Pathfinder Part 2: Looking at Art in Pathfinder Material [CHARTS][LONG]

[EDIT TO ADD: I realize some people are going to look at it and say “so what, two of these three books are older books”. However, what I feel makes it pertinent are the fact that the numbers from the newer book in the lineup are right in line with the older book. And, to slightly mangle one of my favorite Tumblr gifsets, it’s not exactly like women hadn’t been invented yet.]

[Edit 2: In the comments, Jean-Francois was kind enough to point out that I’d made my charts for suggestively attired and fully covered using absolute values and not percentages, which was completely my mistake in selecting the wrong fields to pull data from while making the charts, and then writing about the incorrect charts. This has now been fixed.]

Recently, I wrote about my experiences in trying out the Pathfinder Adventures card game app, which was released several weeks ago. Unfortunately, the sub-optimal experience created by the already confusing and buggy UI was made worse by bafflingly sexist art which I had no option to escape or avoid. And that was confusing! I don’t play Pathfinder, since the system makes me cranky, but I’ve always had an impression of Paizo as being One Of The Good Companies. As I said on Twitter:

Here’s a thing that I find puzzling: about 40% of the awesome female fantasy characters I pin on Pinterest come from Pathfinder art. And yet actual Pathfinder products make me want to punch things and scream, like, A LOT.

Case in point, I was bored with my recent mobile addiction and decided to try out the new Pathfinder Adventures app. Spoiler alert: the art is frustratingly sexist. Also, kinda bad – I mean, it’s impressive how WRONG some of these breasts are. Because I wanted to believe that it was video game devs skewing the product, I borrowed a bunch of Pathfinder books from a friend and…

Nope. That shit was just as bad, if not worse. Which – guys I wanted to like it so bad. SO BAD. There are great people at Paizo, and they have done and said some really great things wrt inclusion in their products. Also, [Jessica Price] has been one of the people I consistently point to as an example of how to promote diversity in the industry correctly. I WANT to be able to appreciate Pathfinder! I want it to be as great a game as the people I know at Paizo!

So I decided that I would try to borrow some Pathfinder books and take a look at the art, just to see how they compared to the game. I was hoping (foolishly, perhaps) that they would be better than the game? But, alas, my hopes were dashed.

Since something that I discovered in looking at the D&D 5E core books last year was that the art was much more balanced in the player’s handbook, I made sure to borrow more GM-facing materials, as I wanted to see how bad the art really got. And, uh. It gets pretty bad – starting with the covers. The books I borrowed were Battle of Bloodmarch Hill Part 1 – a small adventure path, The NPC Codex, and The Inner Sea World Guide. And two of the three covers… well…

Covers

The fact that the artist (I’m guessing Wayne Reynolds) felt it necessary to squeeze in a weirdly objectified barmaid on the cover is aggravating enough, but WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK is going on with the cover of the Inner Sea World Guide?? Seriously, it took me a good three or four minutes of squinting to determine if Seoni was facing toward or away from the camera. The artist was SO DETERMINED to show some boobage that they drew her boobs showing on either side of her torso, never mind the fact that this would mean her boobs would have to be pointing outward away from each other at about a 45 degree angle. But, you know. Whatever. Let’s just move on and get to the numbers:

Criteria Studied

Since the issues I was interested in looking at with the Pathfinder books were pretty much the same as what I examined with D&D, I used all of the same criteria:

As with all of my other “numbers” posts, I was specifically interested in tracking the following criteria:

  • total breakdown of figures by gender
  • prevalence of fully-covered versus suggestively-attired figures by gender
  • class archetype depicted by gender

(For a more detailed explanation of what I mean by these criteria, you can read my very first such study here –starting with the heading “Determining Methodology”.)

However, because of trends that I noticed flipping through books, I did make some modifications to my criteria and how I counted things. For instance, as there were a large number of illustrations where it was not possible to determine the gender of a given figure, I counted “humanoid figures without discernible gender” separately from male and female figures.

One thing that I also noticed while flipping through the books is that there seemed to be a marked difference in representation between group shots (shots with multiple figures) and shots with only one character; as such I looked at the gender-breakdown of single-character shots as well as group shots that contained male figures and group shots that contained female figures.

Gender Representation in Pathfinder Books: Depressingly Predictable

I went into this analysis hoping that the results wouldn’t be as predictably imbalanced as I thought they would be. And… well… the good news is that they weren’t. The bad news, however, is that’s only because they were worse than I had anticipated.
Gender

Out of the three books I surveyed, the NPC Codex wins the dubious distinction of being the most gender-balanced – despite actually having a higher percentage of male figures than Battle of Bloodmarch Hill – simply because all of the characters illustrated in the NPC Codex had handy text blurbs specifying who the character was. Conversely, the Inner Sea World Guide – the setting guide of all of the nations that make up Golarion (the official Pathfinder setting) – wins the “honors” of least gender-balanced, with an impressive 68% of all figures with discernible gender being male and only 24% being female.

Most depressing, however, is the fact that the breakdown for Battle of Bloodmarch Hill and the Inner Sea World Guide look almost identical, despite being published four years apart. The Inner Sea World Guide was released in 2011, the NPC Codex in 2012, and the Battle of Bloodmarch Hill was released in 2015. One would hope that there would be at least some movement toward inclusion, along the line of what Wizards managed with the release of 5th Edition D&D, in those four years, but… not so much.

Somewhere else that Pathfinder comes up short in comparison to D&D is the issue of representation in group shots. In examining the art from D&D 5th Edition books last year, I discovered that women were better represented in group shots than they were in single-character illustrations. So given the overall abysmal numbers of female representation, I was curious to see if that would be the case with these Pathfinder books. They are, after all, a pretty similar product. But as it turns out, women are actually less represented in groups and scenes!

Group-Versus-Single

Despite the fact that only 26% of all female figures in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill are women, 35% of all single-character illustrations are female – which means that group scenes are punching way below their weight. And while the disparity isn’t quite as noticeable with the other books, the fact remains that groups and scenes are actually less representative than single-character illustrations. Seriously, check this shit out:

Groups-and-Women

For all that Battle of Bloodmarch Hill had pretty much the same disappointingly low levels of female representation as the Inner Sea World Guide, there was only 1 illustration out of 8 (12.5%) that didn’t include any women. The Inner Sea World Guide, however, which is supposed to be a book about setting and the world of Golarion, had a staggering 59% of all group shots containing only men. Which is some weird and creepy shit, right there, when you’re writing a book about an entire world. Seriously, where the fuck are all the women???

And when women DID appear in group shots or scenes, the odds were pretty damn high that they would be THE ONLY WOMAN in the image. Only ONE of the 7 group shots in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill contained more than one woman. And out of the depressingly small number of group shots that DO contain women in the Inner Sea World Guide, only 31% of those images contain more than one woman, which is just… fucking depressing.

Differences in Depiction: Active Posing and Suggestive Attire

The other set of numbers that I collected for the three books focused on how men and women were portrayed differently. In collecting these numbers, again I stuck with my usual methodology for counting 1) figures that are actively posed versus neutrally posed 2) figures that were suggestively attired and 3) figures that were fully covered. (If you want to read explanations of how I determine these things, my methodology and reasoning are all spelled out here.) When looking at each figure, I also determined what the class archetype of the figure was: warrior, rogue, mage, or no class depicted.

When looking at active poses versus neutral poses, the numbers come out a bit mixed:

Active-v-Neutral

For both Battle of Bloodmarch Hill and the Inner Sea World Guide, women are slightly more likely to be posed as neutral than active. In the NPC Codex, women are slightly less likely to be posed as neutral. However, a confounding variable that I didn’t know how to account for was that the NPC Codex contains almost exclusively single-character illustrations with no background whatsoever, and it is significantly harder to draw a character that looks active with those constraints.

When looking at suggestively attired figures and fully covered figures, things similarly come out a bit mixed:

Pathfinder-SA-FC

[This section has been updated and corrected]

There is pretty close to an even gender split of suggestively attired figures in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill are male, with a slightly higher percentage of male figures counting as suggesting – although this is entirely owing to the fact that Battle of Bloodmarch Hill is a scenario that involves A LOT of orcs – almost none of whom are wearing shirts. And as I’ve written about VERY recently, simply not wearing a shirt does NOT make an illustration sexy. However, the numbers are a lot more clear in the NPC Codex and Inner Sea World Guide. In both of these books, women were about twice as likely to be suggestively attired as their male counterparts.

