Video visionary at the top of her game

05 Jun 2014

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From humble beginnings in Sydney’s Campbelltown, Siobhan Reddy has climbed to the pinnacle of the video games industry and at 33 was named alongside the Queen as one of Britain’s 100 most powerful women. She’s now on a mission to inspire more women into gaming careers.
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“I am stubborn, feisty and have very thick skin”, is how Siobhan Reddy describes herself in a 2012 article for Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. She seems embarrassed when I bring it up (“this quote has been following me around!”), but it goes some way towards explaining how a self-labeled “geek” from South-West Sydney was able to climb to the top of the male-dominated video game industry and, in 2013, become one of the BBC’s top 100 most powerful women in Britain, alongside the Queen, JK Rowling, Adele and Victoria Beckham.

Reddy, studio director of London-based video game developer Media Molecule, says she’s still trying to figure out how she was nominated, but that was just the start of a whirlwind year for Reddy, capped off in September when she was inducted into the European Women in Games Hall of Fame. In March she received the Qantas Australian Woman of the Year in the UK Award, beating out 30 other nominees.  

“I have had a really spectacular year,” says Reddy, 35. “It’s all made me feel I should work harder to actually deserve it all! I have got a real kick out of it but we have been busy shipping a game too so that has taken most of my focus.”

That unwavering work ethic led Media Molecule to quickly rack up the accolades, including studio of the year in 2008 following the release of debut title LittleBigPlanet for the PlayStation 3, which sold millions of copies and received an average rating of 95 per cent from critics out of 85 reviews aggregated by metacritic.com. LittleBigPlanet 2, released in 2011 after Media Molecule had been acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment. Reddy’s, newest title, Tearaway for the PlayStation Vita, also attracted rave reviews, and won best handheld game at the E3 2013 video game festival.  

But while Reddy and her team are busy working on a new unannounced title for the PlayStation 4, she has a new focus: encouraging more young women to take up careers in the video game industry. Research by British Academy of Film and Television Arts found that just four per cent of young women aged 16-24 were pursuing study or work related to games, compared with 18 per cent of their male peers.

“I was shocked at how young women were being put off working with games or even aspiring to working in such an amazing field,” says Reddy. “I realised that for a long time within my career I haven’t done very much in the way of encouraging young women to get into games.” Reddy admits the recognition and recent accolades have now spurred her to put herself forward as a mentor and role model for young people. “I can’t just continuously stand on the shoulders of others, I have to do that for other people now,” she says.  

And that brings its own rewards. “Hearing that you can inspire someone - there’s nothing like it, it’s heart-warming.” 

Reddy has come a long way from St Thomas More Catholic Parish Primary School where even then she “looked outside the square”, one of her teachers has said. At Macarthur Anglican High School she listened to punk music and made short films. She credits teachers at the school for encouraging her creativity and though she moved to London at 18, Reddy says her upbringing in Australia influenced her “massively”. 

“Sydney was a great city to be near to growing up, and I spent a lot of time as a teenager in the city going to all age gigs, art shows, watching films,” she says. “The long history of Australia is vast and fascinating and the landscape of Australia is so beautiful - it’s an inspiring country.”

Reddy says Australians bring to the video game industry not just a great sense of humour and solid work ethic but a worldliness and a playfulness that makes them great storytellers. “There’s an ability to take creative risks which is what I really like about working with Australians.” 

The video game industry is undergoing major change with the rise of game apps on smartphones and tablets. While apps expose new audiences to games they are also stealing people’s attention away from the types of blockbuster story-driven titles created by studios like Media Molecule for traditional games consoles. Numerous games studios in Australia and Britain have had to close down. Reddy is unfazed.  

“There are more people playing games now than ever before ... things change, we evolve - it’s not always easy but that’s what I think we all secretly love.”

There’s that “thick skin” on full display, which should leave Reddy well equipped to take on the next quest in her video game odyssey. “I have had to learn to hold my own and roll with the punches, but also enjoy the good times that come when we ship something awesome!”