Franziska Zeiner is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Fein Games, a female-led Berlin-based indie studio developing games for women. With us she talks about their first game Finding Hannah, the core company values of Fein Games and what the Berlin community needs to flourish further.
You develop games for women. In your opinion, what do today’s video games lack that made you go for this specialization?
I don’t think that “video games lack” anything, but I believe that they can be more. After all, games are a reflection of society. We live in a world designed for men. Aren’t you curious to see what happens when we start designing for women?
Please tell us more about Finding Hannah. What makes it not cliché?
The games we develop are inspired by our own experiences and biographies. I am personally very drawn to relatable and biographical stories, something that you don’t find a lot in games.
Finding Hannah tells a coming-of-age story about happiness, love, and family. Hannah’s got it all: a well-paying job, a fancy coffee machine, and a comfortable life – so why isn’t she happy?
Hannah’s mother Sigrid rebelled against the establishment her entire life but mainly was absent at home. Hannah’s grandmother Eva grew up during a frightening time – and learned to let others make decisions for her. Can these three women overcome their differences to learn from one another?
Your studio works completely remotely. What challenges and benefits arise from that method?
We founded Fein Games at the start of a global pandemic and, like many others, were forced to adapt to a remote setup. While we initially hoped to eventually return to an office environment we have since scrapped these plans and are now fully embracing remote work.
The biggest benefit for us is the flexibility remote work offers. Life no longer centers around work, but the other way around. Our team is spread across five cities, three countries, and two continents. We are able to hire from a much broader pool of talent, and employees no longer have to relocate to work for us.
The biggest challenge lies in the transition from one setup to another. Remote work requires different tools and rules of communication. You cannot operate as a remote company while holding onto methods that worked in an office environment.
In a recentarticle, you presented your five core company values: trust, fun, kindness, autonomy, and openness. How do you implement these values in your work routine?
These values describe an attitude that we believe is necessary to successfully operate as a remote company, especially trust and autonomy. I see them as counterparts to each other. As a leader, I must be able to trust. Trust is granted and not earned. We believe that transparency enables trust, which in return allows autonomy.
Questions that could previously be answered by looking over to your colleague's desk must now be vocalized. This includes updating your Slack status to reflect your availability, without fearing any repercussions. Creating an environment where any employee feels comfortable asking questions. We have daily check-in meetings, but we operate with the understanding that each employee knows how to prioritize their tasks and execute them to the best of their abilities.
As a young company, we have the ability to shape our work environment from the ground up. As a team, we asked ourselves what this environment should look like. Fun, kindness, and openness are a result of that discussion.
Unlike many other companies, yours doesn’t suffer from a skill shortage as you receive ample applications for free positions. Why do you think that is?
I believe that top talent is starting to look for more purpose in their work. Fein Games has a very strong, feminist profile. We make transparency and fairness a cornerstone of how we operate. Based on the number of applications we regularly receive, I think these values are very appealing to job seekers, especially to women.
With your experience at A MAZE, Wooga, and Huuuge Games you know the Berlin games industry inside out. What’s your take on the capital’s community?
Berlin is a unique city that’s transforming rapidly. The same can be said for the capital’s gaming community. I am very excited about the many new startups that have sprung up over the last few years. I believe that this is a sign of the industry maturing. At the same time, I am sad that events like Talk & Play, organized by BerlinGameScene and A MAZE. / Berlin in its pre-pandemic format no longer take place. We need events and locations that focus on community building and that bring together professionals from different parts of the industry. Which is why I’m very excited about the plans for the House of Games.
Berlin offers unique proximity to decision-makers. By speaking about our experiences and needs we can have an actual impact on policies and politics.
In a LinkedIn post, you described that you would prefer a stipend to the current funding possibilities that you used. What would be the difference between the two and what would a stipend make better?
Fein Games was very lucky to receive funding through three government grants: Computerspieleförderung des Bundes, Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg, and IBB GründungsBONUS. That said, I don’t think these grants are necessarily the ideal funding strategy to support gaming startups. In my opinion, project-based funding stands in contrast to the iterative nature of game development. The co-payment makes it unsuitable for founders. What I would like to see is a startup scholarship that is tailored to the needs and reality of the games industry. The scholarship should be detached from universities, and accessible to people without a university degree, and it must allow a normal standard of living.