As for fully covered figures, again the prevalence of orcs plays havoc with these numbers in Battle of Bloodmarch Hill. Even so, women come out only slightly more likely to be fully covered, and in the NPC Codex they are less likely to be full covered. Which means that as usual, women have the double-whammy of being both less likely to be fully covered and more likely to be suggestively attired – which is in keeping with the general trend toward sexualization of women in game art.

[/correction]

Finally, we come to depictions of class archetype, which I include simply because in fantasy and gaming artwork, it’s still an unfortunately common stereotype to see men depicted overwhelmingly as fighters and women overwhelmingly depicted as mages. And the numbers are… mostly frustrating:

Class

Interestingly, the NPC Codex manages to have a nearly even split of how men and women are depicted, with women actually being slightly less likely to be depicted as not having a class than men. Which is fascinating! Especially since it’s bookended (in terms of publication dates) by Battle of Bloodmarch Hill and the Inner Sea World Guide, which are both very unbalanced in their class depictions.

In Battle of Bloodmarch Hill, only TWO out of 34 male figures that fit into a class archetype are shown as anything other than a warrior or fighter! As compared to the women, who are 40% less likely to be fighters and are nearly 20% more likely to not fit any class archetype at all. And the split is even worse when looking at the Inner Sea World Guide! Only 34% of all women can be said to fit into a class archetype – which is ALL KINDS OF DEPRESSING when you consider how incredibly underrepresented women are in the Inner Sea World Guide as a whole. There are vast swathes of the book where there are no women at all, and when women DO show up, fucking TWO THIRDS OF THEM aren’t even heroes or adventurers. They’re fucking barmaids, peasants, princesses, and slaves – which is some creepy woman-erasing misogynistic bullshit.

Stay Tuned!

Because next time, I’m going to be looking at specific piece of art – because HOLY SHIT THEY ARE SO BAD WTF HOW ARE THEY SO BAD.

So because I don’t want to end on such a downer note, here’s a baby squirrel:

Epilogue: On “KickStarter Diversity” – problems, but not many potential solutions

[Note: I know I’ve been a one-note blog these last few weeks. This is going to be my last post about KickStarter for a while, promise.]

I would be remiss if I did not mention the tremendous response that I got to last week’s post. So thank you to everyone who said positive things in response, or who offered words of comfort, or who tried to offer assistance.

Thanks also to people who bought one of my games, or who became a patron. Not gonna lie, I’m feeling a bit guilty about the spike in sales that I saw – it wasn’t my intention to guilt people into buying my games or becoming patrons, I can understand how me opening a window onto some of the harsh, ugly feels that I’ve been having would seem like me yelling at you, my readers, which wasn’t my intention.

Of course, not all of my responses were that friendly and receptive. Like these, for example:

comments

There was also someone who popped up on my G+ and commented using the hashtag for GooberGate, which freaked me the fuck out for a few minutes when I saw it. (Thankfully that crowd doesn’t seem to be very active on G+?) So that was fun. Nice to know that after all of the word count that I devoted to gathering data on proving how fucked women publishers are, talking about feelings in gaming is still the biggest sin you can commit when writing about games while female.

Lastly, I feel like it’s worth addressing that a lot of people had questions about how I handled The Starlit Kingdom specifically, when honestly the second half of the post was by far the more “serious” of the two situations. The lack of response to TSK was an irritant, not the crushing disappointment and maddening frustration of being able to prove that people don’t buy games by women and still trying to find a way to be successful anyway. I lost a lot of time and effort, and that sucks and is discouraging. But it seems like that’s what a lot of people focused on because that’s the part that could be “fixed”.

So, you know, yeah I acknowledge there’s more I could have done to promote TSK. I probably threw in the towel a bit too quickly. But it’s also important to remember that the best places to promote an anime-themed game (Reddit, YouTube, and 4Chan) are virulently unfriendly to women and my anxiety just couldn’t deal with venturing into those spaces. As I pointed out in a comment:

There’s a REASON I never approached 4Chan. The NICEST thing anyone from 4Chan has ever called me when linking to my material is a “jealous lesbian”, so you’ll understand that sort of reaction isn’t exactly motivational for me to engage with 4Chan. Likewise, given the shit that gets leveled at me here on my own blog, the idea of putting a demo of play up on YouTube gives me HIVES, given the things that people say about women there. Likewise, I never did an AMA on Reddit because Reddit is where men call me things like “ignorant judgemental cunt” and compare rape to a sport in threads about things I’ve written.

So that’s a thing. Moving on.

In which I disclaim:

(It’s important to note here that I am going to talk about this in terms of women, but this goes double for people who are visible minorities, queer, disabled, etc. It just gets a bit laborious trying to include all of that, so please just remember that we’re not just talking about white ciswomen like me here.)

(Also I’m perfectly aware that I am presenting problems without solutions. I KNOW that. With the huge volume that I have written in the last month+ about the complexity of issues surrounding being a female publisher, this isn’t something where I can write a 2000-3000 word post about “here are the problems and here are the solutions”.)

(Also, I just KNOW that some people are going to read this and say “she doesn’t think white men should make money on games!” or “she thinks that recruiting diverse teams for game projects is bad!” or “she’s saying she should get more money just for being a woman!”. Which. Um. No. I am talking a problem that exists at a SYSTEMIC LEVEL. It’s important not to get bogged down in specific examples, even if specific examples are what I’m using to illustrate my point.)

KickStarter Diversity

Okay. So basically what we’ve been covering here for the last month and a bit is that being a female publisher sucks. And part of the reason you don’t see many female-fronted KickStarters is because of all the structural and cultural barriers that are placed in front of women designers and publishers. The result is that the games publishing industry tends to look a whole lot more homogeneous than their customer base actually is; it doesn’t matter if you’re looking at the big companies or at the scrappy indies, the tRPG industry is overwhelmingly white and male.

Now this is something that certain publishers are starting to be aware of. It’s also something that tRPG gamers are beginning to care about. As a result, it’s becoming more common to see efforts to have diverse creative teams for KickStarters. However, all too often the “diversity” that you end up seeing is what I think of as “KickStarter Diversity” – it’s disappointingly shallow at best, and outright deceptive at worst.

What do I mean? Well, here are two of my personal experiences that I feel serve as pretty solid examples of what I’m talking about.

Case Study 1: Deceptive Diversity

Pretty early in my game writing “career”, I happened to sign on as a freelancer to a pretty mammoth project – I was going to be one of a large number of co-authors writing a monster game book for a Really Big Name Publisher. The lead developer (who, I want to be clear, was also a subcontractor and not employed by the Really Big Name Publisher) wanted to put together a diverse team of writers to do a truly inclusive project. I was really excited about that! And it was early enough in my efforts to be a “real” game designer that the “legitimacy” of being able to say I’d written for Really Big Name Publisher was appealing.

And in the end, the work that I did for RBNP was some of the best work I’ve ever done. I’m proud of the work that I did, and of the book that we created. But here’s the thing, RBNP’s terms were outright abusive.

First, they only paid 3 cents per word. Even for small assignments of 1000-2000 words, you end up being underpaid when you do the math of how long it took you to write those words versus how much you’re getting paid. But when you’re talking the massive wordcounts that most members of the team were pulling in order to put together this mammoth tome? 10 thousand, 15 thousand, or even 20 thousand word assignments require time, research, and planning. A lot of it! Even with the advantage of plenty of my previous writing experience, with the amount of time that I spent on my assignment I miiiiiiight have gotten (American) minimum wage for it. Barely.

There’s also the issue that RBNP’s contract terms were (and as far as I know still are) half on acceptance (which I’ll come back to) and half pay-on-publication. Given the length of time that your average game book spends in development, this means that writers are putting in time and effort without any guarantee of payment; books do get delayed, and even canceled. Not often, but it does happen! Now yes, game development is an expensive process; there are illustrators and layout artists to be paid, as well as production and shipping costs to consider. But given that KickStarter is now the default publication model for any seriously large game book, it’s even more abusive that a company would still make their payment terms pay-on-publication, because a few weeks after the campaign ends, they already have all that money sitting in the bank.

