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Pursuing Creation – Girl Geeks and Game Development with Lisy Kane

In this episode, Lisy Kane, lead producer at League of Geeks, and co-founder of Girl Geek Academy talks about working in the game development field in a creative pursuit, and how the industry is fighting to get away from “crunch development.” Crunch development is a term for working long portions of overtime, and eventually, burning out your team.

Lisy also talks about co-founding Girl Geek Academy, almost six years ago. Girl Geek Academy is a movement with the goal of teaching one million women technology skills by 2025. They aim to increase technical aspirations in young girls and women from ages five to 95 through coding, making, entrepreneurship, game development, startup skills and more. They partner with teachers, parents, corporate leaders and governments, and all work together to see women and girls succeed in tech.

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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome back to Observy McObservface, the observability podcast we let the internet name and got exactly what we deserve. My name is Jonan. I’m on the developer relations team here at New Relic, and I will be back every week with a new guest and the latest in observability news and trends. If you have an idea for a topic you’d like to hear me cover on this show, or perhaps a guest you would like to hear from, maybe you would like to appear as a guest yourself, please reach out. My email address is You can also find me on Twitter as @thejonanshow. We are here to give the people what they want. This is the people’s observability podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. Enjoy the show.

I am joined today by my guest, Lisy Kane. How are you, Lisy?

Lisy Kane: I'm great. Thank you so much for having me. I'm very good. It's morning time for me, but I'm up. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to chat.

Jonan: I miss that feeling because it's about 4:00 o'clock for me.


Lisy: I know.

Jonan: I am spent. I am so done.

Lisy: Yes. Yeah, definitely. I understand that. I'm in the future. So I'm obviously in Melbourne, Australia, so slightly ahead of you. So I was there yesterday, but now I'm feeling refreshed.

Jonan: How is the future? Is it warm there?

Lisy: It's actually not too warm today. It's a little bit chilly. Melbourne is notorious for being four seasons in one day. So it's actually not too warm today. [Laughs]

Jonan: Are the spiders out in Australia yet, the huntsman spiders?

Lisy: Actually, I grew up in Brisbane, which is a lot more tropical, and moved to Melbourne about six years ago, and there are far less bugs in Melbourne. It's too cold here. So it's quite nice here.

Jonan: I like the Australian standard of what makes cold is.


Lisy: Yeah.

Jonan: It's quite far removed.

Lisy: We know nothing. [Laughs]

Jonan: Yeah. So I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day who lives in Australia about -- I mean, these spiders they're called huntsman spiders, right? The big ones.

Lisy: Yeah.

Jonan: And they're not dangerous, but they're huge, like, as large as your hand. And sometimes you'll wake up in the morning, and they're covering the ceiling in your place because one of them got into the house and laid an egg sac somewhere.

Lisy: [Laughs] Yeah. The worst thing about Australia, though, is the small ones. So the redback spiders are actually really, really poisonous, but they're really, really small. So they are the ones that scare me the most because you can't see them. At least a huntsman is just like, "Hey, what's up? I'm here." I remember in primary school, so, in our junior school, we'd have them all underneath the chairs because they built their nest, and you can't see them until it's too late. And then they'll crawl on you, and they'll bite you, and they're very, very poisonous. I was never bitten. They're the ones that scare me, the ones you can't see. [Laughs]

Jonan: That's terrifying to me.

Lisy: [Laughs]

Jonan: Americans, we're like, "Oh, no! A bee sting. I got a little swollen." And you're like, "Sometimes I die at school."

Lisy: [Laughs] Yeah.

Jonan: That's different.

Lisy: Yeah. We get told how to clean out our shoes, make sure we put our shoes in the right place and all that kind of stuff because they love to hide in dark spots, and they get in the shoes, and then you put your feet in and then you get bitten.

Jonan: If I was in the shoe and you put your stinky foot in there, I'd probably bite it too. That's fair.

Lisy: [Laughs]

Jonan: So tell us a little bit about yourself, your history in software.

