Even Studios Need Somebody to Lean On

Kelly Wallick, CEO and founder of Indie Megabooth, sat down with three influential women from independent game studios to head a conversation on their creative visions, support systems, and desires for the future of gaming. She was joined by Robin Hunicke, CEO of Funomena and Executive Producer of Journey, as well as Caryl Shaw, Vice President of Development for Double Fine Productions, and Siobhan Reddy, Studio Director of Media Molecule. As if this lineup wasn’t already impressive, the group made insightful observations about their studios’ support systems, and how companies can better aid their teams’ creativity by implementing an appreciation for outside life and shared vulnerability.

“Everyone at Funomena understands that I’m doing the best I can,” Hunicke stated on the subject. “You can’t press a button and fun comes out. It is hard to be productive, and to perform creative problem solving on the fly. To do good creative work, safety nets and flex time should be built in. It costs money because it costs time and care.” Hunicke also explained that her studio is a baby and pet friendly environment, while Shaw divulged that Double Fine increased their benefits for new parents, allowing them sixteen weeks of paid time off to spend with their families. 

All women expressed an appreciation for vulnerability in the space, as well as encouragement for their teammates through difficult times and health issues. “We can talk very openly about our reproductive health,” Siobhan stated. “We have really started to support each other through that. We ask a lot of the people to be creative, to come up with ideas every day. These are mechanisms they have. We can’t pay a lot, but we can make sure the environment is respectful.” 

In the Creative Cut

Although each of the women’s studios have their own creative objectives, they all champion originality, creativity, and teamwork to produce engaging games. Siobhan’s studio, Media Molecule, was inspired by the early Commodore 64 titles, and works to release genre-defining console games. Double Fun sets out to produce creatively driven puzzle-narrative games that can appeal to the broader market, while Funomena creates experimental titles for emerging hardware. 

“We’re hardcore nerds who love hardcore creativity,” Hunicke said. “We do things differently. The studio emerged organically from having friends that do creative research. As it was fun to do, we just went with it.” Looking at Hunicke’s portfolio, one can see this is true--her award-winning game Luna explores emotions and the humanistic concept of letting go, while Journey takes players through a silent and self-driven experience of discovering a forgotten world, while using nonverbal cues to interact with teammates. 

“You want to create something that is full of joy,” Siobhan echoed, relating to her experience in Media Molecule. “You want it to have personality in it. It’s important that people feel that the work they’re doing is appearing on screen.”

One Step at a Time

Following their own massive strides in the gaming industry, the group has high hopes for its future, and sees an environment that is inclusive and all-access, with opportunities for those looking to make a difference. “I’d like to see more games and more studios being run by more diverse groups of people,” Siobhan expressed. “Meeting other female CEOs is kind of tough. With how game studios are run, care and support aren’t everywhere. It doesn’t matter what part of the industry you’re in, it’s a tough gig, and we have to be there to help support people. Leadership of the games industry has to think about continuing that forward.”

Robin’s vision is already manifesting. As a long-time attendee of E3, she sees the massive strides the industry has made since its inception, as the trade show is now open-access with greater representation for women and people of color. For Shaw, the proof is in the pudding: We Are’s all-female panel is a testament to gaming’s forward-facing strides, and she hopes to see those steps continue. “I’m on the panel with women leaders of companies,” she said. “I can’t imagine ten years ago being able to get this many women leaders on one panel. More equality on the panels: that’s the game industry I want to work in, and hope I’m trying to build.”

Kelly Wallick’s focus on positivity in the gaming sphere brought fun and perceptiveness to We Are’s Small Studios: Big Ideas panel. As major leaders in independent gaming, these women have years of experience to bring to the table, as well as major goals for the industry’s future. With their emphasis on creativity and portfolios notable releases, fans can expect even greater things from Funomena, Double Fine Productions, and Media Molecule alike. Don’t miss We Are’s upcoming panel at 2 P.M. PST at E3 2018, and be sure to keep a weather eye on the horizon for more features from the ESA’s We Are initiative.