Interview

Jobs in Games: Jam City's Sarah Wolf on transitioning from lawyer to Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game director

Jobs in Games: Jam City's Sarah Wolf on transitioning from lawyer to Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game director

The games industry plays host to a colourful cast of diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads.

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing, with each position requiring mastery in its field.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the screen, and help others who may be keen to dive in, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to the individuals who make up the games industry with our Jobs in Games series.

This week we spoke with Jam City game director on Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Sarah Wolf.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Around eight years old, I meandered onto Neopets.com, where I started dabbling in simple coding and web development.
Sarah Wolf

Sarah Wolf: I am the game director of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. My job primarily consists of overseeing product strategy and execution, supervising team operations, managing the game's profit and loss as well as providing creative direction. It's my responsibility to align the team on all of our initiatives and ensure that all of our goals are met.

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into the role?

I've been obsessed with games for as long as I can remember. I played anything I could get my hands on and stayed glued to my family's PC. Around eight years old, I meandered onto Neopets.com, where I started dabbling in simple coding and web development.

My childhood hobby eventually turned into freelance work, which helped me through my undergraduate before freelance eventually transitioned into a full-time job as a web project manager. All of this was a means to an end, as I had my head set on becoming a lawyer.

I was working full-time and managed to get through one year of law school before I decided it wasn't for me. I fell back on project management for a few years before deciding I needed a change. Being burnt-out, I really wanted to do something that I was passionate about and be more creative with.

My mind went towards games simply because it was something I loved and it never bored me. After researching companies and jobs, I decided my skills were a decent enough match to try to break into product management. I called everyone I knew and found a connection who referred me for an associate product manager position at Jam City.

From there, I moved across the country to San Francisco from Atlanta to take the job and haven't looked back since. Over the past three years, I've taken on more responsibility which has seen me move into the role of game director.

Is it something you ever imagined yourself doing?

I never imagined I would end up with my position. Sometimes I still can't believe I get paid to do what I do because I enjoy it so much. It combines the two things I love with all my heart: narrative RPGs and Harry Potter. Furthermore, it allows me to collaborate with an amazing team full of brilliant and innovative people.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

As I was aiming for law school, my degree is in Political Science. Though it's not wholly relevant, I did learn fundamentals in analysis and reporting— two key skills now used in my role. Everything else, I had to learn and pick up on the job. If I knew where I'd end up, I might have decided on a business or computer science degree.

For any aspiring professionals breaking into product management, I advise taking courses in data software and visualisation, on top of familiarising themselves with various development platforms.

What part of your role do you find most fulfilling?

I am fortunate to work with an incredibly gifted, passionate team. A big part of my job revolves around solving problems for them so they can do their best work. The days I am able to figure out how to motivate and elevate my team are the days I feel most fulfilled.

What do you find are the most common misconceptions, public or professional, about women working games?

I think there is a misconception that if you don't have a strong technical background as a woman, you're never going to get in. While it can certainly help, I don’t believe it's 'do or die'.

When hiring, I often look for candidates with varied backgrounds and skill-sets because I believe a wide range of perspectives going into game development is the key to creativity and innovation.

In poker, you're just trying to make the best possible decision with the limited information you have available to you. It's the same in the business of games.
Sarah Wolf

What are the biggest difficulties you have encountered since joining the industry?

Being a young woman, completely new to the games industry, I dealt with some nasty imposter syndrome. I knew breaking into the games industry was competitive and I felt like there were so many people more deserving than me. It took a long time to feel confident enough to trust my intuition and speak up in meetings.

I deferred to older, male counterparts because I felt not qualified to have my own opinion. Eventually, I grew into my own identity and started to believe in myself. This was possible by having a supportive environment where I was being judged on the value I brought forth in the present, versus my work history and background.

Is there anything about the job/industry you wish you would have known when first joining?

Upon starting, someone told me: "making games is the biggest game of all," and over the years I've realised how true that statement is. I never realised how difficult and risky making a game could be, alongside all the people and challenges involved in making these things come alive on our screens.

There are so much volatility and so many factors that determine if a game will be successful. I often compare my job to another big passion of mine - poker. In poker, you're just trying to make the best possible decision with the limited information you have available to you. It's the same in the business of games.

What do you think needs to happen over the next few years to help push diversity in the industry further?

Arriving into the industry, I wasn't sure where my skills would fit. I wasn't an engineer or an artist, and I didn't know anything about all the other roles involved in making games. I think the industry can encourage a more diverse group of people to apply and lead by providing more visibility to the numerous roles that require a wide range of skill-sets.

What other advice do you have for any women out there looking for a job in this profession?

Research, learn about what jobs are out there and start identifying the places where your skills could overlap. Network by going to events and talking to as many people as you can in the industry. Referrals are given a ton of weight and are one of the fastest.

PG Connects Digital #1 is the best of our Pocket Gamer Connects conference in an online form, with an entire week of talks, meetings, and pitch events taking place from April 6th to the 10th. You can register for the online event here.


Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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