The changing face of gaming

There are certain jobs and sectors where historically one gender has been more prevalent than another. Gambling, gaming, computing and IT are perhaps sectors where historically woman have been under-represented, something that has been steadily changing.

Since the early noughties students and young people of all genders and orientations have been presented with an expanding range of career options based on interest and ability, rather than gender stereotypes.

This gradual move has opened up an expanded and expanding pool of talent, benefiting all sectors, particularly design, technology and media: skill sets and expertise that the leisure and gambling sectors have come to increasingly depend upon.

Willow Communications, one of the leading entertainment technology companies for the leisure and hospitality sectors, and a familiar name in bingo circles, has tapped right into that pool of talent and creative vein: Bingo Connect caught up with Alice Keech, who at 23 is not the youngest member of their team.

Born just before the turn of the millennium in Northampton, Alice is part of a generation that grew up with the world wide web, mobile smart phones, touch screen technology and digital design.

A keen interest in art at school, which was she says was her favourite subject, coupled with wider interest in film and design, seemed to indicate that a career in the creative industries was beckoning. While still at school a project she had been working on led to a chance visit to the BBC. There she saw first-hand digital video and sound editing, which fired up her imagination and interest.

“Film has always been a big interest of mine, with 12 Angry Men being my all-time favourite and artistic directors like Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, etc) have always had a big influence on me and my design choices. I also love reading and painting, so art is naturally and always has been a big part of my life” Alice commented.

The keen interest in art, and after a visit to the BBC, digital production and video editing directly influenced her decision to study Digital Media at College in Kettering, “While at college I was able to do some work experience at BBC Radio One, working on the Scott Mills Show and with the Music Selection Team, which I think cemented my decision about career choice.”

After finishing college Alice secured her first full time job, as an IT and Media Assistant at Willow Communications. “Before starting work at Willow I had only ever held parttime roles, in local restaurants and shops, so this was a big move.

“As an IT and Media Assistant I looked after first line support for customers and got to design and create adverts and games. After around six months I became Digital Media Coordinator where I started to work closely with clients like Buzz and Mecca Bingo on games like Party Xtra and Winfall.

“After a year I became the Head of IT and Media looking after our team of programmers, help desk advisors, game developers and media assistants. Now as Product Manager I continue to manage the IT and office-based teams, but also get to work closely with clients, whether its designing new games and features, delivering training, or further developing our existing products.

“To date one of my biggest achievements has been working with Eric Howell at Majestic Bingo on the Don’t Find the Nine game and creating the on screen graphics: not only was it a great project to work on, but it won Game of the Year 2021 at the International Game Awards, which was certainly a proud day for me.”

Alice’s progression has been meteoric, which perhaps reflects on the fast paced nature of IT and digital design, but is also a reflection on Willow Communications’ stance on bringing on board young and dynamic talent and not being afraid to give the support and headroom to grow.

Having been in the business close to five years Alice has noticed change and greater investment and an eagerness in some quarters to bring in new ideas and themes: “I’ve definitely noticed the investment bingo clubs are making in rich media games and content, like Mecca’s Winfall and Club 3000’s Lightning Bingo. I think fun, creative content-based games, that can be used for main stage, MCB, Jackpots and optional games are becoming the way forward and a great way to encourage a new generation of players into venues. I think that the attitude towards bingo is changing, both from operators and players. Operators are becoming more open to changing up and adding in features and attractors outside of the usual sessions.

“My perception of bingo has really changed since joining Willow. Even now I am noticing continuing changes in the industry, from our work at Mecca Luton through to great nights out at Hijingo, Bongos Bingo and Majestic’s Big Night Out: you can see bingo is evolving and there is definitely a drive from our clients to use our technology to introduce more fun, winning and experiences to bingo.”

Prior to joining Willow, bingo was not part of Alice’s life directly or through family and friends. The learning curve has been steep but what she has found is more than just a business, it’s communities. That is not just the community of players that each club creates, but the community of operators, which she says can be perhaps, at least initially, a little daunting as at least at senior level bingo is very much dominated by a single gender and a none too broad age group.

“There are more women coming into gaming and game design, which is great, but it can initially be a bit of a surprise. For bingo the customer base is over seventy per cent female, in terms of senior operators it is almost the complete reverse, if not more so.

“Most of the client facing meetings I have attended are with predominantly male colleagues who are much older. I think for young women entering the sector it is important to be confident, be prepared for meetings and have the support of your own senior team: it should after all be assessment on merit and performance.”

While age is no guarantee of experience, youth is no assurance of innovation, with activity and development generally needing a balance of both, at least if they are to be successful. A culture of mutual respect can be key to bringing out the best results, regardless of age or gender.

Having spotted the social nature of bingo, both with players and operators, we asked Alice if bingo was now part of her menu of leisure activities and if so what type?

“I’m a big fan of social bingo and have enjoyed nights out at Bongos Bingo and Hijingo, both of which I think are having a positive influence on the game. Majestic’s Big Night Out/Clubingo, is a great example of how this new form of bingo is being brought into clubs, and it is working really well at bringing in a diverse range of players. Mark Jepp has done a great job at bringing the fun back to bingo.

“These types of bingo nights have definitely made an impact on my leisure choice and I often make the trip to Mansfield for the Big Night Out at Majestic Bingo – for me attending those events is as much about the experience as it is the game.”

Alice is not the only young woman bringing her skills to Willow Communications, as she was quick to raise. One of the newest members of Willow and Alice’s team is Bailei Bentley-Ward, who has already left her design mark in the industry. Bailei joined the company just three days after her nineteenth birthday and has been heavily involved in on screen design, working on a number of games and interfaces that are now out in the market, including most of the game content at Mecca Bingo Luton, Club 3000’s Party Pots and new games for our Holiday Park clients.

“I’m so fortunate that game and video design are such a large part of my role here at Willow and that my passion has turned into my career.” Alice said. “I can genuinely say I love my job, it doesn’t feel like work. I get to come into the office and to work closely with some of the most talented people who share the same passion.”

It really is exciting times at Willow Communications, who will be exhibiting at EAG 2023, on stand 256, and will only be their second ever trade show in over thirty years – the first having been the Holiday Park Innovation Show in November last year.