Untold Stories: Fiona Sperry, CEO of Three Fields Entertainment
In this series, we will be telling the ‘untold stories’ of the games sector and shining a light on the many women who helped contribute to the UK games industry the past thirty years. We’re joined by Fiona Sperry, CEO of Three Fields entertainment.
30 Years of Play: Tell us who you are, what you do and a little bit about your career in the industry.
Fiona Sperry: We make videogames for PlayStation, Xbox and PC.
We all previously worked at Criterion Games, now part of Electronic Arts. There we had started out small but became a massive team. Now we're back to being a small team which suits us all a lot better! We've been going 5 years and we're about to release our 5th game, Dangerous Driving, which is a return to a genre we all know well.
30 YOP: How did you start working in the sector?
Fiona: I previously worked in Book Publishing where I had been for about 5 years after leaving University. It was a great first job and I rose through the company quite quickly and got a lot of responsibility quite early on which later proved invaluable - how to read a P&L, how to publish product, how a publisher worked (albeit in a different field). My first job in the games industry was working at Criterion Studios as a Producer. At the time they were very focussed on PC games, tech demos really.
30 YOP: What was the British games industry like in the early years of the sector?
Fiona: It was an exciting time in the industry back then but compared to now it feels very amateur. Team sizes were much smaller, the investment levels in each game much lower and honestly, it felt like we were making so much of it up as we went along. It was a retail dominated world, you made a game, sold it to a publisher, shipped and moved on. No digital updates, no after sales care! It was all pitches, trade shows and trying to get retailers to stock your game (and keep it on the shelf).
30 YOP: What was it like to work early in the industry as a woman?
Fiona: I was the only woman in development when I started and to be honest there were very few role models in other companies. There were a couple of other women in the company, in marketing or HR. It was a big change as book publishing where I had worked previously is very female dominated. I found it quite isolating, not so much because I was a woman but also because I was a producer, a role the company was only just introducing and there were some pretty vocal opponents to the role. I definitely found it tough and there was several points during that first year that I considered leaving and doing something else. But I could see the difference I could make - early on I got involved in setting up publisher pitches as I was the only one with any experience in publishing and so I started to carve out a role for myself. Within 3 years I became Studio Director and was able to reestablish the Studio under a new name and direction.
30 YOP: Were there any big challenges that you faced in the early days of your career?
Fiona: I think you have to have a pretty tough skin as a woman working in a male dominated world. You can't take every criticism to heart. Programmers in particular can be pretty damning if they think you don't know what you're talking about - and in the very early days it was all very new to me. But I've found most developers judge on merit not sex. I've always had a strong work ethic and so eventually I earnt my place and their respect.
30 YOP: If you could change one thing about the sector, what would it be?
Fiona: The one thing I'd change about the sector is to have more sponsored apprentice programs that studios like ours can take advantage of. We're a small studio and we don't have much budget for things like that but I recently employed a school leaver for 6 months as an apprentice and it was a really rewarding experience seeing him develop and he made a really valuable contribution to our new game Dangerous Driving.
30 YOP: What would be your one piece of advice for someone starting out in the industry?
Fiona: My advice to someone starting out is work your ass off. It really is the best way, the only way to get on. Show up (not just in the physical sense!). Be present, Be brilliant, be the best version of yourself, be someone people want to have around.