Each year on March 8, we celebrate the achievements of women from all walks of life on International Women’s Day. Representation and gender equality in the games industry is an ongoing discussion and something that we believe is critical to creating and fostering an industry we can all be proud to be a part of.
In observance of International Women’s Day 2022, this week we’re highlighting some of the incredible female industry leaders that we are honoured to have speaking at our upcoming Seattle conference. We could not be more excited to have them as part of our star-studded speaker line-up, and we couldn’t wait until May to get to hear from them and to share their brilliant insights with our PocketGamer.biz readers, so, we had a chat with them about business, games and, of course, what it means to be a woman in games.
To become a global force, video games need to include everyone, so until there are as many women making games as there are men, we still have a long way to go.Leyla Johnson
To kick off our spotlight series, we spoke with Mohawk Games’ CEO and Creative Director, Leyla Johnson. Founded in 2013, Mohawk Games specialises in PC strategy games, and Leyla leads the production of 'Old World', a turn-based strategy game set in classical antiquity. She is the head of Narrative Design and 2D Art Director for the game as well (which is currently highlighted in an exhibit at the British Museum). Previously, she worked at the State Department and also hosted radio talk shows on NRJ and Radio One broadcast across the Middle East. She was born and raised in Lebanon and graduated from the University of Notre Dame, Beirut, with a degree in Journalism along with French and Arabic Literature. She speaks multiple languages, including English, French, Spanish, Lebanese and is fluent in multiple dialects of Arabic.
PocketGamer.Biz: In your opinion, why is it important that more women come into the games industry in the near future?
Leyla Johnson: The video games industry started out as a very small, insular community that was initially largely ignored by the world at large. Developers were making games for themselves because, frankly, most people weren’t buying them. These developers tended to come from the same place - white, middle-class males from affluent Western countries - so their games would largely appeal to the same group of players. The world, of course, is much, much larger, and the biggest group excluded initially was women. To become a global force, video games need to include everyone, so until there are as many women making games as there are men, we still have a long way to go.
Do you think there’s a stereotype associated with women in the games industry?
One difficulty women face often is that men, and sometimes women too, assume that they are not developers. Most women developers can share stories about industry parties or award ceremonies where many assumed they were attending as significant others or support staff or other non-development roles. This assumption can cause women to feel that they have to prove that they have earned the title of “developer” - an anxiety that men never face. I recently attended DICE and on more than one occasion was introduced as “Soren’s wife” (Soren Johnson being a 20-year industry veteran) instead of “CEO and Creative Director of Mohawk Games.”
Society often tells women that they need to take “responsible” jobs, especially ones where they are caring, nurturing, and supporting others.Leyla Johnson
How can we encourage more women to pursue careers in games?
Being a role model and speaking publicly about how we make games and why they are important to us can hopefully inspire more women to take a leap into the game industry. Not just young women looking for their place in the world, but also women who have already established themselves as capable leaders and innovative thinkers in other fields and may not have considered video games originally. Society often tells women that they need to take “responsible” jobs, especially ones where they are caring, nurturing, and supporting others. Games, on the other hand, can be portrayed as frivolous, and women don’t always feel like they have the right to spend a career on something frivolous, which means that we all miss out on the creativity they could bring to our field.
What’s the most common mistake you see being made in the games sector?
The most common mistake in game development is waste from not validating a design idea or playable prototype fast enough by putting it in front of real players. There is no substitute for putting the game into the hands of people who don’t know you, who will give you unsympathetic feedback and let tell you what game you have actually made, not the one in your head that you think you might have made.
What’s your favourite ever mobile game?
I have a long-running relationship with the mobile 4X game Polytopia. It’s a simplified version of Civilization that can be played in an hour instead of an entire weekend. It’s impressive
Hear more from Leyla this summer
Want the opportunity to hear more from Leyla Johnson and the Mohawk Games team? She’ll be leading the conversation at the upcoming Pocket Gamer Connects Seattle among hundreds of other incredible industry leaders. Make sure you secure your spot at our west coast conference today and save up to $275 with our Early Bird offer before prices rise.