Lisy: For a very long time, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In my previous life, I was a musician. I've always loved creative things, and I've always loved technology. So I actually thought I was going to be in film and TV. I was like, “I’m going to make movies. I’m going to make TV.” But there was a big gap for me in there with regards to technology. There wasn't that element of technology that I loved. So I worked at a big bank in Brisbane, where I'm from, for a very long time and ended up being an assistant to one of the technology teams so learning about software development, and I learned about agile and all that kind of stuff. And at the same time, I was going back to university and realized you could study game design, and that blew my mind. Brisbane is not a big city, and it really didn't occur to me that people were making video games in Brisbane and in the world that I liked to play. So as soon as I figured out you could study game design, I'd learn about software development from my work. It clicked and became this really big aha moment for me, and I went fully into it and learned as much as I could about the whole process of game development. And that's what really sparked that interest for me and helped me build a career out of it. It's still pretty wild to me that I get to do what I do, but it's very, very exciting and awesome.

Jonan: I am jealous, actually. So when I got out of school, I went to university to study computer science and Japanese originally, and I ended up dropping the CS portion because many of the people I knew worked in these game development shops writing Java, and their lives were actually quite bad as that goes. Now I think things are kind of changing a little bit in the gaming industry. But for a long time, it was simply a numbers game where you would have a game development shop spin up, and people were coming to them and getting them to build the game and treating them badly and paying them too little. And then eventually just hopped around the world looking for a place where you could get people cheaper, better, faster. And now I think from an outsider's perspective; the gaming industry is heading in a direction I much prefer towards indie game development workshops. You have a lot more opportunity if you are just a small group of people and you want to set out and make a game. Do you think that I am approximately on track with my understanding?

Lisy: Yeah. It's so much more accessible now. You don't need to build your own engines to make games. There's a lot of engine software out there that's way more accessible than it used to be. I will say that there are still these big monsters in the industry that have their studios, what we call crunch. So crunch is the game development term for long portions of overtime and burning out your team, and that still exists because, unfortunately, the products that we make still have consumers on the other side of them. So there is that pressure still to create these big AAA games because what we're doing in games it's not just building software, but it's also creative. So there's this constant battle between art and technology in the games industry. But we are definitely seeing a shift to game developers not wanting to put up with that way of working anymore because it's not sustainable. We see so much talent leave the industry because you could go be an engineer at a not a games company and get paid potentially better and work reasonable hours. [Chuckles]

Jonan: Yeah. And that's what I would do if that was a regular thing. I work in a lot of places around the startup community, and that's similar. I think most software companies have this idea that a little burnout is okay. It's crunch time because this is a really important feature. Well, if everything is an emergency, then nothing is, so pick. I totally understand when circumstances change. There are reasons why you're going to be there and working a little bit harder, but there's a lot of work you can do to put it in the planning to make sure that that doesn't happen to your team, and you can have a sustainable work environment. So the kinds of games that you're making now with League of Geeks, what sort of games do you make there?

Lisy: Our bread and butter is strategy games. So as a studio, it was founded by -- so my three bosses are the founders of the company, and they started the company because they wanted to make a board game but for their iPads at the time, so this was quite a while ago now. So they ended up developing this game called Armello, and they did a paper prototype first to make sure the idea was solid and then built a team around that to help actually bring the game to life. And I joined the team quite far into the development but still at least a year and a half before it was released. But that was a game that we worked on for quite a while and supported for years afterward. But we are working on a new product now, a new game, but it's still within that strategy genre. So strategy is definitely the thing that we like the most; the team, so I’m all behind that style of game. So we most likely will continue to make strategy games, and we usually focus on our own IP. So different studios have different focus, some people make games with licenses, some people make games for other studios. We mainly focus on our own IP and our own products.

Jonan: I like that approach better. I think that the gaming industry in the early days when I played Nintendo, it had some abysmal failures, and they were all around someone coming in and trying to just put a thin veneer of fun on top of the Noid. Right?

Lisy: Yeah, definitely.

Jonan: Another great example of this, right?

Lisy: [Chuckles]

Jonan: That's cool. I love strategy board games. So I imagine I would very much like your games, although I haven't had the opportunity yet, but primarily mobile and not web games.

