Mary-Kaye FraserMary Kaye Fraser is the Head of Studio at Clipwire Games and 20 + year games industry veteran. MK started off in games as a game designer, having designed the touch controls for Tetris on mobile.

From there, MK went on to produce many games for some fairly large IPs. Now as Head of studio at Clipwire, MK oversees the company’s  strategic growth including production processes, product design, hiring and team structure, training and mentoring as well as business development. Her biggest joy at Clipwire is seeing the team thrive and grow; they are doing some incredible things together. In the last 18 months, the team has taken Bingo Story, which was Clipwire’s flagship title, and built it into one of the top grossing social casino games on mobile. As a result, App Annie named Clipwire as the #2 Top Publisher Headquartered in Canada.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am currently the Head of Studio at Clipwire Games, a mobile gaming studio based in Toronto. My role primarily involves overseeing studio expansion –  from hiring and organizational changes — as well as elements of business development, including product and licensing.

I have over 20 years of experience creating multiple original and licensed multi-million-dollar games, leading large scale productions and building studio processes. In my career I have shipped over 20 games, with a combined revenue over $1 billion, including some of the biggest franchises in video games: Tetris, Fight Night Champion, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train your Dragon and many Disney titles.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, and my career has definitely evolved and progressed through time. I had initially planned to go to law school but I had a love for design so ended up in advertising instead. One thing led to another and I ended up writing a game for Cosmopolitan magazine back in 1998, which in turn led to me working on several Disney games. I’ve always loved creating an immersive experience through art and storytelling, so making games was a very natural progression.

As my career advanced, I realized that part of my love of design also encompassed a certain satisfaction in being able to create something marvellous while honoring project limitations. Honing in on this creativity ultimately led me to produce games.

As I began to work on larger and larger intellectual properties (IPs), I began to build confidence in pitching my ideas and discovered how much I enjoyed it and exploring new ideas with others.

Being able to communicate creative concepts was a breakthrough moment for me after growing up as a shy kid. This unlocked the biggest driver for me in my career: collaboration. For me, there is no bigger prize than the process of collaborating.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I joined Clipwire 20 months ago, we were just eight or nine people with a handful of games that were performing quite well considering our size. Because we were a small team, everyone needed to be scrappy and wear many hats to make a startup game studio work. In the beginning, it was challenging to figure out who wanted to do what, identifying potential growth opportunities l and then align everyone to new processes and methodologies.

It was also challenging to pace myself in this environment — there were a lot of changes I wanted to propose, but didn’t want to overwhelm the team with too much at once.

Scaling the business has been a delicate dance to balance where we are now, the means we used to get here and recognizing where we could all be tomorrow because the way to growth is not always obvious. Because I started my career as a designer, I learned that limitations are often the precursors of innovation — which has proven to be a very useful guidance system even while “designing” growth.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished at Clipwire Games. Take our leading game Bingo Story — in just 18 months, we’ve taken it from a game that performs well to a top grossing title.

There are a lot of reasons that can be attributed to this growth, but none of it could have happened without our incredible team culture and growth mindset. Our ability to maintain a great culture while scaling at such a fast pace is different to any other gaming company I’ve been at.

One of our core values is a willingness to try things and fail, and that principle applies to all levels of our organization — from executives to employees who join us straight out of school — and is a key factor in almost every decision we make.

Can you tell us about any exciting projects that you have worked on recently with the Clipwire team? 

We recently signed a deal with Fremantle Media to run a limited time event based on their classic TV show, The Price is Right inside our hit game Bingo Story to take the player experience to the next level.

It’s been such a fun adventure and learning experience for the whole team. We have worked with Fremantle Media on everything from the design to event and game concept to prizes and more. So far, we’ve had positive feedback from our players and the integration event has been great so far –hopefully one we can replicate again. If you haven’t tried out Bingo Story, this event with The Price is Right is only available for a limited time!

What was it like working with such a high-profile IP as The Price is Right? What challenges and advantages did it bring?

The core of our strategy in this partnership was to offer a fresh, new experience for Bingo Story’s wonderful players. We knew there was an overlap in the core demographic of our game and The Price is Right, combined with a pandemic spurred nostalgia for games shows, it seemed like a good idea to try it.

A lot of our team has never worked with a licensor before, so it was a fun experience for them to participate in discussions with Fremantle about The Price is Right event.

It’s always fun to work on an IP when there is a good alignment with the game’s mechanics and demographic, so putting The Price is Rightinto our top grossing game Bingo Story was a natural fit. Most of the team grew up watching The Price is Right, as I did, and so there was also an element of delight when we saw the game scenes and heard the music in the game build. 

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Because I am a natural designer and can distill varied information into workable systems, I have a tendency to synthesize new experiences from emergent technology or procedures — which has driven many of my career choices. In that regard, I have unconsciously “followed my bliss” because I find so much joy in the process of designing almost anything. I’ve often ended up working on games that were on the cutting edge of technology or had game mechanics that solved problems in different ways.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Try, fail, and try again but don’t be afraid to move onto something else if you find that your gifts or opportunities lie elsewhere.  Sometimes pivoting is more strategic than continuing on the same path.

Appreciate what you have and do your honest best in this present moment. We spend our lives chasing the future but in the end there isn’t and never will be anything this moment right now — better enjoy it!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I do think there are still barriers to women thriving in tech but they may not always be obvious. In most cases, the barriers are rather subtle and perhaps unconscious beliefs that people are all working through. One way to overcome this is to know yourself well and use your own internal guidance system as your primary compass because you know what is best for yourself. Find a mentor who believes in your potential and pushes you to expand your ability and step out of your comfort zone.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Continue to build diverse teams. Clipwire has fostered a great culture of collaboration and worked to eliminate the glass ceiling for all employees, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity.

We need to engage in active listening at all levels and find new ways to open up to new ideas, no matter where they come from. Encourage employees to speak up, hear them and then collaborate. That not only helps women grow tech careers, but it also helps tech companies understand 50% of the human population better.

Allow for the possibility that there is more than one road to a great idea. Some people are lateral thinkers, some are more cartesian — give people the space to unpack and share their creativity, insight and inspiration.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Make sure that women’s voices are heard and given equal weight in discussions. Women and men might cognitively differ in how they approach problem solving, but female voices are sometimes not heard or considered seriously. The important thing is that these issues are discussed and that we continue to make leaders aware of unconscious bias.

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