Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Laura Kaltenmaier, CEO & Co-Founder of GameBoot. Laura speaks about how her background in architecture influences her approach to game design, advocating for diversity and change, and navigating the transition from creative roles to leadership positions. Read more about Laura in this interview:
Hi Laura! As someone having a degree in both Animation & Game, and Architecture, how has your background in architecture impacted and shaped your approach to game design?

Architecture and Game Development have a lot in common. The Projects are developed for people with specific needs and tastes in mind. Building is a team effort with lots of moving parts and people involved, just like games. So there are plenty of topics, themes, and things that translated well or inform my way of approaching game projects to this day.

My main focus has always been on Design, both visual and conceptual. That’s also a reason why I moved on from architecture. The “real world” can be very restrictive for creatives. And I just wanted to do and learn more. Explore different scenarios and worlds instead of drafting the same apartment complexes and office buildings over and over again.

Still, I would say that studying architecture and sticking with it prepared me even better for the reality of being a game developer than my second bachelor’s degree. The curriculum for architects is great for forming multi-talents with a broad view of social, political, and technical topics. And aspects like budgeting, project, and resource management are very much comparable.

The most important thing I learned in architecture school for the rest of my creative career is, how to create a concept.
A lot of people have a lot of great ideas, but how do you develop a product out of this initial spark? That is a lot of hard work, iteration, and re-evaluation. Architecture school taught me to be in love with the concept and the process. Getting rid of ideas, models, sketches, and texts over and over to get the best possible outcome, is a constant reality in production.

As a game artist, which was my main focus before taking on the role of CEO, I draw a lot of inspiration from architecture, classical art, and nature. I don’t like to reference games too heavily even though I certainly have favorite concept and game artists. Making games for me is about creating an experience. I love exploring myself and crafting an engaging environment and world, that is believable and has a huge impact on all other areas of gameplay. Playing with a sense of scale, non-euclidian spaces, very nostalgic surroundings, or all-together alien locations can vastly impact the emotional starting point of the player. Architectural styles can communicate cultural heritage, a sense of time and place, and have a huge potential for game designers to use them as tools, to tell their stories on a subconscious level or via environmental storytelling.

In light of your passion about queer topics and promoting female perspectives in the industry, what specific measures or approaches do you think help enhancing diversity and inclusivity in the field of game development?

That is a very broad and heavy question. But I will try my best.

I think to change anything the very first step is to identify what needs to be changed.

Diversify stories, make work environments more inclusive, create safe spaces at events, and encourage people to be themselves. Teams and companies don’t just become a great work environment because of a set of rules in a code of conduct. Systems and pipelines need to be questioned and re-evaluated from different standpoints. Asking a lot of questions and asking a lot of different people, listening to stories and experiences outside of your own, is a great starting point. Not only in a professional context (which is my usual perspective) but also in communities and the public eye.

On top of finding the fly in the ointment, we as a collective need to shine a light on positive examples. Solely focusing on the negative and cautionary tales poisons public discourse and alienates new potential allies. We need role models and motivating stories. Great projects made by a diverse team need to be visible!

When I started to think about a career in games, I didn’t even know how big of a business and what a wide range of jobs might be available to me. I would have needed some role models in school to tell my parents about my plans and show them, that they are valid. “Look, mum! People are doing what I want to do. And other bisexual women are telling their stories and making their dream games.”

Last but not least, I want to talk about change. Changing systems, changing culture, changing the big picture – that is a community effort! We need to get everyone on board, especially the ones who don’t have the problem. The people who are not negatively impacted (or even privileged) have to push for change as well.

I have been compliant and silent in situations before, not wanting to make a scene and staying “professional”. But I try to change my reaction and behavior in the face of misogyny, sexism, and false assumptions every day. I try to speak up where I can, and correct my colleagues, friends, and clients even when they use language, make jokes, and create an overall atmosphere I don’t want around me. Bubbles within the gaming sphere are already so insanely diverse and colorful, it makes my heart bounce with happy jiggles. And then I load into a game of “random competitive Online Game” and I am grateful for the mute and “hide chat” button again… it is frustrating. But it’s worth it and I believe in change!

Having transitioned from roles like Art Director to CEO, how do you balance your creative instincts with the demands of leadership, and what advice would you give to aspiring professionals looking to follow a similar trajectory in the gaming industry?

How do I find balance? Truth be told, I don’t.
My first advice for someone looking into founding their studio and growing from a production role into operations, know what you are getting into!

I always took on a managing role, even in university. It was never only about “creating art” for me. I wanted to make a game, a product, something to release.

Business is business and you should be very aware that your relationship to game making will change as soon as you choose to make your hobby your profession. It will be a job, a very rewarding one, as I see it, but it will be a job. And transitioning up the ladder and taking on a leadership role will naturally change your relationship with the people you work with. I am very grateful to have a team of co-founders around me with whom I can talk and share my struggles, but even so, being a CEO can be lonely. Making tough decisions and being responsible for them is not in any way similar to making a creative choice. Both can be impactful, but not all decisions will involve your business and by extension of that, your team, in the same way. I am always very aware that everything I do, for better or worse, can impact the whole studio.

I am very lucky to still be involved in parts of the creative process. I do create way less, but I also notice some positive effects on my relationship with my creative process. I will block myself half a day at a time when I need to get something creative done. I can’t switch from my “art mindset” to the business mode in a heartbeat. I enjoy both jobs immensely but they tickle my brain in very different ways. Being creative has gone back to being the fun part again. I had some phases where pressure and anxiety made creating art and enjoying the process nearly impossible. Now it is mostly the lack of time, not the weird little voice in my head. With a new scale of pressure, I found an ease in creation again.

Thanks for this interview, Laura!

Laura’s links: LinkedIn, instagram, artstation, ko-fi, fiverr

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Madeleine Egger