Game developers’ experiences of industry events in Finland

Taina Myöhänen
In this article, the experiences and opinions of Finnish game industry events are under review. The results portray a mostly welcoming, safe and surprisingly harassment-free atmosphere in the game industry ecosystem events in Finland. More attention would be needed to ensure that also juniors, and marginalised genders and groups would experience belonging to the community. Also alcohol-free industry events were hoped and welcomed.

We in Games Finland, together with IGDA Finland, carried out a survey in 2021 on experiences of the game industry in Finland. This article summarises experiences of and opinions on game industry events based on that survey, describing the times during the corona pandemic and the time before. Another WIGFI survey in collaboration with Better Games Together closed just recently, so later this year, we will provide an update on how events have been received after COVID-19 lockdowns.

Industry events discussed in this article are mainly events arranged by Finnish game ecosystem operators for people working in the Finnish game industry. For this study, 176 survey responses were analysed. Respondents were mostly (57 %) people working in the game industry and living in Finland, but also people with a previous work history in games (10 %), game students (20 %), those looking for employment in the game industry (6 %) and people working in nearby fields that are closely connected with the industry (7 %). Everyone’s opinion of industry events was taken into consideration, unless in the cases where answering required a history of attending these events.

There is no story mode in this article, so it is possible to read each chapter individually. The issues covered in this article are:

COVID-19 hitting industry events hard preserves feelings about industry events during the pandemic.

Unwanted experiences at industry events describes experiences community members have had at industry events. These answers can be compared to the earlier article about workplace experiences from the Finnish game industry that used a similar question setup.

Language-based discrimination in Finland is about incidents of being excluded due to the language used and spoken. This is an important aspect, since 28 % of the game industry workforce in Finland is from abroad, and both English and Finnish are commonly used in the Finnish game industry.

How safe are game industry events in Finland? This chapter presents respondents’ opinions about game industry event safety in the Finnish game ecosystem.

Is networking easy in the Finnish game community? Networking is regarded as important for career development and networking often happens at events, which is why the answers to the question related to networking are part of this article.

Non-alcoholic events are welcomed. The survey also enquired whether there should be more non-alcoholic industry events and what the game industry community members like about these. The results are summarised in the subject line, but for those who wish to understand more, a longer analysis is available.

If you are interested in how these results were collected and analysed, please take a look at the section Material collection and analysis.

COVID-19 hitting industry events hard

As the survey was conducted in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed to review event-related feelings during the years under lockdown. Not surprisingly, corona hit at the game industry events hard. Not only were events forced to move online, but people also stopped attending. According to our survey, 35 % of respondents were event attendees before the pandemic, but stopped attending when events moved online. Some explained that online events were exhausting after spending the entire day on a computer, and some felt that the content of online events wasn’t interesting enough to attract them. Others found it hard to get info about online events. The possibility to participate in global events via the online option was praised, but more often people expressed their desire for live events, mingling with industry friends and being able to have casual chats.

People who didn’t go to events before the pandemic but started to participate in events during the pandemic were in most cases game students. They complained that the community feeling was not present in online meetings. A more detailed study of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on game students’ career development and belonging to the industry would offer insight into the real consequences of the causes of the lack of physical events.

Unwanted experiences at industry events

Similar to the question related to unwanted behaviour and harassment in the workplace, the 2021 survey included a question about negative experiences encountered at industry events. The workplace results revealed that there is still a lot to do in terms of equality, well-being and even adhering to workplace laws, but this time the answers provided another kind of surprise.

Of all the respondents replying to the WIGFI and IGDA Finland’s 2021 survey, 68 % had no negative experiences at game industry events. This is a remarkable difference compared to experiences in game industry workplaces, where only 38 % of respondents reported the same. Comparing the results from exactly the same group that was analysed for the workplace results, the percentage of respondents who had no negative experiences at events was 62 %.

A chart listing all the answers to the question “Have you ever experienced any of these issues at a Finnish game industry event, such as an IGDA meetup, game jam, conference, workshop, networking event, or similar?” Click on the image to enlarge the chart.

When looking at the results by gender, we can see the same trend as in the workplace results: men do not encounter negative experiences that often. A total of 82 % of men had no negative experiences at the game industry events. Of the women respondents, 60 % had no negative experiences, and of people from marginalised genders, 50 % had not had any negative experiences at events.

The difference was visible between marginalised and non-marginalised people: of people belonging to marginalised groups, 53 % had no negative experiences, compared to non-marginalised persons, of whom 75 % had no negative experiences at game industry events.

