More than ever before, the backbone of the video game industry is made up of those who grew up gaming. Today, one would be hard pressed not to find a game studio or publisher that wasn’t made up of a staff determined to provide the current gamers with the same kind of experiences that hooked them on video games in the first place. Among them is Ubisoft Community Developer Cee Cee Smith, currently based in San Francisco, California. This veteran gamer’s love for on-screen action started within her family on some of gaming’s first classics.
“Video games first made an appearance in my life at around three years old with my grandmother’s Atari,” Smith recalled. “My whole family would get together to play Frogs & Flies, Frogger and Fast Food, which is is actually the first game that I remember playing myself, albeit I had no idea how to play it. Even at that young age, the impression that it left was huge. It was a sense of togetherness, of accomplishment and of teamwork. That was when my competitive spirit came alive.”
Continuing to stick with gaming as she grew up, Smith would experience many of the key titles from each successive generation. Eventually, she would find the games that led to her exploring her gaming options both on and off the screen.
“To pinpoint just one game that sealed the deal for me isn’t possible,” she said. “It has definitely been a variety of games combined with various real life experiences that all had an influence into the passion I have now. Of course, the classics such as Zelda, Mario, Tetris and Final Fantasy influenced me throughout the years but it only when I got older that the light bulb went off with the possibilities for my own future. Frequency was my first rhythm game, leading into a mild obsession with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. It played into my childhood environment of being around musical instruments and playing with my family. Rainbow Six and Call of Duty were my first exposures to shooters, which I immediately took to as they spoke to my love of strategy and teamwork.”
Eventually, Cee Cee’s passion for teamwork and video games led to her joining one of the longest running groups in the industry. She credits that opportunity for setting everything she has done since into motion.
“The starting poing was joining the PMS Clan,” Smith said. “It’s such a diverse group with so many members that have gone on to do awesome things in the industry. I wanted to learn everything from these people. The opportunity to work gaming conventions came up, which played a pretty pivotal role for me. There, you sometimes are able to get invaluable insight about the industry straight from developers and other staff. There were many years of working really hard, learning as much as I could and familiarizing myself with everything possible. Exploring all the different spokes of the gaming industry helped me identify what department and what type of work I would excel in and could see myself doing. Once you have that epiphany, you can activate your inner superpowers to make that a reality for yourself. I did community work with PMS Clan as a labor of love, and it helped build the skill set I needed to make myself a viable candidate for the career I have now.”
Smith’s experiences with PMS Clan led her to Ubisoft, where she works today as Community Developer. It is there that her many years as a gamer is allowing her to improve on the gameplay experience for those who could possibly be following in her footsteps.
“Many people believe that working at a gaming company means playing video games all day every day, but we really don’t,” she added. “The typical day for me can vary depending on where a game it at in the life cycle, but every day is a new adventure. Being a Community Developer has a little bit of everything. It is the best of both worlds – development and community. We each get our own titles to work on so that we can focus our energy into bringing great new experiences to gamers. I begin my commute to the office perusing through social media, checking out what the hottest news of the industry is that day and generally reviewing what people are talking about. The industry changes at a face pace so it is really important to stay current. During the day I do brainstorming with Community Managers, work with developers to see how viable suggestions are to implement, and then there’s work with other teams, working with PR, producers and more. Night time is reserved for PMS Clan work. My days usually last about 16 hours, and it’s either full speed ahead or sleeping. There is no in between.”
Just as Cee Cee’s adventures in the video game world have evolved, so has the technology used in the video game world. Smith points out that these advances impact more than just framerates and features within a video game console.
“We’ve evolved so far technologically, yet you can still see influences of the past in games today,” she noted. “We respect our history. Or course, tech advancement can be seen through graphics and performance, but it’s also allowed us to have analytics and data at our fingertips. On the PMS Clan website, we use behavior and navigation analytics to tell us what the community tends to gravitate towards and what their interests are. That information wasn’t available a few years ago, but it is used now to create new content and additional events better tailored for them, hopefully leading to happy and engaged members.”
Another thing Smith notes as evolving through the years is the misconception that video games are only for males. She credits several gaming groups for helping pave the way in changing that formerly held belief.
“When I was young, and probably more aware of it due to having all brothers, it was made very clear to me that video games were supposedly for boys,” Cee Cee added. “The term ‘unicorn’ for females who played video games was used frequently up until a few years ago. We were definitely here, but the hostility that existed in the game lobbies prevented many of us from making ourselves known on voice chat. Being a gamer is not gender exclusive and there is still a lot of progress to be made here. I think that groups such as The Frag Dolls and PMS Clan, led by strong and talented women, really paved the way for us. All of what they have worked for has had a lot of influence on how far we’ve gotten today.”
Continuing into the new year as part of Ubisoft and PMS Clan, Smith notes that there are many opportunities out there for anyone who wants to be part of the video game industry. She was also quick to give her thoughts on what it takes to make it there or within any other industry one might have an interest in.
“Keep an open mind, explore, learn, stay humble, work hard, don’t be discouraged, keep going and don’t give in to negativity,” she stated. “Realize what your strengths are. I think its really the same no matter what you want to do with your life. You might really like football, but there’s other positions outside of being on the field that play a key part in bringing it to the public. You could excel in those and still be a part of that experience for the people. Once upon a time I was told this wasn’t a serious career choice, but no matter what industry you want to be a part of, if it is your passion and you really want it, find where you fit in the big picture and go for it.”
Cee Cee Smith’s adventures can be followed on her official Twitter @CeeCeePMS.