Canadian video game developers can boast that their niche is one of the largest in the world. With about 16,500 Canadians working in the industry in 329 different operating companies, Canada leads the charge in creating digital play lands—contributing $2.3 billion to Canada’s GDP annually, according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.
Being on the cutting-edge of this growing industry means you’re one of the best. But who plays on the team? Most of the industry’s creative geniuses hold college diplomas, while most of the technical and business sides of the industry are university grads. The average working age in the industry ranges from the early to mid 30s and most are men. In fact, about 80 per cent are men, while only about 16 per cent are women.
So what’s it like being female in a male-dominated industry? We asked Ubisoft Toronto’s Cindy Cook: “Honestly, it’s been a positive experience for me as a woman in the games industry,” Cook says, adding she gets lots of support for what she does. “Ubisoft Toronto is a truly diverse team that respects differences in gender and culture. In fact, our leadership team at the studio is 50 per cent women.”
Cook is an environmental artist who’s worked on games such as Assassin’s Creed Unity, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, Naruto: The Broken Bond, TMNT, and Open Season.
She says the challenges reach across the board for anyone working in the industry, not just for women. “Technology and the games industry are always evolving. You always need to stay up-to-date with the latest software skills and consumer trends,” says Cook.
Women who work in the video game development industry have something different they can bring to the table, says Jodi Tilley, a professor in the game development program at Algonquin College.
“Females bring a unique perspective to the industry—what types of games women and girls want to play and how they play games,” Tilley says. Take the game Minecraft for example. She says female gamers prefer playing the game more creatively than boys who generally prefer to play it in survival mode. “Females in the industry can be instrumental in helping design games with their perspectives in mind, hugely expanding the potential target audience for a game,” she says.
If you’re a female with an aptitude for creativity, technology, and who loves playing games, don’t hesitate setting your sights on this innovative industry simply because most of your coworker might be men. For 10 years, Cook says she’s reaped the benefits of working a job she describes as “extremely fun.”
“It’s hard work, but it’s fun and rewarding to work in a creative and inspiring environment. The opportunities right now are many … Once you find a great role on a game development team, don’t be shy to speak up and give your input on an opportunity or challenge, and be open to constructive direction,” Cook says.