Welcome to Seriously, a company filled with world builders and world changers. Gaming is often associated with men, but Seriously sees the future of gaming. From data analysis to project management and design, women are just as passionate and influential in the creation of virtual realms. The article below is from our new Darling Summer Issue 24, where the women at Seriously share their paths to gaming, the sparks to their imagination, and what the current gaming market truly looks like.
In The Game
Written by Teresa Miller Archer — Artwork by Melanie Loon
Originally published in Darling Issue 24
Let me paint you a picture of Xiaxin Hua, born and raised in China, who becomes a woman intrigued by the factual, by what can be measured, weighed, and expressed with clarity. She discovers her passion for statistics and modeling while studying for her undergraduate degree in Finance. In 2010, she relocates to the United States where she earns her PhD from Clark University in Applied Econometrics. In short: she loves data. While in school, Xiaxin is aware that about 90 percent of her university classmates are expecting to find jobs teaching and doing research in academia, but Xiaxin’s interests lie in industries such as investment banking and consulting. After moving to California, she quickly discovers that her specialty and interests are valued in roles at West Coast tech firms. It seems as though such a firm is her only recourse, but when she meets with her supervisor, she learns of a new avenue for data scientists: game studios. She asks the question, “Does the gaming industry really need someone who has a PhD in data techniques?” On the other side of that query, Xiaxin has now spent years mining the continuous flow of data that working at Seriously, a mobile game company, has afforded her. With 1.8 million daily active users on the company’s first property, Best Fiends, Xiaxin has found a constant data supply that she never knew existed, and she is thriving.
Now meet a woman from the other side of the world. Born and raised in Finland, Vilma Pekola falls in love with the Harry Potter books as a teenager—so in love that she forms an interactive website for classmates and friends to log in to and live alternative lives as Hogwarts students. She attends Tampere University of Applied Sciences to earn her BA in Interactive Media. While there, she is introduced to some of her peers who have the same creative drive, and together they attempt to start their own company. The company, designed to be an opportunity to create their own games, unfortunately didn’t flourish as they had imagined. Vilma then moves to Belgium to study game art, where she realizes it’s truly possible to marry her love for gaming and art, while also making a living. She hears of and applies for a job at Seriously in 2015, and the rest is history. Now she doesn’t need to worry about running a business, and she can focus on what she enjoys most: creating and ideating in her role as a senior artist. She loves that she is working on more than single designs; she is designing a growing world—a whole universe—that millions of people travel to daily.
Vilma and Xiaxin are just two among an emerging force of women engaging in the opportunities presented by the creative gaming industry. The world of gaming is no longer an isolated opportunity to engage with one or two other “players”—it has transformed in the past few decades into a vast network of players having fun and competing on all different kinds of platforms, from desktop computers to mobile phones.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015 revealed that the demographics of who plays video games are more equal than we might believe: 48 percent of women and 50 percent of men polled said they play games, up from only 3 percent of women as reported by Variety in 1989. Some gaming companies have taken note of the rise of women playing games and have been consistently adding women to their workforce and reaping sizeable benefits. Enter, Seriously. It’s no accident that the number of women represented in the gaming space has caught up with men: more women are entering the space both as participants and as creators. Some companies have recently begun to see the opportunity this historically untapped market represents and have pivoted their designs and formation to appeal to women. Seriously has been at the forefront of that movement, employing women to design, analyze, and form the world they inhabit, and also by shifting the expectations of the gaming world itself.
Seriously has mobile games at the core of its intellectual property, but what has brought so many players to its platform has been the expansion from a stand-alone game to an entertainment franchise. In 2014, they created the hit mobile game Best Fiends, which they then expanded into animated shorts, consumer products, and more. This ingenious concept of cross-promoting and driving revenue between games and products works, as the numbers attest: Best Fiends has been downloaded a whopping 86 million times. It takes a team of smart, fast-paced women and men at the top of their field to form and continuously innovate a world like Best Fiends.
Opportunities for different roles—from data scientist to visual artist—are expanding every day. As we see more women in leadership roles behind the gaming curtain, we learn of their multifaceted and dedicated motives. There is certainly a symbiotic relationship between each person on the team that leads to the lively, engaged, constantly evolving world that Seriously has built. Today, it isn’t simply the games, films, or books that are influencing our culture—it’s the people who are making them. When considering a career path in a creative and technical field like gaming, we can sometimes falsely assume that you need to be an illustrator or programmer. But as you can see, other roles have emerged as games have evolved from singular experiences to complex spaces for us to engage with. The types of roles needed to sustain the industry have broadened. With that widening, women can step into those spaces and employ their unique perspectives and preferences. And with that, we introduce to you some of the women working behind the scenes at Seriously.