It’s 2020 and women are dominating the gaming industry. There are a few successful women in this industry including Saqina Latif, one of the founders of Persona Theory Games; an indie games studio based in KL that set experimental narrative games as their niche.
Saqina describes herself as a gamer at heart. But apparently, she is considered not fit to be deemed as a ‘real gamer’ according to the society’s standard.
The gaming industry often has a deeply entrenched ‘bro culture’ that typically results into scepticism and prejudices towards women who identify themselves as gamers.
However, her position as the founder of an indie games studio, director and a producer has set herself apart in the industry despite being a petite woman.
Persona Theory Games, a group of passionate people
“I was a producer in Leo Burnett for a few years. I did ads, TVC, web videos, radio ads for clients and I kind of like to tell stories. But, at some point, I felt that doing ads wasn’t fulfilling. So, when Buddy contacted me to work together to create content for a project, I thought that it was a great opportunity for me to do something I’m passionate about,” she says.
“The first project called Sara Is Missing is more like an experiment for us. We didn’t expect it to grow as big as it is and in fact, it went quite viral! That’s a cue for us to continue doing what we are doing. So, Buddy, Derek and I finally decided to start Persona Theory Games.”
Persona Theory Games launched in 2017 and it involved a lot of cafes and mamaks. Unbeknownst to many, some of the team members have had to work day jobs during that time. Saqina was lucky to find a group of people who shared a similar passion of gaming who were also willing to sacrifice their time and effort to work on the project. When they finally got a hang on it, they decided to do it fulltime.
Persona Theory Games, aspire to be different
When asked what makes their games approach different than the rest, Buddy shares that both of them came from the film industry. Hence, their approach to a story is a bit different than most people. For him, the best story is a personal story. That’s how he got the inspiration to create Fires At Midnight – their second precious ‘baby’.
“For our games, you don’t have to compete. You only have to enjoy the game until whatever level you can reach. Still, coming from a film background, we feel that every story must have an ending. So, we promise the ending for our players. Our games only take up to 2-3 hours because we want people to play in one sitting like watching a movie.”
Surprisingly, after almost a month since Fires At Midnight launched, the number of engagements has been quite impressive. Both Saqina and Buddy thought that they were crazy because their approach to games is very weird as they prioritised feeling rather than intuition.
“I was worried if people can’t translate the game well. However, when the reviews came out, many people told us they can relate to the character and everything. A lot of people were surprised the game was done by a Malaysian!”, says Saqina.
She further shares that one of the achievements in her career so far is the reviews and validations from players. To boot, they also have silent followers who have been waiting for their games. She wants to promote more local content to the world and Persona Theory Games has been collaborating with a few local music artists such as Golden Mammoth and Mutesite, both being indie bands.
The struggles made us who we are today. It taught us that it’s not easy to take our passion and grow it.
“We have a new idea for our next game. It’s still hazy but the idea came from our rescued cats. Afterwards, we talked to Micehell WD about creating a pet game. As usual, Buddy will take it to a weirder level,” Saqina laughs.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry
“I have not met any woman in my position in the gaming industry as in somebody who is in the director role. A lot of it them are men. There were a few times when men looked down on me and laughed. Sexism in this industry is still happening, considering that gaming is still very much a male-dominated industry. But I have thick skin and my background in advertising really helps me a lot,” says Saqina.
“Saqina is different, she has different ideas and being different is already enough to get all the weird vibes. It was very annoying when she wanted to pitch her idea, and people don’t take her seriously due to her gender. It happened quite a lot,” Buddy interjects.
Inspiring tips for youth
Being a woman in the gaming industry alone is hard. Not to mention a lot of things seemed to be going against them. The first couple of years was tough; they gave up so many times, went through multiple roadblocks, and had to experience turbulent times. But at the end of the day, passion for gaming was what kept them going.
“If you wish to follow your dreams, never ever quit your day job, especially in this economy. Having a steady source of income is important if you want to be an entrepreneur. Finally, get ready to fail multiple times. A lot of things can be achieved depending on how much suffering you’re ready for.”