Back

Office Hours: I’m the CEO of Geogrify and the CXO/Cofounder at SetJetters. I’m Kate Edwards. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Kate Edwards, and I’m a geographer and the CEO and principal consultant of Geogrify, a consultancy that innovated content culturalization, helping game developers navigate complex geopolitical and cultural issues in their game content.

I’m also the CXO and Co-Founder of SetJetters, an app focused on connecting tourists to global filming locations of their favorite films and TV shows. I’m also the former Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association from 2012 to 2017 and the Global Game Jam from 2019 to 2022. The GGJ is a non-profit that produces the world's largest game creation event (i.e., a "jam") taking place around the world at physical and virtual sites.

In addition to serving in several board and advisory roles - including at the Global Game Jam and TakeThis.org, I’m a geographer, writer, and corporate strategist. Following 13 years at Microsoft, I have consulted for BioWare, Google, Amazon, Facebook, LEGO, and many, many other companies. As an award-winning 30+ year veteran of the game industry, I was honored at GDC 2020 with the Ambassador Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards. In August 2021, I was included in the Forbes' "50 Over 50" Vision List as one of 50 veteran women selected from a wide variety of industries, and in September 2021 I was inducted into the Women in Games Hall of Fame. In 2024, I was inducted into the Mobile Growth Association’s Hall of Fame.

I also travel extensively to speak at events around the world, and I’m typically gone about 75% of the year. That may not seem like downtime, but as a geographer, I am very passionate about travel and the discovery of new places and people. But when I want to have fun, I do enjoy playing games (of course) as well as cosplaying (my daughter is a costume designer!), and spending time with my cats. I’m also currently working on a couple of book projects.

Ask me anything about game development and the game industry, geography, cartography, cross-cultural issues, content culturalization, breaking into the video game industry, non-profit management, or anything else that comes to mind!

