by DEBBIE DUNN, managing director, The Brand Guild

Gaming in all forms is at the epicenter of pop culture today, and it opened up new worlds to creators, developers, and enthusiasts alike. With the number of female gamers on the rise and involved on both sides of the table, coupled with the shift in culture that helped kick-start positive growth, what exactly does this mean for the industry? For the first time ever, WIT (Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment) will host a panel at Gen Con on The Evolution of Women in Gaming.

Known as “the best four days in gaming,” Gen Con is said to be the largest board game convention in America, and the longest running in the world. With more than 500 exhibitors and more than 60,000 fans, it is a mecca for major publishers and independent designers to showcase their games and connect with fans.

The Evolution of Women in Gaming will be a fascinating exploration into the impact women currently have on the industry and what it means for the future. Moderators Jessica Aceti and Deirdre Cross of Forrest-Pruzan Creative will welcome industry leaders and visionaries, including Tanya Thompson of Hasbro, Mary Couzin of Chicago Toy and Game Group, and Anna Van Slee of Sideshow Collectibles.

Aceti and Cross collectively have more than 20 years experience in the board game business. From designing, inventing, and playtesting board games, they were intimately involved in the creation of more than 500 games and worked with dozens of top game publishers. As WIT preps for Gen Con, Aceti and Cross shared some of their thoughts and insights.

Why is it important to include women in the product development process?
Diversity is crucial to the product development process. We believe in a true collaborative approach. It enhances everything that leaves our studio. Everyone is coded with their own life experiences. Having multiple perspectives makes good ideas great.

Can you each tell us a bit about your personal perspective on gaming?
Cross: I’ve been in the game business for 11 years, and in that time I’ve also become the mother of two boys. Through that experience, my perspective on gaming has shifted quite a bit. When I entered the business, I was playing a lot of social party and deep strategy games. Now I’m more likely to play a light strategy game with my 8 year old, or a PJ Masks preschool game with the 4 year old, so my focus is on the joy that a game brings them and how we can connect as a family. As a VP of product development, I am looking more at what “Mom” wants in a game and what that moment means for her, and using my own experience as a touch point.

Aceti: Gaming is a huge part of my life. My personal philosophy is to introduce as many people as possible to games. I know it may sound cheesy, but I really think it’s the best way to bring people together and to learn more about one another. This world is all about human connection and I’m hard pressed to think of anything that connects people more than games.

How will female representation in the game industry affect the future of tabletop games?
We see a bright future ahead. There are more women at the executive level. This is exciting because of the trickle-down effect this can have throughout all divisions of a company. Additionally, on the consumer side of things, when a woman’s name is credited on the front of the box, it inspires future generations of female gamemakers to get involved and support one another even more.

More about our moderators:

Jessica Aceti (pictured left) has more than 20 years experience in the entertainment and gaming industry. An alumni of Screenlife and Cranium, Aceti joined Forrest-Pruzan Creative (FPC) in 2015. Prior to FPC, she co-created and published more than 50 app games. Aceti is currently FPC’s vice president of licensing and business development.

Deirdre Cross (pictured right) began at FPC in 2007 overseeing the company’s groundbreaking playtesting program. She was instrumental in the invention and development of more than 350 games during her 11 years in the toy and games business, working with dozens of different game publishers. Cross is currently FPC’s vice president of product development.

Debbie Dunn is a member of the WIT Communications Committee and a 20-year veteran of the licensing and merchandising industry. She is managing director of The Brand Guild, a boutique agency specializing in business development of emerging trends, licensing, marketing, communications, and digital engagement for the consumer products industry.