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Speaker Spotlight: ustwo games’ Jennifer Estaris to curate fireside panel on Green LiveOps

Learn about sustainability initiatives in live games with ustwo games’ Game Director
Speaker Spotlight: ustwo games’ Jennifer Estaris to curate fireside panel on Green LiveOps

With our upcoming London conference just around the corner, there is no better time to get caught up with all the fantastic speakers that will be leading important conversations and diving into the hottest topics.

You can view our entire speaker line-up so far here to get a full scope of the talent that will be in attendance at the conference this February. Our renowned speakers and the massive wealth of insights and expertise that they bring to Pocket Gamer Connects is what makes our conference series so special and unmissable for industry professionals and anyone who’s looking to get an expert insider look at everything within the mobile gaming industry. To give you a glimpse at what you can look forward to from our February conference, we are spotlighting a number of our most highly anticipated speakers to showcase the fantastic talent and top-tier businesses that will be sharing their insights with us at the conference.

We recently spoke to Trailmix’s Tristan Clark, and had a chat with him about his session at PG Connects London delving into Trailmix’s first release gaining global success and how having positive workplace culture played a key role. Get caught up with our speaker series here.

Today we’re delighted to speak with ustwogames’ Game Director, Jennifer Estaris (she/her). ustwogames is best known for a B Corp known for Monument Valley and Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. She has worked in the game industry for the past 15 years at SYBO, Nickelodeon, Disney, and other studios. Jennifer is an active member of Playing for the Planet and the IGDA Climate SIG and a mom of a game-savvy kid.

At PG Connects London, she will curate a fireside panel about sustainability initiatives in live games.

PocketGamer.Biz: Outside development and publishing, where are the next big opportunities in the mobile games market?

Jennifer Estaris: Total societal impact (TSI) is the total benefit to society from a company’s products, services, operations, core capabilities, and activities. Its initiatives and partnerships are underexplored in the mobile games space. TSI is an underused set of metrics; measurement of impact is a tricky yet fitting design challenge for mobile games.

How can we activate our workplace and our player community beyond awareness, intoa cause that makes the world a better place?

How can we activate our workplace and our player community beyond awareness, into a cause that makes the world a better place? For every download of Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, ustwo games plants a tree in partnership with Ecologi -- over 1 million planted! Wildworks, Sybo and other studios have similar tree planting initiatives. Another ustwo game, Monument Valley 2 recently released a level pack called “The Lost Forest” for the Green Game Jam. This pack hopes to emotionally connect players with the concept of protecting ancient trees, and then links to a petition about forest conservation, Play4Forests.

Other games have also explored eco-theming their liveops, from Ubisoft Mainz’ Anno 1800 adding a game mode that is the opposite of traditional exploit-for-resources mechanics, to Niantic’s Pokemon Go creating a special avatar item so players can voice their support for sustainability. Playmob is exploring integrating a climate change attitudes survey in mobile games to measure behaviours. What’s exciting is figuring out how to further empower players: how do we make the act of gaming itself a direct action and how do we use gaming to support and fructify sustainable behaviours? Play2Earn is trending; how about Play2Change?

What is the single biggest challenge facing the mobile games industry today?
We need to look up, collectively, and with hope. The games industry, and in particular the mobile games industry, are innovation leaders who also have an undeniably large reach, basically anyone with a mobile device: 6.6B people… 85% of the world’s population! With great reach comes great responsibility. Ideally we would take enough action in the next 10 years to limit temperature increases to 1.5°C. And furthermore, to quote Paula Escuadra, co-founder of the IGDA Climate SIG, “Regardless of where we end up in 10 years, we need to build resilience skills TODAY so that we can face whatever is ahead with the mindset, skills, and community support needed.”

Our goal is to slow down the major environmental effects that would otherwise significantly decrease our quality of living. This buys time; we are holding down the fort so that environmental inventors, some of whom haven’t been born yet, and mother nature can do their jobs.

The biggest threat to our environment, and ultimately to humanity, is hopelessness.

I’m reading Hope Matters by Elin Kelsey right now, which proposes that the biggest threat to our environment, and ultimately to humanity, is hopelessness. The endless climate doom media causes even the best of us to do nothing out of defeat, out of anxiety, out of exhaustion. And the clock is ticking. Meanwhile, what are games good at? Creating and building hope: the hope for winning the next battle, for increased mana, for a bountiful garden, for two colour bombs side by side. And what is the mobile games industry great at? We are stellar at optimising: collecting data, testing theories, analysing the results, and then executing for the best outcome (usually revenue), all in record time.

Hope is the hook, via proper onboarding, where the value proposition and costs are understood early. Resilience is retention -- the ability to continue after feeling challenged at the right level and overcoming that small win. The end goal is long term engagement. D30? Nah. More like D3650. We know how to do this.

Can these superpowers be used for good? Spoiler, the answer is yes.

When not making/selling/playing games, what do you do to relax?
Working in the games industry as a game director is challenging and rewarding, but the most fulfilling and life-redefining role in my life is as a mother. I don’t think you need to have a child to experience this -- taking the responsibility as close caretaker of a living being other than yourself is eye-opening and wonderful and strangely relaxing -- the worries of the world fade away when you’re snuggled in and laughing together.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received that you can pass on to others?
This is a hugely motivating quote for me, by James Gustave Speth, Chair of the UN Development Group:

Not everyone has to be a scientist to influence change.

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong.

The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

As re-emphasised in the film Don’t Look Up, not everyone has to be a scientist to influence change. Some of us can be Ariana Grande -- some of us have to be Ariana Grande. We need to approach the sustainability effort from multiple fronts. Culturally, spiritually, artistically, emotionally, collectively. Who better, than via games -- game developers and gamers.

Can people get in touch with you at the event? What sort of people would you like to connect with?

It’s been so long since I’ve been at a live event, so I’d like to get in touch with anyone! In particular, for anyone interested in working at ustwo games -- check out our openings and chat with me. I’d also like to hear from anyone interested in participating in Playing for the Planet’s Green Game Jam, in joining the IGDA Climate SIG, or just in discussing sustainability initiatives (like green coding and green design!) in general.

What is one way attendees can prepare for your discussion?
Bring your hope! It matters. That hope is the sunlight for nurturing the burgeoning seeds we have for green liveops. Time allowing, we would love to riff on a few ideas for eco-activations with attendees. Green liveops -- live!

Meet the experts
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to meet with Jennifer Estaris and other industry leaders at Europe’s #1 b2b games industry conference this February. Make sure you secure your spot today!