Q/A Interview with Kate Edwards, Executive Director of Global Game Jam


I recently ran into Kate Edwards, who was amidst several speaking and mentorship opportunities in Silicon Valley, in particular speaking on a panel about representation of culture, geography, and languages in games at the Game Global Summit.

Kate Edwards, if you may not be familiar with her or her background, has decades of experience in cartography, culture, and games content and has traveled through many aspects of the game industry and around the world. Her journeys have recently led her to head up (as Executive Director) the Global Game Jam (GGJ), a large-scale annual game creation event taking place at locations around the world. Chatting with her about her travel schedule and her recent role leading the Global Game Jam was interesting and insightful, which led to this interview.

In this Q/A with Kate, we learn more about her vision for Global Game Jam for 2020 and beyond.

Events for Gamers (E4G): Kate, could you introduce yourself and also tell us how your career (and passions) path brought you to the Global Game Jam?

Kate Edwards: I have far too many interests to list, but the high-level is that I’m someone who loves games, technology, travel, cultures, and have always wanted to find a role that can be the confluence of those interests.

(And so), I’m a geographer and cartographer who’s done culturalization work in the game industry for over 26 years, having worked on many major franchises such as Halo, Fable, Age of Empires, Call of Duty, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and many many others. In addition, over the past decade or so, I’ve become much more active as an advocate for change in the game industry — to address systemic problems like crunch, lack of diversity and inclusion, mistreatment of indie developers, and so on.

As such, I was the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) from 2012 to 2017, and then was given the opportunity to become the Executive Director of the Global Game Jam in mid-2019 (and for those that don’t know, the GGJ originated in the IGDA). My leadership of the GGJ is my primary “day job” now, but I do continue to do my culturalization consulting as well as being involved in various initiatives (e.g., being on the board of Take This, which focuses on mental health in the game industry). 

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Kate Edwards, Executive Director, Global Game Jam (image: Kate Edwards)

E4G: What is your favorite area so far of your role on Global Game Jam’s team? 

Kate: Without a doubt, the best part of my role is interacting with SO many amazing and enthusiastic people around the world who have participated and/or continue to do so in the GGJ. Hearing all the anecdotes around their experiences, and how the process of game creation changed their perspective, their careers, and so forth, is really what it’s all about for me.

E4G: How has planning for the Global Game Jam experience in 2020 a new experience for you? How do you want the experience to be different?

Kate: I’ve had experience in planning events before, particularly during my time running the IGDA, but the scale of the GGJ is beyond most people’s reckoning. It’s quite a massive undertaking to recruit amazing volunteers to be regional organizers and site organizers, as well as manage the backend logistics of fundraising and infrastructure. Fortunately, we have the remarkable Jo Summers serving as the event’s Executive Producer and she’s knows precisely what to do and how to pull this off. 

E4G: How can participating in a game jam be helpful if you’re an individual new to game development? And how can it be beneficial if you’re a sponsor or host of one of the game jams?

Kate: Whether just starting out or a seasoned game developer, individuals can tremendously benefit from participating in a game jam like the GGJ on multiple levels. For many, it’s a chance to collaborate with people they’ve never met before and make new connections, for others it’s an opportunity to hone their general creative skills in the face of a time constraint, and many also use a game jam to sharpen their personal skills at art, design, coding, and so forth.

Our sponsors have really appreciated being part of the GGJ because not only are they supporting the largest game creation event in the world, but also are exposing their brand and services to a vast audience in over 100 countries simultaneously. So if people out there reading this have an interest in sponsoring our effort, I welcome them to get in touch with me ASAP. 

E4G: In what ways do you think the Global Game Jam organization could evolve past the role (or perception) of an annual global game hackathon?

Kate: One of the main reasons I took on the GGJ leadership role is because I believe the GGJ isn’t just a great annual event. It’s actually a major movement and force within the global game industry, essentially positioning itself over the past decade as the place where the global game industry begins. There are countless anecdotes about how the GGJ has kickstarted many people’s game development careers, how it was the crucible in which some major game ideas were born (and went to become commercially successful), where people formed their new game companies, and even where people have met their life partners.

So my hope is to evolve the perception of the GGJ from being only an event to a larger movement that’s helping to democratize game creation as well as help to positively change the public perception of games as a cultural force.

E4G: Going a step further, do you plan for the Global Game Jam to advocate a stand regarding some of the more prominent current causes in the games industry, such as work-life balance, free speech, or addressing harassment? 

Kate: As the GGJ has been primarily focused on its own event as a form of collaboration and education around game creation, we certainly sit in a position to be vocal on issues that affect the people participating in our events (plural; we also run the GGJ NEXT event for people under 18 years old). This organization is still finding its footing as far as how and when it vocally advocates but part of my goal during my time here is to elevate the importance of public advocacy.

E4G: At this point, do you know which Global Game Jam event on the 2020 roster you’ll be attending? Any others you’d like to recommend for our readers?

Kate: Actually this came together in just the last few days, and it looks like I’ll be in London (UK) during the 2020 event. So I’ll spend my time that weekend floating between the various jam sites and looking forward to seeing what the jammers are creating. As far as recommendations, it’s hard to single out a site among the hundreds worldwide, but I would highly recommend that people simply aim to visit a site and see what’s going on (note: not all sites are public). 

E4G: Aside from the topics we covered, do you have other plans for the Global Game Jam in 2020?

Kate: As mentioned, beyond the GGJ event in January, we will be conducting the GGJ NEXT event in July and we’re really looking forward to that. In addition, people can look forward to us working on a new website (pending generous sponsorships!) as well as rolling out a clearer statement of our mission and vision for the future of the organization. 

Events for Gamers thanks Kate Edwards for her time and insights! To learn more about Global Game Jam, visit the official site here.

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