Lisy: No, we don't make mobile games, so we make games for PC and console. And another different thing is you have studios that can make web games. I guess they're probably less and less of a thing these days. But mobile games, that's what some folks focus on. We definitely focus more on the higher-spec game, so something that can run on a higher-end PC and consoles, so that's generally what we focus on.

Jonan: They had this iPad vision, but it didn't end up being an iPad game.

Lisy: Yeah, what happened is the industry shifted, and that's what happens a lot. We saw the iPad flourish, and then as they got further into development, they realized that the graphics that they wanted to create needed to push through a bit further. So they ended up landing on more of a console-based game. They still brought it out on an iPad, but the main focus was definitely PC and console.

Jonan: So when you're making these games, you are focused on the artwork. It sounds like it's a beautiful game. The design is what gets me for a lot of these things. It's what's helping games stand out more and more today with this distinctive look, and it doesn't necessarily have to be the most complex of the most technically interesting graphics. It's just solely illustration. Hades comes to mind. Have you ever played Hades?

Lisy: I'm a huge fangirl of that studio. When you're talking about sustainable work practices, Supergiant, they're a very, very clever studio. I have so much respect for that team. Hades is a beautiful game and so unique. You look at those games, and you know that that's a Supergiant game, and that is, funnily enough, what we try and do with our games as well as make sure you go, "Oh, that's a League of Geeks game. We know that that's the kind of art style that they head towards." Another game that I've played that I really liked recently as well visually was Disco Elysium. You look at that game, and you're like, whoa, this is something very unique, very different. And it is, like you said before, with these indie studios or smaller studios, they are able to trial something different and trial something new because they don't have a studio above them to report to. They can make their own decisions and make their own choices. And it's really awesome to see all these different games especially globally. Like, Disco Elysium is made by a predominantly European team, so it's very different from what the Supergiant team are making, and what we're making in Australia. So it's awesome. It's so exciting. It's a really exciting time for game development at the moment. [Chuckles]

JASON: I like that, actually. I think it makes, especially in creative pursuits, it makes for such a higher quality product in the end to have that freedom. If you were accountable to a board, you know, you're a public company, and you're out there accountable to this group of people who are only focused on profit, then you end up optimizing for the wrong things and taking fewer risks, I think. If you are working in a creative pursuit, as you are, it's very damaging, I think, to the creative potential that comes out of those games. And that's fine for certain genres, you know, there's a pretty well laid out roadmap there. If you're making these kinds of games, it's like, okay, so there's these baddies, and then you shoot them with guns but a different variety of guns this time, bigger ones that are more explod-y, which has never really been my style of gaming as you can tell by the way I describe it.


Jonan: I am also excited about it. I'm going to have to check out Armello. I'll definitely have a look. So another thing that is relatively new to gaming, I guess I don't know how new, is the downloadable content and the pay-to-play, the get the coins kind of addiction angle that is showing up.

Lisy: [Laughs] Yeah.

Jonan: It helps to build sustainable models for games. It used to be that you make a game for $20, and you sell it, and that's it; we don't ever talk to you again. We made this disc, and it's out there. But now you have this ability to stay in constant touch with your customers and provide them with new content. And Hades, for example, I've been playing recently. I am constantly waiting for them to release more things. I'm like, give me new items and stuff; I want it.

Lisy: And it's funny because Supergiant really isn't a studio. They've actually been more that model of release a product, and that's kind of what you get. But to your point, we are seeing more of a shift, and what we call it is games as a service so similar to software as a service. We are definitely seeing a shift of this player expectation that -- and I struggle with this so much internally as well because I totally understand why players feel like this. But they buy this product for, like you said, $20, and then they feel like they own that product, and they feel like they own the developers, and they want to be part of that journey. And sometimes, that can be really, really positive, but sometimes it can be super negative because these players believe that they have buy-in to this product, and they demand that these particular things get made. And it's interesting to see the difference between that and software. And when you buy software and get updates, it's a very different sense of ownership and expectations. I could talk about that for ages. So it's really, really interesting. [Laughs]

Jonan: There's entitlement on both sides there, right? We have software as a service, games as a service, and people feel like -- I mean, they also don't very often want to pay. You've already made my $20. That should be enough for the rest of our lifetime together. But the interesting thing to me is that people are so often wrong about what they want.