In the case of the project that I worked on, it broke six figures on KickStarter, and yet I didn’t get the second half of my money until eighteen months after I’d completed and turned in my drafts. And don’t even get me started on how hard it was to get a copy of the book, which was also in my contract.

The whole experience left a sour taste in my mouth, because again – I truly believe in the product that we made and am grateful to the lead developer for his hard work in putting together such a wonderfully diverse team of writers and in pushing some hard conversations to make sure that we got things right, from a standpoint of being inclusive. But the fact is that the lion’s share of the profit from the six figures that were KickStarted are going to owners who are white and male, whose business model seems (at least from the subcontractor end of things) to  to revolve around getting marginalized writers who crave legitimacy to sign on to projects, because they don’t have expectations they should be treated better.

It is great that RBNP is publishing games that are inclusive, and it makes me happy that that is something that audiences are excited about. But when their business model is predicated on achieving that inclusivity by getting a diverse team of writers, treating them like shit, and then stuffing all of the money into the pockets of some white guys? That sucks. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the owners don’t deserve to profit! Publishing is a fucking huge job and it’s expensive. But it is possible to be a publisher AND treat your freelancers well, which they are not.

Case Study 2: Shallow Diversity

After my experiences writing for RBNP, I swore off of spec writing for big game projects. Especially when I ended up making more money per word on SexyTime Adventures, which isn’t even a real game, than I did on my writing for RBNP. And I definitely earn more money per word here on my blog, even on the long posts. The return on investment just wasn’t worth it.

However, subsequently a friend of mine contacted me about a KickStarter for a game by Another Big Name Publisher that was written around themes of diversity and inclusion that was looking to put together a diverse team of stretch goal writers to reflect the themes of the game. Because of the reputation of the game in question, and because the request came through this friend who had done a lot to support me as a publisher, I decided to sign on. But unfortunately, I wound up regretting that decision.

To be fair to Another Big Name Publisher, their terms were objectively better – 5 cents a wordand pay on acceptance. However, “on acceptance” turned out to be unexpectedly vague – the contract didn’t specify what “on acceptance” actually meant – on acceptance of my draft? On acceptance of everyone’s drafts? How soon after “acceptance” would we get payed? And how was I supposed to know when “acceptance” had happened? None of these questions came up until after I turned in my draft (on time) and… then didn’t see any money. It ended up being three months between the deadline for drafts and the date that I actually got paid. When I started asking about payment and timelines at about the two month mark, it was generally a week between emails. All in all, it was not a happy freelancer experience.

Now admittedly, 3 months is still a hell of a lot better than 18. But the amount of money that I was owed didn’t even break 3 digits, and again, this was for something that already had many thousands of dollars in the bank thanks to the KickStarter.

There’s also the problematic element that ABNP is a company that is mostly male and almost entirely white is using diversity as a selling point for this game. Given that the diversity of participation was through fairly small stretch goals, it makes sense that the profits would go to the company (and the writers) making the game. But as with RBNP, you have the very people who are contributing the diversity that is desired being the people who are least compensated.

Case Study 3: The Forgotten – Progress!

Andrew Medeiros is the co-designer of Urban Shadows and, in the interest of full disclosure, my co-designer on The Watch – recently finished his KickStarter for The Forgotten – a card-based LARP about people trying to survive in a city under siege by doing whatever it takes to stay alive. His second stretch goal (also full disclosure, extra photography by me was the first stretch goal) was actually to commission Kira Magrann to write a variant game based on The Forgotten that would be available to backers.

I found that idea hugely interesting! Because it goes beyond the standard approach to diversity of “if we get $4000 more we’ll add $100 worth of cost and maybe a bit more in terms of development costs for a stretch goal by a not-white-guy”. Because that model of KickStarter diversity is only ever going to be shallow by definition, and the demographics of game development logically dictate that shallow models of KickStarter diversity are always going to funnel the most money to white dudes. Which, you know, fuck that. Diversity should be more than just a wallpaper selling point!

Instead, what is happening with The Forgotten is that the designer is taking a share of his games profits and saying to a not-white-dude game designer, “I want you to create a game”. It represents taking a share of the extra profits earned by male-fronted games and funneling toward a female creator in a way that results in MORE compelling content, not less. (Kira’s variant game is going to be about patriarchal dystopia, a la The Handmaid’s Tale, and I am RIDICULOUSLY excited to play it.) And of course, the devil is in the details. The game hasn’t been written yet, and there are lots of details to be ironed out. But the potential for this sort of arrangement is HUGE.

And sure. This sort of arrangement wouldn’t work for every KickStarter. It would be a nightmare for something the size and complexity of 7th Sea (which also just ended, and raised 1.3 million). But part of why I’m writing this is to start a conversation. Publishers are a smart lot, used to solving a lot of complex problems. So, publishers, what can we do about this? How can we start creating meaningful diversity in publishing that isn’t just wallpaper on a mostly-white product?

Publishing while female: 2 vignettes of bafflement, frustration, and humiliation [long]

Last time I wrote about the many and sundry reasons why it sucks being a female publisher, and how that suckitude is driving women out of publishing, and how the only way to fix the problem is for people to START BUYING GAMES BY WOMEN, and it was a very difficult piece for me to write. The entire time I was writing it I was afraid that people would read it as sour grapes on my part and use that to dismiss what I was saying, because unfortunately my personal lack of success as a female publisher is of course the very thing that will most commonly be used to dismiss what I am saying when I try to talk about the lack of success of female publishers in general. So because I didn’t want what I was saying to be dismissed entirely out of hand, I worked very hard to keep that post’s tone more distant and less emotional – despite wanting nothing more than to yell my hyperbole-laden and profanity-laced anger at the internet.

As it turns out, wrestling with fear about how people will react to what you are saying while trying to perform a tone-balancing act is difficult and emotionally draining! (Amazing! Who’d have thought!) So it was nice that I did get some sympathetic commentary about my last post. Some.

But I also got dudes commenting on my Plus about how they “agreed” with what I was saying, but, well, you know. The kinds of games that they like to play are the kinds that are more likely to be produced by men, and WHAT COULD THEY POSSIBLY DO? It’s just too bad that the situation for female publishers is so messed up, and they want to do more, but HOW could they possibly make any personal contributions to changing things? HOW?

And let me tell you, that kind of willful helplessness in the face of what is a pretty damning and clear picture of how fucked things are in our hobby? It’s pretty goddamn frustrating having the biggest perpetrators respond with willful obliviousness while simultaneously trying to get credit for acknowledging that there is a problem and that they feel bad about it. “Wow. You’re right! This is terrible! It’s such a shame that this is all inevitable and that there is nothing more that can be done!”

… BRB, setting the world on fire.

You know what? Given that the wage gap is still DEFINITELY A THING (and actually getting worse here in Canada – so much for being a liberal community utopia), why don’t you men spend some of those extra 22-28 cents on the dollar on buying a game or two by women every now and then that you don’t actually want to play, just to show some support for women designers and publishers? You know, especially since you don’t have to worry about the extra gendered costs of inequal healthcare or products made for your gender or places to live.

JUST A THOUGHT.

So. Because my mostly dry, logical analysis didn’t seem to quite hit home for some people, let me attempt to put things in perspective by sharing two vignettes with you from my personal experience.

Case #1: The Starlit Kingdom, Andy Kitkowski, and Magical Girls

Andy Kitkowski, the brain behind Kotodama Heavy Industries (which is a game company, not a Japanese industrial company), has been doing pretty well with publishing translations of Japanese anime-themed RPGs for… quite a while now. Tenra Bansho Zero – the gonzo “throw literally every anime trope in a blender” game that I actually wrote Ruined Empire as a setting for – KickStarted for $129,000+; Ryuutama, a gentle and “heart-warming” game about traveling and adventure, KickStarted for $97,000+; and recently Shinobigami, a game which seems to be about schoolgirls having ninja battles (I admit to skimming the description on that one and going by the art, since it didn’t seem like my thing) just KickStarted for $87,000+. Even before KickStarter was a thing, I remember Andy going to GenCon and selling absurd numbers of copies of Maid RPG to anime fans who were dying to try out anime-themed roleplaying games. He pretty much created the market for English-language translations of Japanese, anime-themed tRPGs.

