Minecraft environment showing a mountain and snow with 4 Mojavatars and headshots of their real counterparts above them

Women behind Minecraft are building a better world through the power of play, block by block

Åsa Bredin, who became studio head of Mojang Studios in 2023, came into gaming through engineering more than 15 years ago, but her sons introduced her to Minecraft, the multi-billion-dollar franchise Mojang created and which has continued to evolve in many ways. They became what she calls super users.

Like a lot of parents, she felt like it was a safe space for her boys to build and explore virtual worlds. But unlike most parents, she plays a big part behind the scenes of the globally popular game.

One of her proudest moments was when her sons defeated the ender dragon in the game and saw her name in the credits.

“Even though they know I work there, that was a huge moment,” she jokes. “You have to work hard with teenage boys to be cool.”

When you enter Minecraft, you enter the Overworld. It’s where you start your journey of a thousand blocks in an ever-expanding 3D environment. The game is a sandbox where you can create and explore at your own pace, play with others, go on quests and more. 

For some of the women working behind the scenes, their journey into the gaming industry started decades ago. For others, it’s a more recent path. But all of them embrace themes of collaboration, freedom and connection reflected in the game, and in their lives.

In a male-dominated industry, these are women who help other women. They speak for those who aren’t at the table with them. They’ve each been the only woman in meetings.  

Their role models include their moms, as well as pioneers in math/science, Xbox and other game studios, such as Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Shannon Loftis. Now, they’re among the role models for early career women pursuing paths in gaming. They attend and speak at Women in Gaming events, encouraging women to take risks and pursue their passions. 

When they play Minecraft, they gravitate toward the creative mode, where they can relax by exploring, building and digging deep in their own spaces. 

Not all of them are parents, but they understood early on that this was a game parents trusted, thanks to tools like Minecraft Realms, personal servers where families and friends can play in shared worlds across devices. 

Fifteen years after it debuted and a decade after Microsoft acquired Mojang, Minecraft is played in every country and territory. In 2021, Minecraft content surpassed 1 trillion views on YouTube.  

Coming through the engineering ranks, Bredin’s ascent came with a lot of insights and lessons she shares with other women. 

“I can only speak from my experience, but I would say numbers matter. I have been the only woman in lots of meetings. Particularly when you’re in leadership roles within engineering, we need to really show how great gaming is for everyone and make sure we get more girls into STEM subjects,” she says. “There is also so much more within gaming that I think people outside of gaming, they don’t realize all the different types of roles that are available.”

She points to the varying roles within engineering, working on gameplay or the platform. Within production, producers keep the project aligned to a timeline, while creatives can contribute to the game through animation, voiceovers, lighting, narrative writing, etc. 

“It takes a lot of people to build a great game,” Bredin says. “There is something for everyone. We want to encourage people to explore what they’re passionate about and join the fun.” 

The Entertainment Software Association reports that 46% of video game players identify as female.

Early on in her career in tech and gaming, Ada Duan rarely saw others who looked like her – an Asian American woman. 

But she grew up with a mom whose career spanning three decades in the U.S. and Asia showed her how someone can continuously develop in different roles, while maintaining a strong work ethic and dedication to her teams. 

Now, as general manager of Growth Products and Partners at Mojang, she sees women making up half the leadership team. And that matters for attracting and retaining diverse talent as team members at the studio have attributed strong female representation in leadership as a reason for why people join and stay.

She’s also the executive sponsor of Asians at Xbox, an employee resource group within Microsoft that focuses on community building activities, such as recently celebrating the lunar year of the dragon. For Duan, it’s also important to have representation in Xbox and Minecraft games, with more games than ever from Asian creators and involving Asian characters.  

“There are over 3 billion gamers on the planet today, and in order to reach them, it’s super important to have either different gameplay styles or games and stories that really resonate,” she says. “This also means having more diverse teams and bringing more diversity in thought.” 

Duan points to programs like Xbox’s Developer Acceleration Program, which supports and empowers underrepresented creators. Within Minecraft, the team is looking at a similar playbook for their creators. 