Jonan: There was a famous quote from Henry Ford, who made the automobile, that if you'd ask people what they wanted, they would have wanted a faster horse.

Lisy: Yes. Yep. We use that term so much. Our game director, Trent, at work uses that term quite often. Because if you tell players, "What would you want from this game?" They'll just give you a list of things. They don't know what they don't know. And one of the things with game development is it is such an interesting development process because players don't really understand behind the veil the amount of work that actually goes into literally just bringing a character and putting it in a world and making it animate. That whole framework is really, really difficult to get that to happen. And people have these assumptions like, "Oh, it's super easy." You'll see it all the time on forums and on websites like, "I don't understand why they haven't fixed this bug. I've done one year of computer science, and I know that it should just be moving this digit from here to here." And they actually forget all the other contexts of that particular thing. There’s been so many times that we've fixed bugs, and then because you fixed that one bug, a million other things break within it.

Jonan: I've also found it's a lot easier to debug applications from the outside and not having to make any changes yourself. "Well, this is clearly just a variable that has been misplaced, if you could just fix that up real quick."

Lisy: [Laughs]

Jonan: Yeah. I definitely understand this actually from teaching. When I'm teaching kids, especially how to write code, it's very difficult to get over the bump that exists where you're like, okay, now we do the hello world, and you could put hello world in this. And they expect the next step to be Minecraft.

Lisy: [Laughs]

Jonan: "Are we done? When do we do the 3D rendering part?" I'm like, "Oh, you have a while to go."

Lisy: Yeah, it's funny. And a good analogy I like to use as people compare games a lot to film, and they're like, "It's just like a film production. You have a script, you write, you have all the items that you want to do. You film all the things, and you do it in order, and write the script and make the things happen, put the actors in there, and action, and make it happen." But the thing with games, though, is that you're not only doing that, but you're also trying to build the camera at the same time and make sure that the camera is up to date and can be supported by Play Station 4, Play Station 5. So you're not only building the creative side of things; you're actually building the tech behind it all at the same time. And it's just a constant battle, and that generally results in things like crunch because of this difficulty and constantly trying to keep up with technology and the arts as well. It's never-ending. I don’t know why I do it sometimes. [Laughs]

Jonan: Yeah. Well, I think you do it because it's very fulfilling work, right?

Lisy: Mm-hmm.

Jonan: Especially to have a thing at the end of it. You get to say you made this permanent artifact. It's the same thing that drives me in software, and I think many people. I remember the first time I shipped a button that was used by millions of people. It was the most exciting.

Lisy: [Laughs]

Jonan: I pushed an upload button up onto a website, and some people used it, and it was awesome to me that I had done that. And I think games are, of course, even more, fulfilling because there's this creative aspect. You're putting your art out there, and the world is appreciating, and you're seeing them use it. So in that vein, actually, I'm very curious to know since you're now games as a service, you have a lot more opportunity to monitor what's going on in the game and make more educated decisions about where you should take the content or understand what people actually want as opposed to what they're telling you they want. What kind of structure exists for that? How are you getting data out of the games?

