Women’s History month may be drawing to a close, but we’re not ready to quite celebrating just yet. As part of the Women of Power event, Marvel’s Contest of Champions is introducing Ms. Marval, Kamala Kahn, as a new playable character.
But Contest of Champions developer, Kabam, isn’t keeping the Women of Power celebration contained to the game world. They provided ComicBook.com with an opportunity to chat with Contest of Champions executive producer Melany Hamill. Hamill has been at Kabam Games for three years, and moved quickly through the ranks, from Project Manager/Producer to Executive Producer on Contest of Champions. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of British Columbia, and leads a large, mostly male team of 80 people.
Hamill spoke to us about the in-game Women of Power celebration, her favorite Marvel heroines, working with Chloe Bennet from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,and what it’s like being a woman leader in a majority male industry and studio.
Can you tell me a bit about how Contest of Champions is celebrating Women’s History month, and why you felt it was important to do so within the game?
MH: When Marvel told us they were working on a special lineup for their “Women of Power” program, we were excited to get on board. Role models matter, but role models aren’t effective if you can’t see them. This event is about putting these characters front and center, whether on comics covers or in our game. These characters kick as much butt as their male counterparts, but don’t always get as much of the spotlight. I hope the “Women of Power” program sends a message that women shouldn’t take a back seat.
Being a Marvel game, Contest of Champions has access to some of the most iconic female characters in popular culture. Who are some of your favorites, and what do you think makes them such great characters?
MH: Storm is one of my all-time favorites. Her powers are visually very dramatic, and her costume and look is so striking. When she is on a page she’s not just standing around. Instead, lightning is flying, wind is blowing. You definitely can’t miss her. We really wanted to capture that in the game, and she was one of the first women heroes we added.
I also really love All New Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. The writing is really fresh, and there’s a sense of humor with her powers. It’s really fun to see her bubbly teenage attitude in the game alongside super serious villains like Kang. Just because you’re saving the multiverse, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, right?
I understand you’re working with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. STAR Chloe Bennet on an in game event. What’s it been like working with Bennet on Contest of Champions? Have you been keeping up with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and if so, how have you felt watching Skye’s development into the team leader Daisy Johnson?
MH: Chloe Bennet was super cool! We loved working with her on her in-game event, “Chloe’s Warriors of Awesomeness.” She picked a strong, well-balanced team that our players got a chance to battle. We recently announced that Quake, inspired by Chloe’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. character, will be joining Marvel Contest of Champions this fall!
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is a great example of Women of Power, it’s fantastic to see strong females leads kicking butt every episode. Daisy's story arc has been really empowering and fulfilling. Going from a loner seeking her place in the world, to finding her family and discovering the power within her that she didn't know she had. Now she's recruiting Inhumans and becoming a strong leader within S.H.I.E.L.D. – she just rocks. I love seeing this kind of character come into their own and prove how strong they are.
Chemical Engineering doesn’t immediately jump out as a degree that lends itself to games development. How did you make your way into the industry? How did you eventually find your way to Kabam?
MH: I always loved taking things apart to figure out how they work. That led me to study engineering. I suppose some lucky people get into making games right out of school, but it took me a while to realize that my hobby (playing games) can actually be a real grown-up job. Once that clicked for me, I just started trying to break in however I could. I started talking to anyone who knew anyone who worked in the industry, went to industry events, read everything I could about how games are made. Eventually I got my first break, and one thing led to another. I came to Kabam because I was excited about mobile games.
As I’m sure you know, there have been a lot of stories lately concerning the challenges women face in the tech and games industries. Here you stand, as a leader of a large, mostly male mobile team. What has your experience been working in the field? How have you overcome whatever challenges you’ve faced?
MH: Growing up as a girl who liked video games, computers, and comic books means I’m not a stranger to mostly-male communities. At one point in my career, I was the only female employee in an office of over 40. They were a great bunch of guys to work with, but there is a certain anxiety that exists when you’re looking around a room, playing “One of these things is not like the other” and the answer is YOU. I’ve learned it’s important to pick your battles—harping over every minor infraction or slightly off-color joke is going to drain your energy. But it’s also important to know your own boundaries and when you see something really unfair going on, then call it out firmly and stick to your guns.
What do you think are some things the games and tech industries could do or do better to help make them more inviting and welcoming to women?
MH: For one thing, they can remember that women are tech consumers. Women make up half of mobile gamers, but many companies still consider women as a niche market. That point of view sends a message to employees that women don’t matter.
Take a second look at resumes of women who’ve done a second degree, or who are trying to make a lateral move across disciplines. Since girls aren’t always given the same opportunities or encouragement to explore STEM subjects when they are younger, they sometimes don’t realize it’s their passion until later in their education or career. When someone is trying to make a shift in careers, it can mean they are on a path to find their true calling. A candidate with the courage and passion to make that kind of change might have assets that compensate for what they are lacking in their resume.
What advice would you offer other women looking to break into the field?
MH: Put yourself out there. Look for meet ups, game jams and conferences to build your network. If there’s nothing in your area, get online or start one yourself. If you’re trying to make a lateral move, do your research on the games market, and make sure you can speak to how your skills can map to this business.