Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Barbara Kugler, Head of Merchandise and Specialty Products at THQ Nordic. She speaks about how her academic background in educational science contributed to her interest in educational software and serious games, and reflects on her career journey highlighting the challenges and opportunities in her role. Read more about Barbara in this interview:
Hi Barbara! Your academic background in educational science/sociology may not seem directly related to the gaming industry. How have the skills and knowledge you acquired during your education contributed to your success in roles within the gaming world?

At first glance, my academic education has relatively little to do with games. My main subject was educational science. I came into contact with research and the design of educational software in my very first semester. This topic was a recurring theme throughout my studies. As a student, I accompanied primary school children playing and learning with the educational software “Lollipop” from Cornelsen as part of a study. I was fascinated by how much fun the children had solving quite complex tasks in order to progress in the game. My master’s thesis was a concept for an intercultural learning software/serious game.

You began your career in the gaming industry as a software tester and eventually climbed the ranks to become the Head of Merchandise and Specialty Products. Can you share some of the key lessons you’ve learned along the way, particularly for aspiring individuals looking to grow their careers in the gaming industry?

During university, I did an internship in product management at Tivola and then spent several years testing children’s games in QA. In my first job after university at bhv Software, I also designed educational software and implemented it as a project manager with the developers. My next step wasn’t actually that far away from that. As a producer at dtpyoung, I helped design and supervise the development of children’s games for several years. This is where my desire to work more closely on the creation of games and to help shape development processes grew. My son was born in 2008 and I continued to work reduced hours for the first year and reoriented myself professionally.

In 2009, I moved to Sproing Interactive in Vienna (now Purple Lamp Studios). I then worked as a producer on a number of projects over several years. My main task was to communicate with the publishers, create project plans and implement and further develop development processes. Unfortunately, Sproing had to file for insolvency at the end of 2016. That’s how I ended up joining THQNordic as a Senior Project Manager in 2017. Initially, I was responsible for the internal publishing processes. It was more by chance that I took over a Collectors Edition for a game. I really liked the fact that I could get more creatively involved again, but above all I like being responsible for a specific product/project. This grew into more and more and finally we opened our e-merchshops in 2020 and opened our store in Vienna at the beginning of this year.It was very enriching for me to get to know different areas of the games industry and I benefit greatly from this.

Our industry is very fast-moving and there are always ups and downs that affect the whole industry. Thanks to my broad experience, I remain flexible and you learn a lot through change.

As Head of Merchandise and Specialty Products, could you elaborate on the challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered in this role, and how it connects with the gaming industry’s broader ecosystem and fanbase?

The great thing about my job is that I can be very creative and still use my project management skills. I am responsible for every step from conception to delivery. With the Collectors Editions that we make for our key brands, we often have elaborate statues. It all takes a long lead time. I often start with the first designs 1.5 to 2 years before the game is released and get quotes for them. The most difficult thing is to have everything ready in stock at the right time. There are often 5-10 individual products that are then packaged into a whole. For different countries and platforms. There are many different product safety requirements and tests that have to be passed. The best thing is when it is finally delivered and the fans are happy about the products in countless unboxing videos.

Thanks for this interview, Barbara!

Barbara’s links: LinkedIn

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Madeleine Egger