Lisy: Yes. For Armello, I can talk about that because it is a game that is live. So we use a piece of software called Mixpanel. And Mixpanel basically hooks up to our game, so we've basically told the game -- like, we've got a bunch of events within the game, and we've hooked that up to Mixpanel and then that data gets picked up by Mixpanel and visually can give us the analytics. Rather than obviously making it very hard to read, it obviously puts it through a thing that makes it visually readable. And basically, what we can do from there is track not only -- We use it as a debugger, so we use it as a way to track when errors happen and when crashes happen. But more importantly, we can track things, to your point, around game design. So we can track: which clan is winning the most, which hero is winning the most, how they are winning, what steps they are taking to get to that win. And it's one of those things that from a player, we may have a player that comes in and is like, "The Wolf clan and so are paying; they always win. They always win. I don't understand why this game is so unbalanced." And that's because that player has probably just come off the back of three losses in a row, and that's a very emotional response to it. But then we look at the data, and the data actually shows that it's very clear that all clans are quite even, and that's by design. We've made sure to tweak it to get to that point. But from a data perspective, overall, they're actually all very balanced. But from a player's perspective, they don't see that data. They're not playing the thousands of games that the data is collecting. So that's how we stabilize our builds. We really are looking to create harmony within everything. So, generally speaking, with design, you want to have something that's quite balanced for a bunch of different player types. So we use that data to transfer that into updates and fixes and all that stuff. It's really amazing. It's super fascinating, that stuff. [Chuckles]

Jonan: This is the gambler's fallacy where you have this mistaken belief that because you've seen five heads in a row, the next one is more likely to be tails. You get this kind of local bias that comes from any individual's experience, but game balance is an intensely important part of making a good game. I've played some unbalanced games before, and you may as well be flipping a coin. It's a frustrating experience. How do you do that before you get to such a large audience? Obviously, I know there is this QA step, but I can't imagine getting 100 people to test out a game is going to get you enough data to make those kinds of decisions.

Lisy: Every studio takes things differently, but one thing we've seen a shift in the last probably four or five years, and we did it on Armello, is obviously building your community, inviting them in when it's ready to be played, and actually doing things like betas, early accesses and all that kind of stuff and allowing the players to come in being very explicit that the game is not done but inviting them to be part of the development process. And this goes back to the big difference between software and games is being able to create these relationships, direct relationships with your players. So we did this on Armello. We spent about eight months in early access, so that is through Steam. They have the ability to sell your product in an unfinished state, and it's very clear when you buy it, but basically, you're inviting them to give you feedback, and we had those analytics within that. Actually, no, at that time, we didn't. We actually didn't bring analytics until a little bit later. But we obviously used a lot more of the data that we were seeing on the forums. And we gave them bugs and the abilities to send through their bugs. And a lot of studios do this. They’ll do open beta or a closed beta or a technical beta (so, different words), but they're inviting them inside and collecting that data because you can get that thousands of players, and that's enough data obviously to start making those informed decisions.

And then from there, when we got to the point that we were ready to release, we then rolled into games as a service. For Armello, we never intended it to be games as a service; it just kind of happened. We actually assumed we'd release the game and then move on to something else. But we'd been in the habit of doing these releases for early access that we just kept doing it. And then we kept seeing players coming back every time we did an update. So we had this loop of satisfaction with the players that we just kept on going for years, and years, and years. [Chuckles]

Jonan: So the community kind of drove that. The community showed up for you.

Lisy: 100%

Jonan: And you decided that's the model to go with.

Lisy: Yeah.

Jonan: I like that. So we touched a little bit on learners and teaching software, and you're involved with a program called Girl Geek Academy. You were, in fact, one of the founders.

Lisy: Yes, that's right. Yeah.

Jonan: Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Lisy: So Girl Geek Academy, we founded that I think it's almost six years ago now. And basically, it was my friend, Tammy, who I believe was on this podcast before. She was attending a bunch of hackathons in Melbourne, where she was at the time, and she was definitely noticing that she was usually the only female that was there. And the hackathons were very traditional hackathons with pizza and beer and soft drinks and no sleep for three days. And she was like, "What if we try something different? What if we tried to do something..." more that she wanted to go to. So she ended up putting together. She Hacks, which was an all-women hackathon in Melbourne. And she brought along myself, Sarah, Amanda, and April, who all turned up to be the co-founders. And she basically was like, "What do you think of this? This event's pretty cool." We had, I think it was 80 or maybe 100 women that turned up for it. And she's like, "This seems like something that people are excited about. We're forming a company now."


