More Than a Master Chief

If you’ve played Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, you’ve likely heard of KiKi Wolfkill, Executive Producer for the game and now Studio Head for transmedia at 343 Industries. Her involvement in Halo 4 included a deep focus on the Halo universe, and her efforts inspired the series’ Promethean enemy class. However, she didn’t start out as a game developer--she began as a Chinese History major, then took on a second degree in Broadcast Journalism to pursue her goal of creating documentaries. While working with film effects in a contract job for a video game, she became intrigued by the creative challenges of telling stories in a different medium, and went on to become the Director of Art for Microsoft Game Studios.

KiKi shared her origin story in We Are’s Journey into Gaming panel at E3 2018, where she and two other women discussed their first steps into the industry, as well as shared their advice on how others can break into the space. She was joined by Liz Fiacco, game developer for Naughty Dog, and Christina Hamilton, with marketing in mobile gaming advertisement at Facebook. Although they hail from widely different backgrounds, all three women bring their unique voices and experiences into the gaming realm, as well as inspiration for girls looking to follow in their footsteps.

From Greenhorns to Gaming Industry Leaders

Liz Fiacco began her journey in gaming through one of the ESA’s scholarship programs, where she minored in games development. She became recognized for her accomplishments in design and went on to work for Naughty Dog, who recently released their newest trailer for The Last of Us II. “I’m still reeling from putting our trailer out,” she expressed of the event. “The response has been incredible. I’m really proud that we could represent the LGBTQ community on a big platform like this.” 

Christina Hamilton, much like KiKi, was originally in an entirely different field. Once a marketer in real estate, she moved into gaming after becoming intrigued with the versatility of mobile gaming companies. “I thought [they] were the most interesting and sophisticated,” she stated. “They follow everything. They’re among the first to adopt new products.” Unintimidated by the contrast of gaming to real estate, she studied the space and began networking, now working under Facebook in mobile gaming advertisement.

Community, Creativity, and Tackling Preconceptions

For KiKi, breaking into the industry was a matter of getting down in the trenches and creating. “Get out there and make games,” she advised those looking to break into the space, citing game jams as a primary avenue to get in touch with gaming communities. “There are communities in places big and small. In a couple of days you can experience team dynamics, prototyping, and problem solving. It helps you figure out what your path will be in games, production, or design. You’re making. That’s the key point, get in there and start creating.”

The panel likewise addressed some serious preconceptions about the gaming field. Liz, who also teaches game design at a technology camp, knows first-hand that development can seem intimidating to those new to the space. “One of the things that struck me is the misconception that games run on ‘space magic,’ that there’s some mystical knowledge needed to start doing it,” she said of her experience. “There’s a lot of tutorials online, made by people wanting to help each other and teach each other. We’re all trying to figure out how to make games every time we make one.”

Overcoming Challenges & Creating Accomplishments

While each of their journeys presented their own challenges, the group likewise expressed that their accomplishments made the trek worthwhile. “One of the things that is so unique about games is that it's such a collaborative experience,” KiKi stated. “It takes a village. It’s a constant cycle of problem solving. When you accomplish something together, it’s exponential. When we launched Halo 4, we were a brand new team with twelve people. We’d taken on a pre-existing IP. It was a super rough road. We came together as a team.” Even though the task was arduous, the Halo 4 team managed to build upon an already prestigious IP to make it even greater, and it was their teamwork that KiKi appreciates the most. “For me, it wasn’t that we launched the game,” she stated. “It was the sense of accomplishment that the team felt, to create an experience that moved people emotionally.”

With Naughty Dog’s newest title championing the LGBTQ community and the ever-growing array of mobile games available to users (many of which the women cited as inspiring them, including titles like Gorogoa and Florence), the group has high hopes for the gaming industry’s future. You can check out their tips for overcoming their personal struggles in the space, as well as hear about some of their current favorite games, in We Are’s Journey Into Games panel.