So I had all of that very much in mind when I first started developing The Starlit Kingdom. The Starlit Kingdom was inspired by the launch of a Sailor Moon reboot – Sailor Moon Crystal. There was a lot of excitement about that in my circles, and given that the idea seemed timely and that Andy had been doing quite well at publishing anime RPGs for several years, I figured than a game about magical girls as inspired by Sailor Moon would be a good investment in terms of time to eventual dollars returned. If even only a small number of the people who threw money at Andy to translate all sorts of anime-themed games bought copies of The Starlit Kingdom, it would still pay off since I was doing everything – from writing to playtesting to illustration to layout – myself. I might not make a lot of money, but certainly I’d make a nice little sum – enough to justify the effort, right?

Well…

I should have seen the writing on the wall at GenCon last year and just walked away.

You see, at GenCon in 2014, I ran 4 sessions of The Shab al-Hiri Roach at Hogwarts (my light setting hack of the Shab al-Hiri Roach to take place in the Harry Potterverse) and sent more than 10 people over to the IPR booth to try to buy copies of a game that they hadn’t stocked because it’s so ancient. So in 2015, I was determined that I would run my own games and actually, you know, PROMOTE MY OWN WORK. Only… no one wanted to play my games. Out of the four 4-hour slots I was scheduled for, two of them didn’t happen due to lack of interest. The third, I wound up running the other game I was playtesting, and the fourth? Well, I did get to run The Starlit Kingdom. Once. BARELY. But it only happened because I ambushed another GM (a man) whose slot had also fallen through and begged him to play it with me so that I could run it for the one person I’d met at Games on Demand who actually wanted to play it. The con variant of TSK is supposed to run with four people. I made it work with 3.

Still, the game went so well and was so great, and both my players said that they had a ton of fun – even the male player who I’d had to beg to play, who admitted after that it wasn’t something he would have chosen to play on his own given the subject material. So, falsely encouraged, I went home and did more playtesting and spent time polishing, editing, rewriting, and illustrating the game before releasing it in November. To… crickets. (Fun little aside: To date, TSK has made half as much money as SexyTime Adventures: the RPG – which is silly, stupid parody game in which character creation involves paper dolls, and players are encouraged to get rerolls by making inappropriate pornface while narrating their actions.)

It took finishing and releasing the game, which I am still incredibly proud of, to make me realize the ugly truth: it doesn’t matter how much commercial appeal Sailor Moon has; no one wants to play a game about magical girls. Because, you know, cooties.

As you might imagine, this realization was hugely discouraging. As a result, I decided that I wasn’t willing to pour even more time and effort into trying to revive a game that had been such a dismal failure; maybe it could be done, but the amount of time and effort it would take could be spent more profitably on other endeavors. So I walked away from TSK and turned my attention to other things. That is, until it came time to do signups for GM slots for Dreamation; I wanted to get my badge comped, and I was reluctant to go back to running other peoples’ stuff, just because I didn’t have anything newer than The Starlit Kingdom that I wanted to try running. So I signed up to run TSK, since it was finished – hoping I could maybe move maybe one or two copies. Except this time I refined the pitch to remove anything that would signal “inspired by Sailor Moon” to an observer not already intimately acquainted with Sailor Moon.

This met with… moderate success. I got enough people to run one session of TSK; the other session, no one signed up for. The session I did get to run went very well! There were two women and two men, and the men were just as into the game, if not moreso, than the women. It was intense and emotional and hard-hitting and horrible in all the ways it was supposed to be, which was great!

But then, when we were finished, one of the male players – the one who had been not at all familiar with Sailor Moon – admitted that if he’d known that The Starlit Kingdom was a game about magical girls, he wouldn’t have signed up. He’d gotten the impression that TSK was a game about “space tragedy fantasy”, which is what interested him. And, you know, retroactively he was glad that he’d played and had fun and stuff – because actually enjoying a game about magical girls turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

And that moment right there killed the last vestiges of my willingness to promote the game, because how fucked is it that the only way to effectively promote my game is to pretend that it’s about SOMETHING ELSE. Especially when I KNOW that it succeeds at making men actually care about and enjoy playing a game that forces you to tell stories about powerful women? And when the reason that I wrote the game is because I have INCREDIBLY POWERFUL FEELS about the feminist value of Sailor Moon (and about magical girls as a genre) and the value of stories that depict heroic women working together and getting shit done while also being apologetically feminine, it really fucking hurts getting confirmation that the things that give me those POWERFUL FEELS are the very reasons why gamers don’t want to play The Starlit Kingdom.

And it makes me wonder, what is it about magical girls that people are so “uninterested” in exploring? Is it the idea of playing a story where most of the protagonists are necessarily women? Is it the idea of exploring stories that are marked as being “for girls”? Is it as simple as seeing a woman’s name on the cover of a game about women? I’ll never know, and that sucks.

Case 2: PLEASE SIRS, MAY I HAVE SOME LEGITIMIZING MALENESS?

As frustrating as the situation with The Starlit Kingdom is, that’s not nearly as humiliating and upsetting as an experience that I’ve been suffering through the last few weeks.

You see, I have an alpha draft for a game that I’m pretty sure would have a lot of commercial appeal… but not if I published it. And the numbers that I gathered on the statistics of KickStarter funding of roleplaying games support me in that assessment! By looking at both the statistics that I collected and also examining trends regarding the revenue earnings of various kinds of games KickStarters, I determined that a medium-sized game studio could gross 4-5 times more than I would be able to make if I were to attempt KickStarting the game on my own. And when I showed my numbers to other (male) friends who do game publishing, they agreed with my assessment!

I decided that what I needed was a publishing partner that was:

  1. not a huge company that would screw me out of my IP and keep the lion’s share of the profits for themselves
  2. a company that I had either worked with before or knew enough by reputation to trust their ethics
  3. published the same kind of games that I was writing and…
  4. could confer legitimizing maleness

As you might imagine, that set of criteria rather severely limited my options – there ended up being only 2.5 publishing companies that fit all of the criteria. (The third company mostly didn’t fit #3, but sorta did? A little?) It was not at all encouraging, but still. I put on my grown-up pants, polished the alpha draft of my game into something professional-looking, wrote up a business proposal showcasing the commercial viability of the game that I wanted to publish, and started approaching potential publishing partners.

…who have all officially turned me down.

And to be fair, each of the companies that I approached had legit business reasons for not accepting my proposal. Publishing-Me understood and agreed with the reasons that each of the companies laid out (and each company did have different reasons) for why it didn’t make sense to work with me on that project. CREATOR-Me, however… Creator-Me has spent a lot of the last few weeks crying and trying to deal with rejection in a calm, competent, professional manner that wouldn’t result in any burned bridges while dealing with a whole lot of harsh, ugly feels.

Firstly, it is incredibly, profoundly depressing that I can prove with numbers that female publishers operate at a disadvantage in terms of net profits as compared to their male publishing peers. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts, have been publishing games since 2008, and have freelanced for some of the biggest companies in the industry – Green Ronin, Onyx Path, and Wizards of the Coast. But knowing that none of that matters, that no amount of hard work and hustle will overcome the gender penalty that female publishers operate under in the current publishing landscape… it makes it hard for me to feel pride in my abilities and accomplishments as a game designer and publisher. Worse, it is incredibly humiliating having to go hat-in-hand to male-led publishing companies, present my research findings calmly and clearly, and ask in perfectly calm and neutral tones for them to confer some legitimizing maleness on my project while also trying to convince them that there are good business reasons to want to do so. Because doing so requires admitting that no matter how hard I try, without a male business partner I am never going to be anything other than a third-rate micropublisher.

And getting the rejections themselves? …there is so much that I want to say about how that felt that I don’t know how to assemble into a clear picture. All I have is fragments.

Like crying in a school computer lab, my hands shaking and a friend patting my shoulder as I typed calm and professional-sounding assurances that I understood their situation and didn’t bear them any ill-will, because of course this was business. Or being terse and distant with my husband when he was trying to get me to talk about what was wrong, and then crying over the dishes when he got me to open up. Or crying on a friend’s shoulder and feeling ashamed that I couldn’t just act like a damn grownup and get over the disappointment already. (And of course, the fact I can’t stop crying about these disappointments makes me feel like a fake and a failure, because crying is for girls and if I was a “real” publisher, I would be able to roll with the punches and move on. THERE’S NO CRYING IN GAME DESIGN. See how that works?)

