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THE job of a basic, run-of-the-mill conference is essentially to bring a number of people together, update them on what's going on in their industry and send them away with a handful of business cards and stolen hotel soaps.

However, the really special conferences do something extra. While you still get the giddy night mining the mini bar for liquid gold, you also get the gift of inspiration and aspiration in your welcome pack.

You get to see a speaker or two who zings your ambition; who encourages you to hurl yourself out of your comfort zone into a new life, a new business or a new way of thinking. Effectively, it gives you the opportunity to realise that every great person's journey started somewhere, and that the roads they travelled are potentially open to everyone, including you.

While all visitors to Gateshead's GameHorizon conference can learn something from the experience and expertise of high-flying sector luminaries such as FluffyLogic chief executive Ana Kronschnabl and Edelman director digital Renate Nyborg, they could be described as notable and inspiring for a different, more obvious reason.

Kronschnabl and Nyborg have both moved into games from other fields and made an impact. However, they're also part of a select group of women who have managed to distinguish themselves in the sector.

According to recent research by Skillset, of the 7,000 people in the UK described as providing content for computer games, only 420 of them are women. That's around 6%.

That doesn't mean that women aren't playing games, by the way. The Entertainment Software Association says women now account for 42% of gamers, following another leap of 2% in the demographic in the last year.

GameHorizon conference director Carri Cunliffe says: "As a female running a games network and conference, I am surprised that there aren't more women. The women I meet are so enthusiastic and compelling and the men are generally pretty open minded and women-friendly.

"I am hoping that female role models such as Ana and Renate will encourage females to enter this innovative and exciting industry."

Cunliffe is head of sector development for the GameHorizon games industry support organisation, which expanded its reach beyond the North East last year after spending several years gluing together the region's games businesses into a community.

She says she found herself in the games industry "kind of by accident" after spending time in sectors such as the chemical and IT industry.

She believes that the issue in the past has not so much been that women are actively excluded from the industry, but that they have not necessarily been attracted to it. However, she adds that the increase in the number of women playing games from an early age is likely to prompt increases in future years.

Ana Kronschnabl also entered the games industry from another sector, building up a background in independent film-production with projects such as Cambridge Video Unit, a film and animation workshop at Cardiff's Chapter Arts, and jobs at the BBC and Granada.

FluffyLogic has worked on traditional games for companies such as Sony, as well as games for handhelds, iPods and iPads.

She says: "In an industry with so few women it is difficult. Young women can be found, but generally in less senior positions and especially in admin and marketing rather than development.

"Even though women are playing games, this is still generally overlooked, other than by social game producers of course.

"Many of the more traditional games producers are still targeting the traditional 15 to 35-year-old male, younger versions of themselves really. They really still don't see the need to engage women in 'serious' games production, as they like to call it.

"Until more women get into positions of power within these companies this won't change. …


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