I am just back from my first Women in Games Conference which took place this year at the University of Abertay, Dundee. It is quite an experience to be at a games conference where the audience is predominately female, although not exclusively, and you were not being sold things at every opportunity. It was a nice and informal event attended by maybe 80 people and on the final day by a large contingent of local students.

The conference took place in the new Hannah McClure student centre, a tiered theatre which holds around 100 people and was quite literally only opened a few days earlier. Outside teams from Dare and the incubation centre, Emryonix demonstrated their ideas and games.

There was a mixture of industry and academic speakers over the two and a half days. Ernest Adams, plus hat, opened the conference is his usual style mixing astute insights with amusing anecdotes. This was followed by Susanne Laughton, European Marketing manager for EA and the SIMs. It seems they have spent quite a lot of time developing alternative marketing channels and methods for the SIMs, including inserting SIM wedding announcements into newspapers in Sweden and sponsoring SIM actors to live in shop windows in Rome. These were followed by a number of academic presentations on game marketing, gender representation in games and gender differences on computer courses in the US. The final panel of the day involved four students from the IT University in Copenhagen reporting on their research projects involving women gamers, professional female athletes and games and a professional female game clan.

The second day opened with a keynote by Melissa Federoff who explored usability testing and software iteration at Microsoft Game Studios in Seattle. Having worked at Lucas Arts before Microsoft Melissa has a lot of experience in conducting focus groups and usability testing and provided practical tips which even those without a lot of resources might consider. The second keynote was followed by a number of academic papers before Aleks Krotoski chaired a panel of marketing heavyweights including Faye O’Donaghue from Ubisoft, Susanne Laughton from EA and Robin McShaffry from Mary-Margaret.com recruiting. If nothing else this panel showed that having women in game companies does not mean that things will change overnight and we learnt that marketing budgets are decided by sales. A final surprise was that EA considers its marketing budgets to be modest!

The third keynote was given by Constance Steinkuehler from the University of Wisconsin who explored gender and MMOGs, the subject of her recent PhD thesis. In her talk Constance explored how male and female players construct gender through language and through avatar behaviour as well as the habit for players to genderbend.

The final day started with a practical session aimed at people who want to get into the industry. Robin McShaffry from Mary-Margaret.com and other industry veterans offered tips on CVs, interviews and preparing a demo. Later Jackie McKenzie introduced the Dare to be Digital competition and Caroline Anderson from Northern Ireland gave an excellent presentation on her experience of taking part in Dare. As usual, the demos from Dare were innovative, quirky and surprising. Just to keep the Irish theme going I followed with my own keynote and this was followed by a final panel involving a mix of industry and academic speakers, males and females. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to hear it all as I was already running late for my train.

Overall my experience of Women in Games was extremely positive and stimulating. The focus was more on gender and diversity than on women per se and there was an attempt by all to speak in terms which everyone could understand which made for a genuine attempt by academics and industry to communicate. Many were heading straight off to Edinburgh for their games festival while the Dare teams headed off to put the final touches to their projects for the deadline next Wed. Best of luck to them all but especially to SilverTongue and to Team Doom!