This leaves me trying to figure out what the fuck to do with this game that I still believe in. The last thing I want is to invest hundreds, if not thousands, of hours into developing, writing, testing, and publishing a full-length game only to have it fail as badly as all of my recent projects have. But without a male-fronted publishing partner, what options do I have?

Publishing under a male name? That’s all well and good for someone just getting started, but what about the 8 years of work that I’ve done as a game designer? I have an established reputation, no matter how small. Walking away from that would be cutting my nose off to spite my face. Do I give up and walk away? Even knowing that this is the most commercially friendly idea I’ve had in a very long time? Do I find, as some of my female friends put it, a KickBeard – a Totes Legit Male Micropublisher willing to put his name on the cover and promote it as a project he’s associated with (despite having nothing to do with development) in exchange for a tiny percent of the profits? It would increase my profits, but inevitably some people would see it as “his” game, no matter how open he is about his lack of actual involvement in writing and development.

I honestly have no fucking idea what I’m going to do. All I know is that I am TIRED. I am tired of beating my head against this wall and it not moving. I am tired of trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and FAILING and NEVER having any hope that next time will be different. I am SO FUCKING TIRED that sometimes all I want to do is lie down and never get up again, because men get to “fail forward” and “find fruitfulness in failure”, but all women get is ground down, chewed up, and spat out. It makes me want to give up, throw my hands in the air, and quit altogether. Except I’ve been painted into this corner by own small amount of never-quite-enough-to-survive-on success, and I don’t have any damn choice but to keep trying, because all of the other options I’m faced with are even worse.

Even now, writing this. My throat feels tight, my eyes tingle, and my teeth are clenched. I am in mourning for the me that never got to exist – the me that was a “real” publisher, and who was able to build her audience such that she could stop falling into a series of abusive dead end jobs and realize her dream of being creative full time. But no amount of blood, sweat, and tears is going to bring that me into existence, and so it’s time to let her go.

So to those of you who “feel bad” that the games you like “just happen” to be made by men and there’s “nothing” you can really do about that? Why don’t you stick that in your pipe and smoke it?

KickStarter Part 2: The Only Way to Fix the Problem is to BUY GAMES BY WOMEN

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

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.

This got longer than I was expecting, so next time: I’ll look at examples of what I’m talking about “in the wild”

Detailed analysis of successfully funded games KickStarters in 2015 [SO MANY CHARTS]

Lately, I’ve been working on a series looking at the gender distribution of crowdfunding, starting first with Patreon – which is a crowdfunding model that enables serial content. So far in the series, I’ve done a gender breakdown of a representative sample of Patreon creators with games-related Patreons, a look at the barriers that keep women from becoming creators on Patreon, and an aside with advice for women who want to get into having a Patreon anyway. And unfortunately, the statistics of Patreon creators are pretty dismal; only 24% of Patreons had female contributors, with only 13% of creators surveyed being solo women.

However, only looking at Patreon would be ignoring the elephant in the room. Patreon has changed the landscape of creativity in that artists who want to do projects that wouldn’t traditionally be commercially viable now have a venue for doing work that they want to do instead of having to focus on projects that they are not as interested in but they know will be an easier sell. But Patreon’s funding model doesn’t really do much to address the economic realities of game development: it’s expensive. In order to produce a polished, finished game there are a lot of expenses – writing, editing, artwork, layout, printing, fulfillment, and they’re all vitally important.

Tabletop RPGs are procedural documents – ensuring that your text is clearly written and conveys what it needs to is vital. Layout is just as critical, because the best writing and editing in the world won’t keep your customers from being frustrated if they can’t find the rules they need to reference at the table. Art is important to draw people in to the world you are creating, and to convey the feel of the game. And as with any creative work, you get what you pay for. You can save money by finding people who are willing to work on the cheap, but generally the people doing the best work know that they’re doing the best work and will insist on being fairly compensated for their time.

Lastly, while I’ve heard increasing grumbling from publisher friends that “next time” they’re going to do a KickStarter with digital-only distribution, we have yet to reach a point where that wouldn’t be cutting off your own nose to spite your face. But face it, shipping physical product suuuuuuckkkkksssss. Production and shipping the physical product is a huge chunk of any KickStarter budget, and costs are non-negotiable. If you want the thing, you pay what the supplier demands. Those costs add up quickly, and even for small projects with only modest aspirations, budgets for a typical RPG tend to be thousands of dollars. So for most small to medium-sized publishers, KickStarter (or other platforms like IndieGoGo) is the only way that indie publishers can afford to produce polished, professional quality game products.

So with all of that said, I felt that I would be I would remiss were I to not do examine the demographics of KickStarter, just as I have already done with Patreon.

Methodology and Sources

In determining which data I wanted to examine, I decided that I would look at all successfully funded RPG KickStarters from 2015 – excluding campaigns that were either canceled or failed to meet their goal. Unfortunately, assigning gender to a KickStarter is a much trickier prospect than with Patreon; very few Patreons had more than two creators, and only one that I surveyed had a creator team with more than four people. However, since KickStarter projects can be much larger, teams for RPG products can get pretty damn huge. For example, I was one of twenty or so writers on V20 Dark Ages. Then there were lead developers, an editor, and I don’t even know how many artists. So figuring out how to determine the “gender” of a project becomes a much trickier prospect.

In the end, what I settled for was looking at who it was that fronted the project – so either who was it that created the campaign, or if that was inconclusive was there a name attached to the title of the campaign itself? (Frex) I then assigned each result to one of the following categories:

  • solo male (a single man working alone)
  • solo female (a single woman working alone)
  • all male (a group of at least 2 men working together)
  • all female (a group of at least 2 women working together)
  • mixed gender (a group with at least one woman and one man working together)
  • studio (a medium to large sized games company or publisher that is not a sole proprietorship)
  • unknown (aliases or names for which gender could not be determined)

I also broke down the types of campaigns, since “roleplaying games” is a pretty broad category, into the following sub-categories: campaign settings, adventures, events, multimedia, dice, accessories, supplements, and games. Lastly, for each campaign I recorded the total amount raised and what percent of their goal was raised. (Logically, since I only looked at successful campaigns, all results for percent of goal raised were over 100%)

Sadly, KickStarter’s interface is pretty terrible for collecting this sort of data. So I wound up turning to RPGGeek, where RPGGeek users maintain an ongoing list of games KickStarters by year. I’ll admit that I have no way of verifying if their data collection is 100% comprehensive, but it is definitely exhaustive. In collecting the data that I needed, I had to go through twenty four pages of forum results. Given that I counted a total of 388 successfully funded campaigns, I feel that my results are definitely statistically rigorous.

That said, I did filter my raw results slightly. In putting together “final” numbers for the charts that I was preparing, I chose to omit 18 campaigns from the results because of sketchy practices surrounding artificially low funding goals. For instance, there was one guy who by himself had 8 successfully funded campaigns in 2015 – which sounds impressive! Until you realize that he was funding basic adventure modules and his goal for each campaign was only $30. So despite that each campaign was only making around $800-$1500 or so, he was seeing THOUSANDS of percent on his campaigns in terms of percent of goals raised. Since I was very interested in percent of goal raised to see if gender was a factor, I wanted to get rid of the extreme results so that my conclusions would actually be meaningful. So it should be noted that while I recorded 388 successful campaigns, results below were tabulated based on the filtered total of 370.

The Results

Overall-gender

As someone who has been observing KickStarter as a publishing platform for several years, I wasn’t too surprised that the gender breakdown even less egalitarian than Patreon. What did surprise me was how much lower the percent of female participation was. Patreon’s 13% representation of female-only creators is pretty dismal, but 13% is at least mostly in line with the current representation of women in the industry as a whole.

KickStarter, however, had slightly less than half those numbers in terms of solo female representation, with only 6% of all successfully funded games projects in 2015 being fronted by solo women. And widening the focus to include all campaigns that include at least one female front person actually makes the numbers worse, which may be due to the fact that out of 370 KickStarters, not a one of them was fronted by a group of just women. As it turns out, solo female campaigns together with mixed gender campaigns made up 9% of overall KickStarter campaigns, as opposed to 24% of the Patreons that I examined having female creator participation (or only 3/8 of Patreon’s numbers).

Pretty bleak, right? Well strap in, because it gets worse.

