Profile – Sara Casén

Sara Casen_community

With a career that has so far included stints at the likes of Tarsier Studios, Paradox Interactive and Junebud, it’s safe to say Sara Casén has been more than around the block. With a zest for actively engaging in projects designed to support and highlight the merits of the industry (see her Developer list and her research work on the Gamecity report), it was only a matter of tie before she branched out to create a setup that took advantage of both her creative and eye for business. This is her profile!

Could you chart your background, experience within the industry and the lead up to the formation of Casen Crowd?
I’ve been interested in games and creative processes pretty much all my life. As a kid I used to follow my friends home after school to play Donkey Kong and Ages of Empires, and I asked my mum to get me Red Alert for Christmas. But the game that made me realize that someone somewhere is actually getting paid to make games, was with the first Halo game. I had a very intensive phase of playing Halo at the same time I started to apply for higher educations. Long story short I moved to Sweden from Finland, to study video game design and three years later I had a Bachelor’s degree in game development.

My first real game project was as part of a team making touch screen games for kids aged 5-7 years, together with the World Culture Museum of Göteborg. I noticed pretty quickly that I found it extremely interesting to observe how these kids were playing our games and to adjust the game design accordingly to what seemed to resonate with the kids. I think my love for feedback-based game design started right there. After the project was successfully delivered I was headhunted as a community manager for an MMO company called “Junebud”. Looking back today I’m extremely humble the CEO, Ola Holmdahl, recognized my potential and decided to take me on board the company. Since the community for their new game MilMo was just starting up I had to figure out pretty much everything on my own. Ola told me at the start that I had the freedom to fuck up really hard three times during my time at Junebud. It may sound strange, but if I didn’t screw something up at least once he would know I wasn’t trying my best. This actually helped me grow into the role, and I managed to build a friendly, helping community around a free to play MMO, which is still an achievement I’m very proud of today.

After Junebud I decided to work for Paradox North, a studio within Paradox Interactive, based in Stockholm. Prior to leaving Junebud I had learned a lot about game analytics together with our producer/game analyst Irene Hjorth, which seemed to be the new “thing” everyone wanted to know about back in 2011/2012. Paradox was building their new metrics system and I was part of a new team defining KPIs and integrating the system for all future titles published by Paradox. I learned a lot at Paradox, got try try my hand at community management for Magicka and took part in the development of Paradox North’s first title Wizard Wars, but eventually realized Stockholm as a city was not where I wanted to live. So I quit my job, moved to Malmö and worked at Tarsier Studios on an unannounced project with Sony, as an associate producer.

After my contract ended at Tarsier I decided it was time for me to start something of my own, so I founded Casen Crowd: a community management company for the games industry.

What is it and what inspired its formation?
Casen Crowd is helping game developers interact with their players, with social media and community management. We help studios reach out to the players that love their games, and to make sure the players feel the developers are listening to the player’s hopes and concerns. We take care of the community management so that the developers actually got the time to craft new games!

During my career in video games I have come to understand that the part I like the best about working with games is the social side of game development. Things like community management, making metrics guided game design decisions or managing teams of developers! When making games I’m always thinking about the player. When doing community management it’s always about the player.

Not every player is going to understand your game, and a game for everyone is a game for no one, but I think it’s extremely important that you reality-check your design every now and then. That’s the beauty of game analytics; you get to see in plain numbers what’s working and what’s not. As a designer it’s very hard to defend having a blue start screen if your data shows 60% of players drop out of the game, compared to only 30% quitting if you show them a green start screen instead. I don’t work with analytics at Casen Crowd, but I see my my knowledge of analytics as a tool to understand the players, just like community management.