A chart listing all answers from respondent’s belonging to marginalised groups to the question “Have you ever experienced any of these issues at a Finnish game industry event, such as an IGDA meetup, game jam, conference, workshop, networking event, or similar?” Click on the image to enlarge the chart.

Looking at differences based on the years in the industry, three groups, the most senior group, that is people with over ten years of experience, as well as those with a career in the industry from several months to two years and from two years to five years, had mostly positive experiences at events: only about a quarter of each group had had unwanted experiences at industry events. Most negative experiences had been encountered by people with 8-10 years of experience in the industry (in 2021); among this group, only 41 % answered that they had not experienced anything negative at the industry events.

A chart listing the answer “I have not experienced anything negative” to the question “Have you ever experienced any of these issues at a Finnish game industry event, such as an IGDA meetup, game jam, conference, workshop, networking event, or similar?”, organised by years in the industry.

The most commonly experienced unwanted issue at events was someone underestimating a respondent’s skills because of gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, disability or appearance (13 %): this was the same as the unwanted issues reported when enquiring about experiences in the workplace. Women’s unwanted experiences at the Finnish game industry events fall broadly under this: 21 % of women had experienced underestimating at industry events. Women also experienced unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, stories, remarks, or gestures at the events (14 %), felt a pressure to drink alcohol (13 %) and women heard sexual comments about their clothing, anatomy, or looks (12 %). Men’s negative experiences at events were typically related to being made to feel less intelligent for not understanding a specific language (4 %) and someone making sexual comments about clothing, anatomy, or looks (3 %).

A chart listing all answers from women to the question “Have you ever experienced any of these issues at a Finnish game industry event, such as an IGDA meetup, game jam, conference, workshop, networking event, or similar?” Click on the image to enlarge the chart.
A chart listing all answers from men to the question “Have you ever experienced any of these issues at a Finnish game industry event, such as an IGDA meetup, game jam, conference, workshop, networking event, or similar?” Click on the image to enlarge the chart.

People belonging to marginalised genders faced underestimation (25 %), but they also experienced bullying or being left out (21 %) more often than others, feeling pressured to adhere to gender norms (17 %), feeling pressured to drink alcohol, and experiences of unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, stories, remarks, or gestures and unwanted deliberate touching. People belonging to marginalised groups also shared various negative experiences more often than their counterparts, the most typical ones being underestimation (22 %), the pressure to drink alcohol (16 %) and bullying or being left out (14 %; see chart above for more info). Considering the most serious cases, there were two reports of an actual or attempted rape or sexual assault on a woman and a person belonging to marginalised genders.

A chart listing all answers from marginalised genders to the question “Have you ever experienced any of these issues at a Finnish game industry event, such as an IGDA meetup, game jam, conference, workshop, networking event, or similar?” Click on the image to enlarge the chart.

None of the survey respondents had been pressured to use marijuana or other illegal substances. That does not mean that marijuana or other substances are not used at industry events, but the finding here is that there was no pressure to use these substances, compared to alcohol: a total of 9 % of respondents had experienced pressure to drink alcohol at the industry events.

In the open comments, a few persons commented that their harassers were people from the same gender as themselves. This is important to discern: we tend to locate the harassment experiences in gendered and heterosexual power positions, but the events of bullying, pressuring and sexual harassment can also happen between people of the same gender. One person mentioned that when they experienced an uncomfortable situation at an industry event, it was caused by a random person who did not belong to the game industry community. There were also comments about how harassment had happened outside the Finnish game industry scene.

While these results paint a much brighter picture of game industry events than what we have heard about global industry events, two groups stand out as having had negative experiences more often than others: people belonging to marginalised genders and those persons who belonging to marginalised groups. Their voices should be heard, and work should be done to ensure harassment-free events also for people belonging to these groups.

Language-based discrimination in Finland

A more specific question about negative experiences concerned language-based exclusion at industry events or in the workplace. In the Finnish game industry, 28 % of people are from abroad, so language can be one of the greatest barriers causing discomfort.

Of the 172 respondents who answered this question, 65 % strongly agreed that language-based discrimination was not a problem. If the result is combined with the next option, the number grows to 77 %. Some respondents openly questioned why this question was even asked, and here is why: the language issue caused exclusion for around 10 % of respondents.

A chart listing all answers to the question “On a scale of 1-7, how much do you agree with the following statement: Sometimes I have felt left out at work or at an industry event (IGDA meetup, game jam, conference, workshop, etc.) because I don’t speak a certain language.”

