17 Most Influential Women Game Developers (Shared Article from Jason W. Bay)

Jay W. Bay has an excellent wealth of knowledge for any aspiring game industry person, for more information on his work please click here. 

For the original article and much more click here. 

The video game industry may be “male dominated,” but women have been making games for decades, and their contributions have easily rivaled the most famous male game developers.

Whether through game design, programming, writing, or producing, these 17 women game developers have fundamentally shaped the way you play games today. We owe them all a big round of applause—and a big round of thanks—for the outsized impact they’ve made on our lives, and continue making, through video games.

Mabel Addis

Game Designer, Writer
Most famous game: The Sumerian Game (1964)

Mabel Addis spent most of her career as a school teacher, no doubt perfecting methods for teaching even the most “dry” topics to kids who probably weren’t always eager to learn. In 1964, she used her teaching expertise to create The Sumerian Game, which would go down in history as the first text-based educational adventure game—and would earn Mabel a place in history as the very first woman computer game designer.

Danielle Bunten Berry

Game Designer, Programmer
Most famous games: M.U.L.E. (1983), The Seven Cities of Gold (1984)

Danielle started her career as an industrial engineer, but she was programming text-based games as a hobby from the very beginning. She originally worked as a programmer at SSI, before forming her own software company and developing the critically-acclaimed game M.U.L.E. The game went on to inspire a generation of game designers, including Chris Crawford, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Will Wright. It also laid the foundations for multiplayer gaming, and is considered one of the best video games of all time.

Christy Marx

Game Designer, Author, Screenwriter
Most famous game: Conquests of Camelot (1990)

Christy is a “triple threat”—talented in several areas including game design, writing for television and graphic novels, and even published a manual on how you can do it yourself: Writing for Animation, Comics, and Games. Did I mention, she also wrote for all your favorite childhood shows, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe? If you’re over the age of 10, you’ve probably watched, played, or read something made by Christy Marx.

Roberta Williams

Game Designer, Writer
Most famous game: Mystery House (1980), King’s Quest series

Roberta is one of the most influential game designers in history, thanks to her groundbreaking work on early graphic adventure games in the 1980s and 90s. She was a founder of Sierra Entertainment, and she has been celebrated for her skill in creating games that have a mass-market appeal while also using cutting-edge graphics and technology. For example, her game King’s Quest I was the first adventure game to have animation, and King’s Quest V was the first to have a “point and click” interface based on icons.

Dona Bailey

Game Programmer
Most famous games: Centipede (1981)

While you don’t necessarily have to be a genius to make video games, it does seem to help, at least in Dona’s case—she graduated high school at age 16, and graduated college at 19 with a bachelor’s in Psychology… plus 3 additional minors. She started her career as a programmer at a car manufacturer, but the second she laid eyes on her first arcade video game (Space Invaders), she was hooked. She left her job and moved to California to work for Atari, where she used her programming skills to write most of the code for the hit arcade game, Centipede.

Carol Shaw

Game Designer, Programmer
Most famous games: River Raid (1982)

Carol is one of the first female game developers in history, and of the few in this list who got into the industry through what we now call “traditional” means: getting a degree in computer science. And she didn’t waste any time—her first job out of school was programming games at Atari, where she was considered one the best programmers in the company. Her game River Raid sold over a million copies, which would be considered a huge accomplishment even in today’s booming game industry, but was almost unheard of back in 1982.

Joyce Weisbecker

Game Programmer, Designer
Most famous game: TV Schoolhouse I (1976)

Joyce is history’s first professional female video game designer, and she might also be history’s very first indie developer. But if you haven’t ever heard of Joyce’s games, don’t feel too bad about it—the game industry back in the mid-1970s was tiny. How tiny? Well, Joyce programmed her first commercial video game in just one week, and was paid just $250. Who knows how many young women she inspired to pursue a career in the game industry!

Rebecca Heineman

Game Designer, Programmer, Executive
Most famous game: The Bard’s Tale (1985)

While Rebecca started her career as a professional game programmer at the startlingly young age of 16, you could say that she originally broke into video games by, well, breaking into video games: She couldn’t afford the steep price of Atari 2600 cartridges, so she learned how to pirate them so she could play—then later taught herself how to reverse-engineer the code. She was such an avid gamer, that in 1980 she started competing in national competitions, and winning, becoming history’s first national video game tournament champion. Later, she went on to found multiple game companies, including Interplay, Olde Sküül, and others.

Amy Hennig

Game Director, Writer
Most famous games: Legacy of Kain (1996), Uncharted series

Amy started out at film school, but dropped out after getting an art job at a game studio and discovering that game development was her true calling. And it’s a good thing she did—Amy went on to play a major creative role on numerous critically-acclaimed games, including the Uncharted series, Legacy of Kain series, and Jak and Daxter. Her cinematic writing and creative direction has defined a generation, and she’s now considered one of the most influential women in the game industry.

