Recently, I attended a “Women in Tech Mixer,” a networking event hosted by renowned game company Wizards of the Coast in their Renton, WA headquarters.
The free event was created exclusively for women interested or currently working in technology in creative, marketing, project management, and technical roles. It was a first for Wizards, which has been a dream company for many aspiring fans of Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons.
With its spell-slinging, creature-casting mechanics, high-stakes tournaments, and addictive collectibles, Wizards has developed quite a nerdy reputation. Magic the Gathering is also one of Hasbro’s most lucrative franchises, beat only by Star Wars. Working at their headquarters would be taking part in a legacy that has been an integral part of the gaming industry.
Sadly, the reality of working at Wizards of the Coast is the same for anyone who wants to work in the gaming industry. Entry level roles are snapped up quickly, technical standards are high, and the interview process is notoriously long.
The “Women in Tech Mixer” seemed to be a step in the right direction, offering attendees the chance to mingle with current employees from a variety of departments and learn about what it’s like to work at Wizards. And, of course, have a chance to nerd out.
Networking among complete strangers can be a stressful experience for anyone. There were several things I liked about attending this particular event, including the small group discussions. You could hop in, hop out of topics such as “How to Get into the Tech Field” and “What’s Behind a Job Description.” There were Wizards employees from project management, creative, and software engineering teams, who spoke about their recent projects and day-to-day responsibilities.
I had some good conversations at the “Project Manager” table, which works closely with marketing to create huge, interactive events like the Kaladesh Street Fair at PAX West 2016. For a company that is rooted in traditional “pen and paper” type of games, these events are crucial to getting players of all levels to interact with their products.
Eventually, the table discussion turned to non-job-hunting topics like “girls in gaming” and “what defines a true gamer?” It’s no secret that the gaming industry has had serious diversity problems. This is not only concerning representation of different groups (genders, religious beliefs, ethnic groups, etc.), but also the representation of entire genres.
Of course, there are always going to be exceptions that run counter to the trend, but it seems to me that a lot of games are the same because they share the same core mechanics, play styles, or genres. Remember when every major publisher was making their own version of a gritty, “realistic” zombie survival game?
The lack of diversity doesn’t just affect players, it affects employees in the industry – especially women. According to a recent article from Unite-IT, when dividing jobs in the game industry by gender, men are still dominating in most of the core content creation roles like programming, visual arts, game and narrative design.
In spite of growing equality in player demographics (Unite-IT claims that there are 2x more adult female gamers than young male gamers), the glaring fact of the matter is that there need to be more opportunities for women to enter those key development roles. The game industry is a tough place for everyone, and the lack of the diversity shouldn’t be one of them.
Looking back at the Women of Wizards networking event, I have hope that there are small, meaningful changes happening even in established game companies and that women are being recognized as a growth opportunity. In other parts of the tech industry, diversity has become a key strategy for companies who want to recruit the best talent and stay on top.
As far as my own experience with Wizards of the Coast, I heard from many participants at the end of the event who felt it was a successful networking event for them and they wished for another in the future. I genuinely hope this will result in some great career opportunities for smart, geeky women. When one woman helps another, amazing things can happen!