Lisy: Within the hackathon itself, we actually started forming and talking about the idea of actually making this a company. And it was great for me because I had just moved to Melbourne. I was figuring out the industry and learning everyone's names, and figuring out who is who. And we basically founded this company and just continued running more events and more initiatives. But we came together and formed the company with the goal of inspiring women, girls to engage in tech. Our goal is to teach a million women by 2025 all things tech, anything from games to making, to drones, everything in between, anything that's tech-y. And we really continue to ask the question of what would the internet look like if more women were building it? That's how we founded.

And all the different founders have their own areas of interest. We all work in the industry, our own geeky industry. Obviously, I do a lot of the game stuff, and we've been running events and initiatives since then to encourage and respond to the industry. The games events we run are a response to what the industry is lacking at the moment and what we see, and it changes every year. So we always look at our strategies and what the industry needs because it is a slow change. It's not just something that's going to be fixed overnight. It's more of a societal change; it’s giving people opportunities and giving them a place and saying that this could be for them, that’s a big thing that we focus on.

Jonan: I have seen that throughout my career that there is a certain age where young women start to feel like maybe this is not a thing for me that this software thing is not for me. And beyond that, there's this large problem that once they do make it into the industry, if they get over that hurdle and they get here, there's so much sexism and toxicity to overcome. Anyway, once they get here, addressing both sides of that is vitally important, right?

Lisy: Yeah, exactly. It's one of those things that's like the age-old argument that we get told to us or anyone in our positions as well, like, "Oh, women just don't want to code. Women just can't code. Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus." And it's like, no. [Laughs]

Jonan: No, not really.

Lisy: No, that's not a thing. And also, coding isn't the be-all of this conversation. To build any piece of software to build anything, there's such a big gamut of different things. I can code, not a great coder, and don't make me code anything because it will be super slow. But as a producer, I see everything. I see all the parts of -- I work with engineers, I work with artists, so I get to see the whole end to end of building a game from scratch. And that's something that's really exciting to me. In high school, I didn't have a great IT program. The IT program I had (I went to an all-girls school) was not something that was really explained well. I did all the subjects, but it didn't end up resulting in me doing a computer science degree because I still didn't think that that was something -- I didn't even think you could study computer science after I finished high school. And it sucks. I went back to my high school last year and did a talk about technology. And I should have checked before I got there, but I asked them, I'm like, "Well, has the tech program changed? If you're going to get me to talk about inspiring girls to get into tech." And they're like, "Oh no, we're going to fix it one day. But we still haven't. Not many people are interested in it." I'm like, "I don't think that's true." [Laughs]

Jonan: I really don't think it's true anymore. I think gaming is actually a little bit ahead of the curve here because when I was growing up back in the days of Nintendo and Atari, they were pretty male things. Games were pretty much for men.

Lisy: The biggest thing that happened in the games industry is whoever that marketing person was who decided to market the Atari towards boys. They basically started this whole thing of the industry shifting because, before that, it wasn't a gendered thing, but it's marketing. They decided that oh, we're going to make this a thing for boys. [Laughs]

Jonan: Yeah, it's amazing how these relatively small decisions can end up affecting the course of human history, really.

Lisy: Yeah. [Chuckles]

Jonan: But I know now that certainly in my kids' generation, it's just normal. Everyone is playing games all of the time, and it's integrated into their life. And I think that we're seeing a lot higher quality and a much broader spectrum of game design than we did early on. And I can only assume that that has also led to more women in the gaming industry, but you would have a much better perspective than I would. Are you starting to see that?

Lisy: We are still seeing about 15% to 20% of women in the industry. It's still quite low, given that it's a creative industry. There's obviously different areas that there are more women in, but definitely, we are seeing a more, I guess, approach to encouraging and opening that dialogue. Definitely, it's like organizations like ourselves and other companies like Microsoft have a lot of initiatives to try and get more women through their pipeline and everything. So the conversation is there. It is still very slow because, as you mentioned before, there is still at the top end, there's still some very bad systemic things that are happening in the industry. We had a lot of waves that came through this year with Ubisoft. Ubisoft have gone through a huge reckoning within their industry. Riot Games last year had a lawsuit against them, actually, a class-action lawsuit that was recently settled on due to sexual harassment in the workplace. It exists within these big monolithic companies and also the small companies as well. So sadly, we are encouraging more women and girls to get into games, but there is still this problem when you get into the industry that there's still those things that are telling you that it's not safe, that it's not for you, so it's a double-edged sword at the moment. We're obviously seeing a lot of encouraging conversations happening, but sadly, some of the infrastructure isn't really suited still, and it is still incredibly, incredibly hard.

