Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational individuals from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Marie Mejerwall, Games Consultant at Mejerwall Consulting. She shares her evolution from programmer to system designer, advises aspiring developers on teamwork and success, discusses her efforts to promote women in gaming, and reflects on her eye-opening experience at the Tokyo Game Show. Read more about Marie in this interview:
Hi Marie! With 15 years of experience as a game developer, what advice can you share with aspiring game developers looking to excel in the industry, and how has your expertise evolved over the years?

There’s a lot to unpack in that question – I’ll start with my expertise! I always wanted to work with games, and later, to be a game designer. However, around mid-2000’s, there were no notable game design educations out there, and those that worked as designers had mostly transitioned into the role. So, I entered the industry through programming, which was probably one of the best things I could had done. It gave me the basic understanding on how games are built, and how all different elements – animation, cut-scenes, controllers, character art and so on – interconnect.

It also helped my logical thinking which helped me transition into system (game) design. I fell in love with AI and worked on it both for individual NPC’s, encounter direction logic and overall world spawning logic. The more I designed, the more I also nurtured my creative, and this lead to me understanding games better from an abstract, emotion perspective. Thanks to that, I now have built several patterns and models that help to design the foundational game vision, and to then flesh out a synergistic feature set.

As for advice on how to excel – if you are already in the industry – the best thing you can do for your career is to be a teamplayer, so that your peers remember and appreciate your work, but also to make your boss happy, and go that extra mile every now and then. Try to also get titles on your resume that ships and leaves a strong impression amongst gamers.

What initiatives or changes have you been a part of that you believe have had a significant impact on promoting women’s participation and representation in the esports scene, and what’s your vision for the future of female gamers and professionals in the industry?

I’ve done a few things over the years. I used to run the world’s then-biggest female gaming community, Femina Gaming (later renamed Femina United). We had an online forum, a ladder system, a news site, an online league and organized esports tournaments at Dreamhack (the world’s biggest LAN festival). Each year was getting better, the girl’s started getting sponsors, picked up by teams etc. Many big female players used to be part of our community, such as legends zAAz and missharvey.

Fast forward a couple of years, I co-chaired the Women’s group at Jagex game studio, and we were frontrunners in the UK on improving things for gamers & professionals. Internally, we got a budget, appeared on livestreams, organized events, improved HR processes. Externally, we sponsored and had a meetup at our local Pride, had a group of female university students over for a workshop and organized a RuneScape townhall meet for players & devs. We also appeared on Reddit’s firstpage in an AMA.

Apart from that, I’ve been hosting a couple of gaming events, and often appear as speaker at both esports and gamedev conferences. It’s hard to measure the impact, but there is at least some as I’m often approached by women early in their careers who tell me they are inspired and seek my advice. I started focusing more on events where I am an expert in my own right, and just try to be visible. Representation matters.

– Looking at the future, I think some things have improved – women have a better chance at getting heard with their HR departments if something isn’t right at their workplace. But we’re still struggling with online hate. We also have a lack of role models in senior positions. This is holding both gamers & professionals back. I haven’t seen any sign yet of these two hurdles going away.

On the flipside, we have more women & diverse people in entry roles than ever, and I’m hoping that wide foundation and talent pool is an opportunity in terms of promotions. If women can unite and support each other, and also get more male allies to our aid, that can help move the needle. We can then slowly get better representation, which is hopefully the key needed to bust open doors for all women in the future, and ensure them a safer passage.

Your side-career as a stage host, traveling to events worldwide, must have exposed you to various gaming communities and cultures. Can you share a memorable moment or insight gained from your travels that you believe has broadened your perspective on the global gaming landscape?

– There’s definitely been a lot of travels – I think I’ve been to 100+ events over the years. One of the most surprising experiences I had was visiting Tokyo and Tokyo Game Show in 2013. I was very excited to do so, because I loved my PS Vita and wanted to finally use the ‘near function’ and find some people to play with. So I set out to the Imperial Garden in the heart of Tokyo with a blanket and my device, and opened my near function. I was overjoyed to see close to 20 other devices in some sort of proximity, but my excitement soon dissipated into disappointment when I realized they were all playing other games that I didn’t have and that possibly wasn’t even released in the ‘west’ PlayStation store.

Likewise, when I went to Tokyo Game Show a few days later, almost all the western games had a very humble showing, whilst SEGA’s mobile gaming section was overcrowded. The only western game that attracted a large interest from gamers was GTA V. I started understanding just how segmented the global market was, and that only a handful of games are able to bridge that. There are just different traditions, gamer persona’s, devices, and so on, and I’ve brought this insight with me in my role as designer and advisor.

I’m hoping to go to Korea one day – my impressions are that the esports generation are at the center of popular culture, and pro players are icons in their own right. You could call it an insight that I’m looking forward to learn more about in the future!

Thanks for this interview, Marie!

Marie’s links: LinkedIn, website

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Madeleine Egger