort and to most efficiently service the industry we all love.
I. GameMentorOnline: GameMentorOnline was first launched as a partnership with the IGDA in 2009 in conjunction with the IGDA Women in Games Special Interest group. It relaunched as a WIGI-only project in 2011 on the Chronus platform after two years on MentorNet.
The program changed platforms and became a WIGI-only effort due to costs and platform constraints. It has continued since as the only online mentoring program in the video game industry.
J. Newsletter: In 2010, WIGI began producing a monthly online newsletter for all members containing industry news and diversity-related content. The newsletter went dormant from 2012 through 2014 and was restarted in 2015 to an even larger audience.
The newsletter provides current industry news content, WIGI news and events, job listings and an industry event calendar.
K. Media Partnerships: In 2010, WIGI began partnering with game and tech industry conferences and events as a media partner. Media partnerships allow WIGI to gain exposure to a larger audience of professionals without cost. WIGI shares promotion with conferences and events in exchange for promotion through the event/conference websites and publicity. Often, WIGI is able to provide discounts for members to media partner conferences and events. WIGI has partnered with several major events such as Indiecade, the L.A. Games Conference, Casual Connect, SXSW Games, the New York Games Conference, the IGDA Summit and others.
L. WIGI Healthy Media Commission Membership: In 2011, WIGI’s Executive Director Belinda Van Sickle was invited to be a member of the Health Media Commission for Positive Images of Women and Girls. Van Sickle was the only member of the commission from the video game industry—a group populated by top professionals from film; television; and broadcast, print and online media.
The commission led the national dialogue on how women and girls are portrayed in the media and outlined a blueprint for promoting positive and healthy media images. Concrete recommendations were produced for media and policy leaders to promote positive content and balanced images of girls and women in the media. The commission worked to secure media industry-wide public commitments to take steps toward positive change.
M. Canadian Consulate Study: In 2011, WIGI partnered with the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles to create a study on how to attract and retain more women in the game industry. A daylong conference event was held at the Consul Residence in Los Angeles with several notables from the game industry and academia to discuss how to put together the study, administer it and analyze the results.
Unfortunately, the Consulate lost funding for their tech industry educational efforts and the study never came to fruition. However, the connections made between the conference event participants have resulted in conversations, articles, conference panels and progress for hiring and retention of women in games.
N. Girl Scouts Video Game Design Patch: In 2013, Women in Games International and the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles (GSGLA) announced that they would work together to create the first video game design patch for Girl Scouts.
WIGI’s patch uses Gamestar Mechanic, E-line’s development tool used for the National STEM Video Game Challenge. Their platform and curriculum for game design has already helped more than 350,000 youth. With the ESA’s financial support, E-line and WIGI provided a tailored STEM-aligned program to meet all of the Girl Scout patch requirements.
Currently, the patch is available to Girl Scouts in the Los Angeles area to guide girls through the patch program. Training programs for other regions are to be implemented in 2015 and beyond.
O. Advisory Board: WIGI relaunched its Advisory Board in 2014 with a roster of prominent game industry leaders. These advisors offer an important component of the WIGI service unit to provide community, information, advocacy, encouragement and progress to the cause of diversity in the game industry.
P. I Make Games: In late 2014, WIGI partnered with the IGDA to create I Make Games, a website and YouTube channel to provide game industry role models for girls and women. Female game developers create short videos showing their work and fun experiences working in games and post them on the channel. The imakegamesproject.com website provides research, information and instruction for video creators to get them involved in the project.
Major outreach began at GDC 2015 with the intention of populating the channel with several videos. As the channel is populated, we intend to expand it to include other diverse members of the game industry including LGBTQ folks, people of color and others to show as many diverse people as possible that they, too, can be part of the video game industry.
Q. WIGI Member Survey: In 2015, WIGI launched its first formal member survey to learn how we can better serve our members and implement growth plans in 2015 and beyond. We created an aggressive new business plan and a number of new services to help bolster our core mission: jobs for women in the game industry.
We partnered with a professional marketing survey and analysis company to create, implement and analyze survey results to learn what members like best about WIGI events and programs and what new events and programs will best serve them. Utilizing existing business plans and survey results, we have implemented strong growth and important new services.