Women have always been a part of gaming, and they always will be.
According to Crunchbase, 312 gaming companies had at least one female founder, including Lesley Eccles, who cofounded the fantasy sports betting juggernaut Fanduel in 2009, and Holly Liu, who cofounded the massively multiplayer social game studio Kabam in 2006. But before these women were even born, back in 1964 -1966, a fourth-grade teacher named Mabel Addis wrote and designed what may be the first computer-based text adventure, the Sumerian Game.
The theme of this year’s GamesBeat Summit, coming up April 28 and April 29 in Los Angeles, is “Dawn of a New Generation.” Day 2 of the conference will start with an invitation-only Women in Games breakfast, presented by Niantic, to bring special focus to the progress women, whether cis or trans, have made in the industry. To celebrate, we’re compiling a list of 20 of the most interesting women in gaming today.
(And if you’re a woman in gaming, you can still request an invite to the breakfast!)
All such lists will be incomplete and somewhat personal, but it was a really heartening exercise to look at how many women are thriving here. Let’s take a brief look at some of the most fascinating women designers, programmers, executives, and gamers in the business. We listed them alphabetically because this is an overview, not a ranking.
Gaming is more than just fun — it’s big business. Market research firm NewZoo estimated the mobile gaming sector hit $68.5 billion in 2019. CEO Maria Alegre cofounded Chartboost in 2011 to help game developers move beyond traditional mobile game ad networks. Nine years later, her company is still innovating, with its new unified auction tool Helium allowing developers to maximize pricing for each impression opportunity. Follow her on Twitter: @marialegre.
EIC of Games, IGN
As journalists ourselves, it’s exciting to see women getting represented in the male-dominated field of games publishing. Tina Amini has been writing about video games since 2009, for venues like Complex and Kotaku, rising through the ranks until IGN Entertainment hired her away from Mashable to be its editor-in-chief of games. She’s also a friend of GamesBeat, moderating a fireside chat for the 2019 GamesBeat Summit and returning to speak at this year’s conference. Follow her on Twitter: @TinaAmini.
Sr. director of sales/sponsors, Twitch
The people who are drawn to work in the gaming industry, unsurprisingly, are usually gamers. Not all of us are as hardcore as Amber Dalton, though. Her day job is senior director of sales and sponsors for Twitch, the livestreaming service owned by Amazon, where she brings together brands and influencers at events all over the world. But she also cofounded PMS Clan, a community for competitive female gamers, with her twin sister Amy Brady way back in 2002, and was herself ranked in intense games like Halo 2 and Gears of War. Follow her on Twitter: @athenatwinpms.
Founder, I Need Diverse Games
Known as cypheroftyr, Tanya DePass is another serious gamer — video and tabletop — who smashes preconceptions, both as a woman of color and as founder of I Need Diverse Games, a nonprofit organization that raises the visibility and support of underrepresented groups. (“Underrepresented” means that while women make up 51% of the U.S. population and African Americans 13%, the 2017 IGDA survey showed only 23% of gaming professionals identified as female and 1% identified as black.) It’s heady stuff that needs addressing to ensure gaming continues to grow as a pastime for everyone. Follow her on Twitter: @cypheroftyr.
Probably the only geographer on our list, Kate Edwards came to our attention as the director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) from 2012 to 2017. After over a decade at Microsoft, where she founded the Geopolitical Strategy team, she struck out on her own in 2005. She founded the content culturalization consultancy Geogrify to advise game makers on how to go beyond localization to accommodate cultural and geopolitical concerns. Edwards also runs Global Game Jam, a game development hackathon. Follow her on Twitter: @geogrify.
Founder, Glass Bottom Games
We love indie developers here, and a super fun crew called Glass Bottom Games caught our attention. Megan Fox leads the studio, which specializes in cute and quirky games like Skatebird (yes, as in “tiny hawk”) and a pair of adventures starring Emma Jones, P.I. (Spartan Fist and Hot Tin Roof). Fox has her own vision and executes it with polish and flair. Follow her on Twitter: @glassbottommeg.
Professor, University of Southern California
At the University of Southern California, Tracy Fullerton is helping shape the next generation of game developers. Fullerton wrote Game Design Workshop, a design textbook in use at game programs worldwide, and serves as director of the interdisciplinary USC Games program. Her research center, the USC Game Innovation Lab, has produced highly regarded games such as Cloud, flOw, Darfur is Dying, and The Night Journey, with artist Bill Viola. She is currently working on Walden, a simulation of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond experience. Follow her on Twitter: @USCGames.
President of new media, Skydance
For decades, Amy Hennig has been writing mainstream games for Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Eidos Interactive, and other studios. The jewel in her crown is co-creating the highly influential Uncharted series, but her writing has elevated the professional artistry of video games overall. Skydance Media recently recruited her to start its Bay Area game development office, so her story continues to evolve. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_hennig.
Founder, Sugar Gamers
Ten years ago, self-described geek Keisha Howard started the inclusive tech community Sugar Gamers to encourage women and underrepresented groups to participate in all aspects of geek culture. And that’s just one of her projects. The production company she co-owns, LiveCGI, creates custom AR avatars for newsrooms and other live events. She works at the digital marketing agency The Blaze Breakers, handling social media, digital strategy, and event coordination. She’ll be speaking at GamesBeat Summit again in 2020. And oh yeah, she also likes robot fights. Follow her on Twitter: @sugargamer.
Se-yeon ‘Geguri’ Kim
Pro gamer, Shanghai Dragons, Overwatch League
Pro gamer Se-yeon Kim, known professionally as “Geguri,” absolutely owns Overwatch. In 2016, her mousework was so precise that fellow professional players accused her of using aim assist software. After she proved her talent in a monitored studio, she cleared her name and kept on. She signed with the Shanghai Dragons in 2018, becoming the first female player in the Overwatch League. Follow her on Twitter: @Geguri2.
