Interview with Jean Leggett
By Violetta Holl
Jean Leggett is leading a revolution in both traditional book publishing and video games. She and her husband have worked tirelessly for over four years to build One More Story Games (OMSG), a platform designed to help children and adults create, market and monetize narrative video games that are a hybrid of book-meets-game. She started off as a stand-up comedian with an English degree, and experience with databases and web design. “I pursued stand-up comedy, speaking, and coaching in my off hours and never dreamed I’d be doing what I do today.”
[Violetta Holl] Can you tell us about what your average day looks like?
[Jean Leggett] On a day-to-day basis, I wear a number of hats because I’m one half of the founding team for our games company, One More Story Games (OMSG). I’m the hustler to my husband’s hacker. I’m doing a lot of the operations-related tasks like sales, marketing, accounting, investor relations, herding cats, and some days I’m also doing game writing, quality assurance and user experience testing. Our mission at OMSG is to help authors envision and transform their short stories and novels into interactive, narrative video games. My English degree comes in handy in this space and I really enjoy the opportunities I have to sit down with a content creator and help them plan out how their world is going to come to life in a new way.
We’re in production at the moment, working on a book meets game adaptation of a Charlaine Harris novel. It’s the first book in the Lily Bard series and follows the amateur sleuth Lily as she works to solve the mystery of who killed her landlord in the sleepy town of Shakespeare, Arkansas. What makes this an interesting project for me is that Lily is a sexual trauma survivor and deals with post-traumatic stress disorder – our job is to convey the mystery of the murder, but also to slowly reveal the mystery of her dark secret. Right now you’d find me prepping narrative for our voice over artists, editing text and bug testing.
[VH] What attracted you to work in tech? Was it a life-long dream, or was there some other factor that pushed you to it?
[JL] It wasn’t a life-long dream. I’m definitely more of a soft-skills person whose assets are relationship building, championing people and developing communication strategies. In my case, I joined forces with my husband Blair to start our studio. Prior to founding OMSG, Blair had worked at two of the largest game studios in the world and after a near death experience, we decided to return to his hometown and do something that was meaningful and would have an impact. That’s when I went into coaching, speaking and comedy full time. I even taught laughter yoga sessions. It was really clear that my talents for connecting with people would be a gift on the operations side of the business and together we’ve raised over $500,000 CAD over 4 years to develop our platform for authors.
It can be a challenge for me, mentally, to attend a women in tech event sometimes because I’m not the programmer or engineer like so many in the room. Where I step out of that thinking is to recognize that the contributions I make to our software are valuable – I’m helping shape the UX/UI, developing new features, and doing the customer discovery, which is important work. Yes, I do code but I am not implementing code on our platform.
What keeps me in my role and in this industry is the work we do with our youth creators – we’ve run summer camps with kids and taught them how to write, draw and code their own story-based games. I love hearing that they want to go on to be in the games industry or become programmers because they got their first exposure to code and had so much fun. Teaching kids how to code is incredibly rewarding.
[VH] There’s a lot of buzz around “building your community” as key to being successful in tech. What does your “community” look like? Who are the people you look for feedback from? Or, who are the people at work or elsewhere that you can rely on?
[JL] Community building is paramount. A lot of my support network is online through social media. I am involved in a lot of women in tech groups, women in games groups, and the like. By being consistent in sharing our triumphs and challenges, I am slowly making a name for ourselves as a persistent, mission-driven company that wants to leave a positive legacy in games. We’re at the point now where people are looking to us as leaders – we were finalists for a Community Leadership award recently from the International Game Developers’ Association (Serious Games special interest group).
Feedback is critical for growth. I’m grateful for honest feedback from my network and I gravitate towards other entrepreneurs who also share my similar drive and commitment. They tend to be the ones that I can rely on for support. I am also at the stage where I have enough experience to share with those who aren’t as far along in their journey and I love it when I have an opportunity to provide mentorship.
[VH] What kind of barriers have you faced as a woman in tech, and how did you overcome them?
[JL] When I first read the question, I honestly thought to myself, “you haven’t encountered any,” but realized that I have. When I started working with my husband (we’ve been together 22 years) over four years ago, it often felt like my soft skills – networking, relationship building, public speaking, etc – were devalued by him. I felt there was more appreciation for the programmers we worked with rather than the person who was the face of the company bringing in clients and investors. While I may not be designing databases daily, I’m still using that knowledge to bridge the gap between our technical team and our non-technical clients. These days, I feel respected for the fluidity in which I am able to speak tech and non-tech, making what we do more accessible to the outside world.
Then there’s the less subtle biases I encounter like young men who don’t believe that I run a video games company, or going into a room full of male investors here in Ontario and it being suggested that I “take a seat, dear” while my husband presents. I let those gentlemen know I was going to be pitching. In comedy, you know when a room is dead – that one was DOA.
I keep our focus where it needs to be – making smart games for smart women. Our focus right now is creating content in partnership with amazing women authors, to develop story-rich worlds with complex and meaningful characters. That makes us a bit of an anomaly in the games scene, despite women making up half of the games consumers and yet most content is geared towards men. I look forward to connecting with savvy investors who get that women games consumers are worthwhile to pursue and that the bridge between novels to games is already being built.
[VH] What does the phrase “diversity in tech” mean to you?
[JL] For me, it’s a call to action for inclusion. We have to start training our brains to look for the outliers that don’t think and look like ourselves when we’re hiring. We need to talk about the positive impacts of diverse workforces – make the economic case for it. For companies that are driven by their bottom line, they’ll be more inclined to participate.
There’s visible and invisible diversity we should be talking about. The tech industry does not reflect our general population – we don’t see representative numbers of women, minorities and people with disabilities reflected in hiring. It’s easy to forget the diversity piece if you’re sitting from a place of privilege. We make an effort to hire women for our projects but I will admit, just recently I realized all the books I was reading by women were by white women. After querying some great authors, women of colour, I found more to buy and read. I hadn’t given it much consideration before. I want that awareness to stay with me – to stop and think, “what perspective are we missing and who can give us that voice.” Given that we work with authors, I see this as an opportunity to further expand the kinds of interactive narratives we’re creating at One More Story Games.
Lastly, as a hard of hearing woman who has developed coping mechanisms my whole life to deal with missing out on conversations, I also want to see more mindfulness around who is leading conversations on inclusion – so that the very people who have been historically overlooked are championed and supported and elevated to speak to their needs.
We would like to thank Sara Jeffers and Kimberly Slater for nominating Jean Leggett and helping us share her story with the Women in Tech World community through our Voices of Women in Tech series.