Geek Speak: Brenda Bailey, chief operating officer of Deep Fried Entertainment

Brenda Bailey

Brenda Bailey of Deep
Fried Entertainment.

Brenda Bailey wants to see more women playing video games. She also would like to see more women working in Vancouver's video-game industry.

Bailey is the 42-year-old, Nanaimo-born chief operating officer and managing partner of Deep Fried Entertainment. Founded in 2005, Deep Fried is an independent developer of games for the Nintendo DS, Wii, and PlayStation Portable. On October 5, Deep Fried will release Shadow Play, a WiiWare game.

In April 2008, Bailey cofounded Women in Games Vancouver, an organization that supports women who are entering or are already employed in the video-game industry. Women in Games is working with other women-in-technology groups to develop a mentorship program and plans to hold three or four networking events a year.

Bailey is also set to cofound a new game-development studio, which will be incorporated on October 31. It doesn't have a name yet, but the studio will develop iPhone and BlackBerry games geared toward women over 40.

The Georgia Straight reached Bailey by phone at her office in Yaletown.

What are you working on these days at Deep Fried?

Deep Fried, historically, we've always worked in the work-for-hire model, where we work with a publisher on the publisher's product. For the first time, we're developing our own IP and doing a self-publish model, and we're doing that on the Nintendo Wii. So, this is a product that will be sold on the Wii through their WiiWare program, and it comes to market on October 5. That's completely DSE-created, designed, developed—all of it.

What kind of game is Shadow Play?

Shadow Play is a puzzle game, and it's something that's never been done before. It's quite unique. Essentially, the mechanic is you use shadows to solve puzzles. There's a hundred different puzzles, as well as a free-play element.

How have new distribution or delivery models changed the game for you?

Well, they've changed it enormously. You know, with the change in the economy and the reduction of opportunities to work with publishers, a lot of studios have gone under. Many of the studios that haven't gone under have done what we've done, which is doing a self-publishing model. So, it's given us a lot more opportunities to bring product to market that didn't exist previously.

So, it's kind of not only bringing product to market but also that enviable opportunity of being able to develop your own IP, because many, many studios strive to develop their own IP for many, many years and end up working for their next paycheck for a publisher. It just ends up this kind of unending circle, where there really isn't opportunity to develop what it is you have creatively been thinking about doing. With, say, a downloadable opportunity and a less expensive way to get to market, it creates a chance for people to test new IPs and to do their own product, which is fantastic.

Why are women underrepresented in the video-game industry?

Well, you know what? I would start by saying, "Are women underrepresented in the video-game industry?" I think you have to answer it by sector. I've really noticed that, in the casual-games sector, it doesn't seem to be the case. It seems to be that there are a ton of women doing interesting things there.

I think, in the more traditional gaming sector, women are underrepresented both in terms of working in the sector but also playing those games. So, it's an interesting conundrum. You know, it's chicken and egg. If more women were playing the sort of more traditional, popular styles of games, would more women be working on those games? Or—other way around—if more women were creating those games, would more women be playing them? I don't know. You could go on forever with that question.

But the really cool thing is you see that being solved in the casual space. There's a lot more women working on games there and more women playing games there. In fact, we know that the largest growing market right now is women—women over 40—in the casual-games sector, in terms of players.

So, you know, it's interesting, because I want to see more women playing games. I think it's a really interesting space and something that's much broader than it's historically been defined. To see that happening now because the dollars are there, the market's driving it—not because it's the right thing to do or because, you know, you can name a whole bunch of other things—but actually because the market's there, and so companies are chasing the buck.

What can companies do to attract and retain women game developers?

This is an interesting thing. I had a really famous high-level studio head approach me—I'm not going to tell you which one, but one of the top 10 studios in the world—and say, "You know, we've been trying to hire women into our studio, and we haven't been successful. Every time I hire a really smart woman who's got amazing talent, she stays for a week and leaves." I find that really interesting. His particular studio's got 89 employees, and three of them are women and they're all in secretarial or production roles, right? So, why is it he can hire a master's of computer science female, but she won't stay?

So, the challenge is creating the environment so that you're ready to hire women into the workforce. Studios are getting that they need more women, but they're not doing that middle piece, which is creating a studio that's actually going to be a place where women want to be.

We made a transition at DSE a while back from being all guys except me—at one point it was 21 guys and just myself—to hiring some women in the studio. One of things that really seems to matter about that is don't hire just one woman, but hire a few. The number three seems to be really important, and you find that actually in the literature too around racism as well—systemic racism and systemic discrimination. Often if you hire more than three people, it's enough to actually make a cultural change, whereas if you hire one or two they tend to be marginalized.

So, it's important to have the studio do some readiness, in terms of what people's attitudes are and what the space is like, and, you know, take down the porn and all that kind of stuff that some studios still do. Create a space that's not going to be unfriendly to women, and then also make sure that you hire not just one but, in fact, three or more.

What are some of Women in Games Vancouver's future plans?

We're really going to be focusing on getting the word out there that the games sector is a really viable and interesting place for women to work. We're also going to be trying to assist women who do come into the sector and who are in the sector, mentoring them into strong positions and successful roles.

There's a lot more opportunity for women than there has been in the past. Even if you look around, five years ago when I first started in the sector, I couldn't point out to you very many women executives. I think there were two or three.

Last week, Jade Raymond was appointed the new GM of the Ubisoft studio in Toronto. We're applauding that. That's fantastic. You know, Samantha Ryan is running things at Warner Bros. That's fantastic. You know, Meg Gaiser is running things at Her Interactive. That's fantastic. You know, there's more and more women coming into senior roles in the industry, and I think as that progresses it's going to really help women understand that they too can reach high levels within the industry and have really successful, interesting careers.

What's your favourite video game to play?

I have so many that I love. Let's see—what am I playing right now? Right now, last night, I was playing Dr. Layton. It's a DS game, and it's really addictive. Yeah, I really like that game.

Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at