Sometimes I have to remind myself that I used to work in the video game industry as a producer. Some might correct me and say, “Associate,” but there were quite a few projects where I was given the autonomy to get the gears rolling. The only thing that set me apart from the producer was who called the shots. But even then, I was the one giving the options for shots.
I have to admit, though, that negotiating terms with clients was probably my weakest point. My style of communication has always been blunt and to the point, but it seems that only those who’ve risen to a certain level of power are able to be taken seriously with that sort of attitude. Men, I guess. Even as a genderqueer woman, I could only be taken seriously as long as I had good people on my team, those who understood the value of people, regardless of gender, and didn’t feel the need to be loud and macho about their ambition. People who were modest, but confident, and strived to do a good job, and you can trust that in the end, they will always do a good job.
This was my Rock Band 3 DS team. We worked together almost independently from Rock Band 3 because it was another genre of game than the consoles and not entirely dependent on them. Of course, the development process was never without issues, as we worked on new tech to integrate a network co-op feature, and had to figure out how to crunch millions of polys onto a small screen without it looking like Starfox, and tweaking design until it was bug free, but in the end, we were on time and within budget. Heck, I had enough to get my team DS LL’s as team schwag. The whole experience was a lot of fun. My only regret is that I couldn’t get a Tegan and Sara song on the game’s soundtrack. I think it would have been my biggest credit to the queer community.
But in the project following that, I failed to pull my team through. We worked with a new client, who sent new producers to work with us on a sequel. We had a good start, discussing thoroughly the game design document during pre-production the features we could offer, the features they wanted. We negotiated openly and professionally, making direct calls whenever necessary for requested changes. But once production started, those calls kept coming. Features started creeping in. Our amazing contract concept artist was constantly busy adding and deleting requests from the client, our awesome engineers, who were trying to adjust to a new engine, experimented to make proof-of-concepts to see if we could do what the client was feature creeping. I finally had a firm talk with the client, telling them that we need to settle on some final concepts because all these requests were burning into our production time. It was late one evening, and I remember it being a very emotional and angry conversation. The phone call ended with me feeling guilty about getting the last word, that I went to my designer and wanted to know if he thought I was a ranting banshee. I doubt he was really listening, as I didn’t get much feedback, but I could tell he could see my frustration.
The client took a step back, but would sometimes request for more. Before shutting them down, I would seriously think about what could be done and bargained for such a change. That’s how my conversations with them came to be. You want this, we’re cutting this. We finally got our tech up, and things were looking up, except I was so mentally exhausted, worrying about the schedule, worrying about what the next request would be, worrying that we wouldn’t be able to achieve it because there was still so much tech to build that I just couldn’t handle anymore setbacks. I asked for help, but I was at the lowest point that there was no return. I simply checked out, and I was guilty for it because my leads were also exhausted, and we weren’t even halfway through our goals, even though our schedule was already halfway over. When I told them I was planning on leaving, I felt even worse when I got their blessing. I swore I would help them however I could.
The day I put in my 2 weeks notice was my weekly meeting with my boss. He told me he considered my request to have an actual producer on the project with me working with him, since they weren’t ready to promote me. I had requested either a promotion to producer, or have an actual producer on the project because the client was steamrolling us, and I felt that the lack of a producer caused the lack of respect. I couldn’t talk with them on equal terms. Never did I think gender was a factor, but now, sometimes I wonder.
In any case, it was too late. I was leaving, and I wasn’t sure where I was going. I was asked to work at a nearby company, but I really wanted to work in Japan, though I didn’t know how to go about it. My significant other at the time recommended I should take the job I was invited to work at. We broke up a few months later, and I was able to keep the apartment for myself because of the significant increased pay.
I started my new job about a month after I left, and things were going really well. Every now and then I heard news from my team and the new producer, and how they were doing with the project. I know I tend to over-dramatize things, but sometimes I felt like I had abandoned the team and left them in the gas chamber. There is a scene from Dr. Zhivago that I remember seeing as a kid, when stripped Jews were hoarded in a gas chamber, and when the gas came on, people rushed to the doors, begging for their lives. The actual scene lasts for only a moment, but every now and then, a flash of it appears in my head.
Actually, I’ve never seen Dr. Zhivago in its entirety, so I guess I ought to rewatch it again.
The one piece of news that I was able to get pleasure from was hearing that the producers I had worked with got fired or demoted. I like to think that my exit was a catalyst to this and it won the team a new client producer to work with, and hopefully extra time and money. But that’s wishful thinking.
Whether I was good at game production probably depends on who you’re talking to. As someone who is gender neutral, I like to treat everyone with equal respect. If I’ve got someone with an ego, with or without substance, I’m going to treat them just like everyone else, but if I’ve got someone who’s working hard, and doesn’t care what anyone says, including me (but is also a team player and finishes their priority tasks…!), I’m going to treat them like a rockstar.
The motivation for this post came from an acquaintance who called out all the women he knew who were or are game developers to help him with a project he was working on. I was disappointed I wasn’t called on, especially since he probably wouldn’t have met these women had I not referred him to my company, but considered that all the women he called were typical, attractive women whom people don’t usually peg to be in the games industry. I noticed that he didn’t call out another friend of mine that he’d worked with, who is female, but tomboyish not your usual girl. I think this says much to me about his, and perhaps the general, perception of what is women in the industry. Just as I’m starting to feel visible, I am once again made invisible.
It is in these instances when I am left out that is frustrating, and reminds me to hold on to these experiences tighter so that I may share them to anyone who would like to listen.