Thanks so much for joining us @KateEdwardsGeogrify!Elphas – please ask @KateEdwardsGeogrify your questions before Friday, April 5th. @KateEdwardsGeogrify may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Thank you for the opportunity to participate, happy to do so! :)
Hii Kate! What are some of your all-time favorite games, and why?
That's a really hard one to answer as I love so many! But here are some of my top games:Halo: Because I worked the games and I love to lore of the worldAtari Star Wars: This was the old arcade version, because I love Star Wars and I was the best at this game than any other I played (one quarter could last for hours!)The Elder Scroll series (Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim): I love the world-building in these games and the loreZelda - Breath of the Wild: Truly one of the best games I've ever played. It's so well done, and I really love the open-world discovery.Assassin's Creed series: I worked on a couple of these, and I really enjoy the melding of real-world geography and history with a great fictional narrative.
Hi Kate! I'm so curious about culturalization in game content, especially for games intended for a global audience... Can you share an example of a project where culturalization significantly influenced the game's design or reception?
Thank you! After 31+ years performing culturalization work on games, I've worked on over 270 games so far. There are so many examples I could share but I'll just briefly share these:- Jade Empire: This Bioware game aimed to be a fantasy world based on medieval culture in Asia - instead of most fantasy games which are based on medieval culture in Europe (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, etc.). This was a very challenging project as we had to carefully leverage cultural elements from a few Asian cultures and do it in a way that was respectful and unique. We even created a new language that was used in the game, instead of biasing the game's world by using an existing language like Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. - Dance Central series: These games were dancing games that used the Xbox Kinect motion control unit, and it was simply about following the on-screen avatar's dance moves and replicating them as best as you can. But I spent a lot of time on these games looking for specific gestures and body language that could be offensive or problematic in various cultures. You'd think a dancing game wouldn't be an issue, but my work requires me to look across all types of content.
Wow what an incredible resume and congratulations on the honors of those achievements and awards! I would love to know what skills got you this far? Do you have strong technical/job related skills, or are people skills more important? As your title is CXO (I had to google that, chief experience officer) I'm assuming people skills are currently one of your most important skills. Would you have any recommendations for books/podcasts/YT channels to learn/improve on those skills from?Thanks so much for coming on here and share more about yourself and answer questions! 💜
Thanks so much, I appreciate it!For my culturalization work, all of that expertise is based on my academic foundation as a geographer. And from there, it's just been years and years of experience. I've always been stronger in the social sciences and communications than technical and engineering (I know, I tried those fields!), so I'd say that my success has really come from two things: 1) Chasing my passions without reservations; if I'm interested in something, I pursue it. 2) Being observant for how my skills can apply to non-traditional situations and being able to communicate what I do to people who may not be familiar with my background. As I'm from a generation that didn't have podcasts or YT, I don't have many suggestions to offer there. My primary advice for improving your skills would be to put yourself in situations that stretch your capabilities, not just confirm them. And also, very importantly, identify people around you who could be good mentors to help improve your abilities.
@KateEdwardsGeogrify Thank you for sharing your awesome background. Congrats on your success. I feel that we make an impact via our work but work makes an impact on us. In what has working in gaming made a positive impact on you? If it is okay to ask, what are cats names? Have a great weekend!
Thanks very much! I think one of the greatest impacts on me from working in games has been an increased appreciation for the tremendous creative capacity that we have as human beings. It's a joy to be able to work alongside such amazing, creative talent and work with them to create new worlds and experiences. And on top of that, I've been given more appreciation for the power of collaboration. Games are created by teams of people - it's rare that one individual will make everything in a game (but it happens!), so most games are a long process of collaborative decision making.As for my cats, they are Thorin (after Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit) and Logan (after Wolverine). :)Enjoy your weekend too!
Hi Kate! your diverse expertise is truly remarkable! As someone new to the industry, I'm curious to know, how do you balance innovation with cultural sensitivities when developing games for global audiences?As a health informatics student, I'm fascinated by your work and would love to connect on LinkedIn. Looking forward to learning from you!
Hi there! I'm always happy to connect on LinkedIn, feel free to add me there!As for balancing innovation, one thing I love about my work is that it's being conducted in an ever-changing world. So while I have a lot of knowledge about various cultures, practices, and sensitivities, the world continues to evolve in so many ways in response to social conditions, politics, technology, and so forth. I have to keep up on things as best as I can, so I read a lot of news and journals, as well as have many customized Google searches that call out various happenings around the world. With all this information, we then have to carefully decide whether or not the game's world is going to reflect these real-world realities or create something entirely new and distinct. Even games that take place in completely fictional worlds still draw inspiration from real-world cultures and peoples, so it's a constant process of reviewing the content for potential issues.
What a fascinating background! How do you see your background as a geographer influencing your approach to developing games?
Thank you! As games are an exercise in world-building - whether fictional or real-world settings - I find that my background in geography fits perfectly with the typical approach that game creators take to building their worlds. Geography is the study of our real-world and all the elements within it, and cartography is an expression of our findings. In essence, a map is a world re-building exercise that expresses our understanding of spatial phenomena. In much the same way, game designers have to pick and choose which aspects to create and emphasize to build an environment that supports the game's narrative and the player's agency in that world. So in short, I feel like I have a kinship with game creators as their world-building process is similar to a geographer's approach.
Do you think you have a different approach to tourism and travel as a geographer? Do you have any favorite places you've visited? Also, I'd love to hear about your book projects! What themes are you exploring?
Thanks for your question! Well I certainly have a great love for travel and discovery - those are key things that led to my decision to become a geographer. I typically travel ~75% of the year, and strive to visit new places every year (e.g., I'll be visiting Albania for the first time later in 2024). This passion for travel really started with my parents who were school teachers, so we often took roadtrips during the summertime to various places in the US, Canada, and Mexico. My approach to travel is probably like most people's, although I'm constantly comparing and contrasting various customs and practices. But I also love to visit filming locations of my favorite movies and TV shows, it's been a hobby since I was a teenager growing up in so. California. So that motivated me to cofound the "SetJetters" app that can help you find filming locations from around the world.As for my book projects, the primary one right now is my culturalization handbook - meant to be a very practical guide to helping world-builders create worlds (real or fictional) that carefully navigate cultural, geopolitical, and social sensitivities. Beyond this, I have some ideas for other books but I need to focus on this one first.
Incredible achievements Kate! Kudos! I'm the CEO and Co-founder of a startup in the music vertical building an AI powdered solution. I'm a woman music producer (my credits include Beyoncé, Pink and more) and have spent my entire professional career in a predominantly male industry. I'm also Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied science alumni, so I'm used to being the only woman in a room but at this stage in my career, I find myself wanting to be in connection to other C Suite women but I honestly don't know where to begin. What is your best advice on connecting with other c-suite women and also when navigating being the boss of teams that tend to be predominantly male and the challenges that sometimes comes with. Thanks for your time!
Thank you so much, and congrats to you as well on your achievements! I can totally empathize with your position, as so many of us have to work and navigate predominately male industries. The game industry is no different, being only about 22% women at the moment. I have found solace in connecting with C-suite women in various groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, some of which are hidden or private because it gives us a safe space to talk to one another openly. When I travel to various industry events, I also make sure to attend the various womens meet-ups that often occur, just to maximize the networking opportunities, which can lead to the creation of online groups like the ones I mentioned, so we can keep the conversations going. And I know locally, there are sometimes some women business leaders meet-ups (I'm based in Seattle, but they are prevalent pretty much everywhere). I'd suggest that as another opportunity to explore.
Cool! I love talking about cultural differences, cross-cultural communication and understanding. I don't know anything about the world of gaming, so this is totally new to me. Could you speak a bit more to what you wrote here: "helping game developers navigate complex geopolitical and cultural issues in their game content" ? Why is this important, what gaps are you hoping to fill, can you share about how this has been impactful? Thanks so much!
Hi Olivia and thanks for your question! Like any media content, games are a reflection of the world we live in, so while game developers might create a world that is based in the real-world or a fictional world, their creative process is still influenced by things they've seen, heard, read, etc. about the real-world. So part of my job is to watch for how that influence affects the games and their narrative and experiential intent.For example, there are first-person shooter games that often are set in real-world conflict zones - so we have to ask: is this appropriate? Do we really want to highlight an existing dispute or conflict? We have fictional world games that have cultures that may be based (directly or indirectly) on a real-world group, so we need to ensure that the game doesn't directly copy or mimic them. If that's the intention, then we need input from those cultural groups to help guide on how to represent them correctly. If that's not the intention, then we need to watch for what I call the "allegorical distance" between the original inspiration and the in-game implementation. As I've done this work on 270+ games, the impacts vary widely - sometimes it's a very surgical, one-issue fix, and other times it's a much larger question about a game's entire premise. I'm often finding things that the core team doesn't look for or think about, which is why having a more objective third party come in and review the content for such issues is really critical. If we miss something, or make a mistake, the game could be banned in a specific country or region, and/or yield global backlash from a specific cultural group, etc. In short, we're trying to avoid any perception that the game is intentionally trying to offend anyone.