March 15, 2023
Creating Equitable Experiences for Women in Games
An Interview with Emma Bullen, Hyper Hippo’s Director, New Global Markets and Women In Games Ambassador
In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, we sat down with Emma Bullen, Hyper Hippo’s Director, New Global Markets for a conversation about the challenges women and female-identifying people face in the games industry and what it means to be a Women in Games Ambassador.
When it comes to gender equality in the games industry, there’s no question about it–there’s still work to be done. In 2021, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada published a report which found that women constituted 23% of the video game industry workforce; while this is up from 19% in 2019, the representation of women in games continues to be significantly lower than the overall Canadian workforce where the percentage of women is around 48%.
In part, the increase in the representation of female-identifying people in the games industry is the result of advocacy work of organizations like Women In Games. Founded in 2009, Women In Games is a not-for-profit organization that facilitates activities and initiatives to showcase the creative work of women in the games industry, from art and design, to sound, to creative coding. One of the initiatives run by Women In Games is an ambassador program that aims to build a powerful and diverse community of action through meaningful collaboration.
In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, and Women’s History Month, we sat down with Emma Bullen, Hyper Hippo’s Director, New Global Markets who has been involved with the Women In Games Ambassador program for almost 3 years.
Tell us a bit about you and your career journey in the games industry.
I’m fortunate to have gained a lot of experience over the course of my career in a variety of fun and diverse roles both in the UK, where I’m from, and British Columbia, where I now live. Yes, it’s been fun, but there’s also been a lot of hard work and grit and determination along the way.
I started working in tech in 2001, after completing a Masters in Electronic Communication & Publishing at University College London, and I moved into games when I joined the BBC as a researcher in the children’s department. While making games for children’s brands including Pingu and Bob the Builder, I had the opportunity to work alongside some strong female leaders and their mentorship really shaped my attitude towards working in games.
I took a brief diversion into the world of magazines before joining The Walt Disney Company to work on the #1 kids virtual world, Club Penguin, which was a great time of personal growth and development. When I left Disney, I worked for a brilliant agency in the UK producing mobile games for brands such as the BBC and Nickelodeon before returning to Canada and joining Hyper Hippo. I initially started here in the Marketing department before stepping into my current role as Director of New Global Markets.
How did you come to be a Women In Games ambassador?
I’ve been an ambassador for almost three years and was prompted to join the program when I saw a post on Twitter asking viewers to tag other women who work in the games industry. As I started putting a list together, I realized that many of the strong women I’d worked with over the years were no longer in the industry. I started doing some research into Women In Games and the work they do, and signed up to be an ambassador the next day.
What does it mean to be a Women in Games ambassador? What are the responsibilities and opportunities that come with that role?
As an ambassador, my role is to help attract women into the games industry, and to support and invest in them once they’re here. Ambassadors are active members of both their local and online communities. There are many opportunities to get involved, from joining existing groups in your region to starting your own.
In my time as an ambassador, I’ve grown my network and have built the confidence to reach out and connect with other women since joining the group’s social channels. This year, Women In Games tasked its ambassadors to lead or contribute to an impact event (a visible initiative, social event or workshop), so I’m currently working on finding new volunteer opportunities.
Women In Games
What are the challenges facing women in the games industry today?
Women are significantly underrepresented in the games industry and that’s a problem, particularly when female gamers make up 45% of the world’s gaming population. There are also some well publicized controversies around dysfunctional workplaces, and there’s still a lot of abuse in online multiplayer games. Even down to character design, there’s discrimination. It’s 2023 and there are still studios publishing games with women fighting in bikinis. Putting it simply, women deserve a safe place to work and play – and they deserve representation both in games and in the boardroom.
Of course, not all challenges women face are blatant – there are also many microaggressions that women have to endure. And while working remotely has been a great help for many, arguably, the school system isn’t set up to empower working mothers to succeed. I’m particularly motivated to make sure that the women I work with in the games industry are supported to navigate the challenges of work and life without facing burnout and giving up on creating the games they love to play.
Are there areas where we’re seeing progress being made? Where is there still work to be done?
Groups like Women In Games do a lot to provide access to mentorship, highlight job opportunities, and share transparency around the gender pay gap. Their work has made, and continues to make, a powerful impact. However, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done across the industry. We need to keep addressing gender parity and leadership equity; we need to keep building safe spaces across the workplace and online; and we need to continue to mentor, promote, and celebrate our female colleagues.
What are some of the impacts you’ve observed and/or contributed to during your time as a WIG ambassador?
The Fair Play Guide on the WIG’s website is a terrific guide to creating a fair playing field in the workplace and I’d highly recommend downloading it. It’s full of information, resources, and recommendations from women working in the games industry.
What does it look like to be an advocate and/or ally for women in the games industry? Any practical advice you can share?
Women and female-identifying individuals are a diverse group and the way they support each other looks very different and will change over time. Fundamentally, it starts by talking about issues and experiences within the games industry. If I can offer any practical advice, it’s to find and advocate for one another. Almost every woman you’ve worked with has experienced sexism in some form, and other women can offer unique perspectives on how to handle whatever situation you’re in. There’s a lot of power in women lifting up other women.
We need allies in the industry to speak up and interrupt patterns of behavior as they observe them. It is exhausting to be told you are strong and resilient, we need everyone’s help breaking down barriers. My advice is to bring women into the fold and to make sure women aren’t over mentored and under sponsored. More mentorship and training doesn’t correlate to more promotions for women, and we have to bring awareness to this issue before we can start to solve it together.
Can you recommend any resources for women and allies working in the games industry?
Happily! Here’s some resources I’d recommend:
Women In Games – Get Involved
Women In Games – Building A Fair Playing Field
Women In Games International (WIGI)
She Plays Games – Podcast
Girls Who Code
IGDA Women In Games Community
Generation Google Scholarships – North America
Black Girl Gamers
Limit break – Mentorship Program
2020 Global Gaming Scorecard