You have a varied and extensive background that includes producer credits to community management. What would you describe as your primary strength and how do you apply that to your new role?
I like to think that one of my strengths is my mixed background. I have done both hands on game design, community management, game analytics and project management. As a producer I take pride in making sure my team is able to produce the best possible game, and now at Casen Crowd I’m able to use pretty much everything I learned at my previous roles. I’ve never been a hardcore gamer, I’ve always enjoyed creating games more than actually playing them, which is something I see as a positive thing. Having a strong interest in nature, people and other media, I’m often able to bring something fresh to the table. I think that all backgrounds are needed in this industry if we want to continue to evolve what games are and how they impact society.

What do you look for in the teams and studios you work for?
Right now I look for teams that make something new and unique. I really feel I have had the best kind of clients so far; Mediocre and VisionPunk. Every time we meet I learn something new, and I feel that I’m able to add value to their business. Mediocre are making non-violent mobile games and have been tremendously successful in doing so. VisionPunk is the team behind the best selling asset Ultimate FPS in the Unity Asset Store. Working with stellar developers forces me to bring my A game to the projects.

You are a staunch advocate for the positive representation of women within the industry. Over the course of your career have you seen any positive developments in that area and if not what would you like to see done to improve things?
Thank you! The biggest change has been the debate itself. When I entered the games industry no one talked about the lack of women in this industry, the booth babes or how many male characters in games are power fantasies but female characters are more like sex dolls. I remember going to game events where it was perfectly normal to discuss business next to a topless, body painted model, or to get handed cookies by women in leather bikinis when entering professional lectures at developer events. Some events abroad still host the event parties at the city’s red light districts. Talking business at a BD/SM club just don’t feel professional to me. Thankfully both event organisations and developers are realizing this needs to change of we want to include more people in making games. If want society to give games the respect we crave and deserve.

I think it’s important that we apply a bigger picture approach when discussing to the lack of diversity in the games industry. We can’t just magically summon 50% women into game companies. You need to start with the kids. Studies show that boys and girls like science just as much in elementary school, but what is holding the girls back from pursuing a career in computer science are misconceptions saying things like “boys are better at computers”, “girls play games only to get attention from boys” and so on. If you want more diversity in this industry you need to encourage kids to follow their dreams, especially girls interested in games and computer science. I’m very happy my parents did!

As a woman, and especially a young one, you often need to prove other people wrong about your skills and abilities in this industry. You are rarely given the befit of the doubt, and as a result a lot of super skilled women quit doing games, tired of needing to over achieve to be taken as equally good as their male colleagues. Only the women who frankly don’t care what anyone thinks about them and the ones that develop a pretty tough skin carry on. With this said I feel the industry is moving in the right direction, becoming more diverse both in terms of gender and general background.

Are there any developers in the Nordic region you feel have an open approach to challenging cultural conventions?
Video games have a serious image problem. If you speak to people outside of the gaming industry, with people who never play games, a lot of them still think that games make kids violent and anti-social. I’m not sure how we can change this, but I think that when some game studios move beyond the classic definitions of games the rest of society will understand that there is more than Call of Warlock Battle Bro out there. There is a place for games like Call of Warlock Battle Bro as well, but I feel we need to broaden what games are in order to get the rest of society to see the value in games. I think that both Mojang, King and Mediocre have done something cool to prove that there is a big market for games based on non-violent themes, exploring and creating.

If you could impart a word of wisdom to anyone looking to be an aspiring game designer what would that be?
Game design is a very broad field. You need to find out what kind of design work you want to do. Do you like designing levels, or writing quests and story, tweak numbers, manage people or QA? The chances someone will hire you as pure game designer at the beginning of your career, are pretty low, unless you start your own company. Learn the basics of programming and become familiar with game engines like Unity or Unreal.

Who are the Nordic studios and individuals you look to for inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration in my clients! I also look to companies like Simogo, Coffee Stain Studios and a bunch of other studios. Many of the colleagues I had over the years have continued to inspire me long after we’ve gone separate ways. I feel very happy to be in an industry where you meet so many super talented individuals!

Casen Crowd
Sara on Twitter

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