Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day to draw attention to women in technology, in which bloggers from around the world write about a woman in tech that they admire. Today, I’m going to write about Paulina Bozek, a fellow LSE alumna and the Executive Producer of one of my favourite videogames, SingStar.
Paulina Bozek is the award winning Executive Producer, and Game Director of the SingStar franchise of games, which was developed at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Studio London. Prior to her stint at Sony, Bozek had previously worked at Ubisoft and
GameLoft. She later decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Media and
Communications in the media@LSE
department at the London School of Economics and Political Science from
2001 – 2002. After graduating from the LSE she joined Sony in 2003, starting out as an Associate Producer.
Bozek is cited as one of the key developers of the SingStar franchise, having guided the direction of conceptual technology towards the popular social music game we know today. About the early days in her role as a game designer on SingStar, she says:
“SingStar already existed as technology — that is, the programmers were developing something with which players would interact by singing rather than pressing buttons. My role was to look at it as a possible product and ask questions like how will it play? Who is it for? The technology had already existed for a couple of years. It could have been used as a music tuition tool, but we wanted to develop something more intuitive that didn’t require a manual — just a pick up and play game that would be entertaining and fun.”
A significant number of women were part of the development team for SingStar, which is a rarity in the games industry. Thinking about why this was the case, Bozek mused:
“It might have something to do with the nature of the game as it is not as male-focused as many games and women might see it as relevant to them, but lots of people are interested in working on it and women in the industry also play ‘male’ games.”
The game was initially going to be targeted to women and girls, with the knowledge that it would appeal beyond the target. Bozek emphasised how important it was to keep the target market in mind in the development process:
Music is universal. The development
team used music as a way of segmenting target audiences, i.e. through
music genres. The key lessons Paulina has drawn from SingStar is that
it is all about the user and their experience and that it is central to
innovative game design to prioritise what brings most value to the
SingStar was released on the PlayStation 2 to mainstream popular, as well as critical, acclaim in 2004. As of February 2009, the SingStar franchise has sold over 15 million units in the PAL region alone. SingStar has achieved a huge success in bringing gaming to
traditionally non-gaming markets. Very few videogames get advertised in
publications targeted to women, and SingStar is one of them. SingStar and its creative team won the 2004 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Originality in Video Games. Paulina Bozek also won the first ever BAFTA Interactive New Talent Award in 2004.
In 2008, Bozek was named one of the ‘Top 35 Women Under 35‘ in Management Today. She was also listed as one of the members of the exclusive Courvoisier Future 500 List for 2008. After her success at Sony, she joined Atari in 2008 to develop games for a new internal games studio.
Media consumption is still gendered in many ways, and this is
abundantly clear in the realm of videogames, where there seems to be a
huge divide in terms of what is specifically targeted to women and
girls, and what is targeted to males. Furthermore, games that are enjoyed by both
sexes, such as World of Warcraft, are seen by mainstream, traditionally non-gaming audiences as targeted specifically to men and boys. Unfortunately,
game developers and publishers continue to hold the assumption that the vast
majority of their audience is male, and this assumption impacts
development at every turn. They base these assumptions upon past sales demographics. However based upon current trends in games marketing and advertising, it seems that many aren’t looking to future potential — that their games could grow beyond current markets — or they are averse to taking risks and spending money on promoting games to non-traditional markets.
94% of teenage girls aged 12 – 17 and 50% of women in the United States play videogames, so there is huge potential for growth in games, but it requires a lot of cultural and social change in the way non-gamers and gamers, alike view games and gaming. It requires companies to shift how they market and design games so that they are more inclusive to women and girls. The marketing for SingStar included demographic segments that are usually completely ignored by the games industry, such as women, teenage girls, and gay men. The marketing and box art for SingStar games typically includes at least one, if not multiple, women in active roles. Furthermore, the women that feature in SingStar marketing materials are generally not depicted in hyper-sexualised ways. All told, these marketing tactics send important signals to consumers that Sony has thought of them during the development process, that Sony has made it a point to include them, and that Sony wants them to play these games.
Designing games with inclusiveness in mind, where the design team operates with the key assumption that women and girls will comprise of at least half of their audience, has positive impacts. Bozek says that “Women can bring a different point of view” to game development, and that “the industry is looking for more women and wants to get more girls playing games to expand the market.”
I admire Paulina Bozek because she played a pivotal role in developing a piece of voice technology from a product that could have been a niche educational toy into a cool, fun, competitive singing game that achieved mainstream and critical success. She and her team recognised that women and girls are an important part of their audience, and this is reflected in SingStar‘s marketing and advertising. In turn, their excellence, innovation, and hard work were rewarded and recognised by consumers.