Lucy Smith is already making waves in the gaming industry, less than two years after starting a degree in Games Technologies at Newcastle College.
The 23-year-old from Wallsend has landed the job of her dreams and is paving the way for other women to follow in her footsteps, after being nominated for the GamesIndustry.biz 100 Top Women in Games.
As one of around 400 nominees, Lucy will find out whether she made the cut this Friday, at EGX Rezzed in London, the UK’s biggest video games event.
“I never thought I’d be nominated for such a huge thing in just two years.” Lucy says. “I’ve worked so hard to get here and I’m really proud of myself.”
It is down to that hard work and determination that Lucy finds herself on the nominee list. Always a games lover, she knew nothing of the technical skills necessary to work in gaming when she started out, but has strived to make opportunities for herself.
“I fell in love with games when I was 4 years old, when I was given a Playstation for Christmas and I’ve loved them ever since,” she explains.
“I never considered it to be a career. When I was a kid, it wasn’t something that was really spoken about as a career choice and there wasn’t much exposure to tech when I was at school. It was nothing like it is now, the way that STEM is pushed.”
Through school and A-Levels, Lucy was never sure where she wanted her career to take her and began a Social Sciences degree before realising that her heart wasn’t in it. It was only when she was training to be a counsellor that she realised her true calling lay in the games industry.
She continues: “I just didn’t want to get into debt for something that I wasn’t going to pursue. So I dropped out and worked a few different jobs before deciding to train as a counsellor, because I’ve always loved helping people.”
It was at this time the Nintendo Switch was released, and with it, her favourite game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Her counselling coach could see how happy it made her and suggested she followed her true passion into games.
“It has totally changed my life. I was in a rut but this course has helped me to keep excelling because I’m doing something I love,” Lucy explains.
“I’ve put a lot of work into my degree, working through the night because when I started the course I knew nothing. I had my head in books constantly, learning about programming, games design and how I could develop my craft, but it’s all paying off now.
“Over the past two years, I’ve networked to make connections and get work experience. In total, I’ve made around five games by myself, worked for a few different games companies in the North East and will be starting my dream job in September, working for Sumo Digital in Sheffield, which is huge!”
Although Lucy took the plunge to follow her passion in 2017, it was less than a year ago that her journey as a woman in gaming began. As the only female on her degree course, Lucy attended a Women in Games event in May 2018, hoping to meet other women and forge some friendships in the industry.
“I would love to have another girl on the course with me,” she says. “I’ve always had support from men, but I’ve seen statistics which say that less than 20% of gaming employees are female, yet 50% of gamers are female, so it’s easy to see that there is an issue somewhere.
“That’s why the Women in Games event was a really good experience for me. I met women who have been in the industry for years, helping other women in my position.”
After travelling to the annual Develop Conference in Brighton, Lucy met Caoimhe Roddy, who was hosting the first ever UK Girls Make Games event in Manchester.
Girls Make Games is a programme of workshops, designed to inspire the next generation of female games designers, creators and engineers. It was launched in 2014 in the USA and helps girls aged 8 – 17 learn the basics of games development, building their very own video game from scratch.
Lucy jumped at the chance to get involved with the cause. “I knew immediately I wanted to get involved with the Manchester event,” she says. “Partly for my own experience, but I was already thinking about how needed it is in the North East.
“It was a great event to be involved in and to see it be such a success. One of the best parts was having parents engage with it too and see how it could be a viable career route for their daughters.”
It was at this event that Lucy met Sally Blake, Senior Producer at Hammerhead Games, who agreed that they should try and bring Girls Make Games to Newcastle. She also invited Lucy to join her online network of females in tech, which she has found invaluable.
“Gaming is growing in the North East but it hasn’t quite caught up to the rest of the tech industry,” Lucy says.
“So it has been great to have a female community, who can lean on each other when things get tough. It’s such a supportive group and we’re actually friends, we socialise. I encourage every girl I meet in the industry or at events in the region to join the group.”
Lucy and Sally are hosting the first Newcastle based Girls Make Games at Newcastle College on 13th April. It is already full, but with a waiting list of interested kids, they’re looking to hold more across the region in the summer holidays.
“Whatever the reason may be, there is clearly an issue with getting girls into the industry. This is such a valuable workshop for both the kids and their parents,” Lucy explains.
“To come from my background to this position in less than two years is unbelievable,” she says. “I’ve worked so hard to change my life and now I want to help others do the same.
“I find it really important to be able to give young girls this exposure to the industry, because there was nothing like this when I was young, so I really hope I can encourage more girls into the industry by holding these types of events.”