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My experience as a female in the South African games industry

Megan Hughes on SA gaming.jpg

Megan "dammitZA" Hughes. You'll know if you've met her or encountered her online because she leaves a definite impression. Things change when Megan's around because her energy is contagious, she knows gaming on multiple levels (gamer, developer, & PR, to name but a few), and she's a very clever lady (among many other things she holds an Honors Degree in Psychology.)

I don't need to say more about Megan, her experience of the South African video game industry that she shares below is a testament to her wisdom, knowledge and integrity.  

My experience as a female in the local games industry by Megan Amy Hughes

"In October, I celebrated exactly two whole years being officially employed in the local games industry. However, you could say I’ve been part of the industry since I finished high school, already 10 years ago! In a sense, in those 10 years I’ve seen everything change and everything stay the same.

The local industry has certainly grown and had some major successes which have shaped the landscape and made the international game developers and publishers pay us a bit more heed. This additional cash flow and notoriety has also helped launch IESA and got 14 representatives (including myself!) a trip to Paris for a Games Connection business convention a few months back. (That's the group of happy people in the above image.) It’s also added to the sustainability of careers in game development and created job opportunities for quite a few people who might be more considered on the fringe of game development – such as sound artists, brand managers, and project managers.

At the same time, the local industry has stayed pretty much the same. Even the most recent report on the statistics of the industry by IESA laments the fact that the industry is 100% male owned, with 90% being white. (Read: What the 2016 IESA survey reveals about South Africa’s gaming industry). The majority of employees in the industry are also white males, at 76%, with women having made a substantial increase in representation from 11.5% (in 2015’s survey results) to 14%.

In my personal experience, I’ve felt this domination of males at events I attend as well as seen it in the kind of content produced. And I’ve experienced all of the clichés associated with working or being closely involved in a male dominated field, from assumptions about my interests, skills and capabilities, to being interrupted and ignored.

Of course, that’s not everyone, and I’ve also experienced great mentorship, had my experience and opinions respected and built strong friendships over the years.

And, very recently, I’ve moved out of the industry sector that focused on entertainment games and into a company that focuses on serious games and applications that have a positive social impact. The Formula D interactive team is diverse and it’s been really exciting already working with such skilled and talented people from such different backgrounds!

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3am. McDonalds in Braamfontein with the coolest people around. Best AMAZE experience. M Hughes

Tell us about your highs in SA's games industry

"The great thing is that there are so many highs to talk about! Since moving to Cape Town, I’ve participated in almost every single Global Game Jam (that happens in January – sign up!) and I’ve loved every single one. Each one has forced me to stretch my skills to apply an interesting theme to a game created in only a weekend and I’ve been involved in games ranging from basic cards and boards to AR and unity developed games. It’s been a great way to meet new people, make friends and connections too. Plus, the pizzas always make everything better…even a disastrous github crash.

The AMAZE festivals have also been a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world and see the kinds of fringe games being developed. I’ve only been twice, but highly recommend this to everyone who can get to JHB around August time. Both times I’ve been, I’ve had games on display and it’s a great ego boost to feel like you’re on par with other developers making interesting things.

I was also taken aback this year by how much interest my work-in-progress, "Twine" an interactive story about 'the experience of being a woman' received. The press at the event loved the game and really wanted to talk about it – something that I think speaks to the growing openness in South Africa in general as well as in the industry to go beyond simply acknowledging that there is a problem.

Of course, going to Paris was a big one! Not only did I get to represent Formula D interactive at a business event in Europe, and meet some really interesting people and make connections with companies from all over the globe, I also got to eat a proper chocolate eclair. And take more pictures of the Eiffel tower than strictly necessary. Jokes (and honest truths) aside, being able to attend a European business connection function of that size was enlightening. It was a great opportunity to connect with companies and people we might not have otherwise had the chance to, and we also picked up some new eye tracking technology from Tobii which we’re really excited about developing with."

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Megan is also a board game designer & avid player. The photo shows her own game, Worst Warriors

Tell us about your lows in SA's games industry

"For me, really, the one consistent and on-going personal low in the industry is that I have yet to properly finish any game. Everything I have made in my own capacity is either simply a prototype or game jam game, not expected to ever be much more, or a never-ending work-in-progress that gets side-lined by life admin and shiny new game ideas.

With board games, there’s the added side that developing a full final product can be quite a financial investment and finding and working with printers can be fairly time consuming. Maybe one day I’ll get one of them done!"

What are some of the biggest challenges SA game devs face?

"I think discoverability is the biggest challenge facing developers globally and the local industry only has it harder because there are less opportunities to take your game to a global game convention audience.

Of course, it’s not a problem that hasn’t been overcome before and in that way it’s important that local developers work together in sharing knowledge, skills and resources (where possible) to help each other. This is where MakeGamesSA has become an invaluable resource, providing guidance and mentorship for new developers as well as the opportunities to connect and get feedback on their works in progress."

Megan currently works as copywriter and brand manager at Formula D interactive. Read about her work experience here.

More about SA's games industry

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