Article: 'New Game': Zynga's Poornima Seetharaman on how women can change the gaming sector

Diversity

'New Game': Zynga's Poornima Seetharaman on how women can change the gaming sector

Lack of access, awareness, belonging, and of women role models are the major reasons for women being underrepresented in the gaming industry, says Poornima Seetharaman, director of design at San Francisco-based social game developer Zynga.
'New Game': Zynga's Poornima Seetharaman on how women can change the gaming sector

They comprise nearly half of all participants in most regions globally, as per research reports, but women are not even deemed "real" gamers, let alone being considered for a career in the gaming world.

The past few years have seen a growing number of women becoming a part of the male-dominated gaming world, both as players and developers. However, there still remains a gender mismatch when it comes to career representation in the industry with men still in a majority even as more companies seek to achieve a more diverse workforce.

In an interview with People Matters, Poornima Seetharaman, director of design at San Francisco-based social game developer Zynga, says lack of access, awareness, belonging, and of women role models are the major reasons for women being underrepresented in the gaming industry.

A part of the gaming industry since 2006, Seetharaman has worked on franchises like BioShock Mobile, How to Train your Dragons, Neopets, and FarmVille 2: Country Escape, to name a few. She found game development by chance, but chose it as her career completely out of her passion for games and translated that passion further by co-founding game design studios Pinaka Interactive and NammaLore Entertainment.

She is a Women in Games Ambassador at Women in Games (WIGJ), the founder of Women in Games India (WIGIN), and a Hall of Fame Inductee at the Global WIG Awards 2020, making her the first Indian game developer to receive such an honour. She has also been inducted into the Women in Games - Global Hall of Fame in 2020, making her the first Indian game developer to receive such an honour.

Seetharaman believes in using the power of gaming to create a meaningful and impactful change in thinking. She also strives to make the industry more diverse and safer.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

Reasons for fewer women taking up a career in gaming industry

It was and is all about access and it is pretty aligned with most industries. Men were the breadwinners of the family. Centuries of this will inherently result in a male-dominant industry.  When you don’t have the exposure to a medium, scaling in that and taking it up professionally becomes a very low probability. If this had to be summed up in three points, it would be awareness about gaming and game development, feeling alienated as they are not considered “Gamers”, and a Catch-22 situation of seeing a male-dominated industry, not seeing enough women role models, and feeling out of place.

Rising awareness in recent years

With the dawn of social and mobile gaming, more women have taken it up. This has now created a user base that is at par with each other... in terms of binary genders, that is. However, concerning game developers themselves, we are only at 20% women on a global average. Awareness has improved, although not as much as we would like.

Role of companies in making gaming industry an equal playing field for women

In India, we are largely a mobile industry. This means, our target audience has roughly 50% women. This makes women feel comfortable about what they shall build and also for companies to invest in women to get their perspective and align with their players. General awareness, women in games and game development communities, conferences, etc are also contributing factors. Today, a lot of educational institutions are also adding game development as a part of their curriculum.

Companies like Zynga have promoted and taken up diversity and inclusion initiatives more seriously. They are also providing a safe and comfortable environment along with good compensation packages.

Another caveat is to see women leaders in the industry - as you grow the leaders, the rest will follow.

Major roles that women are taking up in the gaming industry

I don’t think there is a particular role that is attracting women. We are thankfully seeing a decent rise of women game designers and artists. On the other hand, we do not see enough women programmers, unfortunately.

Qualities women get to in their role

Women form a large chunk of gamers, i.e., consumers for gaming companies. We, at Zynga, want to work on games that would include everyone and be accessible to a large variety of people. Indeed, more than half our players are women. Having our workforce reflect our consumer base will go a long way in understanding our players and how we can delight them.

How to empower girls to pursue careers in the gaming industry

Zynga is keen to bring awareness of gaming careers to young girls and women. We do so, via partnerships with educational institutions and other organisations such as Unherd, through which we reached out to dozens of high school-aged female students in 2021, to help them gain awareness and mentorship at that crucial stage of making career choices.

Pay parity

At Zynga, we believe that there should be pay equity for men and women in all professions. We run a gender pay equity audit regularly to self-monitor against this standard.

Future of career for women in gaming

In my opinion, it is very bright! I have been in this industry for almost 16 years now. And having seen the Indian gaming industry grow and with the current wave, I can see that our growth will be much better. We have started to realise what a diverse team can bring to the table. And we will need every aspect of diversity and not just gender to make it truly equal for all and to make this industry amazing.

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Topics: Diversity, #Hiring

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