As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we caught up with Owlchemy Labs Marketing Director and Protector of the Brand™ Autumn Taylor.
How did you get your start in the tech industry?
Autumn Taylor: While in university, I joined the student game development club and turned my lifelong hobby of playing video games into actually making them. Even so, I was a public relations major and didn’t seriously consider a career in games until experiencing virtual reality. My hobby turned into an obsession once I got my hands on an Oculus DK2, and I jumped on every single opportunity to try more VR. As a college senior in 2015, I went to a local VR Austin event and networked with every company there, landing a marketing gig with Phaser Lock Interactive that set me on the path of working on VR games. Getting into the industry just as consumer headsets were beginning to hit the market was an experience I’ll never forget—we’ve come so far since then! I later joined Owlchemy Labs in 2017 and have since continued my journey into the wild world of VR. Onward!
Tell us about your current role.
AT: At Owlchemy Labs, we’re known for our absurd and highly polished VR games—titles such as Job Simulator, Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, and our latest game, Vacation Simulator. As Marketing Director and Protector of the Brand™ (we have fun with our titles), I wear lots of hats managing everything from marketing and PR efforts for our games to community management and event planning, to name a few. On any given day, I could be drafting copy for our social media channels, reaching out to press and influencers, or hopping in and out of a headset to film gameplay content and capture screenshots.
It’s a unique challenge to think of ways to showcase our games to fans and potential customers, because so many experiences in VR don’t necessarily translate to a still image. Especially since we encourage chaos and silliness in our games, it’s a bit of an art (and a workout) to create marketing materials that convey the sense of action and movement we want our players to experience. What I love most about my role at Owlchemy is the spirit of experimentation we carry into everything—marketing included! It’s relatively new technology, and we’re still figuring out the best ways to share VR with others to not only showcase our games but the potential of the medium as a whole.
Who’s your favorite figure from women’s history?
AT: Naoko Takeuchi is an artist whose work is so important to me, as an individual and as a creative! Sailor Moon is one of the most popular pieces of media of all time, and the themes of friendship and authenticity have always spoken to me. When I was younger, I loved the beautiful animation and drawings, but as I got older Sailor Moon became even more important to me as a piece of media combining my love of geek culture and anime with fashion. Overall the characters and gorgeous world Takeuchi created have made a lasting impact on popular culture and empowered generations of young women. Sailor Moon fights for love and justice! Who doesn’t love that?
How do you see yourself making history?
AT: The Owlchemy motto of making “VR for everyone” is one I hold near and dear to my heart. I’ve given countless VR demos by now, many where the person playing is experiencing VR for the first time. I want to continue to help make experiences that are accessible and inviting to everyone. That extends past design to include marketing and the way we invite people to try VR who might not consider themselves tech-savvy or a “gamer.” I’d like to think I’m already making an impact on the future of the industry by doing my best to invite as many people as possible to experience VR and by making this space inclusive and accessible. We’re all writing the history of this medium... right now!
If you could give one piece of advice to a young girl considering a career in tech or the arts, what would it be and why?
AT: Be unabashedly you, and don’t be afraid to experiment with your interests outside of tech. Today, technology overlaps with virtually every industry that exists. The experiences and interests that are unique to you as a person influence your work and can give you a perspective that nobody else has. I love yoga. I do yoga in our studio. Our design team ended up asking for my help with yoga in Vacation Simulator. I should probably add “yoga consultant” to my resume, but the message here is that you never know when your experiences could be relevant to your work. “Working in tech” can mean so many things, so what does it mean to you? The most successful people I meet in the industry are often the ones who tap into their passions.
Where have you encountered support and advocacy for women and other underrepresented groups in the VR industry?
AT: Since attending my first VR Austin event in 2015, I’ve since joined the organizer team and help wrangle our local community events. I’m particularly proud of the support I’ve found in our local developer community, where we take diversity and inclusion seriously and enforce a code of conduct at our events to make sure everyone feels safe and welcome. In addition to the local community, I’ve also found a great deal of support and advocacy for women and underrepresented groups online. The VR community as a whole is very supportive of one another—you can’t scroll far on Twitter without finding a thread where someone is tagging creators they admire and signal boosting their work.
What concrete steps can people take to help make the tech industry a more inclusive and welcoming space?
AT: My main message would be to studio heads and managers of teams working in the industry—be proactive in your approach to inclusion in your organization. Remove jargon and gendered language from your job listings, and get feedback on them. Assess where you could make improvements in your hiring pipeline to recruit a diverse applicant pool and remove bias from the process. Have your managers go through diversity and inclusion training, and speak up and correct any inappropriate behavior in real time. Actively engage your female employees to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization. A proactive approach goes a long way and sets an example from leadership that inclusivity is important to the company.
How do you go about designing games for a diverse audience?
AT: Testing, testing, testing. When designing our avatar creator in Vacation Simulator, we hired consultants and diversity experts to help us create accurate and diverse hairstyles and skin tones. We tested extensively and got tons of feedback to make sure players could express who they are in our game and feel like themselves. Similarly, we bring in a diverse range of playtesters during development to make our games as accessible as possible. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and levels of able-bodiedness, so we have to account for this when we design interactions and layouts. We want everyone to have an amazing experience when they play. After all, VR is for everyone!
What’s your favorite piece of AR/VR content and why?
AT: Oh, there are so many! I am particularly fond of Virtual Virtual Reality from Tender Claws—the humor is so spot on, and I’m a big fan of the interaction design and accessibility of the title. When we were designing our subtitles for Vacation Simulator, the work Tender Claws did with their subtitles in VVR was an example we used for inspiration, and talking to the team over there, you can really tell that accessibility is an important design consideration for them!
Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
AT: With the industry changing and evolving constantly, it’s hard to say! I see myself continuing to help build VR for everyone and share this wonderful technology with more people. Additionally, I have a long-term goal to help make VR and game development more accessible to underprivileged young women who are interested in the technology. I come from a rural town where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to pursue an interest in tech, and I would love to one day create a program and/or scholarship to help others make their dreams a reality.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
AT: Every person who puts on a headset is a part of building the history of VR right now. It’s just the beginning. Go share VR with someone you know today! You, yes, you! Do it!