Okay, folks. Today’s post is a 301-level post, in that it builds on a lot of things that I’ve written previously here. I know I’m shooting myself in the foot in terms of expecting anyone to read this by linking to a bunch of stuff right off the bat, but…
So here goes.
In the past, I’ve written about
- barriers to to diversity in the games industry (read the first section titled “barriers to entry): an in-depth look at that keep women and minorities out of publishing both actively and invisibly
- gate-keeping and how gate-keeping behavior inevitably privileges whiteness and maleness
- Common cognitive barriers to believing that you can be a game designer or publisher (start with the second section, titled “2) Self-publishing: common cognitive pitfalls”)
- The practical barriers that keep women from becoming professional creators
Importantly, I’ve also written about the statistics of crowdfunding while female for both Patreon and KickStarter – although looking back I can see that my stats for Patreon were not as in-depth as I would like. (I may go back and correct that, but probably not.)
Everything I write here in this post is going to be predicated on the assumption that you have read those posts, or at least understand the concepts that I’ll be addressing. If I get any questions or comments referencing something covered in one of the above posts, I’m going to moderate your comment.
Again, this is NOT a 101-level post, so fair warning.
WHY IT SUCKS TO BE A FEMALE GAME DESIGNER/PUBLISHER: A SUMMARY
One of the classes I’m taking, now that I’ve gone back to community college (Canadians call it “college, which confuses the shit out of me, still), is Operations and Supply Chain Management. I never expected to get much out of it, but surprise! I am. And one of the things that we’ve spent A LOT of time on is various types of flow charts, or “process charts”. Which is sort of what I’m starting with here.
…so to tl;dr everything I just linked to in the most reductive way possible, if you are a female game designer and/or publisher, you will face the following barriers to designing, producing, and publishing your own games:
- lack of community support (passive): fewer reshares of promotional posts on social media, less “buzz” around the development of projects you are working on, etc etc
- lack of community support (active): gate-keeping, misogynist backlash against your games because… reasons (it’s a thing folks, it really is), marginalization of your work as “for women” or “niche”, etc etc
- internal cognitive: especially Imposter Syndrome – this one is the biggest
- practical realities of being a woman, and miscellaneous RL shit: the wage gap, second shift labor that disproportionately affects women, losing emotional/mental bandwidth to having to deal with microaggressions on a daily basis
If you struggle and persevere and actually start publishing games, you will attract:
- less community buzz/support: Yes I listed it twice. It’s that important. Buzz translates into post-crowdfunding sales. Without it, you can’t expect anything substantive with regard to post-campaign sales
- fewer backers/patrons: which when combined with less support leads directly to
- fewer long term sales and lower overall revenue
These factors translate directly into:
- women designers having to set lower goals and take on less ambitions projects: which is itself an ugly catch 22, because over time this perpetuates an unconscious view of women designers are people who make scrappy little games and niche projects and men as designers capable of pulling down the big bucks ($50,000+). Look at all of the $200,000+ RPG KickStarters in the past two years. It’s not a coincidence that every single one of them was fronted by a man.
- projects by women designers attaining their goals with much lower margins of success (which is stressful): look, I’ve done it. I didn’t think Ruined Empire was going to fund, to be honest. It’s stressful, and it sucks, and that stress was the main reason why I didn’t do a KickStarter in 2015.
Over time, this has long-term consequences:
- Women become less active or simply produce less over time: You can’t afford to produce what you won’t get paid for. Designing for the “passion” or “the love of the hobby” just doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about something that takes as much work as designing games
- Talented and amazing women leave the hobby: Elizabeth Shoemaker-Sampat leaving tabletop gaming, or Leigh Alexander leaving video gaming are just two of my least favorite depressing examples of this. Not everyone is as amazingly hard-headed and contrary as I am, and that’s mostly a good thing, because sometimes choosing to leave is the only objectively sane course of action.
- Women become 2nd class designers: Women resign themselves to being 2nd class designers who write freelance for larger projects on which they won’t earn any royalties (this is distressingly common), or who write small games that might make a couple hundred here or there, but nothing else
All of which translates into A PAY GAP FOR FEMALE GAME DESIGNERS. And unless you ACTUALLY BELIEVE that men just do better work than women, that is a problem, not just for the women but for the hobby itself. Because logically, if male game designers aren’t better at game design than women, it means there are a whole lot of amazing games that could change the face of the hobby entirely that just won’t ever get written, because women don’t have the time, energy, and bandwidth to write them.
The only way to fix this is for people to START BUYING GAMES BY WOMEN
It doesn’t matter if you personally buy games by women. I mean, of course YOU do, gentle reader, because you’re lovely and progressive and are invested in the betterment of the hobby and all that. Now be quiet and don’t interrupt.
Look, the numbers are stark, and the only conclusion that can be drawn is as bleak as it is inescapable: as a community, WE ARE NOT BUYING GAMES BY WOMEN.
Obviously that needs to change. So what can you, personally, do? Well…
1) TAKE A HARD LOOK AT WHO YOU FOLLOW AND HOW YOU BUY GAMES
First, look at your social media: Who is in your circles on G+? Who do you follow on FB/Twitter? What is the breakdown of the space where you go to talk about games? How many women are in those spaces?
Second, look hard at who are the designers whose work you follow most closely? How many of those designers are women?
Third, look really hard at how much money do you give to men versus how much to women? (I’ll admit that I’m not so great about this, myself. My personal games collection is hugely unbalanced, and I don’t feel great about that.)
Note that I am NOT saying “don’t buy games by men”. FFS, that’s some straw-manning bullshit, so don’t even do that shit.
What I am saying is this: if the if the people you talk about games with are mostly white dudes, expand your circles to include more people who aren’t white dudes.
If the designers you follow are mostly white dudes, start following designers who aren’t white dudes.
If the people you buy games from are mostly white dudes, try to buy more games from people who aren’t white dudes.
I’m not saying that you’ll reach perfect parity overnight, but being aware that your spending is skewed isn’t enough. You need to actively look for ways to support projects by women.
2) PROMOTE WOMEN’S WORK
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had what I felt like was a solid, appealing project and tried to promote it and gotten… crickets.
This goes DOUBLE for you, whites dudes with community “cred”. Your word carries more weight than mine ever will, because that’s how bullshit identity politics work. You may not like it, you may not want to hear it, but it’s the truth.
3) MAKE GENDER A TIPPING POINT
How many times have you thrown money at a game you know you probably won’t ever play but want to read? Shit, I’ve done it. I’ve got half a shelf of game books that looked appealing but I knew I probably wouldn’t play, and most of them are by men.
Make “IS IT BY A WOMAN” part of that calculus. If you’re not sure if you want to buy a thing, and it looks interesting but you’re not sure if you’ll play it, check the gender of the author. And if it’s by a woman, and you have the money to spare anyway, consider actually buying it – because that supports that game designer in making more games down the line.