Inspiring women the name of the game at Runaway

Runaway creative director Emma Johansson (left) and managing director Zoe Hobson. Photo: Supplied
Runaway creative director Emma Johansson (left) and managing director Zoe Hobson. Photo: Supplied
Girl power is on the loose at Dunedin-based global games developer and publisher Runaway.

In an industry dominated by males, two female executives are now leading the business — and they hope to inspire more women.

Managing director Zoe Hobson has been joined by creative director Emma Johansson, who has filled the role left by outgoing creative director and Runaway founder Tim Nixon.

Ms Hobson agreed such representation was  unusual, saying according to the most recent statistics on the gaming industry,  only around 22% of the workforce was female and this was up considerably from the previous year’s survey.

Women were under-represented  in the industry, something  she put down to various  factors.

And there were some general assumptions that women were not gamers or did not work in technical jobs, she said.Ms Hobson — who won the future business leader category in the Westpac Otago Chamber of Commerce business awards in 2014 — joined Runaway two years ago.

It was an "amazing" place to work, with a fantastic culture, and she felt very fortunate to be working with such a fantastic group of people, she said.

She acknowledged Runaway had flown somewhat under the radar in Otago, yet its three mobile game titles (Flutter: Butterfly Sanctuary, Flutter: Starlight and Splash: Ocean Sanctuary) were enjoyed by more than a quarter of a million players each month from the United States,  Europe,  China and Japan.

She was excited to be part of a team building a company from Dunedin that had worldwide recognition.

Runaway started life under the wings of NHNZ in 2010 as its gaming division. Under the direction of Mr Nixon, the fledgling studio worked to create mobile games that were based on nature.

Runaway went on to develop games in partnership with National Geographic, the World Wildlife Fund and, more recently, the global mega-publisher DeNA.

In 2015, the company made the move to self-publishing, bringing  more elements such as player support and user acquisition in-house, and doubling its staff and revenue in the process.

The changing leadership followed Mr Nixon’s announcement he would move to Los Angeles to work as creative director of  That Game Company.

"To be able to confidently pass on the mantle, knowing the vision for Runaway is in such good hands, is easily the proudest moment of my career. I can’t wait to see where Zoe, Emma and the rest of the team go next," Mr Nixon said.

Runaway’s growing staff required a bigger space and the studio was moving to a designated new space in Stafford St, part of the Petridish development.

There were 28 staff with about five of those working remotely from various parts of the world.

Developing new products was Runaway’s focus and trying to make something "really amazing".

Runaway had done  well over the year but she believed the best was "yet to come", Ms Hobson said.

She was  excited to have Ms Johansson on board as creative director. Ms Johansson joined the leadership team  after eight years as art director with the business, an opportunity for which she left her native Sweden to make Dunedin her home.

She also had a desire to inspire more girls to join what she believed was a booming industry that not only wanted — but needed — more women in its ranks.

Being a smaller studio, Runaway did not have the same budgets as some of the large mobile games publishers so, to stand out, it needed to take risks and be bold and innovative with its ideas and games, she said.

"We have the freedom to explore new technologies like AR and VR but we also believe that the full potential of mobile gaming is yet to be achieved. So we are excited about the future, creating the best ideas and bringing them to life."

Women were growing as a player base segment, with 80% of Runaway’s players being female.

"We want to make more games that everyone can enjoy. To do that we need women to feel confident joining the industry and making the games they want to play. It’s an issue I’m very passionate about."

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