Boardroom talked to Pauliina Törnqvist about her career trajectory, her STEM women in gaming advocacy work, and the future of the VR gaming industry.
Roughly 30% of game developers worldwide are women, a percentage that keeps climbing as women in STEM take over the industry.
Pauliina Törnqvist, a senior producer of VR games at Meta, has made it her mission to climb the ranks in the video game industry. Along the way, she’s advocated for more women in STEM looking to break into the industry. Törnqvist has worked on VR, console, PC, and mobile games. Through it all, she worked in the background before stepping up to push her mission forward.
“I have learned so many things and enjoyed working with so many different teams during my career in the game industry,” Törnqvist told Boardroom in an exclusive interview. “Every project that I’ve had the privilege to contribute to has taught me something new and also has some tiny corner that I personally got to contribute to, and I’m really proud of that.”
When Boardroom asked Törnqvist what her favorite game she’s worked on is, she couldn’t answer. Each one holds a special place in her heart. Her expansive résumé includes:
- Call of Duty: Warzone
- Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
- Call of Duty: Vanguard
- Angry Birds
- Trials of the Blood Dragon
- Trials Fusion
- The Crew
- The Crew 2
- WatchDogs: Legion
- Travian Kingdoms
Törnqvist grew up in Helsinki, Finland, where she sparked a love for playing games with her sister. The senior video game producer has worked across various sectors of the gaming industry, including launching her own gaming company and venturing into project management. Now, Törnqvist oversees end-to-end production of third-party virtual reality games for Quest platforms.
In this Boardroom Q&A, Törnqvist talks about her career trajectory, her diversity, equity, and inclusion advocacy work, and where she thinks the VR gaming industry is headed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MICHELAI GRAHAM: Tell me how you got your start in your career. Were you a gamer before you really got into the work that you do?
PAULIINA TÖRNQVIST: I have always been into gaming since I was very little. This is kind of a cliché answer coming from someone who works in gaming, but I have played games since I can remember. I didn’t consider that there were actually people making the games that I was playing when I was younger. I didn’t think that it would be a career I wanted to pursue until I was at university., where I studied business in Finland.
While I was at university, I met a bunch of people and students who were very into gaming. I was also hanging out a lot in the entrepreneurial student societies within my school. This was around the time when Angry Birds was slowly blowing up. That’s kind of when I realized that there are people making these games, and that’s actually a career one can pursue. That’s when I started my own gaming company, where I was making mobile games with a couple of friends. Then, I landed an internship with Rovio, making Angry Birds. I got a really close-up look at how mobile games are being made.
When I graduated, I was really determined that games are what I want to do. I managed to land a job in Paris with Ubisoft. That’s how I ended up working in games, basically.
MG: Can you recall some games you were really into growing up?
PT: Some of the first games I played, I actually played with my big sister. One of us was always on the computer or the PlayStation, and the other was sitting next to us, giving advice on how to play. We loved playing the first Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider games. We spent a lot of time with them.
I believe the very first game that we played together outside of mathematics games our dad bought us was Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, which was on PC. I have a lot of fun memories from that game.
MG: What has your experience been like as a woman working in an industry primarily dominated by men?
PT: So, earlier in my career, I didn’t really care about the gender representation and balance that we have in the game industry. I just love making games and basically doing what I love. But after a handful of years working in the industry, I started questioning, ‘why am I always the only woman on every single team?’ I started paying attention and realized how big these issues in the game industry actually are and how few women and gender minorities we see in the game industry in general.
It’s a very male-dominated industry. As a result of this, I volunteer at several nonprofit organizations advocating for a more diverse and inclusive game industry. I also mentor aspiring game developers from underrepresented groups, be that sexuality, gender, or race.
This is something that’s really near and dear to my heart. While I have personally not had super negative experiences, I think there is a bigger conversation in the game industry that needs to happen.
MG: So, let’s take it back to your internship. You said you worked with Rovio on Angry Birds. At that time, did you envision launching a career in the game industry, or was it just something you were trying out?