Overall-funds-pie

Holy shit! Solo female campaigns make up 6% of the total number of KickStarters, but account for only 3% of 2015’s total funds raised! Mixed-gender campaigns also suffer a penalty, although not quite as bad – they received only 2% of total funds raised despite making up 3% of overall campaigns. By contrast, all-male campaigns accounted for 10% of total funds raised while only making up 4% of overall campaigns.

Granted, it is true that solo male campaigns “underperformed”, at 41% of total funds raised for 65% of total campaigns. However, I think that probably has a lot to do with the fact that there were an awwwwful lot of sketchy solo-male campaigns that I saw that had super-low (ie sub-$1000) goals, so it makes a lot of sense that the studio campaigns would overperform so dramatically while solo-male campaigns would suffer.

So what happens when you start looking at averages by gender category? Well, things get interesting, and a bit less clear.

Overall-amt-raised

Studios had the highest average funds-raised-per-campaign, which makes sense. A company like Onyx Path or Green Ronin is going to have a larger audience and has the logistics in place to fund a campaign with a much larger scope than the smaller operators, which lets them rake in the big money. What I didn’t expect was how comparatively small the gap between studios and all-male campaigns would be, and how large the gap between all-male campaigns and everything else would be.

The fact that mixed-gender campaigns outperformed solo gender campaigns is interesting, although it may be another reflection of the preponderance of low-goal “sketchy” campaigns by solo male creators. Still, it is undeniable that solo female creators have the lowest average funds raised by far, with solo female campaigns averaging a mere quarter of all-male campaigns, and just under 90% of the average solo male campaign.

Of course, something that is undoubtedly a factor is that if you look at the average requested funding level, the gender category that asks for the least money is, of course, women:

Overall-avg-goal

Again, studios come out on top – although again that’s not terribly surprising given the scope of many studio-fronted products. The results after that get a little muddled; for instance why are mixed-gender campaigns averaging the second-highest requested goal?

Still, women again come in last, asking for only only 73% of what solo male campaigns requested, and only 39% of what all-male campaigns requested. I was hoping against hope that perhaps that would be mitigated if I looked at the percent of goal raised. If the lower goals were perhaps offset by solo female campaigns doing better in terms of percent of goal raised…? But no. They weren’t, mostly:

Overall-PCT-goal

So yeah, there’s a weird blip with mixed gender campaigns having the second-highest requested goals and yet having the lowest percent raised. I honestly couldn’t begin to untangle what’s going on there. But solo female campaigns still come in second last, at only half of the percentages that all-male campaigns have managed. So, you know, that’s a thing that’s depressing.

I could have stopped there, but I got curious about what would happen if I looked at each campaign type by gender, which actually turned out pretty interesting. So just for shits and giggles, I present for your further edification the gender breakdown of each category examined:

Bar-settings

What the actual fuck. In ALL of 2015, EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN SETTING KickStarter was either by a studio or a lone dude? (For a second I was like, WHAT THE SHIT WHAT ABOUT RUINED EMPIRE, I KNOW THAT WAS BY A LADY LIKE PRETTY CONCLUSIVELY. And then I remembered that was in 2014 and felt stupid.)

So. Yeah. NO settings fronted by women, or even partially by women in 2015. Wow.

bar-adventure

Jeez. Adventures have some female representation, but honestly the numbers don’t look all that much better. Around 8ish percent of all adventure KickStarters had female participation, but they only received 2% of total funds raised for their category? I mean, sure it’s great that they over-represented in terms of goal and percent of goal, but still. Oof. Feels.

Bar-events

Events represented the smallest category, so it’s hard to make any conclusive statements other than even with a large relative proportion of campaigns by people of unknown gender, it’s still pretty damn male-dominated. Which was surprising, because all of the best, most competent, most hard-working event organizers I know are women! So I didn’t expect that at all.

Bar-multimedia

The lack of any mixed-gender teams in this category makes the numbers really straight forward. Yes it’s great that when you look at average funding, solo female campaigns over-performed relative to their overall participation in the category. But that doesn’t change the fact that only ONE out of ten multimedia KickStarters in 2015 was by a woman, which is a shitty ratio no matter how you look at it.

Bar-dice

I seriously was not expecting such a large number of KickStarters making DICE of all things, nor was I expecting them to be so lucrative. Still, not really sure what else to say that won’t sound repetitive here. I mean, whee! Yet another category totally dominated by men. Shocker.Bar-accessories

Cool. So with no mixed-gender participation, once again we have ONE campaign with female contribution out of an entire category that makes up a pretty sizeable chunk of the total number of successful campaigns. Still, one out of 44 is still 2.2%, so that doesn’t really explain the fact that that singular campaign only raised 0.3% of total revenue. Seriously? What the hell.
Bar-supplements

Yup. Looks like women making supplements have a shitty time of it too. MY SURPRISED FACE. LET ME SHOW IT TO YOU.

bar-games

Well. Kickstarters for games at least manage to do (sliiiightly) better than average in that 8% of total campaigns were fronted by solo women, as opposed to 6% of the overall total. Still, as with every other category, they did not receive a proportionate level of funding. YAY. EVERYTHING IS DEPRESSING.

And that’s all for today

I’ve got more to say, but that’ll have to wait for next time because this post got super long and I AM FINALLY DONE.

Why don’t more women just… you know, create Patreons?

[Big thanks to the awesome ladies in my G+ circle who helped give me ammunition I needed to outline this post. Thanks especially to Filamena Young and Laura Hamilton for being super on-point about evil money things.]

In my last post, I looked at a sample of games-related Patreons and the not-too-encouraging gender breakdown of creators, and the breakdown is pretty dismal; only 24% of the Patreons that I looked at included one or more female creators. Of course, in the face of such numbers, the solution seems simple. Get more women to create and maintain Patreons, right? We can’t expect men to stop using Patreon to rectify the gender imbalance, so logically this means that more women have to get on board to even things out.

Sadly, I can only wish that this was such an easy problem to solve. I know that there were a number of gendered factors that made me a very reluctant adopter of Patreon. And since I ultimately did jump on the Patreon bandwagon, I know that I can’t necessarily speak to the experience of women who have considered it and decided it wasn’t for them.

So I threw out the following questions to my ladies-only circle on Google+, which is chock full of brilliant and talented women: 1) If you don’t have a Patreon, why not? 2) If you used to have a Patreon and have stopped doing things with it, why? And I got a wide variety of responses, which mostly can be broken out into four categories that form a pretty clear picture of the obstacles keeping women from being active, sustained creators on Patreon:

First: Imposter Syndrome[1]

“I don’t have anything to offer”, “No one would be interested in paying to hear what I think”, “I’m not really talented enough to make it on Patreon”. Imposter syndrome is an asshole, and it keeps a lot of super smart, super awesome women from simply believing that they have something unique to offer that people might be willing to pay to support.

And lest you think I’m talking dismissively from my lofty perch as a “successful” Patreon creator about “Those Other Women” who need to learn to “have confidence and everything will be fine”… actually, I’m including myself in this. Because to be honest, I got pushed into Patreon out of financial necessity, and even despite the previous success of my blog, I never anticipated the level of support that I’ve gotten.

Even more absurd, I actually argue with friends who try to state simple facts about how successful my blog has been. Not opinions. Facts. Because I’m not capable of believing that anything that I do or say here is actually important, no matter how much evidence to the contrary that you might show me. Because deep down, this is still just me yelling at the internet. And shit, I’d do that for free, so doesn’t that mean that people shouldn’t be paying me for it?

So just getting past the initial hurdle of believing that you are competent enough to have something to offer through Patreon? It’s a pretty damn big hurdle. But even if you manage to clear that and you do, create a Patreon, you’ll quickly run into the next hurdle that Imposter Syndrome throws at you: feeling guilty for charging your patrons for content that you create. Never mind that you’ve laid out what you want to do and how you want to get paid. Imposter Syndrome is that voice that shouts in your ear that your work isn’t nearly as good as everyone else’s, and your patrons deserve better.

And if you happen to have Imposter Syndrome and depression, that’s when things get really fun! Because not only do you get your brain telling you that your work is worthless, but it also tells you that you are worthless, so good luck ever being able to seriously believe that people would ever actually give you money to create things.

Second: Female Socialization

So. Let’s say that you are a woman who is either 1) lucky enough not to have Imposter Syndrome, or 2) has managed to find ways of at least getting it to shut up for a while. Awesome. That’s the big hurdle, right? From here everything should be easy! Except, wait. Just believing that you produce work that is worth paying for isn’t enough, because once you start actually doing the planning required to make the actual Patreon page, female socialization rears its ugly head.

