Gina Jackson is managing director at the NextGen Skills Academy, a Government and employer invested organisation working in close collaboration with the games, animation and VFX [visual effects] industries to provide vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and short courses. She started her career in the video games industry in 1992, working in production on a wide variety of games for different developers and publishers, and then moved into business development roles at Nokia, Kuju and Eidos. Passionate about education and diversity, before spearheading the set up of NextGen Skills Academy, Gina took on roles including chief executive of Women in Games Jobs and she is also a visiting professor lecturing in the games industry and business at Norwich University of the Arts.
“…There are a host of roles in games development, both creative and technical but there are also many roles in the publishing side of businesses, from marketing and PR to sales, finance and operational roles… The doors are very much open…”
Why we need women to make games
Making games is a complex process. It can take several hundred people many months to make a single game, and development teams are made up of many different kinds of roles. But one thing that developers don’t always get the opportunity to do when they start a project is to pull together a truly mixed team.
Mixed teams make better products. By mixed, I mean a mix of age, gender, ethnicity, socially diverse backgrounds and skills. Why is this? Well, mixed teams create a diversity of thoughts and this in turn leads to a conflict of ideas. A healthy conflict that is.
The ‘stupid’ questions almost always turn out to be the best
I believe that conflict is a really important factor in making the best possible products, but it has to be aired and managed in safe environments where everyone can feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, to ask the ‘stupid’ questions which in the end, almost always turn out to the best questions. It’s this prodding of each other and provoking of thought which forces everyone in the team to look more objectively at what is being created.
The early 1990s – brilliant female role models
When I first started working in the games industry back in the early 1990s, I had so many brilliant female role models. Women were running games distribution companies and publishers, working in creative, technical and commercial roles. The UK was also the third largest creator of video games in the world at the time.
Women in the industry were a force to be reckoned with and their presence could be felt in the kinds of games that were being played on the Super Nintendo, Sega MegaDrive and GameBoy, colourful platform games with really compelling characters and great stories behind them.
By the mid-90s games were becoming more male-orientated
When we hit the Playstation era in the mid-90s, things began to change and by the time Microsoft entered the console market in 2001, games were becoming much bigger productions and starting to become more male-oriented. We moved away from the likes of Sonic, Mario, Rayman and Jak and Daxter. The games that began to lead the way were Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, dark war games and shooters that made gaming a very different experience to that of the upbeat platformers and cerebral adventure games.
A move into mobile gaming transcending the term ‘gamer’?
It was around this time that I saw a lot of the women I knew or worked with start to move into different sectors. But I didn’t want to become disheartened with an industry I love so instead I chose to make the move into mobile games in 2000 as I saw this as the perfect platform for the future of video games.
I worked for Nokia who were selling 183 million handsets a year and, for me, it felt like we were finally entering the mass-market era for games. It was with the advent of mobile that both men and women of all ages started playing games. Mobile games have moved on so much since then; whether it’s Angry Birds, Words With Friends or Candy Crush (my personal favourite), we all see people sat on the Tube or waiting for buses or appointments enjoying games every single day.This is what I’d dreamt of in 2000.
I believe that most people today are gamers, although not many of my friends would identify with that term. We might need a new name for it, but essentially I’m delighted to see that gaming has become so accessible and so popular.
The need for workplace-ready talent
Today the UK is the 8th biggest video games market in the world and research has shown that companies are crying out for fresh new talented and creative individuals. Whilst there are many hundreds of courses available in video game design and development, with an industry that moves at such speed, a great many of these are not delivering relevant and up-to-date content that can turn out workplace-ready talent.
Our ethos at NextGen Skills Academy is to work hand in hand with employers in the games industry (as well as in animation and VFX) to develop courses, apprenticeships and other initiatives that will give young people the chance to gain both the skills and knowledge that the industry needs today in order to fill these skills gaps.
Reaching out to more female students
We launched our first course for young people aged 16+ in four colleges this September. It’s called the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Games, Animation and VFX Skills and the demand was so high that some colleges ended up running two classes, not just one. It was great to see both young men and women signing up with such enthusiasm, but with an average of just 10% of female students at each college, we need to do better in terms of reaching women and showing them the opportunities that exist within the games industry. And the opportunities are very wide reaching.
Not just creative and technical roles
There are a host of roles in games development, both creative and technical but there are also many roles in the publishing side of businesses, from marketing and PR to sales, finance and operational roles. We desperately want to reach young people and let them know that there is a place for them in this very young, vibrant and dynamic industry. The doors are very much open.
As well as our new course, we want to create other opportunities for people to skill up in games and so early next year we will launch four brand new higher apprenticeships – two in gaming and two in VFX. This will give young people aged 18+ the opportunity to start working in proper jobs in these industries, whilst also receiving on-the-job training.
We know that 51% of the players of games today are women. I believe that for the UK games industry to grow and continue to be competitive on a global level, we need to get back to the golden age of development when women played an influential role in game design and production.
NextGen Aspiring Women
We’re just in the process of launching a brand new women’s mentoring programme called NextGen Aspiring Women, which is all about providing professional development opportunities for women in games, animation and VFX and helping them to reach their career goals. I’m very keen that we don’t see women departing the industry because they are lacking vital support.
Making games is tremendous fun. I want to see more young people have the opportunity to learn this craft and to experience the same love for their work. It is this new generation of creators with their fresh new outlook and well-honed skills that will help the UK to once again become a global gaming powerhouse.