Tracy Fullerton

Game Designer, Writer, Educator
Most famous game: The Night Journey (2007)

Tracy started her career working on “interactive documentaries” and other early forms of interactive entertainment, but she’s best known for her work as a media and game design educator. Tracy is the director of Game Innovation Lab at University of Southern California, where she has worked with students on a long list of groundbreaking and influential games such as flOwThe Night Journey, and Walden. She is also the author of Game Design Workshop, one of the top books on game design. Among the women on this list, Tracy might be the winner of the most industry awards—her lengthy and influential career has earned her an Emmy nomination and numerous awards for her work in games and interactive media.

Sheri Graner Ray

Game Designer
Most famous games: Ultima series, Star Wars Galaxies series

Sheri has worked as a designer for many best-selling game franchises, including a hand in the creation of the beloved Ultima series. But she may be most famous for her influential research and thinking on the topic of gender in computer games. She was an early advocate for gender-inclusive game design, making games for young girls at the game company Her Interactive, and writing the book Gender Inclusive Game Design-Expanding the Market.

Brenda Romero

Game Designer, Programmer
Most famous game: Wizardry series

Brenda started her game career as a game QA tester, before being promoted to a game designer role on the popular Wizardry series. While Brenda has created nearly 50 games in her legendary career, she’s also famous for her work as an advocate and activist for important industry topics such as parental rating awareness, anti-censorship, and exploring the role of sexual content in video games.

Corrinne Yu

Game Programmer
Most famous game: King’s Quest (1984), various 3D game engines

Corrinne’s most famous game may have been King’s Quest, but that was only the beginning—over the years, her contributions as a talented graphics engine programmer have moved the industry forward to where it is today. She’s programmed for so many of the industry’s top 3D rendering engines, that you’ve undoubtedly enjoyed playing several games powered by Corrinne’s code. Some of her notable contributions include work on QuickDraw 3D, the Quake 2 engine, Unreal Engine 3, and Direct 3D—not to mention games by industry heavies like Naughty Dog, 343 Industries, and 3D Realms.

Ellen Beeman

Game Designer, Writer
Most famous game: Wing Commander series

Ellen started her career as a writer for hit television series in the 1980s, but joined the video game industry when she was hired by Sierra Online as a product manager. Through her impressive career as a game designer and game producer, she’s worked at industry heavyweights like Monolith and Disney, is a founder of Women in Games International, and a senior lecturer at video game school DigiPen Institute of Technology. She’s been listed as one of the top 100 most influential women in the game industry.

Robin Hunicke

Game Designer, Producer
Most famous games: MySims (2007), Boom Blox (2008)

Robin started her game dev career with a roar, working for Maxis (Electronic Arts) as a game designer on the popular The Sims franchise. She’s created quite a few influential games, and she’s also pushed the game industry forward with her academic research into “dynamic difficulty adjustment”—basically, how a game can cleverly and seamlessly adjust the difficulty to suit the skills of an individual player, to keep it challenging and fun for all. Robin is also an advocate for independent game developers, and contributes her expertise to international indie game events such as the Indie Game Jam and the Global Game Jam.

Lori Cole

Game Designer, Writer
Most famous game: Hero’s Quest (1989)

Lori is a good example of how to bring together a diverse creative skill set—she’s not only a game designer, but also an educator, voice actor, fiction writer, film animator, and a passionate RPG gamer. She undoubtedly brought all that talent to bear for her most famous game, Hero’s Quest. It was the first game in the Quest for Glory series, defined a brand new genre with its mix of graphical adventure style with role-playing game (RPG) game mechanics, and quickly sold more than a quarter-million copies, kicking off a generation of adventure games that continues today.

Kellee Santiago

Game Designer, Producer
Most famous games: Flower (2009), Journey (2012)

Kellee originally planned to build a career in experimental theater, but fell in love with game development after producing her first game (Cloud) as a student project. Instead of pursuing theater, she founded thatgamecompany with her student game team, and the rest is history. Her company created several hit games for Sony Computer Entertainment (FlowFlowerJourney), before she went on to become a backer of Indie Fund, and working for Google Play games.

Kim Swift

Game Designer
Most famous games: Portal (2007), Left 4 Dead (2008)

Kim knew from the start that she wanted to work in games, and started pursuing her passion by attending the video-game development school DigiPen. While at DigiPen, her student team created a physics-based game that was so unique that it caught the eye of Valve Software—Valve hired her, and she went on to create the genre-busting mega-hit game Portal.

Who Else?

That’s a long list of highly influential women game developers. Without their talent, hard work, and dedication, the video game industry would not have blossomed into the international phenomenon that it is today.

But the list probably isn’t complete, not yet. So, tell me: Who else should be on this list?

Could it be you…?

By CJ Sanchez (He/Him)
CJ Sanchez (He/Him) Career Coach CJ Sanchez (He/Him)