Jonan: I can imagine that it is. And I have a hard time, I think, really understanding the depth of that despite my imagination. It's hard --

Lisy: And it's just like you don't even want to think about someone in their job just going to work and feeling unsafe in their workplace.

Jonan: Or every place. Every new company you work at, you walk into that room and think, all right, which five people are going to ask me out on a date on my first 90 days?

Lisy: Oh, my goodness. Yeah. I have been to many events. So my company at League of Geeks -- Very obviously, I wouldn't work at an organization that didn't abide by my own personal values. We're 40% women on our team at the moment, and within our leadership team, we're 50-50, so we've done a lot of work. It can be done. It can be done. You do have to do the work. I've been to events, and this is obviously not a fault of my company. And I was setting up a booth for something, and I was within earshot when my co-worker was talking to someone else. And the guy that was talking to my co-worker was like, "Oh, is that your girlfriend?" And he was just like, "What?" He's like, "That's my boss."


Lisy: It is always really interesting hearing my co-workers that are men hearing and experiencing what I usually go through and hearing it and just being like, "That guy just asked me if..." and I'm like, "Yeah, dude, that's working in the industry if you're a woman. [Laughter]

Jonan: "That's just how it goes. Yeah. I'm so glad your eyes are being open to it now."

Lisy: Yeah [Laughs]

Jonan: It comes up a lot in conferences. I did some conference organizing where you have a conference organizer say, "Well, the CFP was up for 60 days, and we just didn't have any women apply to come speak at the conference." Well, consider for a moment that you might have to make sure it's in front of some women to get them to apply for the process. It's not just about putting a thing out there in the world and hoping, right?

Lisy: Yeah. We worked with this school once in Australia, and they were like, "Why aren't…” -- In our high schools, you start grade 8, which is the first year, and then you move on to grade 9, 10, 11, and in grade 8, a lot of the time you have a bunch of different subjects that everyone has to do, and then they can choose their own electives from there. And so there were saying, "In that grade 8, all the girls actually perform way better in IT and coding than the boys, but then none of them sign up to the course the following year." They're like, "We don't understand. Can you please help us understand what the reason is?" And we went through all their pamphlets, and we went to one of their open days, and we looked at their pamphlets, and we looked at their open day, and they're all run by men. And these men are obviously very lovely and very kind. There's only photos of boys doing engineering in the pamphlets, and we're like, “Of course. This is why,” representation does matter. If you can't see yourself within that particular industry or doing that particular thing, there's a part of your brain that's going to go ah, I don't think I can do that, especially in high school. High school is hard enough as it is. [Chuckles]

And so we gave them this feedback, and they were just so shocked. They hadn't even thought about it because they don't think about this stuff because they see themselves. It's an innocent thing, it's completely non-malicious, but it does happen. You can easily forget that you see yourself everywhere but seeing other people and being able to understand how they would feel is super important. And that's a conversation that happens in our industry a lot, which is great is that representation and all that kind of stuff. But it's still actions speak louder than words sometimes. [Laughs]

Jonan: Yeah. Show me the money.

Lisy: I know, right? It's, like, just do the work. And I love, you know, obviously, I'm a big fan of people and organizations sponsoring things and giving money, but sometimes look inside your own house and check out what's going on there. [Laughs]

Jonan: There are a lot of webpages that talk a lot about D&I diversity equity and inclusion.

Lisy: It is actually true in this age; you can Google it. Oh, I don't know. It's super hard, and I have no idea what to do. It does take a lot of work. Even at League of Geeks, we're constantly having to check our own biases and all that kind of stuff all the time, but it's worth it.

