Tricia Gray is the CEO and cofounder of Our Machinery, an engine company which creates tools developers need to build games. With more than two decades of experience in the industry, she started as a video game tester at Sega when she was 17. She has a wealth of experience in analytics, PR, managing teams, and marketing game engines, having promoted popular engines such as Unity, Unreal, StingRay, Project Anarchy, SpriteBuilder, and Lumberyard. Notably, she served as the director of marketing for Cryptic Studios; the president of Freeform Communications; the marketing communications director for Unity Technologies; and the head of marketing in games services at Amazon.
Ms. Gray graciously agreed to a 30-minute interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
[OnlineEducation.com] How did you initially get into video games, and do you consider yourself a gamer?
[Ms. Gray] Yes, actually I’m an avid gamer! My dad got an Amiga and the Commodore 64, so my older brother and I just started playing these really simple games. We got an Atari shortly after that. My dad also put me in Computer Club after school, so I learned how to do basic programming on Apple II’s when I was around ten. I continued for a couple years, then I kind of fell off, but we always had all the gaming systems like the Nintendo and a PC, so I was constantly playing video games. My dad emancipated me when I was 15, and my two brothers and I aren’t very close; honestly, the only time I felt close to my family was whenever we were playing board games or video games.
I moved to San Francisco right around the time I was 17, and I graduated from high school early. I was on my own and just trying to figure out what I should do with my life, and how to get into college.
I started working at this virtual reality arcade where I met these two people that were producing a TV show in San Francisco called Video Game Slam. They offered me a hosting position as the RPG expert, so I reviewed all the RPG games for them. Through that, I got into the community of the games industry. They all worked at Sony and Sega, so my first video game job was actually when I was 17 working as a tester at Sega. It was pretty nice because I was either going to be a club promoter, work in video games, or maybe become a pro-skater.
I was a really great student, and I loved computer science and biology. I wanted to get into that, but I just had no money, and didn’t know how to get into school because I was working all the time. That was my reality. I think it was easier for me to be a professional skateboarder than to graduate from college.
[OnlineEducation.com] Those are all typically male-dominated professions and industries, too. How do you think those dynamics have changed over the years? When you were first getting into it, was it a problem that you were a female game tester at all?
[Ms. Gray] I think honestly it helped a lot because I’m very knowledgeable about video games. I think they needed to have more women and they were really excited at the time because this was in like 1995; in my test group, there were only three or four other women and maybe one female producer that I had met. For the most part, it’s been a male-dominated industry. I felt weird because all the stuff that happened with Zoe Quinn and Gamergate—this stuff happened to us back in the day all the time, but it was just about getting straight up harassed by people face-to-face. Because we didn’t have social media, people kind of tackled that stuff head-on with the other person, and it was a lot easier to identify who was doing the harassing or bullying. I really felt like there was a sense of camaraderie and acceptance in a way, but I also was very much sexually harassed in every job I’ve ever had in some shape or form.
[OnlineEducation.com] I want to hear a little bit about your current endeavors with Our Machinery. What does your company make?
[Ms. Gray] Our Machinery is a tech company. We’re building a tool for developers to build stuff. I haven’t announced exactly what we’re doing yet; we’ll probably do an announcement later on this year. The last eight years of my life has been doing game engines. I moved over from B2B—business to consumer products—which is like doing marketing and PR for video games for consumers. Now I’m targeting developers with game engines.
The first company I worked with was Unity, which was unknown back then. I can probably say that I was one of the first marketing people who worked for them and got them off the ground with PR and events. After that, I was doing consulting for several engines. One was Unreal Engine. I also worked with Unigene.
One client that I had was based in Stockholm called BitSquid—they were actually my favorite client—and I absolutely adored the team that they had, their philosophy on life, how they treated women, and how they were treating me as their consultant. I worked really, really well with these guys. They got bought out by Autodesk shortly after I started working with them, and we kind of became friends. Over the years, I would give them a friendly poke and say, “Hey, I miss working with you guys.” We’d hang out at GDC, and they hooked me up with a client, Fatshark, when I started doing video game PR marketing again. So I would come out to visit them a lot to visit, and I’d always hang out with Tobias and Niklas. Every time I saw those guys, I would just be like, “We should just all get the band back together!” One GDC, I was just adamant. We were all having beers, and Tobias was just like, “Fine, we should just start working together again.”
They were the principal engineers, I believe, on the engine side for GRIN, which was a Swedish company that made video games. Tobias said, “Well, I can’t do it without Niklas,” and we founded Our Machinery this year in April; it’s just the three of us right now. Tobias and Niklas are co-CTOs, and they’ve been building out all the tools from scratch and we’re just kind of in our R&D phase right now; we’re seeing where the holes are for developers to help them build games faster and easier. I’m hoping we’ll announce later on this year and we can get more people on our data just to test the tech that we’re going to be building. I’m pretty excited about it.
[OnlineEducation.com] Early on in your career, who were your greatest mentors?
[Ms. Gray] There’s a guy named Steve Martin, who’s founder of Nasty Little Man PR. He did PR for the Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, and Arcade Fire. I had hired him at my agency when I worked at Rockstar. I took a job with Take-Two, and we were going to launch this new console brand, which was going to be very mature for the masses, and we were going to get video games out of the closet, so to speak. So I’d hired him because I didn’t want to work with any video game people; I wanted to work with a PR agency that was more eclectic.
