Interview: Mavis Chan, Director of Product on Sims FreePlay IRL
Your Sim may be living the life you’ve always dreamed of, but your real life can be as good as your digital one, too.
The Sims, published by EA Games first hit the market at the turn of the millennia, just as computer gaming was really hitting its stride. Actually, The Sims come from an even older video game, SimCity, which dates back to the late 1980s.
Players can create their own little world, filled with little people that they get to control. Will they buy a house? Have a family? Mow the lawn today? The Sims grew exponentially over the past two decades, and in 2012, EA Mobile launched a mobile version of the game on iPhone and Android. It was a big hit and is still played by fans of The Sims everywhere.
Mavis Chan, Product Director at EA Games started with the company as Senior Product Manager on Sims FreePlay, and has been helping shapes its success for the past six years.
I was able to interview Chan via email to talk about her role and career with EA Games, and her experience as a woman in the gaming industry.
With a Bachelor of Business Management, you moved into the gaming industry fairly early on in your career with Ubisoft Singapore. Why did you decide to move into gaming?
I was lucky enough to intern at Ubisoft where I discovered that my business skills could be applied to games in a variety of interesting ways. This was around the time when the industry started to use data more and was innovating in new business models like free-to-play. Also, the typical path for business school grads then was banking, but I wasn’t too keen on that.
Have you always been interested in games? Do you consider yourself a gamer?
Yes, when my Dad got us our first PC, he also kept buying new games for us to try… and subsequently got upset when we wouldn’t stop playing them. My two brothers and I also hung out with our elder twin cousins who had a sweet LAN setup for Counter-Strike and other hit games of that era. Yes, I play games for leisure and social bonding, so I’d consider myself a gamer. It just so happens that The Sims has always been one of my all-time favorite games so it’s pretty cool that I get to work on such a special brand.
What would you say is your most important task working as the product director for Sims FreePlay?
We want to continue forging a path that’s exciting for both our players and our dev team.
It is to give a clear product direction and vision that gives the team freedom and opportunities to collaborate on a solid plan of getting there. With the many years of live service on The Sims FreePlay, we want to continue forging a path that’s exciting for both our players and our dev team.
Do you see a positive shift in the way consumers feel about free-to-play games as compared to, say, 10 years ago? Are mobile gamers more accepting of this style of gaming than in years past?
Yes, players are more accepting of free-to-play games. This is due to two main reasons. One is simply time — we now have an entire generation of players who started their gaming journey on free-to-play games. For them, free-to-play is the norm for games. The Sims FreePlay has been around for more than 8 years. Our younger players would have spent a large chunk of their childhood/teenage years with us. Two, free-to-play game design has evolved over time to offer more value to a wider audience. Players are more experienced and educated in free-to-play games and can appreciate that lots of free-to-play games are simply really good games. We want to put our game into as many hands as possible.
As a woman with a career in the gaming industry, do you recall any time when you felt your gender was a roadblock to your growth?
No. I’ve been fortunate to have had good managers and work environments where gender hasn’t hampered my growth. EA is absolutely committed to supporting women in our organization and is highly engaged in growing our diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Do you feel there has been a shift in how women are represented in the gaming industry? Are there more women making games and participating in technology?
There seems to be more voices out there that are either broadcasting more or being featured more. However, I still wish that there were even more women interested in making a career in games, even though we’re doing the right things to encourage that. For technology in general, I attended Grace Hopper last year and it was incredible to see so many tech giants and huge companies out to recruit, and the large numbers of young female talent out there to land their new gigs.
I’ve always wanted to get more women interested in leadership roles.
On a personal side-note, I’ve always wanted to get more women interested in leadership roles in the strategy, product, and business space. I’m still working on how to inspire more interest. So far, I’ve tried to be more available by taking the time to attend and speak at industry events, and within EA Firemonkeys, advocate and invest in growing our talent.
Following up on the question above, do you think there is more diversity in the way women are represented digitally (how they are portrayed and utilized in games)?
Yes, there’s been more change there. There are more women protagonists and more diversity in the types of women we see or get to play as. In The Sims FreePlay, careers, professions, and hobbies are all gender-neutral and Sims get equal pay with the same ability to progress. The team on The Sims FreePlay – many of whom are women – combine their talent and creativity to design and bring to life unique content and building features that empower players to write their own stories and express their creativity, both in the mobile game and in real life. Players can create Sims that reflect who they are or who they want to be — their dream house builds, aspirational career, families, and relationships.
It’s really cool that we get to contribute every day to more diversity in games and it’s inspiring to see the many different ways our players engage with our game.
** If you could go back in time and give yourself one bit of advice as you were getting started, what would it be?**
Work is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure to invest in your health and personal life as that will give you the energy to keep going.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
For girls and young women today looking to get started in the gaming industry, what would you say to them?
Find out what you’re really good at and how you can use those skills to help make games. (This applies to non-traditional dev roles like analytics, product management, marketing, etc.)
Also, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You might not have the experience yet, but a great attitude towards learning, and some special skills, will mean that you’ll stand a high chance of finding a place in the industry.