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Girls seeking more jobs in gaming take on 'bro culture'

This summer, 14-year-old Nabeha Barkatullah is spending her time gaming. But her parents won't be telling her to take a break from the computer or console anytime soon. In fact, they're even behind her dedication to and fascination with video games.

Barkatullah is a camper at Girls Make Games, headquartered in San Jose, California. The series of international summer camps, workshops and game jams have educated nearly 800 girls since 2014 in the basics of programming and design. Teams create video games and have an opportunity to pitch to industry experts at a demo day, where the winner's game gets published.

"At first I had no idea how to code, but now I am pretty confident in my coding," Barkatullah said, thanks to spending her past three summers at the camp.

Girls Make Games is looking to instill that confidence by prepping attendees for a potential career in video game design, a massive global industry poised to hit $90 billion across the world by the year 2020, according to estimates from PwC. It's also a field in need of diversity, highlighted in recent years in the wake of Gamergate. The Gamergate movement was led by male gamers advocating for more ethical journalism within the industry but led to cyberattacks on female gamers — something Barkatullah has seen firsthand.

"All the guys at school would say, 'You play games? You're so weird,'" she said. "I think that's the reason a lot of girls don't go into gaming."

That need for diversity is the exact reason Girls Make Games founder Laila Shabir decided to launch her program in the first place. The MIT alum got the idea for the educational camps when she struggled to recruit workers for her own gaming studio several years ago. The camp hasn't spent any money on formal advertising, and has been able to recruit big-name partners including MIT Game Lab, Xbox, Intel, GameSpot and more — meaning the message is resonating.

"This is a problem [studios] are facing every day — they want a diverse workforce, they want more ideas and more voice, and this is how they're going to get it. So it's a win-win for everyone," Shabir said.


The gaming industry outlook

Nabeha Barkatullah, Girls Make Games student
CNBC
Nabeha Barkatullah, Girls Make Games student

The gaming industry continues to evolve as mobile and virtual reality enter the scene. But regardless of the medium, analysts expect job growth and demand to be strong.

"It's fair to presume demand for games will grow by at least 10 percent for the next several years including mobile, desktop free-to-play and console games. There should be a high correlation between job demand and product demand, so if sales grow by 10 percent or more, it is logical that demand for the people who make games will grow by 10 percent or more," said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities.

Girls Make Games camp
CNBC
Girls Make Games camp

In 2014, computer and video-game companies directly and indirectly employed more than 146,000 workers in 36 states, according to the Entertainment Software Association. The pay varies based on experience but is competitive, with salary opportunities over $100,000 per year. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, software developers made a median of $100,690 per year, while multimedia artists made a median of $63,970 annually.


Expanding like "wild"

Jeff Amis, WildWorks Founder
CNBC
Jeff Amis, WildWorks Founder

Salt Lake City–based WildWorks is looking to see the gaming industry's employment numbers grow. The company currently has over 120 workers, 20 percent of whom are female, and is seeking to hire between 40 and 50 employees over the next few years, from game designers to artists and community managers. Their game Animal Jam launched six years ago in partnership with National Geographic. The kids' social game has 50 million registered players, bolstering the company's expansion.

"I think there's considerable growth ahead in the industry," said Jeff Amis, founder and executive vice president of product development at WildWorks. "We look for candidates being able to work in a fast-paced environment where changes occur on a daily basis. No one can be married to a particular style, design or method."

WildWorks office in Salt Lake City
CNBC
WildWorks office in Salt Lake City

Their game resonates more with young girls than boys, Amis said, meaning they're looking to hire more women like Emily Vincent, a 27-year-old 3-D artist. She also doesn't have a four-year degree and is mostly self-taught. But that hasn't held her back within the industry: She's worked at nearby powerhouse Electronic Arts in Salt Lake City and said her pay has "jumped dramatically" as she's moved up in her career over the past four years.

"You definitely still feel a 'bro' culture going on, but women are getting more and more involved as they realize they can be accepted — and that's really exciting to me," Vincent said.

Back at Girls Make Games, Barkatullah is excited too. She's starting high school in the fall, and is hoping to see her first team game, Edible Warfare launch on Google Play this October.

"It's a huge opportunity to be able to say, 'Hey, I made this game with all my friends,'" she said. "It's just really cool."

CORRECTION: This story was corrected to show a Girls Makes Games partner is GameSpot, not GameStop.