Welcome to a very special Industry Interviews, where The Switch Effect sat down with Caroline (Junior Games Marketer) and Lisa (Community Manager) from Runaway. Not only is this New Zealand-based indie game studio creating mobile and VR Games inspired by the natural beauty of the world, but they are also the founders of the #GirlsBehindTheGames campaign that has taken the social media world by storm!
What was the first console/game you ever owned?
Caroline: The first game I ever owned myself, that wasn’t one of my sibling’s, was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which I won from ‘What Now’ (a New Zealand kids show).
Lisa: The first game that I bought with my own money was Final Fantasy XII and it’s my favorite Final Fantasy to date. It was also the first Final Fantasy I ever played and I’m a firm believer that everyone’s favorite Final Fantasy is the one you played first! The first console we had was a Sega Master System and my brother and I played Aladdin and Sonic the Hedgehog, but it was the Nintendo 64 that really captured my enthusiasm for gaming.
Do you have any fond childhood memories based around gaming?
Caroline: Oh yeah heaps. I remember we would make forts with our friends, and really late at night we would watch each other play on our Game boy while my mum thought we were asleep. I also remember the struggles of owning one computer and having to share the computer time between the four of us. Trying to fit as much game time into my hour turn was always a daily mission. And trying to sneakily play my brother’s Halo game without ruining his gaming rep…which I’m pretty sure was long gone before I touched the game.
Lisa: Too many, but I think the strongest memory was watching my brother play Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and getting completely lost in the world and falling in love with the cast of characters. Like I said previously, the Nintendo 64 was what enchanted me as a child and started my real fascination with games. Ocarina of Time was one of the games responsible for showing me how complex, detailed and intricate games can be. I also remember playing 1080 Snowboarding and being told there was a hidden dragon in one of the levels, spent hours trying to find it, obviously never did because it’s not real (or is it??).
Growing up, did you always know you wanted to work in the video game industry?
Caroline: Ah well when I was growing up I wanted to be a spy and go on cool missions. But it turns out I’m a terrible liar and I don’t think I ever thought shooting people would be part of the job; which I definitely wouldn’t be able to do. But I guess it all sprung from playing games where you could go on awesome missions and have adventures. Tomb Raider was definitely my favorite game growing up and still is now and that was what I wanted to be. So I guess games have always been something I’ve been passionate about, but I never actually thought I would work in games. Though I am extremely happy that I ended up working for a game studio such as Runaway Play.
Lisa: I wanted to be a Cartoonist, then a Veterinarian, then an Author and then a Film Director. I suppose I’ve always been pretty ambitious. However I didn’t know there even was a games industry as such; I just imagined these amazing tech wizards and artists that created games by magic. When I got to university I had a really cool tutor who noticed the Zelda stickers on my laptop and suggested I write about video games for an essay that I was initially struggling with. From then, I used any opportunity to write about games. I figured I would probably end up in academia writing about games but out of curiosity, in my final honors year, I searched game companies in New Zealand. Runaway was looking for a Community Manager and so I applied, not thinking I would ever get an actual job. But I did! I’ve been given so many amazing opportunities being here too, most recently taking on the role of Narrative Designer for our first VR title, Flutter VR.
Runaway is an indie game studio that develops and publishes nature-based games. These include Starlight, Flutter, and Splash. However, for those unfamiliar, could you provide some background as to how your company began?
Lisa: Runaway was founded in 2010 by our previous Creative Director, Tim Nixon, who has just recently left for LA to work at thagamecompany. Runaway began as the games division of world renowned factual television production company Natural History New Zealand. The first game we released was Flutter: Butterfly Sanctuary, originally released for Facebook before we moved to producing mobile games. We now have three wonderful mobile games – Flutter, Splash and Starlight – including a VR game Flutter VR! We worked in partnership with publisher DeNA for three years and in 2015 transitioned to being a self publisher. Now we do all the things!
Where did the idea for nature-based gaming originate?
Lisa: Being the games division of a nature focused television production company, this was the initial pitch, to create games inspired by nature. Flutter, Splash and Starlight are all catered towards and celebrated by a very niche audience as our players are majority women. This kind of audience is often underrepresented and games are traditionally not made for this audience. Our games are also based around the philosophy of nurturing. They are games for you to play and just completely chill out with, something that I would personally love to see more of in the industry.
At this time, are you able to tease any future projects?
Lisa: I can’t say too much except that we are currently working on two new games and something new will be coming from us mid this year!
Caroline: I can’t say anymore than Lisa about it, other than it is definitely a game that you should definitely keep your eye out for in the upcoming months.
