We’re celebrating International Women’s Day with a look at the women in games who inspire us! In the coming days, we’ll be posting interviews with the women who help make your favorite games possible. Today, we spoke to Rebekah Saltsman, founder and CEO of Finji.
Rebekah lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her and her husband Adam have been creating and publishing games since 2009.
What do you look toward for inspiration? Were you inspired by any particular people/games/other media that led you to where you are?
I am tremendously lucky. I get to work with one of the people I most admire in the industry- my husband Adam. I am always humbled by his passion for game design and the way he is constantly evolving as a person and as a designer. I find personal inspiration from relationships- with my marriage, with my children, with my siblings and parents, and with my friends. The work I do is often thankless; It isn’t flashy or noteworthy. I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways human interact with each other and a lot of my thought process toward game design and business is anchored here. I love a good challenge- and herding an indie development team to a console sim launch is pretty much my Mt. Everest.
There are a lot of things over the past several decades that pushed me to where I am today- Adam’s passion for games brought me into this space. My older brothers were the ones who always got the consoles for Christmas. Secret of Mana for being the very first game I ever beat. My first professional mentor, Jonathan, who saw in me a young version of himself- someone who seemed a little too mature and a little too responsible for a 23 year old. Dance, especially ballet and the years I spent learning how to perform through extreme debilitating shyness (you don’t have to talk when dancing!) Running half and full marathons as an adult. My athletic coaches who saw me as an individual and not just another Thompson. My honors english teacher in high school who pushed me to be more than I thought I was. My mom who despite being pretty traditional just rolled along with a super stubborn super athletic honor student. My kids who showed me how productive I can actually be and how stupid most of my concerns pre-motherhood actually were.
What is your favorite part about working in the games industry? What have you accomplished recently that you are proud of or thankful for?
I get to work with some of the most brilliant creatives- I generally feel like the dumbest person in the room. I get to be involved with projects that change my life and the lives of those who play our games. I came to my first GDC with Adam- but I didn’t work in games yet. I stayed because I was welcomed and accepted. These people have become my best friends over the last 9+ years.
I am incredibly proud of the last 18 months of my work- PC launches are difficult. Console launches are notoriously difficult. I’ve managed to bring 2 games to multiple consoles in the past year- managing sim launches, content drops, updates- as a tiny 2 person studio in Grand Rapids. I know how hard it is to launch on 1 console. I’ve done 5 initial console launches in under 18 months (along with multiple patches and the actual Night in the Woods PC launch). In that time I’ve also helped move Overland closer to our 1.0 launch and signed TUNIC on as our next publishing project. I’ve also attended and run so many booths at shows that I’ve lost count. Personally- I am very proud of my marriage and of my tiny beautiful family.
What are some things that can be done to improve the experience for women in the industry? What advice would you give to a woman who aspires to have your job?
I would love to have a day when I didn’t worry about my clothes before leaving for an industry event- where I didn’t have a skinny jeans with a t-shirt and hoodie uniform to turn down my femininity. This is such a stupid thing- but I know for a fact that I’m not the only woman who does this. I often think about “what if I need to get a real studio job” and I don’t know if I could ever work at a larger studio because the work hours are so rarely conducive to being a parent. And my resume says I am a woman who I went to college for Communication Studies. Would my long list of released games, business experience, and years of running my own company overcome the bias of both being a woman without a degree in technology or art at a video game company? Would my outspokenness about being a parent be strikes against me?
When I talk to young women I feel I have to apologize. I am so sorry this path is going to be harder for you. I am so sorry that your opinions will be discounted. I am so sorry that you have been conditioned for years to not speak up and the only way to fix this conditioning is to speak up- but people may find your forthcoming way of speaking to be abrasive or bitchy. I am so sorry that my generation hasn’t fixed this yet (cuz millenials are adults now! we are like 21-37 years old- the women coming after me aren’t in my generation). and I want them all to keep going- to keep making small changes in their own little corner of the industry because we have brilliant ideas- we are brilliant game developers when given the chance. We bring a perspective to games that represents half of the humans on earth- half of our players are like us. We have different ideas about accessibility, UI design, movement. Our stories are different and they should be represented in games alongside the stories we already tell. Bringing in a diversity of thought and experience can only make our medium move forward as one of the greatest ways to share common human experiences. And to be honest, it’s gonna suck for awhile longer attempting to navigate through the bias and discrimination so prevalent in our industry. Biases don’t change over night and it can be so hard to keep that light on the hill lit. Listen to others, find a mentor who believes in you, and don’t doubt that you can do this. You can.
Do you have any women in games that you would like to see interviewed? If so, drop us a comment or a private message!