G.I.R.L. Talk with Tiffany Chu
By Emily “Domino” Taylor
Tiffany works as a Content Designer on the Free Realms® game team at SOE, and spoke to the G.I.R.L. program this week about her work and experience as a game designer!
[Emily] Give us a summary of your background, and you got into the games industry?
I’ve always enjoyed video games since I was little. However, I was under the impression that all games were made in Japan, since all I had was a Nintendo. It wasn’t until my first job out of college, that I actually realized that real people are making video games right next to me!
I was fortunate to be working in Irvine at the time, and after doing some research, I found three different companies nearby that I could apply to: Blizzard, Interplay, and Troika Games. Ultimately, I ended up at Troika Games to work on Arcanum. Abandoning a salary job to work in QA, I felt that I had found my dream job!
I think that because Troika was such a small company at the time, it was easier to get mentored and trained. My brain wasn’t quite fit for programming, and I have practically zero art skills, but storytelling and design seemed like a good fit with my English major from college. Vampires: The Masquerade - Bloodlines was the first game that I got to contribute design work for.
Since then, I’ve worked as a designer at SCEA (Neopets Petpet Adventures: The Wand of Wishing), Spark Unlimited (Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary), and now SOE (Free Realms).
[Emily] Tell us a bit about the area of gaming you’re currently involved in – for example, where are you working, what is your job title, what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I’m a Designer – specifically a “Content Designer” or “World Designer.” I work on the characters, quests, and accessible activities on Free Realms. I’ve trained new designers, written up guidelines for quests and documentation, brainstormed ideas for new features and items, and implemented various activities into the game.
Right now, I’m working on revising and improving the play experience for Free Realms. The exact details are a bit hush-hush, but I’m basically drawing maps, going to meetings, and writing documents. Have you ever been a DM or GM for a pen and paper RPG? It’s sorta like that!
[Emily] How common is it to find women working in your specific area of gaming?
Game development and design is still predominantly male, but I think there are more and more women joining the field. Some game teams go out of their way to recruit female designers, believing that we offer insight and ideas that help make a game more appealing to a broader audience.
[Emily] How do you feel that being a woman helps or hinders you at work, if at all?
I don’t find that it makes a bit of difference one way or another. One of the most important skills for me is communication – a good designer should be able to talk about her ideas and get other team members on board. While written or oral communication comes easily to some, it’s a skill that anyone can train to improve on.
[Emily] What types of games do you enjoy playing?
I used to really enjoy the long and involved RPGs, but I’ve slowly begun migrating to casual games. While I miss my old raiding days, casual games makes me feel like my bite-sized gaming times are healthier to me.
I like checking out arcade, tower defense, and strategy games on Kongregate.com and yes, Facebook. Of note, I really enjoyed: Cursed Treasure: Don’t Touch My Gems!, Sushi Cat, Zuma Blitz, and SOE’s own, Dungeon Overlord. I just finished Professor Layton: Unwound Future on my DS, and started Harvest Moon. I’ve picked up Plants vs Zombies again, but this time, it’s on my Xbox. Finally, if you haven’t yet, check out Swords and Soldiers on your PS3 – I thought it was a super funny game.
[Emily] What gaming work have you done that you are most proud of?
I’m actually most proud of mentoring new designers on Free Realms, since they did the bulk of the work in getting the game launched. Now they’re all grown up and have moved on to other projects…I’m just so proud of them! LOL
[Emily] Which issues (if any) do you feel are most important to women either working or playing in gaming these days?
I think that it’s a great time to be a female designer in the industry right now. Everyone’s looking for new ideas and new ways to reach out to a broader audience. Capitalize on this opportunity and embrace how you may differ from a male designer.
For females playing games, I’d suggest trying to broaden your horizon. If you’re already playing Farmville or WoW, try something new! The point of games is to entertain, not to frighten or offend, so keep an open mind for all genres.
[Emily] How do you think that the game industry in general might attract more women, both to work within the industry, and to play more games in general?
For me, the biggest draw this industry is how rewarding your efforts are at the end of a project. You’ve created something fun that lots of people around the world can play! This is exciting to me!
Figuring out how to draw more female gamers starts at the inception of a game. Usually, a person comes up with a game idea that is appealing to her. If a game’s fun, it will naturally appeal to everyone. Once the game is set, it’s up to marketing to let women know about this awesome fun game.
[Emily] What specific actions (if any) would you encourage women working in gaming to take in order to make the industry more friendly to women?
First, work for a company that you genuinely like. If you can’t, then fight for a friendlier working environment.
Then, educate women about the various job options in the industry, and how awesome the job can be. The more the merrier, right?
[Emily] Are there any particular blogs, sites, books, twitter feeds, or other sources that you would recommend as particularly relevant or helpful to women in the gaming industry?
I regularly check out gamasutra.com and subscribe to the Game Developer magazine. I think these two sources provide valuable information to anyone serious about the industry.
[Emily] Any other thoughts you’d like to share about women, gaming, or what it means to you to be a woman in gaming?
I would reiterate and encourage all women to examine their own strengths and interests, and embrace them. Don’t be afraid if those are different from your male colleagues or friends. You will have a different way of not just solving problems, but also identifying issues that others may not see. In this rapidly changing industry, new and different is good!
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