Runaway began a campaign on January 26th titled “#GirlsBehindTheGames”. What was the reasoning for this campaign and how did it come to be?
Caroline: Lack of diversity and gender parity within the gaming industry has been apparent for quite some time now. I guess all the women at Runaway, and probably everywhere, were tired of not seeing many women applying for jobs in the industry, or games being advertised and made for women. We were generally tired of waiting for the industry to change. It was definitely apparent to us after talking to a University lecturer, who said no women had signed up for his game design paper this year that the industry wasn’t changing. 10 years ago you would probably only see 1-3 women in a Computer Science paper, and it still hasn’t changed. So we wanted to actively do something, or at least try to do something about it. Which started GirlsBehindTheGames.
How has that reception been for you and everyone at Runaway?
Lisa: Overwhelmingly positive. At our weekly all hands (company-wide meeting) we’ve been showing off all of the amazing things that people have been sharing, including the huge amount of reach it’s gained. I think being this little company from New Zealand makes it even more exciting. We are watching it become a global conversation and that is incredible, especially from a place that is generally very isolated from the rest of the world. The best part is the different conversations it’s started. Yes, we are tackling one aspect of the industry, which is gender. But that’s also just the gender binary. But what about people with different genders? Non-binary folks? What about women of color? Indigenous women? I absolutely love it and visibility for all kinds of minorities is extremely important, so I’m glad that those conversations are happening around it too.
What advice would you give a girl/woman wanting to work in this industry?
Caroline: Go for it. Find support systems, whether it is through University to help you out with papers, or joining clubs to find other women in your course. Finding a good mentor is also really helpful, they help show you what the industry is like, what you will need to do and just offer support whenever you need it. Networking is also a really good one. I know University have a lot of networking events out there if you look for it, sometimes it’s held by the University and sometimes it’s through joining different clubs. Networking within your community and at work is also really beneficial. There are groups out there to help support people and women in the industry, such as Women in Tech (for NZ). Talking to the right people at these events can often help you find a job, whether they know someone to refer you to in the industry, or if it is themselves looking for someone to fill a position at their work.
Lisa: Don’t let any gendered stereotypes, patriarchal oppression or any kind of discouragement stop you from pursuing what you want to do. If you don’t know what you want to do, but know you love games, take a look at the hugely vast array of roles in the industry. Programming, art, narrative design, level design, marketing, community management, player support, cultural consultancy and journalism are just the tip of the iceberg. I also agree with Caroline in that having a support network to help guide you will help instrumentally. Generally, companies want to help and so reaching out and asking questions is a really great first step.
Is there an end goal you would like to see achieved as a result of this campaign?
Lisa: Visibility for women in the industry was the main and initial goal, and we have certainly achieved that haha. We wanted to raise awareness for the games industry as a viable career choice, particularly for young girls. Ultimately we think that #GirlsBehindTheGames can be a resource for HR, investors and journalists to find women’s voices. There are lots of us out there so no excuse to say that it’s too hard to find qualified women in gaming! We’ll also be collecting all of the amazing positivity we’ve seen as well as create our own videos to give to schools as a resource for young girls who want to enter the industry.
What are your thoughts on the Nintendo Switch?
Lisa: I love it. I love Nintendo, so am probably very biased in this answer, but it’s the coziest console I’ve had since the 3DS. What I mean by cozy is it’s almost like a little security blanket. I can play it in bed, on the couch, at work. I used to bring my 3DS everywhere when I was at university and it was just nice to know I could get it out at any time and play Animal Crossing in between lectures or just whenever I needed it. That’s the same feeling I have with the Switch, having it whenever and wherever I need it is deeply comforting for me. I just got Night in the Woods and I am replaying it and I’m still chipping away at Super Mario Odyssey too. I played Breath of the Wild on Wii U but honestly didn’t enjoy that much, so I think I’ll get it for Switch and see if there’s any major difference.
Finally, what upcoming game(s) are you looking forward to?
Caroline: There are quite a few games this year that I am really looking forward to playing. These include Detroit, God of War, Anthem and the game I’ve been hoping to come out ever since I finished the first game is The Last of Us Part II.
Lisa: For Switch I’m excited to play through Night in the Woods again and also to start playing this game called Fe which was released just last week. While it doesn’t come out until 2019, I’ve been following updates from Night School Studio, who did Oxenfree, and their upcoming title Afterparty. I’m also looking forward to Alto’s Odyssey on iOS in February! Oh and Kingdom Hearts III; I loved one and two as a teenager. Too many good games coming out this year!
Make sure to use the links below to follow Runaway as well as learn more about the #GirlsBehindTheGames campaign. Even better, like, share, RT, and use the hashtag to spread awareness!