Microsoft’s Charu Desodt recognised as 2014 BAFTA Breakthrough Brit

untitledCharu Desodt, Senior Producer at Microsoft Studio Lift London, has been selected by BAFTA to be one of their eighteen Breakthrough Brits for 2014.

The prestigious BAFTA initiative supports and celebrates up-and-coming British talent in the film, television and games industries by seeking out the stars of tomorrow and supporting their career development. The eighteen talents chosen for 2014 include actors, directors and producers from the world of TV and film together with four representatives from the world of games.

After a UK-wide call for applications and nominations, the final Breakthrough Brits were chosen by a jury of industry experts including film director Mike Newell, actor and director Richard Ayoade, producer Barbara Broccoli and actress Olivia Colman. The honorees were announced to a star-studded reception hosted by BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James at the flagship Burberry store in London. We had the chance to delve into Charu’s journey throughout the games industry and learn what makes a Breakthrough Brit.

About Charu

Charu Desodt is a Senior Producer at Microsoft’s Lift London Studio and commenced her career in console gaming by creating the technology behind the hugely successful SingStar® franchise on PS2 for Sony. Since then, she has released close to 80 games, including Wonderbook™: Book of Spells, PS Home and Dancestar® Party. Charu also features in the MCV list of Top 100 UK Women in Games, is an active member of the games industry community.

Work on Charu’s first title utilised digital signal processing methods, independently prototyping to create a music game. Her demo method, in turn, was revolutionary in terms of current singing games and was the genesis of SingStar – a competitive singing game for PS2 and PS3 which went on to win a BAFTA Award for Originality in 2005 and in June 2014 was listed as one of the top 30 British games ever produced. Charu was a key member of the team responsible for moving the title into production in 2006, evolving the product to include an online community and content, and releasing the game cross-platform on PS3 and PS Home.

In 2011, Charu worked as a producer on Wonderbook™: Book of Spells, an augmented-reality game developed in conjunction with JK Rowling and set in the Harry Potter universe. She led a team that brought to life original stories written by JK Rowling in a paper theatre format. Combining ground-breaking augmented-reality technology and the well-loved world of Harry Potter, Charu was able to create an intuitive gaming experience. Book of Spells was nominated for a BAFTA Award in Game Innovation in 2013.

Charu joined Lift London in 2012, as the studio’s first producer – helping set up the studio’s development and creative processes – and is currently working on a new multiplatform, character-centric IP.

What is your favourite game?

I’m really enjoying playing games with my family. Current favourites include Forza and Kinect Sports Rivals.

What are you passionate about?

I find mixing technology and entertainment very appealing because the results can be unpredictable – often creating inventive, high quality products. Games are a specialised form of storytelling and combining this with technology is a complex challenge. The two need to be fun, seamless and intuitive – though it’s great when the technology has a ‘wow’ factor in itself.

What motivated you to go into gaming development?

The original plan was to go into finance or management consultancy, but then I rediscovered games when I was at university. Seeing the variety of disciplines and perspectives that formed a game team was an eye-opener and definitely seemed like a more exciting, if unpredictable career path. It’s also great fun!

What is your contribution to the world of gaming?

I’m proud to have been the first female engineer hired by Sony’s London Studio, and creating the technology behind Singstar® was a great achievement so early in my career.

I’ve also worked on almost 80 games, been part of a BAFTA winning team and been included in the MCV list of the Top 100 UK Women in Games.

I’m passionate about being part of the gaming community, and am proud to have been involved in a number of initiatives that promote the industry – particularly the role of women in gaming. In the past year, I’ve worked with Little Miss Geek and DigiGirlz, and was also fortunate enough to be involved with Microsoft’s Codess events in both the UK and India.

I’m also genuinely excited by the title Lift London is currently working on. We’ll be sharing more on that shortly!

What do you like the most about working for Lift London?

Joining Lift London has broadened my perspective on what a game is and what defines success. It’s allowed me to experiment with gelling together a hugely diverse and talented group of individuals with a range of interests and skillsets, whilst making sure that the quieter opinions are also part of the conversation.

Is there anyone that supported you into taking up this career path?

Lift London is full of experienced, inspirational people who are continually striving to make the best game and working alongside with such highly motivated people makes me want to do better too.

What were the main challenges you needed to face so far in your career?

Being prepared to take a risk at the same time as persevering and working towards a vision are traits that really help. I like games that challenge the prevailing industry standards, so sometimes convincing others that a new method or combining game genres can be challenging. I think games are just a type of media and that there is still a lot of scope for evolution and cross industry collaboration.

Do you have any tips for other women that are trying to break through in this male-dominated gaming industry?

The games industry is still very young and a lot has changed in terms of opening up the games genres, targeting wider audiences and a will to create more quirky games. This is absolutely reflected in business analysis where 50% of players and those who spend money on games are female. Companies recognise this and I’m pretty sure they value fresh perspectives because it makes creative and business sense.

I’d say don’t be put off by any perceived gender imbalances. While the majority of people currently working in games are men, this is changing as more and more women start to enter the industry.

What games did you develop?

SingStar Franchise, DanceStar Party, Wonderbook™: Book of Spells and as well as a new title for Lift London.

What are your professional plans for the future?

For me, game development is also about the next generation of gaming – creating a legacy that leaves a lasting impression on their players and on the industry as a whole. Games like Singstar, DanceStar Party and Wonderbook™: Book of Spells have introduced new audiences to the medium, experimented with technology, tapped into the social media phenomenon, and revolutionised game genres.

Inspiring people to make new games and encouraging innovation can also be done more directly, through invitations to speak and share experiences at creative industry and engineering events such as Little Miss Geek, SohoCreate and the European Women in Games Conference. I recently ran a creative workshop for women engineers hosted by Codess and Microsoft in Bangalore, which introduced participants to the craft of making games and gave me the opportunity to be an ambassador for the UK games industry. It was an honour to have the chance to represent women and working parents in games, and show others the opportunities open to them in our industry.

What is your vision for innovation in the world of gaming?

If we could tear down the barriers around making games, what might a game made by a chemist, counsellor or civil engineer look like, and what might it inspire others to do? As games gain ever-increasing relevance, recognition and popularity, I want to connect and collaborate across industries and cultures to explore their potential beyond entertainment. I’ve been intrigued and inspired recently by two projects in particular: Block by Block, a UN initiative which uses Minecraft to involve citizens in public space design. Like all storytelling media, gaming can have a positive effect on the human psyche and be a powerful agent for social change and I’d like to explore that more in future.

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