The open answers to this question provide a better understanding of the occasions. The unwritten rule in the Finnish game industry is that when a non-Finnish speaker joins the group discussion, the language switches to English. However, this rule is not always kept: respondents related how Finns kept talking in Finnish, and noted that these incidents happened at events and also that they were related to the use of alcohol. It was mentioned that it was hard to enter a conversation spoken in Finnish if that wasn’t person’s native language, and also there were incidents where Finns started to talk in Finnish in the middle of a conversation; one respondent mentioned that this was more likely to happen with strangers. On the positive side, one respondent stated that it was usually enough to remind people to switch back to English, and another respondent mentioned that, in their experience, these situations happened more often abroad than in Finland.

It is not only the Finnish language that causes feelings of being excluded. There were some comments about the use of the country’s second language, Swedish, thus causing foreigners and Finns alike to feel excluded. Also, not being fluent enough in English can cause a feeling of being left out: one person related how they felt that their English was not strong enough, and they felt like an outsider when not getting all the jokes or cultural references. It was also a mentioned that it is hard to get into the industry if one does not speak Finnish.

How safe are game industry events in Finland?

Event safety was one topic of this survey. Two questions enquired how safe respondents felt at the IGDA Finland’s and We in Game Finland’s events, and two questions asked respondents to evaluate whether they believed, if harassment, bullying, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or similar incidents happened at a Finnish Game Jam’s or IGDA Finland’s events, the issue would be handled and taken seriously.

While it is also interesting to know what kind of reputation these events have, the questions of event safety were formed to understand the actual feelings participants have of safety at the events. Therefore responses such as “I never participated” or similar were removed from these results. For the question related to the IGDA, three removals were made, for the WIGFI-related question, there were 35 removals, and for the question related to events organised by Finnish Game Jam, there were eight removals. Despite this scope demacration, all comments were checked and analysed.

Respondents generally felt safe at IGDA events and events organised by We in Games. In respect of IGDA events, 46 % of respondents said they felt extremely safe, and 32 % selected the next safest option available. In the open answers, respondents described IGDA events as friendly, relaxed and having a good vibe and spirit. In one comment, a woman respondent stated that she can be herself at game industry events, and a person from abroad mentioned that in Finland, one always feels safe. “Scariest thing is that some old colleague comes and hugs”, was described by one respondent.

A chart listing the answers of persons who had attended IGDA events, to the question “On a scale of 1-7, how safe do you feel at IGDA events?”

One person did not feel at all safe at IGDA events, but no related info was provided. A couple of other respondents selecting numbers 3 and 4 describing harassment experiences that had happened in the past, and drunken people making the event feel unsafe.  It is worth noting that the feeling of safety is not necessarily connected to negative experiences; assumptions, gendered fears and minority stress can affect the feeling of safety in social situations.

As there have been discussions about the global game industry and event safety for women and people belonging to marginalised genders, it was of an interest to look at these results in more detail in terms of gender. Men felt the safest at Finnish IGDA events, with 90 % of male respondents to this question choosing the option “extremely safe” or the next value. Among women, these two safest options were selected by 74 % of respondents to this question. Among people belonging to the marginalised genders, 65 % selected these two options. There was more dispersion in responses from marginalised genders and women compared to men, but the majority of all genders still selected values indicating that they felt safe.

A chart listing the answers, by gender, from persons who attended to the IGDA events, to the question “On a scale of 1-7, how safe do you feel at IGDA events?” Please note that the number of respondents in each group varied, so the percentages do not reflect the number of individuals in each group.

To look beyond gendered experiences: among people belonging to marginalised groups, 60 % of respondents felt safe or extremely safe at the events. This result is the lowest of the groups analysed.

One more notion about IGDA event safety: everyone who selected a value 4 or under 4 for this question were women or represented marginalised genders or groups.

Respondents were not that familiar with WIGFI events. Generally, people felt safe at WIGFI events: 55 % of persons who attended to WIGFI events selected the safest option available and 24 % selected the next safest option. In the comments, there were mentions of how WIGFI events were easy to enter also for newcomers, but some male-identifying respondents felt that these events were not inclusive for them, giving a rating of 4. The respondent who gave the lowest rating did not like the tone of voice in the discussions at WIGFI events, and there was another comment about how one should choose one’s words carefully at WIGFI events, even when one had no bad intentions. As a former president of WIGFI, I could speculate that this could be related to the requirement to use inclusive language at WIGFI events.

