Meet Justine Colla. Community builder. Gaming enthusiast. Wrestling fanartist.
Meet the amazing Justine Colla…
Growing up, she was shaped by the relationships she made in online multiplayer games, expanding her world view and appreciation for diverse perspectives, encouraging her to pursue a career in game development. Justine has worked on several game projects, including Towncraft, Majestic Nights, Station Stop and A Township Tale. Last year, she was a successful applicant for two grants at Game Developers Conference 2017: one from the Game Developer’s Association of Australia and from GDC’s Amplifying New Voices Program.
Recently, Justine has generously and passionately consulted to The Hacker Exchange as we created our very first Gamer Exchange for GDC 2018.
Hi Justine! Thanks for chatting to us. So, you started off as a Game and UI Artist, but have since transitioned to marketing & events. Why did you make this change?
A couple years ago, I was working with a small team and they couldn’t figure out why I was getting emails back so much faster than anyone else. So, they made me point of contact as well as UI artist. Then, I was put in charge of the social media accounts, then I was doing our event management, and our marketing strategy, and our PR. Rather than a conscious change, it sort of fell into my lap and I very much had to learn on the job. I also discovered marketing is very much my passion and my title was made so!
What was one of your all time favourite game projects and why?
I worked on this little indie game called Majestic Nights years and years ago. It was one of my first full time contracts in the industry and I did a lot of supporting art for the game, like portraits, items, steam achievement icons and poster art. The game was featured on one of Giantbomb’s Quick Looks and the hosts made specific mention about how much they liked my art. It was the first time I got such positive recognition from journalists.
Is there someone or something in particular that inspires your work?
Game developers are some of the most passionate, hard-working people on the planet. They don’t ask for much, face normalised abuse from their own consumers and create amazing products under intense work conditions with no union or government support. Having a game development background myself, I remember the only marketing advice I was ever given was literally “social media is important”.
I didn’t even know what PR was until I was given a media list ahead of PAX. There is a huge gap on knowledge around marketing and community strategy for game developers. I’m hoping to make that knowledge more accessible.
What trends are you seeing now in games that you are excited about?
Open-door game development. A popular trend these days is streaming game development on sites like Twitch, and being transparent about development process on social media, community forums and devblogs. I see Minecraft as one of the pioneer titles of this method, as the first version it ever released was an early access alpha, and it became a cult hit years before it launched. Devs like Rebecca Cordingly (Ooblets) are championing this method, and have an amazing devblog about it.
You now describe yourself as a “community lover & professional friend maker”. What roles have networking and relationships played in your career?
I’ve never been an academic type. When I was a game artist, my resume was lacking and skills average at best. I was very lucky to have the contracts I had. I’ve always had a knack with soft skills, so when Alta was co-founded and I had to step up as face of the company, I had no other choice but to put myself out there. It made me realise that people connect far better to other people, not projects. This changed the way I approached networking. I now look to make lifelong connections, rather than a connection just to show off a project or as a means to an end. Those people and industry friends will now be with me along my journey and support me no matter where I go and what I’m working on.
You were lucky enough to go to GDC in 2017. How did that come about?
I presented at GCAP 2016 about Harassment Prevention in Multiplayer VR, because of that I got to represent the talk to companies, sit on VR industry panels and was contacted by Hack for an interest piece. This work in campaigning for safety in VR lead me to a Game Developers Association grant and the Amplifying New Voices bootcamp for GDC 2017.
What tips do you have for anyone headed to GDC for the first time? How can they make the most of their time there?
I’d almost argue that the networking events are more important than the GDC talks.
The best parties are exclusive, so if you have a high level contact or celebrity friend, tag along with them as their entourage. Check Eventbrite daily and sign up for every free event that interests you, even if you don’t plan on attending. Most of the big game companies have their own parties, so thank about which ones are relevant to your goals and see if they are selling door tickets, or if you have a contact who can get you on the door list.
Remember, that most parties at GDC will probably just happen upon you. If a new network invites you to something and you trust them, I recommend going with the flow and see how the night turns out!
Don’t feel like you have to eat at restaurants and diners while you’re there. San Francisco is expensive and prices can rack up really quickly. You can eat for under $10 p/meal if you shop at Walgreens and lots of parties also have catering, take advantage of that! If you don’t like drip coffee, then the best espresso is at Mazarine Coffee on Market St.
Bring a ton of business cards. It’s less important that others acquire your card, but rather that you offer your card to get theirs. Do not lose the ones you collect (write little notes about where you met them and what you talked about if you can). When you get home, email every single person you received a card from and use their email to add them on LinkedIn. Do not email new contacts during the event unless you’re setting up a meeting, I made that mistake and didn’t hear back from a lot of people I was really excited to network with. GDC days are just too busy to be answering non-business emails.
Also, don’t say ‘San Fran’ if you don’t want to be immediately scorned by the locals. It’s San Francisco, or “SF”.
You’re also an advocate for diversity in games. What does this look like, and how can we help?
Despite game players being 41% female, only 19% of developers in the Australian games industry identify as non-male. Worse still, female game players are on a downward trend since a 48% high in 2014. It’s hard to know why this is, and potentially because females are feeling less included in gaming forums and online communities after the harassment accusations of the last few years. This doesn’t even get into the intersectional discrimination queer folk and people of colour experience from the industry. Many have relegated to indie game development, and either work in small teams or by themselves, distributing on platforms like itch.io. Support initiatives like Girl Geek Academy and play games made by females, queer folk and people of colour. Sometimes you just need to go looking extra hard for them, but they’re out there, and they’re good!
You’ve had a huge career for someone still so young. What’s one secret that you’d like to share with someone new in the games industry?
Ah, you flatterer! I honestly felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel for me for a long time. I worked on game projects in my spare time for two years while working nights at a bar before I got my first paid contract in games. Then, after four years I realised that hands on game development wasn’t for me. All game dev students mistakenly get taught that there are only design, art and programming jobs in the games industry, and that’s just not true.
I don’t think it’s really a secret, but more of an empowerment- don’t ever feel like you have to fit into the typical game dev roles. If you love game dev enough, and you persist, you will find your passion in the industry, whether it be business, marketing, community, narrative, production, PR, merchandise, music, quality assurance, mocap and voice acting, even finance. There really is something for everyone. I only wish I had found marketing earlier!
And finally, what’s something you do for fun?
Oddly enough, I’m a huge fan of pro-wrestling! When I’m not working, I’m usually making artworks of my favourite wrestlers which I upload to my instagram!
Final applications for Gamer Exchange, GDC 2018 are due 14 February 2018.