This is an interview with Martine Spaans, owner at Tamalaki Games and ambassador at Women in Games. She has worked for well-known companies before setting up her own mobile publishing company, Tamalaki.com with its all-women team (Katia, Alessandra, Petra and Miya). She gives us her thoughts and vision on how to empower women in the gaming industry.
We know you as an IMGA Jury member. But can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience?
I’ve been in the gaming industry for roughly 11 years. I started out at Spil Games where I was first responsible for all the Flash games on all their websites. As the company grew that role turned into Licensing Management. I was in touch with over 500 game developers, mainly small indie studios, to source over 1000 Flash games per year.
After Spil Games I spent a year at the Ubisoft studio Blue Byte, managing the international marketing teams for The Settlers Online and after that another year at a mobile social platform start-up.
Nowadays I am the owner of Tamalaki Publishing, a small mobile publishing house that specializes in games for women 30+. We carry mainly Hidden Object games, Match-3, Time Management, Puzzles, etc.
Could you tell us more about Tamalaki? Why did you decide to found this company?
The thought of starting my own company always seemed a bit scary to me. However, in 2013 I was contacted by FGL with an opportunity. As Flash was going down, FGL was building up a strong platform to support Mobile. They asked me if I wanted to work as an independent publisher using their support and toolkit. (When I worked at Spil Games I used FGL’s platform to license tons of games, so I knew the guys well.)
In the first few months I leaned heavily on them to get the ball rolling. After 6 months Tamalaki Publishing was earning enough to say goodbye to the start-up where I was working at the time and from that moment on I am a full-time publisher.
After 4 years at Tamalaki and 10 years working in the video gaming world, what can you say about the women’s place and role in this rather “male-dominated” industry?
Having woman as a minority in this industry can either work as an advantage or disadvantage for us. The disadvantage is clearly that women often must work harder to get the same recognition. We’re not as good at tooting our own horn. I was always too busy to play the self-promotional part of waving papers around the office and showing everyone how good I am.
The advantage is that sometimes it seemed easier to obtain a speaking opportunity at conferences because “they needed more women”. While this does not feel like the right reason to get on board (I’d rather be invited because of my qualities, not because of my gender) it did help me to get recognised in the industry.
Can you give 3 ideas to empower women in the gaming industry?
Be unapologetic. Because my unofficial personal research points out that women say “sorry” about 10 times more often than men do. It weakens your position. You have nothing to be sorry about. Your ideas and opinion are worthy.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. The game industry is wonderfully flat structured and most people you look up to are probably very accessible.
And lastly, just jump. Stop telling yourself you’re not good enough. If you want to code, look up Code Liberation or Women Who Code and start. If you have an idea for a game, just write. If you want to meet people, just go to a local event and jump into the action. If you make art, proudly show it. You can’t grow when you are waiting around for an opportunity.
You are one of the first ambassadors of Women in Games. What’s your goal here?
To be visible and approachable. I know many women inside the industry are looking for peers or just for someone to exchange ideas with. I want to make it clear that the game industry does not have a “queen bee” syndrome. We achieve more when we work together.
Originally video games were made for men. Has this changed?
What is the earliest video game you can think of? Is it Pong? Is it PacMan? Space Invaders? Can you tell me why you think these were meant for men? What is so manly about these games? Because what I see looks very gender neutral.
Originally videogames were made as family entertainment. Look at game ads from the seventies. It was flourishing. The crash happened in the early eighties.
The industry had to self-reflect. They had to get smart and do things like market research and proper marketing. It seems that slightly more men than women played videogames, so that was the segment that was to be targeted from then on. Look at video game marketing from the eighties and be overwhelmed by explosions, boobs and guns.
Just look at this.
On a side note, I’m happy that there were always friendly and accessible games like Super Mario, Qbert, Tetris and Legend of Zelda to keep the market open to a wider audience.
What changed later is that distribution got easier with the growth of the Internet. This left more space for creativity and thinking outside the marketing-box and gaming once again became more accessible for a bigger market. Nowadays there is no more question if games like Bejeweled are actually games.
Do you think that studios and developers are now considering women as a new target audience or do they tend to develop “gender-neutral” games?
Women are hardly a new audience. Women have made up half of the gaming audience on online games, Mobile and Tablet for many years.
If you either want to make a gender-neutral game or a game that will appeal more to women is totally up to the developer.
The only time I see some problems is when an all-male team tries to make a game for women. I think by now everyone will understand that not all women like pink, but I still see some small mistakes that alienate women as the audience. A main character with just a bit too much cleavage, or a puzzle game with just a bit too many creepy spiders.
What kind of message would you like to get across the world?
There is nothing wrong with admitting that men, women or any other gender category are just genetically and fundamentally different and because of that there are basic differences between our preferences, our manners and our behaviour. The most important thing is that we openly talk about it, accept our differences and work with it.