Co-Founder and COO of Silicon Sisters Interactive (Canada’s first female-led game development studio), Kirsten Forbes formerly served as VP of Product Development at Roadhouse Interactive. She currently works as VP of Development for Shoal Games.
The following was originally posted February 2014
Name: Kirsten Forbes
Vocation: Long time Game Producer, currently COO of Silicon Sisters
Years of experience: 16
Location: Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Shipped Game Titles:
Back on PS1 I shipped Bloodlines and Jackie Chan Stuntmaster. Then I produced a series of snowboarding games culminating in Dark Summit for the Xbox launch. Then three CSI PC games that outsold their forecasts by 10-tuple at least, which made me very proud. Then three Crash Bandicoot games for console. (Oh wait, the last one didn’t ship. So two.) And with Silicon Sisters, School 26 for iOS and Android, then its sequel School 26: Summer of Secrets, and most recently Everlove: Rose, an interactive romance also for iOS and Android. Steamy and fun. Highly recommended.
1. What are you currently reading and/or playing?
Works on my nightstand right now include Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (more excellent than I expected—I’m past the career point where I can put all of her good advice into play, but it’s still great reading), Malcolm Gladwell’s latest David and Goliath, and various other bits of writing, one of which (in the spirit of describing men by their partners, since it’s so often the reverse) is written by the man who is married to Cathi Hanauer, author of Gone and editor of the completely not like-picking-a-scab book The Bitch in the House. I describe it that way with love and reverence, because a girlfriend opined to me that reading it would be like picking a scab—you can’t stop yourself but it’s ultimately unsatisfying. Which is not true. It was definitely relatable and satisfying. In fact, I’m going to cast aside Daniel Jones’ wonderful column “Modern Love” (in case you hadn’t guessed who the man was) and go read it again right now.
And in games, aside from the 15 or so games of Words With Friends that I have going at all times, I’m currently replaying a game called BFF TV that a my friend Sean Megaw made for the Nintendo DS, and the game I’m most looking forward to playing is The Long Dark by Hinterland Studios. Check it out. A very cool survival game. Because surviving against zombies matters, but surviving against nature when she gets super mad at us? That’s a game I need to win.
2. First time you knew you wanted to work in games was…?
Over beer, a friend of mine explained object oriented programming to me, and I instantly knew I wanted to be in this industry.
3. What was your favorite mistake?
There’s a counterintuitive phenomena in game development—well, probably in any creative endeavor—where you start off designing something great that makes sense and works logically, then a bunch of stuff goes sideways, barriers are hit and heads are banged, but you persist because you think it’s going to work itself out. Inevitably though, the eleventh hour strikes and you’re forced to come up with an alternative or a fix super quickly. And unexpectedly, that spontaneous, last-minute solution ends up being better than what you started with. Those are my favorite mistakes.
Here’s one: We had these little fodder enemies in a game banging their heads with cans of pop and jigging around the world. They were cute and well designed and were in keeping with the level and with their enemy bosses; it was all planned to dovetail nicely. But the ESRB pegged it as an alcoholic reference in a kids game, so we quickly, and I mean at 2:00 in the morning, replaced the cans with chicken drumsticks. The drumsticks worked even better – just that much more absurd and funny. Plus, not boozy!
4. What was your favorite success?
My favorite successes are when you have an idea and are making something, and you’re fretting about whether your timing is right, then one by one things happen around you that make it seem like the cosmos is magically conspiring to support you.
That was our experience on Everlove: Rose. During development, a whole series of peripheral things happened that kept nudging us back to faith. Were we too racy? No! 50 Shades of Grey hit the shelves. Was the mainstream paying attention? Yes! George Lucas said he was also thinking that a romance game could be the next big thing. Need a writer? The ideal candidate is available and keen! And the biggest market shift we had on our side was the proliferation of distribution sites. Gamers know where to find games they want, but we made Everlove primarily for readers of romance novels…would they be able to find it? Yes! Everlove would be on iTunes and Google Play, but also consumer destinations like Barnes and Noble and the mighty Amazon.com had entered the app market just at the right time for us.
The production cycle of game development can be a long trudge sometimes, and having those pieces fall into place at the right intervals keeps you going, each one its own inspiration and success.
5. What’s the best advice you ever got?
One of my first bosses put a huge sign over my desk that just said that. But it meant more than “reread your communiques before you send them, you idiot.” It meant the devil is in the details so be conscientious and be thorough and don’t be so impatient. Take a minute to reflect. Choose quality over speed.
6. Share one thing few know about you.
I warm up my pets’ food before I give it to them. Because come on! Nobody likes cold pet food.
7. What’s one thing or trend you’re most excited about in the industry?
Oooo, it’s hard to pick just one. From a development perspective, the trend that makes me happiest is for sure the ability we have now to make smaller games for very specific vertical audiences, with a couple of mechanics each, and be able to serve these hors d’oeuvres up on decently small budgets with delightfully small teams, and get them to market quickly. That trend has given rise to so much creativity in this industry, it has been a real boon. And it’s certainly what we focus on at Silicon Sisters.
8. Anything else you want to add?
I think it’s important in games to find a balance between the rigor and discipline required to make sophisticated software products as we do, and the nuttiness we need to invent brand new things out of thin air, as we also do. So even though we adhere to clear processes and workflow, communicate standards, and are disciplined about protocol, I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to also add spice. And that spice comes in from side conversations, or during downtime, or even during intense conflict. And every team member needs to play a part in fostering that.
For instance, you can call people out—help them to speak up if you can see they’re percolating on something that might be special. Lots of people are too shy to throw scary ideas on the table.
Also respect what they do with their time. Don’t feel resentful if a person picks up a novel at their desk, or is knitting during a meeting, or just gets up and does a set of tai chi. Assume that person knows what they need to do to bring their best selves to the table. And say so—say that you believe that what they choose to do will make them better.
Don’t shirk from conflict, help it to generate an even better solution from the passion it engenders. Conflict can be awkward. So learn about it, learn how to harness it.
As an industry we’re very lucky to do what we do. And we need to take some of that awesomeness and plow it back into the crop. Because we’re not just in the job of making great games, in my opinion. We’re in the job of making great people in this world.
Feel free to reblog with a link back to this post. If you are a lady dev who’d like to be profiled or would like to nominate one, please contact tisamely [at] yahoo [dot] com