Jonan: It is absolutely worth it. And you're going to have a better, stronger company on the other side. I think that as we make progress as an industry, we're going to be able to show with dollars and cents why it matters and why companies like yours can outperform their peers and can make better games that are more appealing to broader audiences and build more vibrant communities around them. Just that story you were telling about this pivot to a game as a service because of the strength of the community and how many people were coming along for the ride, and that’s the sort of thing that you're not going to experience in a monoculture. It's just not going to be there, right?

Lisy: Yes. Exactly right. And that's the thing you always need to remember that games are about storytelling. Even if it's a game that's just a shooter, there's still inherently a story within it, and it's still a creative field. So the more diverse people we have telling those stories -- I always say that I'm very selfish in this regard. I'm like, I just want to see more games made by all different people, so I can pick and choose from the laundry list. As you said, games are becoming more and more diverse in what they're trying to do. There's all these different new games and ways of doing them, and it's super exciting. That wouldn't happen if we weren't having more creators being part of that process. So it is one of those things that feels like a no-brainer, but still, it isn't, and we still have to continue to do that work, which I'm happy to do it. But it's kind of frustrating sometimes when you do get the age-old responses you see on the internet, and obviously, you need to ignore the trolls sometimes, but that thought still exists.

Jonan: Yeah, I'm glad that you're happy to do it for free in addition to your already very difficult job to just being in all of the brochures and all of the websites and running the programs in addition to just existing in tech; it is exhausting. But I thank you for your contributions to the world.

Lisy: Yeah. Well, it's just because I want to make sure people feel that they can do it. It's more of a weird, ”If I had this in my life, would my career be different?” I try not to dwell on it because obviously, you can't change the past, but I always think about what would have happened if I went into games straight out of high school and where I'd be at right now in my career, maybe not as angry and jaded as I am. I don't know. Who knows? [Laughs]

Jonan: Maybe the angry and the jaded is what drives change. Maybe we could use more of that.

Lisy: [Laughs]

Jonan: Well, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. Where can people find you and your work online?

Lisy: For me personally, I'm on Twitter. That’s my main. The games industry is all on Twitter. So if you're interested in games, you should be on Twitter because you can follow a lot of your favorite game developers there, and they're always talking about games, which I love. So I'm @LisyK on Twitter. And my companies both also on Twitter, very, very prominent across there @LeagueofGeeks and @GirlGeekAcademy, all on Twitter. That's the best place to find us for sure.

Jonan: And the game that you had released, remind me of the name?

Lisy: It's called Armello, A-R-M-E-L-L-O. I had to learn how to say it in an American accent when I was doing a lot of traveling, but I've lost the ability to do that recently. [Laughs]

Jonan: Armello. It's Armello.

Lisy: Armello, yeah. [Laughs]

Jonan: And then you have another game that you're working on now.

Lisy: Yes. So we're working on a game at the moment. It's being published by an American publisher called Private Division. They publish games like Outer Worlds, Ancestors. And we're working with them to make our next title, which is very, very exciting. But sadly, it's way too early to talk about it as is game development; things can change within moments. So we're waiting for the right time to start talking about it.

Jonan: When would we expect news? A year? Two years?

Lisy: Oh, goodness. At least a year. [Laughs]

Jonan: Okay. The life cycles of these games are very interesting to me.

Lisy: Yeah. You forget how long it takes. Even though we've made a game, we couldn't really take anything from that game across to the new game. It's actually a fresh new project, essentially, so it takes a lot of work to build this up. It's very slow.

Jonan: In the time that you work on this game, there will be several thousand start-ups born and dead in the Bay Area.

Lisy: [Laughs]

Jonan: That's an interesting industry. Thank you for coming to give me a little bit of insight into gaming. I really appreciate your time.

Lisy: Of course. Thanks for having me.

Jonan: Have a wonderful day. Bye-bye.

Thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Observy McObservface. This podcast is available on Spotify and iTunes, and wherever fine podcasts are sold. Please remember to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode. If you have an idea for a topic or a guest you would like to hear on the show, please reach out to me. My email address is You can also find me on Twitter as @thejonanshow. The show notes for today’s episode, along with many other lovely nerdy things, are available on Stop by and check it out. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

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