A chart listing all answers from persons who had attended to WIGFI events to the question: “On a scale of 1-7, how safe do you feel at We in Games events?

Afterparties were mentioned in response to both previous questions. It is worth reminding that afterparties are private parties and may happen in private places or different venues, so the original event organiser’s Code of Conduct or other safety measures applied by the organiser do not apply to afterparties. At afterparties, appropriate behaviour is more about the community values and each person’s willingness to create an event inclusive for all.

Respondents mostly believed that if harassment, bullying, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or similar incidents happened at a Finnish Game Jam or at an IGDA Finland event, the issue would be handled and taken seriously. Some indicated their disbelief as these events are run by volunteers, and some other respondents voiced their suspicion that the people in charge would not take harassment issues seriously. Some other respondents had first-hand experience of issues being taken care of, but a few respondents were disappointed with how some incidents had been handled. These results have been shared with the organisations mentioned.

Is networking easy in the Finnish game community?

The 2021 survey enquired from respondents how easy it is to network and advance one’s career in the Finnish game industry, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or other factors. The answers were widely spread: 11 % agreed fully that networking was easy, and 28 % considered networking relatively easy, selecting the next option available. 8 % found industry networking very hard. 171 respondents answered to this question, and a great number of people, 57 respondents, left comments and thereby provided a better understanding of the topic.

A chart listing all answers to the question “On a scale of 1-7, how much do you agree with the following statement: It is easy to network and advance your career in the Finnish game industry, regardless of your gender, race, sexuality, or other factors?”

In the open comments, it was mentioned several times that networking is hard for everyone. Entering the industry was seen as difficult, but some respondents mentioned that networking was relatively easy when finally in the industry. At events, newcomers had the feeling of being outsiders, not knowing anyone, whereas everyone else seemed to know each other. Closed groups hanging out together at the events felt intimidating to approach.

Issues that were also mentioned as making networking in the Finnish game community harder included the language and not drinking alcohol. It was also mentioned that it cost money to attend events if one lived further away from the main cities. Several respondents mentioned that networking is easiest for white men, since they are taken seriously – this was also stated by respondents identified as male. Some respondents had experienced ageism in the industry. A few women mentioned that they were misunderstood if they were friendly to older men working in the industry, which made networking harder for women. There were also mentions of how the industry still has “boys clubs”, or overall very closed invitation-only groups, to which not all developers or women are invited.

On the other hand, the Finnish game industry community was praised for being easy to advance in due to its small size, and many respondents mentioned how the community felt friendly, welcoming, and encouraging. I checked gender and marginalisation positions related to these answers, and I was happy to see that there were no reoccurrences here: in fact, one of the most positive comments related to the friendly game industry ecosystem in Finland came from a person belonging to the transgender community. The work We in Games Finland has done to help people network was also recognised. Around 4 % of all respondents to this question mentioned that more than any of those factors mentioned in the question, personality and social skills counted the most: people who are outgoing and have skills that are important for the industry might find networking and advancing their career easier.

Last but not least: not everyone wants to network, or feels that it is worth the time. The industry includes people who are happy to find different routes around the industry and are happy with how they are advancing. Some personal characteristics might also make people reluctant to network, for example, being shy, being introverted, or having issues related to neurodiversity. Mostly those not interested in networking had a longer career in games, felt they belonged language-wise, felt game industry events were safe, and felt confident that harassment issues would be handled at events. While we want to support everyone’s attendance at industry events and everyone’s possibility to network, it is also good to remember that not everyone wants to do so.

Non-alcoholic events are welcomed

The discussion around non-alcoholic industry events already started a few years before the COVID-19 pandemic, but in this survey, the issue was investigated for the first time on a larger scale. The results revealed that non-alcoholic events are welcomed, although the majority of respondents did not hold strong opinions for or against non-alcoholic industry events.

Two questions in the survey related to alcohol and events, but were not compulsory to answer. However, almost all respondents gave their opinions. When asked how respondents would feel about non-alcoholic game industry events, most of the 175 respondents, 51 %, said that they did not care. The hope to have more non-alcoholic events was shared by 33 % of respondents, but these people were still open to attending events where alcohol was served. Only 10 % did not like the idea of non-alcoholic events but were still ready to consider attending. A small minority, 2 % of respondents, stated that they would not attend non-alcoholic events, and 1 % stated that they would only attend if alcohol was not served.

A chart listing all answers to the question “How do you feel about non-alcoholic IGDA meetups and industry events?”