First, there’s the trap of needing to polish things. A lot of men can have an idea, spend some time throwing together a proof-of-concept, get it to a reasonable level of “eh, good enough”, and expect that when they show it to people what they will respond to is the idea behind it. Unfortunately, if you’re a woman looks matter – even when it’s your work and not your actual personal appearance. In art school, I certainly had enough experiences where my male peers had their work engaged on a conceptual level while mine was criticized for execution, despite being created with the same level of craft.

Unfortunately, “perfect” is the mortal enemy of “good enough”. I’ve seen many a project languish forever in the “polishing” stage, never to be launched because of fear that it wouldn’t been seen as “professional” enough. Meanwhile, there are dudes slapping together some pretty sketchy campaign proposals and simply throwing it out there.

There’s also the issue of marketing. Women are taught pretty explicitly not to put themselves forward, and self-marketing requires doing exactly that[2]. And honestly, it would be pretty hard for me to overstate how drastically hard that is to deal with, because that conditioning isn’t something that simply happens in childhood and stops when you become an adult. It happens every goddamn day.

It happens when I decide to tone down my language on a subject that I feel passionately about, because I don’t want to seem too bitchy. It happens when I disclaim the ever-living shit out of something when I need to talk to a guy about a problem that he is causing because I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with him causing a scene. It happens when someone asks if there are people with specific qualifications who might be able to participate in a thing and I feel I have to choose my words carefully in responding so that I sound interested without being arrogant.

It’s a balancing act, one that women are constantly navigating. So expecting women to be good at the thing we socialize them not to do as part of their success? Yeah, that’s a problem.

Third: “Second Shift” Labor:

Say you manage to get past hurdles one and two. Fantastic! You’re well on your way to becoming a creator! Except, of course, for the fact that the internet is a voracious beast that consumes content at a ferocious rate. The Evil God of Content demands regular sacrifice, and if it is not appeased frequently and on something resembling a schedule, your audience will suffer as a result.

And, you know, fine. As Dorothy Parker once quipped, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat”. It’s only fitting that running a Patreon is something that takes work if that work is something you’re getting paid for, yes?

However, actually finding the time to do that work? Is pretty damn difficult if you’re a woman. “Second shift” domestic labor is something that still disproportionately falls on the shoulders of women. If you work all day, then have to come home to more domestic work, when exactly are you supposed to find the time to be creative? And if you have children? Multiply that problem by about three. Nobody is as good at finding ways to interrupt your concentration as a small child, because they love you and want to spend all of their time with you. Which is, okay, adorable (sometimes), but not exactly a boost to one’s productivity. So finding a way to manage all of the competing demands for attention and time, it’s not surprising that a lot of women simply don’t feel they have the bandwidth to sustain a Patreon for any length of time.

Personally, it’s something I struggle with quite a bit myself. I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner who does his fair share of housework and parenting. But being in school and raising a toddler are both full-time jobs, and much as my husband supports me, the economic realities of our situation means that if there is some sort of childcare emergency or doctor’s appointment, I’m always the one who gives up work time to deal with it. As such, keeping up with blogging means that I have to be pretty damn creative about finding time to do research and work on the posts I write here. It also means that I’ve had to learn to be able to write in small chunks – twenty minutes here and there. I don’t have the luxury of slowly “getting into the groove”. When I have time to write, I need to write. It takes a hell of a lot of discipline, and it’s not always something I’m capable of.

So it’s not too surprising that some women would consider all of the factors and say “you know what, I’ve got too much going on in my life to add yet another highly demanding obligation”.

Fourth: Practical reality – money

Even if you manage to deal with the previous three obstacles, money is still going to bite you in the ass. The wage gap is a thing for a reason – it didn’t just spring out of nowhere. Work produced by women is seen as having inherently less worth, which is something you run into… just about everywhere. Take, for example, the fact that white women earn about 78 cents on the dollar for what white men earn, and for women of color, it’s even worse. Hispanic women make only 51 cents on the dollar! Or how about the fact that only 3.5 percent of works of art in the MOMA were created by women – a figure that has held pretty steady despite noises being made about increasing the representation of women artists in the MOMA’s collection.

It’s a self-reinforcing conundrum. Part of the reason women have trouble believing that what they create is worth paying for is because everyone else has trouble believing it too. And if people aren’t going to pay to support the thing you’re making, that causes problems. In some instances, it can be a simple matter of “the time to dollar ratio means that I am working for less than minimum wage”.

Or there can be other problems specifically related to Patreon’s funding model – which takes pledges monthly off of credit cards. Inevitably, when a portion of your pledges get declined (and it happens every month), that’s money that you should have gotten but didn’t. And if you planned your milestones around needing a certain level of support, and your page says your getting that level of support, you can wind up being on the hook for doing extra work for a milestone goal that you didn’t actually financially achieve.

Which, you know, is pretty shitty.

Lastly, according to Pledge Society, there are a whopping 2485 games-related Patreons right now. Given the number of Patreons that exist, and given that we seem to be reaching a level of market saturation in that most people who are patron supporters have long since reached their cap of money that they are willing to contribute to support artists looking for patronage, there is a limited pool of money that is being chased after. If women’s work is seen as having less worth, how exactly are women supposed to compete with the dudes who are hogging so many of the available patron dollars?

For a lot of women the answer ends up being “I can’t”. And I’m not going to lie, sometimes when I look at the amount of money that some dudes are making off of Patreon to do stuff that requires significantly less effort than what I put into what I do here…? It makes me question why I even bother, sometimes.

Fifth: Practical reality – gender

Okay. So there are conceptual hurdles, social hurdles, and practical hurdles, none of which are easy to navigate – even if you happen to be someone with comparatively high levels of privilege like me. (I’m a woman, but I’m also white, middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and culturally Christian, so believe me. I’m well aware I have a lot of advantages.) But even if you manage to deal with all of that, gender is always going to be a factor that you absolutely can’t control.

IF you persevere through all of the shit I just described AND you manage to achieve a level of success, congratulations! You’re making something of yourself as a female creator!

Except, don’t forget that making something of yourself as a female creator means that you’re also just plain making yourself more visible as a woman, which on the internet is often a dangerous proposition – especially when one is dealing with gamers. As a consequence of writing this blog, I’ve had some truly unnerving shit happen to me simply because I had the nerve to express opinions about games while female. I once had one dude write more than 11,000 original words about what a terrible human being I am in the space of about a week. (For perspective, my games average between 10,000 and 20,000 words.) I’ve had a professional comics artist swamp my blog with fans after telling them to tell me what a horrible, awful cunt I am. I’ve had people accuse me of being a professional victim for making money off of this blog at the inception of Gamer Gate when Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian were being crucified using that same language.

I’ve stuck it out this far because I’ve been lucky – I haven’t become a hate meme (yet). And because I’m stubborn, and contrary as hell. But I also make a point of telling women in my circles who lament that they don’t have my “courage” that not being willing to put yourself in a situation where you can expect this sort of abuse isn’t “cowardice”. It’s fucking self-care.

Does becoming a creator on Patreon guarantee that you’ll get harassed? No. Of course not. But any time a woman makes herself visible online, that is always a risk, and for some women that just isn’t something they are prepared to deal with. And good for them for knowing that about themselves.

Phew

[That turned out a lot longer than anticipated! Next time: I turn my gaze to KickStarter and the unique problems that women face there.]

[1] Mind, in citing this as an obstacle for women, I’m not saying that men don’t ever deal with imposter syndrome. However, it’s definitely something that is a bigger problem for women than men.

[2] And look. Self-marketing SUCKS, okay? For anyone of ANY gender. But as bad as it sucks for dudes, at least they don’t have an entire lifetime of socialization screaming at you that you’re a terrible person for doing it.

Inside industry sexism: Q&A with a former female BioWare employee

First: How this came about

Last month, I wrote a post about the lack of options to play fat female characters in video games. The genesis of that post came from the fact that I’d recently started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic again, and was irritated all over again that you could play a fat male character, but the fattest female character option looked like… well… me. (And despite what internetbros like to tell me, I am definitely not fat.)
In the comments on that post, Leslee commented about one aspect of her experience as a former BioWare employee who had briefly worked on SW:TOR:
I worked at Bioware-Austin on SWTOR, and I know exactly why there is no option for a fat female character. When I worked there (2010-2011) the ratio of male to female employees was so bad that they converted one of the women’s restrooms to a third men’s room to accommodate all of the guys. (I cursed under my breath every time I had to hike all the way across the entire building to use the bathroom.)

