Leanne Bayley wasn’t sure which would enter the world first: Her game, Glyph Quest, or her first child. Just one month after leaving her job as creative producer at Plymouth, UK’s Remode Studio so that she could relocate to be with her partner, fellow developer Alex Trowers, she learned she was pregnant.
What had been a relatively easy decision — Brighton is a hub for game development in the UK and she expected she’d be able to find work nearer to her partner, or at least commute to London or Guildford — had suddenly become complicated. Her pregnancy “pretty much mothballed” her chances for getting work in the game development industry, Bayley says.
“After that, the only replies to job adverts I had applied to, or even agencies I had sent my CV to, was that I would be kept in mind for future opportunities or to come back when I could return to work,” she says. The implicit expectation is that game development should involve long office hours and crunch periods, and employers presumed an expecting mother wouldn’t be up to it.
But games have long been Bayley’s first love. Even before joining Remode, where she released six games, got involved in jams, and had the opportunity to wear many hats as a producer as a small studio, she worked as closely to the industry as she could, studying 3D computer visualization and animation at Bournemouth University and working as a store manager for GAME and Gamestation stores.
So rather than enjoy an unplanned, extended maternity leave, she decided to work on her own games, and plan a portfolio that would be ready for her return to work. When her partner lost his own job at Boss Alien, though, there was no other choice for the game-developing parents-to-be: “We decided to take fate into our own hands and go indie together,” Bayley says.
“I wasn’t going to let getting pregnant end my career in games development after I had really just started,” she adds. “I just didn’t expect to have to go independent to keep doing what I love.”
The couple’s spare-time project became “plan A,” she says: Glyph Quest, a puzzle game for iOS featuring her art and his programming. It hasn’t been easy — there’ve been hospital trips at 3 a.m., backaches, pre-natal depression, and working close to the kitchen fridge in a tiny flat, but the game is on its way. [UPDATE: No baby as of press time, but Glyph Quest has launched on iOS, with an Android version to come].
“I couldn’t get a job when I was looking, I wasn’t desirable at the time, so now I’m an indie,” she says. “It’s sad that I had to go through all this to get here, and no doubt I’m not the only person who’s given up with trying to fit a job description and gone it alone, but that’s what had to happen.”
Indie designer and illustrator Beth Maher also became a mom and a game-maker all at the same time. “All my personal identity has changed in the past couple years, which is still overwhelming at times,” she tells Gamasutra.
Her situation in some ways is opposite to Bayley’s: It was motherhood Maher planned for, and game development that came as a surprise. “I decided to learn how to make games because I had a miscarriage,” says Maher. After her loss, she felt a need for something different in her life, and a new set of goals.
“I think I thought motherhood was going to be it for me, and when it didn’t work out right away, it made me have to me seriously consider something that could fulfill me outside out of becoming a mother,” she says. Not only did it turn out that games were that fulfilling thing — but Maher had a healthy pregnancy immediately after publishing her second game. She’s now the mother of a baby boy.
Designer Elizabeth Sampat, a mom of two daughters, works at Storm8 for a day job and does her own work the rest of the time. Her work in games began in the indie tabletop and pen and paper space. “Being a mom was actually really useful for self-employment in general: the needs of my two daughters gave structure to my day and pushed me to work as hard as I could in the time that I had free,” she says.
“And when I got an offer to move across the country and be a lead designer on a Facebook game, being a mom was what helped me get over my fears of isolation, homesickness, and imposter syndrome,” Sampat continues. “I knew a better life was waiting for my girls across the country, and in the face of being able to offer them that kind of stability, my own fears were meaningless.”
As the youngest of four kids, Sampat never envisioned herself as someone who’d have kids of her own. For her, being the best mother she can be means not placing the identity of “mom” front-and-center. “I want to raise strong, independent, unique young women who feel comfortable being themselves, so the best thing it feels like I can do is to be true to myself,” she says.
“As a result, I tend to be more honest with myself, because I know my girls are watching. When they ask me why I stayed late at work, or why I stopped being a work-at-home-mom, I answer them honestly about the passion I have for what I do, and why my work is important to me. I love my kids, and it was a really tough transition from ‘indie’ to ‘day job,’ but it keeps me honest. Not every gig is worth more time away from my family, and it’s harder to slip into complacency when you’ve got an audience.”