Founder, XEOPlay / XEODesign
Not many people have spent more time thinking about player experience design than Nicole Lazzaro, who founded XEOPlay to create social games that improve quality of life through play and XEODesign to help others make games. And, while she did design the first game for the iPhone, her real claim to history is research. By measuring player experiences using their facial expressions, she distilled the joy of gaming into what she calls the 4 Keys 2 Fun: hard fun (challenge), easy fun (curiosity), serious fun (excitement), and people fun (amusement). Understanding the gaming experience helps developers create better games. Follow her on Twitter: @nicolelazzaro.
When Holly Liu and her colleagues started their company, it focused on community apps. But when it switched courses to gaming, Kabam became a billion-dollar startup and a fat acquisition target. Liu was lead designer on its breakout hit, Kingdoms of Camelot. After Kabam was split up between Netmarble and FoxNext in 2017, Liu went to Y Combinator as a visiting partner; recently, she joined the boards of game publisher Animoca and of the UC Berkeley School of Information. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyhliu.
Executive director, IGDA Foundation
After working in Rep. Eric Cantor’s office, specializing in explaining technology to government types, Nika Nour switched to digital advocacy work for the industry, first at the Internet Association, then at the Entertainment Software Association, and now at the IGDA Foundation. At the ESA, she emphasized the industry’s diversity and inclusion efforts, work she’s continued at IGDA. She’ll be speaking at GamesBeat Summit 2020, too. Nour also works at Liminal Esports as its chief strategy officer and is pursuing her PhD at the University California of Irvine. Plus she’s completed two Ironman competitions, which is two more than you have, probably. Follow her on Twitter: @Nika.
VP of Stadia Games and Entertainment, Google
The games Jade Raymond has helped create as a programmer is impressive, especially Assassin’s Creed, the critically acclaimed stealth action-adventure franchise she co-developed at Ubisoft Montreal. But she didn’t stop there — she also started the Ubisoft Toronto office, made games for Electronic Arts, and briefly reported on gaming culture for the G4 TV show The Electric Playground. And when Google needed to build out its new gaming venture, it hired her as vice president and head of Stadia Games and Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter: @ibjade.
Studio director, Media Molecule
Before she joined the small studio Media Molecule in 2006, Siobhan Reddy produced titles for Criterion Games, including racing games Burnout 3 and Burnout 4. But it’s at Media Molecule, which Sony acquired in 2010, where she really shined. The team makes PlayStation games that spark creativity, starting with LittleBigPlanet and its sequel where you craft tools and solve puzzles and build levels with limitless imagination. The follow-ups Tearaway and Tearaway Unfolded share that same open-endedness, which the brand-new title Dreams pushes into creation of entire games and art. Follow her on Twitter: @siobhanreddy.
Veronica ‘Nikatine’ Ripley
Cofounder, Transmission Gaming
Livestream gaming platforms such as Twitch have expanded the idea of esports beyond hardcore games and full-time professional players into a more casual and inclusive environment. But of course online gaming is not always a positive place; some people take out their frustrations on perceived safe targets online. That can be particularly fraught if your appearance and voice don’t match expectations, as many a trans gamer knows. So a pair of gamers banded together to form Transmission Gaming, “a community of trans people dedicated to bringing positive depictions of trans people into the mainstream.” The group now numbers over 2,000 people and participates in many fundraisers, including one with YouTuber Hbomberguy that raised over $300,000 for the British charity Mermaids. Cofounder Veronica “Nikatine” Ripley also runs the LGBTQIA-focused gaming publication Meownifesto. Follow her on Twitter: @NikatinePrime.
Head of 343 Industries, Halo, at Microsoft
Bonnie Ross is a Microsoft lifer, starting in 1994 there as a producer working on PC sports games. She’s worked on many titles, including NBA: Inside Drive, Zoo Tycoon, Dungeon Siege, Counter Strike, Gears of War, Psychonauts, and Mass Effect. But her real claim to fame is leading the team for Halo, the blockbuster science fiction first-person shooter franchise, and expanding its reach to books and video series. Follow her on Twitter: @PlutonForEver.
Head of developer relations, Niantic
While earning a master’s degree in the Interactive Media Program of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, Kellee Santiago produced the puzzle game Cloud with Jenova Chen and a student team. Subsequently she and Chen founded thatgamecompany upon graduating. She moved on to Google Play Games, and now serves as head of developer relations for Pokémon Go maker Niantic. She also cofounded Indie Fund, a group that invests in the development of independent video games, helping to keep the community thriving. Santiago will be speaking at the Women in Games breakfast at this year’s GamesBeat Summit, which is sponsored by Niantic.
After building the survival adventure Shattered Planet at the Execution Labs incubator, Tanya X. Short, artist Xin Ran Liu, and programmer Jongwoo Kim founded Kitfox in 2014. Since then Short has been creating some wild games, like the Henry VIII simulator Fit for a King and the “Tinder for swords” Boyfriend Dungeon. Short also founded the nonprofit Pixelles, a Montreal-based organization that supports and encourages women in game development, with scholarships to attend GDC and mid-career support. Follow her on Twitter: @tanyaxshort.
Game Design Director, Stadia Games & Entertainment, Google Stadia
When Valve saw Narbacular Drop, a game Kim Swift and some fellow graduates of DigiPen Institute of Technology created, the studio hired them to rework the concept into the innovative game Portal. Swift was the leader of the Portal team as well as a level designer. At Valve, Swift also worked on Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. She left Valve for Airtight Games, then got recruited by Amazon and snapped up by Electronic Arts. Now she’s an arrow in Google’s Stadia quiver. Follow her on Twitter: @K2theSwift.