Brianna Wu: Gaming — it’s a girl thing

21 May 2015

Brianna Wu Photo: Shannon Grant

Best known for receiving countless death threats during the Gamergate storm, Brianna Wu and her team at Giant Spacekat are on a mission to transform the games sector

Games with powerful women as well-drawn central characters, complex narratives and thought-out dialogue? Sound familiar? Well, probably not — unless you’re already a fan of the games of Giant SpaceKat, like Revolution 60, developed by Brianna Wu and her team. Wu comes to Dublin in June to address an international sci-tech audience at Inspirefest 2015.

Based out of Boston, while Wu has become one of the poster girls for feminism in the games sector (and all the vicious online trolling that comes with that), she is keen to move on now, and get back to focusing on her core ambition — for Giant Spacekat to transform the games industry.

Market opportunity

She points to the statistics that show that today some 52pc of gamers are women. That represents a major market opportunity for games designed for women, she tells me.

“My whole life I felt frustrated at the way women were not represented in games. When I was growing up, in 1989, women were only 3pc of gamers. In just the last five years there has been an explosion of women playing video games. So in 2008 it had risen to 17pc of the market and today women are 52 percent of the gaming audience. It is no longer true that gamers are teenage boys. The average gamer in 2015 is a 36-year-old woman.”

“So my entire mission at Giant Spacekat is simply to meet the needs of this new gaming audience,” she says. “Because what happens in the games industry is that it is so dominated by men that there’s a real disconnect between the people who make and review games and the people that actually consume them.

Woman on a mission

“Our mission is actually very straightforward. We’re just trying to make games that speak to this new gaming audience. A lot of that audience is tired of violence as a primary game mechanic.

“The overwhelming majority of games are about killing or destroying things,” she continues. “What we want to do at our studio is work on something we call emotional mechanics, so rather than having the gameplay be about how fast you can kill something, we want to make mechanics that are all about interacting with people in situations in an emotional way. We’re interested in getting into narrative and the emotional truth in video games.”

And it is a sector ripe for revolution. “What we found is that there is a very certain kind of person that has been driving the car for the last 30 years in video games – a guy in their 20s or 30s. They’re white and they’re straight. What we want to do is hire people with a different kind of background to create a different kind of game, because we believe that when you have different perspectives in video games it leads to a new kind of product.”

It may be early days, but it is an approach that is beginning to pay off. The studio’s first game Revolution 60 won three Game of the Year awards right off the bat.

“That was pretty astonishing,” say Wu. “We have found ourselves with a ridiculously passionate consumer base and it’s exactly what we thought it would be. In making a new kind of game we’ve really tapped into a market. It’s not rocket science, it’s all about narrative, so what we want to do in the future is tell the absolute best stories in the entire industry.”


Killer app

Wu and her team have big plans for the coming months.

“As an industry we are starting to move into virtual reality, and when I ask myself what the killer app is in virtual reality, it’s not killing or murdering things. It’s the ‘holodeck’, it’s having conversations and interacting with different people.

“As a studio we want to figure out how to have more rewarding dialogue in video games, not just the ‘pick one of three options’ we see now.”

To that end, she tells me Giant Spacekat is about to pour a massive amount of R&D into figuring out how to have real conversations as a game mechanic. “We believe that is truly the killer app moving forward in video games.”

This is just a quick peek into the world of Brianna Wu and Giant Spacekat, but on June 19 she will be in Dublin for the first time to give what promises to be a dynamic and inspirational keynote at our international sci-tech event,Inspirefest 2015You are not going to want to miss this!

Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-20 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Photos of Brianna Wu by Shannon Grant

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human