He used to be a guitarist in Agnostic Front, which was this punk band, and he told me his story and how he was just like, “I wasn’t going to let the record companies tell me what to do. I just wanted to protect these bands so I started my own firm, and that’s where I am right now.” I liked the way he treated his employees. He’s such a great boss and a joy to work with. I was just like, “I want to be like that. I want to be a really, really fair person and protect developers.”
One thing that annoys me is when people say, “I tolerate working with women,” or, “I tolerate working with black people,” or, “I tolerate working with Muslims,” and I’m like…
[OnlineEducation.com] Do people say that?
[Ms. Gray] Yeah, I hear people say that all the time! It’s crazy. I don’t want somebody to “tolerate me” because I’m an Asian-American or a woman; I want them to accept the fact that I’m an Asian-American woman and then go beyond that because we’re all human beings trying to do something wonderful.
I want people to be treated with respect, and I want to recognize you for who you are. If you’re trans, if you’re gay, if you’re straight, if you’re white, whatever the case is…I don’t want to erase the color of people or their gender…
[OnlineEducation.com] The more authentic, genuine approach to recognizing that, yeah, we have these differences, but that doesn’t make me a less valuable member of the team. You mentioned your two business partners are men. Why do you think that women are so underrepresented in the video game industry and especially in leadership?
[Ms. Gray] I think it starts when you’re a kid. I have two brothers, and I’m the middle child. I’m the only girl in the family, and they just constantly harassed me and bullied me my whole life. I had one of these things where I just wanted to fight; if I wanted to do something, I wasn’t going to let my brothers pull me down because they’re dudes. My parents…well, they had favoritism for my brothers over me, and it always made me feel bad for being a girl. I remember one time my dad said something like, “When you get older, we’re going to have to buy you maxi pads, and you’re going to be so expensive.” When we would go out to restaurants, they would always make me order the cheapest thing on the menu and only get water. Lots of stuff like that; it just made me feel bad about being a girl.
I read on Twitter about this clown trying to put a butterfly on a boy’s face; his parents freaked out because it wasn’t not masculine enough, and I think that sends the wrong signal. If the little boy wants a butterfly on his face, why does that ruin your masculinity? That has nothing to do with masculinity. I think we’re pitted against each other really young because of this.
My high school was actually pretty good about not favoring one sex over the other, and we did have a lot of girls in computer science, but it kind of falls off and people go into different directions. I just watched Hidden Figures and I cried through the whole thing. Why weren’t these people in my history books?
I don’t see this a lot in Sweden, which is what I really like about working with my partners; it’s very equal opportunity over there. Here, I feel like people just throw you in your gender category and expect you to stay there. You really have to fight and find connections with people that will pull you out of that. It breaks my heart. I know when Michelle Obama was doing the whole program to encourage young women in STEM, and they’re not really doing that anymore in the current administration, which really bums me out because we’ve got to get girls excited.
[OnlineEducation.com] Specifically in video games, how these dynamics play out?
[Ms. Gray] I never felt like I was threatened or that I wasn’t on equal footing, but I would find out someone was making more money than I was, and that started to show up. I think that people were really careful to not have that gender divide in bigger companies, but then I just kept seeing all these boys clubs. People would take my ideas. I’d be like, “Okay, I have this really great idea, and I want to talk to the CEO about it.” and they would be like, “That’s awesome, let’s do it,” and he would take it to the board, and then all of a sudden gives my project away to another dude. Then, I’d confront him and he’d tell me, “Oh, that guy says that you don’t know how to do any contracting.” All I do is contracting!
When it came time for the money, promotions, or getting projects done, you could see it blazing in your face: you are not part of this boys’ club. And I’ve been trying my whole entire career. I’m 40 now, and I’ve been working since I was 17 in the industry; last year, I was just like, “I’ve got to start my own company with people that are going to respect me as a woman because I’m sick of running up against this boys’ club mentality.”
[OnlineEducation.com] I know you have an unusual career trajectory because you’ve been working since you were 17 in games, but what’s your advice for women who are aspiring either to start their own companies or work in games in general?
[Ms. Gray] My first thing is have your girls’ backs! That’s the one thing that annoys me, where I start working with a woman and she gets really, really defensive, and they’re like, “I want to be the only girl in the room, and I’m going to try and throw you under the bus.” I just think we need to stick together. You kind of need to stick together and then you can fight together.
The other thing is don’t be silent! You can’t be complacent. If something fucked up is going on, you’ve got to speak up and say something. When I was younger, I kind of let stuff happen to me, and I didn’t want to make a big deal about it because I felt bad about being a girl. Now, I’m a total loudmouth. If something is wrong, I will fight tooth and nail for stuff to get fixed, whether it’s with me or somebody in the company, an idea that we all had, or whatever the case is. So I implore other women: if you see something wrong that’s happening, speak up, put the paper trail together, get all of the data that helps you prove your point, and don’t let anybody push you around. That’s how they win.
[OnlineEducation.com] And so many people have been silent, either paid off with settlements behind closed doors or otherwise threatened…
[Ms. Gray] Yes, and that is so crazy. At one point, I got really worried because I have a kid now, and I don’t want to get in the middle of this, but then I thought: this is bullshit. I’ve been fighting my whole career so that my daughter doesn’t have to deal with this kind of crap when she gets older. You’ve got to speak up. You’ve got to say something.
Also, I wrote a blog post about about why it’s important for people to hire diversely. Every place I’ve worked, hiring managers have a tendency to hire the same person they are. People need to know that diversity isn’t a scary thing; it’s actually really beautiful, helping people solve problems and see different perspectives, and really makes a company flourish.