Computer Scientist & Video Game Entrepreneur Ursula Wolz Shares Tips for Women Game Developers
A few weeks ago, we kicked off a new chat-and-learn series: Debunking the Myths of Code, led by Ursula Wolz, a video game entrepreneur and academic with over 40 years of experience.
In the first part of this series, Ursula tackled the myths and misconceptions that abound around the topics of coding video games, the video game industry, and the roles of women game developers.
Ursula delves into the myths and truths of coding video games, and shares advice for women game developers and those aspiring to make their way into the industry.
1. Who can make games
Everyone can make games. AAA companies usually employ hundreds of people in productions that take several years to complete, but there's indie developers of all sizes. You can even make a game all by yourself, and be hugely successful.
Ursula broke her advice down for us by categories in handy if-then statements:
- If(you are an artist with significant skills) you can use the skills you have to get into video games. There's always work for talented artists in video game companies of every size.
- Else if(you are a writer) you can make small games on your own. Check out Twine and Ink--no coding required.
- Else if(you have coding skills) keep improving them!
- Else if(you love math, logic, and puzzles) get coding skills.
As Ursule explains, getting coding skills is a sound investment: "For every person with solid coding skills, there are 10 jobs out there, and that's just the game industry."
2. Coding Skills
So if you're interested in coding video games, where should you start? And which language should you focus on? Ursula recommends the following:
- Online courses: Definitely look for online courses that are free. Completion rate for online courses is around 20%, so save your money until you have successfully completed a free online course. Don't worry about the certifications. If you really want that certification once you've finished your free course, you can take another course later on.
- Computer Science degree: It isn't necessary to have a CS degree to be a successful programmer, but it's always an option to consider.
- Other options: Local community colleges, public and private nonprofit initiatives, bootcamps, and unpaid internships.
3. Programming Languages
So if you know you want to get into game development, which coding language should you focus on?
Each language has its particular uses, so you should choose based on what you're most interested in.
- Scratch: Currently viewed as a starting language for middle schoolers, it was originally developed as a way for anyone to gain entry into coding and learn mathematical concepts.
- Python: A very popular language used for multiple purposes. Although Ursula programs in Python, she admits it's hard to do client-side programming this way.
- Java and C#: They are the same thing! C# is microsoft's version of Java. Unity uses C#, so if you're interested in building games in Unity you might want to learn this language.
- C++: Object-oriented language, used in the Unreal engine environment. One of the most difficult languages out there.
Ultimately, what you want to have is flexibility in your skills, not just one thing that you're locked into.
Ursula's verdict, though, goes to Java: "The safest place to start is with Java simply because it'll give you the foundations of coding."
4. Your Portfolio
To break into the industry, you need a portfolio. You really need to show future employers what you have done; it's not the same to say that you've mastered a set of skills as it is to show how you've put them into practice. If you say "I have been doing Java for five years," but you have no code to show, people are going to look at you funny. Portfolio development is absolutely critical!
5. Game Engines
To make your first few video games, a good place to start is to explore the free game engines that are out there like Unity or GameMaker. Even though academic programmers may frown upon GameMaker for not being a "real" game engine, there are still people making commercial 2D games on it, so it might be worth a shot.
6. The Challenges Women Often Face
Even though there are more women game developers every day, representation is still a big problem. There's not enough women at the higher levels of decision making within the game industry, which results in games--and work environments--that are sometimes not respectful towards women.
Creating women-oriented games would require women game developers, writers, and artists to be present, advocating for roles for women that aren't mere objects, roles that are respectful and interesting, and that speak to the things that women are interested in.
If you found this recap useful, don't miss out on the full video of the chat! There were many more topics covered, and Ursula goes through them expertly and inspiringly.