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It’s no secret that the gaming industry is dominated by men, but one publisher is trying to encourage more women into joining the field.

Sony Online Entertainment recently awarded a $10,000 scholarship to Esther Wu, a 20-year-old student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, through a game art design competition called Gamers in Real Life (or G.I.R.L. for short).

Now in its sixth year, the G.I.R.L. scholarship encourages more women to pursue careers in video game development and design. Women in gaming is a hot-button topic these days, and it’s something Wu was well aware of when she applied to the program.

“Yeah, it’s always kind of popped in my mind that girls getting into the industry is so important and healthy because of personal diversity,” Wu said. “And second of all, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re playing something that’s primarily made by males and for males. So … I liked the message that Sony is sending across that you have to add more diversity. To add more interesting elements in the game, you have to include people of all types.”

Planetside 2 Concept Art

Above: Esther Wu helped create concept art of armor, vehicles, and weapons for Planetside 2 while interning at Sony Online Entertainment.

Image Credit: Sony Online Entertainment

In addition to the scholarship money, Wu spent 10 weeks as a paid intern at SOE’s headquarters in San Diego. During her internship, Wu mainly worked on concept art for massively multiplayer online shooter Planetside 2. She helped design character armor, weapons, and vehicles, along with some Steam trading cards, that the team will use at some point in the future.

“The concept is extremely important, and she did a really good job on capturing everything that Planetside is, from character concepts to the vehicles to the weapons’ parts, and all that stuff,” said Tramell Isaac, the senior art director for Planetside 2.

Concept art, as Isaac puts it, is more than “just making pretty pictures.” Things like vehicles and weapons need prototypes before a modeller can begin working on them. A weapon, for example, might be made of nine parts, and those components all have to fit together and work properly. “You’re making things that actually have to function,” Isaac said.

Planetside 2 Steam Trading Card Concept Art

Above: Concept art of a Planetside 2 soldier for a Steam trading card.

Image Credit: Sony Online Entertainment

“So using those 3D objects and then constructing the actual gun itself and trying to figure out how it works and how it reloads and animates and all that stuff, that’s something that’s one step further on the concept timeline,” Isaac added. ”Because now … you’re not just saying, ‘This is what it looks like’ and then you move on to the next. Well, you’re saying, ‘This is what it looks like, and this is how it works, this is how it moves,’ and all these other things. Those things have to be thought out. So it’s a lot more in-depth thought process when you’re making concepts that actually have to interact with other parts of the game.”

Wu had a chance to work with one of Planetside 2’s main concept artists, who taught her how to create a consistent look for all the artwork. “We wanted a consistent look for all the concepts and, you know, the wear and tear on the guns has to be consistent in order for them to actually look like one concept artist actually made them. She did a really good job with that.” Isaac said.

“It was fun,” Wu said. “I really liked working in a professional environment with a lot of different artists across different games under SOE. So it was a great experience.”

Now that her internship has ended, Wu hopes to use her time with SOE as a stepping stone, a way to get her foot into the door at Sony working on triple-A titles. “I feel like Naughty Dog and [SCE Santa Monica Studio] have always made some of my favorite video games, and I would love to be on a project with them too,” she said.

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