Respondents were also asked if they would like to see more non-alcoholic events in our industry: 36 % of 174 respondents to this question wanted to have more non-alcoholic industry events, and 32 % stated that they would maybe like to see more non-alcoholic events. 10 % were indifferent to the topic; this was not one of the pre-set options, but it was possible to add one’s own answers, so under this category were grouped all answers from respondents who mentioned that they would not mind or care, had no preferences, or mentioned that anything goes. A total of 18 of respondents stated that having more non-alcoholic events was a bad idea. To avoid any speculation about this group of people, I ran a background check: as several times before, these people did not come from one single group. There were people from marginalised groups, women, men, and gender minorities, and the lengths of their careers varied.

A chart listing all answers to the question “Would you like to see more non-alcoholic IGDA meetups and other industry events?”

Similarly, people who would like to have more non-alcoholic events did not come from a single group. Within this group, slightly more responses were from people with less industry experience, which could reflect the trend of younger generations consuming less alcohol.

In the open comments, a concern was expressed that if no alcohol was served, that might cause all hangout venues to disappear. There was also a notion that Finns network more easily if alcohol is involved. But one issue related to events and alcohol was raised in the open comments along the survey: drunken people at the game industry events.

There was no specific question about drunken people, but we received about ten individual responses describing how drunken people negatively affected the event atmosphere. It was mentioned that drunks make events unsafe, and that they are guilty of harassment. There were two separate descrptions of a small minority of drunken men who considered game industry events as a way to find sexual encounters, and one woman reported a harassment incident related to a man who was drunk. A respondent also mentioned knowing people who avoid coming to the industry events due the presence of drunken men, and another respondent mentioned that when drunk, people showed their otherwise hidden homophobia or transphobia. A few respondents mentioned being ashamed of their own behaviour at the events, not related to harassment issues but exceeding their own personal limits of decency. There were also a few comments about not seeing that many drunken persons at industry events lately, which suggests that experiences might have local or event-based variations. Related to the fact that 9 % of respondents felt pressure to drink alcohol at the events, and considering the large number of people wishing for non-alcoholic parties, this option could be worth considering by event organisers.

Material collection and analysis

These results are based on We in Games Finland’s and IGDA Finland’s Experience Survey conducted in 2021. The survey concerned the experiences of working in the Finnish games industry. Questions varied from personal experiences to opinions about inclusivity in the workplace, schools and events. The final survey was compiled by Licia Prehn. From We in Games Finland, the following people were involved in the preparation of the survey from 2020 onwards: Anu Tukeva, Jenni Ahlapuro, Taina Myöhänen, Emilia Machuca, Laura Aaltonen, Barbara Leal, Leena Viitanen and Essi Jukkala.

The survey was conducted online and created using Google Forms. It was open from January 21st to February 7th, 2021. The survey was shared through We in Games Finland’s member newsletters, IGDA Finland’s newsletters, and several posts on social media targeted to game industry professionals in Finland, such as the Facebook group Play Finland. A total of 178 answers were received, of which 176 were used. The two replies that were dismissed were a test answer and a provocative fake answer.

The following background factors were collected: gender, connection to the Finnish game industry, years of experience in the Finnish game industry and whether the respondent belonged to marginalised group(s) on the basis of sexual or gender identity, religion, being a person of colour, disability, chronic illness, immigration status or other factors. Answers to these questions were examined using the background information provided in the study. The total number of people in each subgroup was compared to those who selected one answer for that subgroup.

For this article, where the focus was on experiences at game industry events, all event-related data in the survey was used, by all 176 respondents, except for those questions where the focus was on the opinions of those people who had participated in certain events. For this analysis, the gender identities of non-binary, gender-fluid, agender, transgender male, transgender female and the options “prefer not to say” and “not sure” were grouped as one group called “gender minorities” in order to protect the privacy of respondents. Combining the results allowed for presenting common issues that marginalized genders face in the Finnish games industry. Of the 176 respondents, 44 % (n=78) were women, 42 % (n=44) were men and 14 % (n=24) belonged to marginalised genders.

Experience in the Finnish game industry was distributed so that slightly more than half of the respondents had less than five years of industry experience, 26,5 % had several months’ to two years’ experience, and 30 % had between two and five years’ experience. Respondents with five to seven years of industry experience represented 17,5 % of respondents, and those with eight to ten years of experience represented 11 %. A total of 15 % of respondents had over ten years of experience.

I am expressing my gratitude to Susi Nousiainen for valuable comments on this article, Licia Prehn for completing the survey in 2021, and Essi Jukkala for patiently waiting for me to finalise this article.