Women in gaming: Interview with the Studio Art Director at Well Played Games

Article written by Andy Turton, Director of X4 Technology.

Female gamers make up 45% of the UK’s population and account for almost half of all of video game purchases. Females clearly play an active role in the industry, however, when it comes to making the games themselves, just 28% of the UK workforce are female. With female-led tech companies proven to achieve a 35% higher return on investment than men-led companies, it raises the question, why are so few women working in gaming?

There’s a variety of explanations behind this but throughout my women in gaming series, a common theme among the many talented individuals I have spoken to has been around a lack of awareness of the career paths and opportunities available.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Claire McClaughry, Studio Art Director at Well Played Games who talked to me about her earliest memories of playing video games and how she stumbled into her career. Fast-forward 12 years’ and she’s now worked on an eclectic mix of nearly 20 games.

Check out the full interview below.

You have an extensive career in gaming, what attracted you to the industry?

I’ve been playing video games ever since I could mash buttons on a joystick and keyboard, which is probably from around 2 years old on my dad’s 80s home computers. Video games were very much a large part of my childhood, alongside being creative so, I took art at college and when it came to University options I was looking at graphic and web design.

Video games art wasn’t something that was on my radar as an actual job as at the time, there were only around 3 courses in the whole of the UK. However, I stumbled across a Computer Animation course whilst visiting a University and was immediately captured by the students work.

At first, I really wanted to go into character animation but it wasn’t until my second or third year that I started enjoying 3D environment art and thought that actually, this was totally what I wanted to be doing! Skip to 13 years later and I still couldn’t imagine working in another industry.

What do you enjoy most in your role as Studio Art Director at Well Played Games?

My role as Studio Art Director is fairly recent, although I’ve been working in lead roles for around 5 years. The shift from artist to more art management can take a while to get used to, but I really enjoy enabling an art team to do awesome things and helping artists to expand their skills and work in new areas.

I also get to work across multiple projects, with many talented people, both in studio and outsourcers, work with universities and be involved in various game development events, so I love the variety.

What’s important to you when choosing a studio to work for?

These days it’s very much about the team and the vibe I get from the studio as a whole, what they value, how they work, etc. It can be really tough when you first start out to get a role in such a competitive industry, so there’s often little option to think too much about what sort of studio you’d like to work at. As you gain more experience, you get a better understanding of what you really enjoy about a studio (and what you don’t!)

The role is important too of course, something that will be challenging and fulfilling, but as for the actual projects, that’s less of a factor for me, I’ve been lucky enough to work on an eclectic mix of nearly 20 games in my career.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for females in the industry?

Unfortunately in the past I have had some less than pleasant experiences that I very much doubt would have been the same for a male counterpart. I have found, however, that this is less of an occurrence these days. It can be tough when you start out to feel like you can call out this sort of thing, so I think it’s really important for those who do feel like they can, to do it, so as to promote a better working environment.

Perhaps not a challenge for women already in the industry, but for attracting more to the games industry – knowledge on the types of roles available. The number of women working in games dev has increased since I first started but I think there is still work that could be done in schools and colleges to show the diversity of roles available. It’s not just coding, art and design!

Working flexibility is also a big factor, part time roles in my experience, are very rare, in many studios. Also, flexible working hours and working from home; there are many studios who just wouldn’t entertain flexible hours or the option to work from home.

For women with families or planning families, maternity options could also be a big challenge, other industries just do it better with more options and benefits, which probably comes from games dev being historically very male orientated. This isn’t to say all studios are like this of course, there are many that are very good with all of the above!

Women make up just 20% of the worldwide workforce in the games industry. Do you feel efforts to improve female representation are starting to build momentum?

From what I’ve seen of university courses, conferences and events, it is still very much male dominated, but it’s certainly improving. If more women are coming from college and university and seeing games as a real option for them, they’ll see you can have a fulfilling and rewarding career, which will inspire the next generation to do the same and that’s a strong position to be in.

It’s also great to see so many more diverse and creative studios shouting about their talented employees (of all genders!) on social media, that has over the years shifted the view of games dev being dingy offices full of middle aged men (sorry!) to fun, vibrant, creative places to work.

What advice would you give to a female professional considering working in gaming?

Just do it! It took me a year to get my first role, with many, many, an application. If it’s what you really want to do, keep plugging away. Attend game dev events, join groups on social media, keep an eye out for Women in Games events, join mentorship programs, bother me on LinkedIn and look into the variety of roles available, beyond the usual art, design and code.

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