There wasn’t a single female artist on the animation team (that I remember).

At the age of 43, I was one of the oldest employees who wasn’t a manager. ALL of upper management was male.

When the majority of a studio’s entire creative team is young (under 30) and male, the potential for realistic representation in female characters is significantly decreased.

Since Leslee volunteered to answer further questions, I contacted her privately to talk about the possibility of doing a Q&A about her experiences – since it’s not often that I get to see an honest account of what it’s like dealing with industry sexism as a female games industry worker. What follows are my questions and her answers about her experiences in the video games industry.

(Full disclosure, I have Leslee’s permission to make this a patron-supported post. In fact, I initially proposed doing this as a freebie.)

Q&A

How long did you/have you worked in the games industry? (Are you currently working in games now, or did you switch fields?)

I spent about a year, total, working in the games industry.  First at Bioware-Austin, then at Stoic.  Both were short-term contract positions that were problematic for a variety of reasons. Sadly, after these experiences I decided that the games industry was not a good career choice for me at this stage of my life and I retired shortly thereafter.

What was it like working in such a male-dominated environment? Were your supervisors supportive of your concerns, or did you feel you would get penalized for voicing your honest opinions?

The honest answer to the first question is: tiring.  I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working in male-dominated fields. I spent 4 years on active duty in the Army. A year doing contract archaeology. 7 years working as a land surveyor and autocad operator.  I’ve been the only woman – in the field or in the office – more times than I can count. So on my first day at Bioware, as I take a tour of the building and see the disproportionate amount of male heads sitting behind monitors (at that time it was at least 90% male), my immediate reaction was, “Ugh. Not again.”  So, what was it like working in such a male-dominated environment?  Annoying, disappointing, tiring, and way too damn familiar.

Were my supervisors supportive of my concerns?  Well, that probably would have depended upon which one of them I asked. During the later part of my time at Bioware I had 3 different bosses at the same time (all men, of course), and it was never entirely clear as to who was my direct supervisor.  Since they frequently contradicted each other, I never bothered to express my concerns to any of them. It didn’t seem worth my time.  There was also the issue of age and experience. I was considerably older than 2 of my 3 supervisors and that factored heavily into my lack of confidence in their managerial abilities.

Did you ever experience harassment or any other sort of gender-based discrimination, or did you hear of instances of it happening within the company? How were such complaints generally handled?

I didn’t experience harassment. I experienced prejudice, bias, condescension and devaluing. I often felt that I was discounted because of my gender.  During my second week on the job a friendly but utterly clueless coworker said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but since you’re a woman, how much experience do you actually have playing video games?” (He was a bit taken aback by my answer of, “…since the Ford administration”.) One coworker became openly hostile to me when he discovered (accidentally) that I was being paid $2 more an hour than he was.  Another, who had initially been friendly and helpful towards me, became distinctly unhelpful and dismissive after discovering that I was married.  One of the programmers refused to respond to any of my email questions, despite the fact that Ineeded his answers in order to complete my own work. I finally had to enlist a sympathetic project manager (also male) to intercede on my behalf and get the information I needed. He literally dragged the programmer over to my desk and forced him to answer my questions!

I was never aware of any overt sexual harassment toward my fellow female coworkers. The few times that I had the opportunity to speak to any of them (usually in the bathroom), our collective attitude was one of long-suffering weariness and exasperation.

Did you ever try to speak out against issues of sexism within the company? If so, how did that go over? If not, why not?

Oh yes. I did not hesitate to point out the fact that I was almost ALWAYS the only woman at every meeting I attended.  Or to speak up whenever I heard someone make a sexist comment at me, or near me.  For the most part, the reaction I got for my overt feminism was begrudging recognition followed by some variation of “That’s just the way it is in the gaming industry.” I think a lot of people knew it was a problem, but they saw it as an intractable one.  To be honest, after the years of blatant sexual harassment that I suffered while working in construction, what I experienced in the gaming industry felt tame by comparison.  It was still annoying as hell, but at least no one was groping my ass.

After BioWare, what was it like jumping into a tiny, bootstrapped startup?
 
After Bioware I briefly worked for Stoic, a game studio created by 3 ex-Bioware employees.  This was also a problematic work environment, but for slightly different reasons. I was the only woman in an office of 6 people, and our “office” was a shack that was part of a historic farmers market located behind a bar. We called it the Goat Shack.  It had no running water, but plenty of dirt, dust and dead roaches. Once we lost electricity for a day because a (probably intoxicated) patron from the bar had accidentally hit the front of our office with their car the night before, taking out our electrical box.

I think that on some level my coworkers derived a sense of pride by working in such “rustic” conditions, as if it was a testament to their frugality as a startup, or to their dedication to the project. But having already spent time in the military, I found these conditions to be less than appealing or conducive to productivity.  When the level of dirt on the floor (and on my desk, computer, etc.) became unbearable I convinced one of the developers to allow me to hire a cleaning service – for which I took responsibility for myself and was reimbursed by the company afterwards.Problems quickly arose at Stoic, due mainly by the fact that my role and responsibilities were never clearly defined.  Some of my coworkers would express annoyance or irritation whenever I asked them a question, but I was never clear on who I was supposed to ask. One of them became openly hostile towards me when I asserted myself too strongly in an effort to get a particular objective completed.  When I tried to talk to him privately, he accused me of being “too critical and opinionated”.  He immediately deflated when I pointed out to him that being critical was a defining characteristic of doing QA work, but I was never able to reestablish rapport with him afterwards.

Tensions finally came to a head when some of my coworkers discovered that I had publicly criticized another game on an online forum for its poor representation of female characters and its male-only protagonist. Both coworkers separately wrote me private emails, chastising me for my comments. They felt that my comments reflected badly on them because the developers of the other game were their personal friends.

How was working at a startup similar to working for BioWare?

In some ways, Stoic felt like a magnified version of Bioware.  The lack of clear supervision and direction was significantly more problematic when the entire company was only 6 people. The isolation I felt at Stoic was increased a hundredfold. I had no support and no allies. I lost track of how many times I was locked out of the office because my coworkers would go to lunch without me and forget that I was in the bathroom. (The restrooms at Stoic were in another building.)

The combined experiences of working at Bioware and Stoic made me realize that my 25+ years of working almost exclusively in male-dominated environments had finally taken its toll on me. As much as I enjoyed working on video games I felt that my time and energy were better spent speaking and writing directly about gender inequality, rather than experiencing it myself on a daily basis.

Based on your experiences and where you see the industry heading, what would you say to women interested in getting into the game industry? Would you advise them to choose another profession?

I would strongly encourage women who are considering going into any male-dominated profession to develop a good female support network.  Seek out women’s organizations that are affiliated with your interests and obtain a female mentor, if possible.  This is imperative, because the isolation that you may feel will greatly impact your self-esteem and confidence.

I also recommend that the gaming industry not be your first job, even if it’s really what you want to do. Having some traditional work experience under your belt (even if it’s really boring) will give you a better foundation with which to deal with the unique challenges of working in games.

In conclusion

As dire as this might sound, it’s important to point out that this is not intended as a universal indictment of the video games industry. I know women working for games companies that are quite happy with the work they are doing, and the companies they are working for. There are also increasingly companies that are owned and operated by women, especially in the area of mobile games.

So I’ll end by quoting Leslee one more time, since hers is a sentiment I agree with whole-heartedly:

My only request for this post is that I don’t want it to be wholly negative in nature. I also don’t want it to simply be a criticism of Bioware and Stoic, because I had some really good experiences at both companies and I don’t hold any animosity toward either of them.

Yes, I’ve endured a great deal of workplace sexism over the past quarter century, but I’ve also spent nearly as long discussing the issue with almost anyone who would listen to me. Sure, I got a lot of eye rolls and dismissals, and sometimes blatant antagonism. But I also got a lot of people to think, and talk, and sometimes change. It can be a burden, but a necessary one, and one that I know I’m strong enough to handle.  I want this article to be about awareness and acknowledgement of the problem, and an opportunity for dialogue.