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The Woman Behind The Master Chief: Meet Kiki Wolfkill, Executive Producer of Halo 4

Posted: 07/11/2012 18:12

When we think of the games industry we still imagine a world that is populated entirely by men. Boys make games so boys buy games so boys make games. The girl gamer - and games designer - remains a lesser spotted beast.

But how true is this stereotype? Is the games industry as overwhelmingly male as we think it is?
Or do we just hear too little about the pioneering women who are helping develop some of the most exciting new titles around (titles which are - shock horror - played by girls as well as boys)?

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Lady Geek and YouGov's research highlights that 42% of gamers are girls, but only 4% of video game industry employees are female. If we want to see that number rise, we need to start showing off the talented women that are already making waves in the industry.

This week sees the release of the latest instalment in Microsoft's science fiction mega-franchise Halo. Halo 4 is more than a game. It's an entertainment product that is being launched with all the bombast and charisma of anything Hollywood has to offer and will, if industry predictions are anything to go by, make a hell of alot more money than most films released this year. As if to underline the point, it arrives off the back of a colossal marketing campaign that boasted a trailer produced by none other than David 'Fight Club' Fincher.

It's one of the biggest games of the year. And the Executive Producer is a woman, Kiki Wolfkill.

'I think people are always surprised to discover how many women really are involved with games' says Wolfkill (with a name as cool as that how could she not work in the games industry?).''Certainly there still aren't as many as I like, but at the same time there's a little bit of a stereotype that there aren't women making games or playing them.'

Wolfkill started off working as a motion graphics and cinematic artist, before rising to the position of Director of Art at Microsoft Game Studios, in the process working on huge titles such as Project Gotham Racing, Fable, Gears of War and Mass Effect.

Halo 4 represents a new challenge for her. As Executive Producer, Kiki has combined her artistic background with her experience in production leadership to deliver the latest instalment of one of the biggest selling franchises of all time.

She is far from the only woman on the project. 343 Industries - the developer set up to take control of the Halo franchise after Microsoft's split with original creators Bungie - benefits, she says, because it breeds a culture of diversity. The studio boasts a large number of female employees and the Studio Head, Bonnie Ross, is a woman.

How does that gender diversity help the development of a game like Halo?

'Games often reflect the culture of the studio they're from. I think studios where that diversity of thought is present definitely shows in the games that they make. I think a great entertainment experience - I won't even say a game - has some appeal that goes beyond a very narrow niche.'

Without a diverse number of voices around the table, she says, a game as huge as Halo would seriously damage its chances of success.

'Certainly for something like Halo, that we want to be this blockbuster experience, it has to be a little more approachable. And if you have a group of people with a very narrow perspective working on something, just by its very nature it's going to have an equally narrow perspective in terms of who it appeals to.'

Halo appeals to women, she tells me, because women have been involved in the creative process.'My personal perspective on female gamers is that a lot want to be pulled into a world and immersed in a story and a universe, and I think that's something that's always been a part of Halo. We're always trying to tell a story with some emotional resonance.'

Unless the industry can shake off its boys-only image however, it risks losing out on valuable talent and creative input. Thankfully Wolfkill believes that the stereotype is already starting to shift:

'I think that female gamers - particularly younger gamers - are becoming more comfortable saying that they're gamers, and that has a huge impact on the industry's perception.'

Girl gamers' attitudes are changing - it's now up to the industry to catch up. At Lady Geek we are constantly bridging the gap between women and the industry, working with companies on improving both the way they market their games to women, and the way they can attract, retain and inspire the next generation of Lady Geeks.

If other developers can follow the lead of 343, and create an environment where women do not feel out of place, they can't fail but to benefit from the same diverse culture that is sure to make Halo 4 a stratospheric success. So how would she sell a career in the industry to the next generation of girls?

'I love the industry. It's a really unique juncture of creative and technological challenges. It's always on the forefront of what technology can do, it's on the forefront of where entertainment is going. To create something that so many people can enjoy and appreciate on so many different levels, is one of the most unique creative endeavours you can take on.'

If we start giving more prominence to people like Wolfkill - the women behind the scenes that are helping shape the biggest games of today - we can show the girls of tomorrow that gaming isn't a boys' club, and that, hopefully, they will soon be able to leave their microphones on.


@belindaparmar is the author of Little Miss Geek which is available in paperback and Kindle. If you want to help inspire more women in gaming, please get in touch with @ladygeektv

 

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