Digital Environment Designer, IllFonic
Jessica Horton, a digital environment designer for IllFonic, a video game developer, had no idea that gaming could be a legitimate career path for her. “It wasn’t until I had gone to school for a little while and was accepted into an art program that I realized that gaming was actually an option for me,” she said.
From the beginning, Horton noticed the clear gender imbalance in the games industry. “When I first started in games, me and my friend Felicia were two of three women in a company run by a woman,” she said. “That was it in a company of 60 or 70 people.”
This imbalance persists today. In 2020, women made up 46 percent of gamers but only 24 percent of those working in the gaming industry according to Forbes. In the top 14 companies, men hold 121 executive positions while women only hold 23, making up only 16 percent of executive roles.
“Going to game conventions, it’s usually very male dominated,” Horton said. In her own experience, however, the industry always welcomed women. “They would often be very accepting of me and my female friends and even be excited to see the variety of ideas that would be present.” That said, Horton has heard plenty of stories. “I have heard comments like ‘We don’t need to hire someone just because they’re a woman.’”
When she moved to IllFonic in 2018, she recognized the appeal of working at a smaller studio, where relationships within the company are paramount. “Everybody seems set on having the best working environment as possible and hiring people that would work out,” Horton said. “That was appealing to me because in game jobs you don’t always have control of who you work with.”
Horton said that inclusiveness in the workplace is driven by the willingness of the team to create a welcoming environment, as well as listening and adapting to every team member’s concerns. “These companies are made out of people and people aren’t perfect,” she said. “You’re definitely going to always have someone who has their biases or even a general atmosphere of not as much acceptance or not as much effort being made towards acceptance, but I think there has been a lot of change.”
Since Horton began her career, she has seen improvements in opportunities for women in gaming. “There’s a lot more women in games now than from when I started, but there is still room for smaller improvements,” she said. “Give women a few more chances to interview, or maybe seek out talented women. I do think with men and women, there are different life experiences so they can approach things differently.”
While encouraging women to make more room for themselves in gaming, Horton wants the quality of her work to come first. “I don’t want to be discriminated against because I’m a woman, but I also don’t want to be given any special treatment just because I’m a woman,” she said. “I want my work to speak for itself. I know a lot of women who work in games who feel the same way. It’s not fun to feel like the only reasons you were given an opportunity is because you’re a woman. It can take away from that feeling of [having] worked really hard to get here.”
When she was studying, Horton was told that gaming was a competitive industry that she’d be unlikely to break into. Horton encourages anyone considering a career in gaming to follow their passion. “Figure out what you love the most and build your portfolio around that,” she said. “Your portfolio and how you represent yourself and how you advocate for yourself is so important. That’s how these companies get to know you.”
To learn more about opportunities in gaming and to explore other titles, visit https://www.illfonic.com/.