Wooga games made it their mission to bring more women into their development teams. Five years later, the studio is seeing the benefits of increasing the diversity of voices at the table through the quality of their games.
When we sat down with the team at Wooga for our recent case study, we learned that the story of their studio extends far beyond the games they create. Founded in Berlin in 2009, they have continued to navigate and adapt to a market that has changed substantially over the years, making a name for themselves by combining casual gameplay mechanics with thoughtful narratives. Today, they are one of the leading developers of story-driven casual games captivating players around the world.
While finding their place in the mobile games market, Wooga put a strong focus on the culture within their own studio. That includes the diversity of their teams, which has been a key priority over the past five years. Considering Unity’s diverse community of developers worldwide, Wooga, as a Unity shop, has been able to tap into this pool of talented creators to fill various roles within their studio. But increasing the diversity of a talent pool is only half the battle – you also have to welcome new hires by creating an inclusive culture that fosters real opportunities for growth.
We sat down with Lenka Kaciakova, VP of human resources, Rebecca Harwick, head of writing, and Maike Steinweller, head of communications, to learn more about how Wooga found their niche in a competitive market and successfully increased the diversity of all their game teams.
Unity: Wooga’s vision is set to become the player’s choice for story-driven casual games. What inspired you to focus on this genre?
Maike Steinweller: With Pearl’s Peril, we were able to gain a lot of knowledge and expertise when it comes to producing regular story content. When deciding to solely focus on story-driven casual games in 2018, we already had a large community of players who love these kinds of games, who we knew very well. Soon after launching June’s Journey in October 2017, it quickly became clear that this game had the potential to become a huge success. The decision to focus on such a niche genre was not one we took lightly, but overall, it simply made sense.
Unity: You’ve prioritized making the teams at Wooga more diverse, including the hiring of more women. Tell us a bit about how you kickstarted those initiatives.
Lenka Kaciakova: In 2016, we began our efforts with a company-wide education on bias. However, achieving structural and behavioral change takes time and endurance.
Back then, we were also going through challenging times as a business, which made it even harder to kick off such initiatives. Our HR team then started with experiments that they were able to introduce at low cost and low time investment, like changing the candidate feedback process and committing to at least one female candidate in the candidate pool at a certain interview stage.
Additionally, we focused our job postings on job boards that target women and did the same for our presence at career events. We reviewed our job descriptions, increased the number of women in our interview panels, and created a structured recruitment decision process to achieve less social pressure and bias.
After gradually increasing [our efforts], we started to see more women being hired […] and perceived continuous improvement in [other] aspects of diversity.
You’ve managed to increase the percentage of women at Wooga from 27% to 42% in four years. Are there other initiatives that helped you achieve this, beyond hiring practices?
LK: We also made sure that our benefits are well-balanced. For instance, we changed the access to our educational budgets during parental leave from proportional to full access.
It is no secret that the biggest gap is in engineering roles, so we decided to provide sponsorship for female engineering students to attend Unite, and also support workshops that teach young girls how to make games, Girls’ Games Workshops.
Internally, we set up ambassadors in managerial positions to ensure that women get equal opportunities to become leaders, and we are embracing a leadership style that talks about the importance of being vulnerable and empathetic.
Undeniably, the investment has been huge, but five years later, we are proud to see it become a success.
Unity: How do you think the increased diversity of your team has influenced the games you create?
Rebecca Harwick: It has made them better in pretty much every way imaginable. There’s not a craft that goes into making a game that doesn’t benefit from people bringing their unique experiences, intelligence and perspectives to the problems we have to solve every day: from designing a feature so that it’s accessible to an aging audience to [the] inclusion of diverse characters in our stories.
What advice do you have for people underrepresented in tech and gaming, who are looking to start a career in games?
RH: Any career in games starts with a mix of talent, hard work and luck. No one path into games looks the same, and there’s no perfect path. I think the biggest challenge women and BIPOC face is the persistent lack of equality of opportunity, both in the industry and in the world at large – in access to education, to networks and to promotion within an organization.
So my advice is to seek and make your own opportunities, large and small, to make things, to learn things, and to meet people who share your interests and ambitions – both people who are already in games and people who are looking to break into the industry. More opportunities means more chances at the career you want, and that’s how you get luck in your favor. Talent and hard work, I know, are already there!
Unity is the game engine of choice for Wooga’s mobile games. With its robust native tools and international community of creators, Unity can help both small teams and large studios to succeed in mobile games. Discover why more than 70% of the top 1000 mobile games are made in Unity.