PT: It was kind of a mix of the two. I already had my own game company, and I was making games with a couple of friends of mine. We were making our own games and publishing them for Android and iOS. That was a lot of experimentation, and we didn’t really know what we were doing. When I went to do this internship with Rovio, I was kinda cautiously optimistic that, hey, I really like this, but I don’t understand it well enough. During the internship at Rovio, I really got a front-row seat.
I realized then that this is absolutely what I want to do. When I finished my internship, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
MG: Your trajectory from project management into video game production seems like a natural transition. Can you talk to me about when you went from Travian Games to Activision, where you became a full-on video game producer?
PT: This was a big transition because I loved my time at Travian, but, obviously, the scope of what I was doing and the size of the game that I was working on compared to going to Los Angeles and working on Call of Duty was almost incomparable. So, all in all, it was a huge leap in terms of my responsibilities and the scope of the work that I was doing. But I enjoyed it a lot.
It was a lot of learning on the go as I was figuring things out when working on Call of Duty. The good thing about working on big productions is that you have a huge support network there. I got to work with some of the best in the business, and there were industry veterans there to support me and really show me the ropes. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to work there and got to contribute to something so significant in entertainment history.
MG: What was your experience working as a producer on Call of Duty, and some of your key takeaways?
PT: If I had known when I was young that I was going to work on Call of Duty one day, I would not have believed anyone who told me that. I really learned a ton about how the largest video games in the world are made and how incredibly intense shipping, something like a Call of Duty game, was. It was a lot of learning, but I really loved every second of it, and as I said earlier, I got to learn from some of the best in the business while doing it.
Those takeaways that I had in terms of how you make a game that’s basically alive and has new installments still after 20 years is something that you can’t learn anywhere else. So I’m definitely taking a lot of the things that I learned there in my career for the rest of however long I work in gaming.
MG: Let’s talk about your transition from Activision to Meta when you went over to VR gaming. Was there a learning curve?
PT: When it comes to game development, I believe that regardless of what platform you’re working on, what makes the game good has nothing to do with the platform. That made the transition fairly easy for me.
Obviously, there are a lot of design and development best practices that I had to learn in this transition from console and PC to VR. In the end, games are games. The transitions between platforms or game developers, probably excluding the technical side where you’re actually programming, but especially in terms of production, they’re fairly easy because when it comes to project management and production, you’re there to make a good game. It doesn’t matter if it’s VR, console, PC or mobile.
MG: What are some things about video game production that people might not actually know?
PT: I think that when it comes to game development, a lot of people don’t realize that game development is not just programming. Games are especially big entertainment productions these days, and there’s every single function contributing to these games, from marketing to PR to testing, to programming, to art, to design, you name it, and there is a function for it, probably in game development.
You don’t have to be a programmer to work in games, and you don’t have to have extensive technical knowledge to work in games. I hope that this message also gets through to a lot of aspiring game developers, especially women and gender minorities, who are considering working in games.
MG: What advice do you have for women studying STEM right now who want to break into the gaming industry?
PT: My biggest advice is to go for it. There’s never been a better time to work in games. The game industry is growing constantly. More and more talent is needed to make these awesome games, and honestly, the size of games and the budgets for games keep growing. There’s more scope than ever to contribute to the industry.
PT: It’s going to be interesting to see what the long-term effects of the deal are. It is a historical acquisition that we’ve seen, and a lot of the things regarding this deal are just unprecedented; we don’t really know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to work.
What I am curious to see is what this means for cross-platform play in the long term, the fact that we already have a lot of huge game publishers under these hardware manufacturers, and what the deal means in terms of content.
MG: Lastly, where do you see the video game space in 10 to 20 years?
PT: This is a tough question because a lot can happen between now and then when it comes to technology. We never know what the next trend is gonna be. I think the budgets and the size of games will keep growing as more and more entertainment companies, especially ones that are not necessarily focusing on games originally, are entering their game development space and investing in this form of entertainment as it keeps growing. I think that we will likely see a lot more AAA games and quadruple productions in the future.
Aside from that, something that’s definitely going to rise is the use of AI in gaming. A lot of people forget that AI has already been an existing tool in the game development space for a really long time. More and more players are going to enter the space, and I absolutely would love to see new players be successful in shipping new IP games and not just remakes or sequels to existing IPs.
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