“There’s an intentionality to diversify our creator set in terms of bringing content to Minecraft,” she says. 

Kayleen Walters, vice president of franchise development at Mojang Studios, adds that the studio looks for opportunities to highlight women creators and creators from other underrepresented groups through different focus months and the annual Minecraft Live extravaganza. Minecraft Marketplace partners have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from more than 1 billion downloads of custom skins, worlds and other experiences. 

While Chief Operating Officer Annie Chenn has been in the gaming industry for more than 20 years and has worked on Star Wars Battlefront, Battlefield and other marquee titles, her nephews clued her into what makes Minecraft different from other games. 

“The thing I’m most proud of is that our team, our game, is so inclusive. I think if you were to go out there and talk to the community of gaming in general, they will say that Minecraft is a really welcoming community, compared to a lot of the games out there,” she says. 

Chenn’s trajectory to gaming included studying subjects that at the time weren’t directly related to gaming – like urban planning – so she never thought there was a career in it for her.

“Long story short, here I am. The culture, the creativity, the fun, the melding of technology with creative was really inspiring to me,” Chenn says. “It’s been over 20 years now. Of course, there were bumps along the way, but in that time I’ve moved to different roles, from business and strategy to shipping games in the trenches with the teams and it ended up taking me ultimately to Stockholm to work with DICE [the game studio].”

That game studio led her to meeting Helen Chiang, the studio head at Mojang immediately preceding Bredin. (Chiang is now the chief operating officer of Game Content and Studios at Xbox.)  

“I was super intrigued because I’ve never seen anybody lead a studio that looked like me,” Chenn says. “In my career I’ve worked with mostly men. I’ve even been the only woman, aside from the receptionist. That’s been my reality.”

She feels fortunate in having had a great mentor and believes allies are important to getting more women at the table and in those meetings, making decisions.

“He was the one that opened doors for me when I had nobody to advocate for me because I didn’t have a seat at the table. He advocated for me and I think that we need more of that to truly make that change,” Chenn says. “Whether you’re new or you’ve been in your career for 20 plus years, the impostor syndrome is real. It’s always there and I think it’s because women are so outnumbered in this industry. I think it’s gotten a lot better than when I first started, but I think that there’s still a long way to go for women to find their voice. It’s inspiring to see when there’s leaders like Helen, and I think you just need more women showing that that is possible.”

Walters, who also took a detour of sorts going through entertainment and films to get to gaming, says that mentoring is one way to show other women what’s possible.

“It’s important to shepherd and support women,” she says. “Mentoring is not only a way to share your knowledge and experience, but also a way to empower and inspire the next generation of women in gaming. And it’s important to show them the possibilities and the opportunities that are out there. Sometimes when you’re having a hard day, you just need somebody to show the other side. I think that’s a huge gift not only to the people that you mentor, but to yourself.”

Her own non-gaming background is a good example of how all kinds of experience can make it into the industry.

“I was apprehensive because I don’t have a big gaming background. But when I met the team and I learned more about Minecraft, I actually thought it was a perfect fit,” Walters says. “I could marry my knowledge of entertainment and help advance this amazing brand because when you look at Minecraft, it has such strong values and ideals and I love the idea of just broadening it across the entertainment touch points.”

“Early in my career I didn’t speak up and it took courage or learning to get to that point where I felt comfortable with that,” Bredin says. “It can be uncomfortable, but you learn over time and just go for it.” 

“I would say reach out to someone in the industry, so whether it’s an alumnus from your school or someone you’ve seen on a panel, just start a conversation, start building your network,” Duan says. “We all started somewhere. You can find so many people who are willing to share their story and support your journey in this industry.” 

“Being part of studios that get the game into players’ hands very quickly, means you can feel that impact, what resonates and what doesn’t,” Chenn says. If I had Minecraft when I was 5 on my Game Boy, I know I would be a creator today.” 

Walters, who came into Mojang after 13 years with Lucasfilm, urges early career women to “stick with it” in the competitive and demanding gaming and entertainment industries. 

“You will definitely encounter obstacles and setbacks. If it’s something you’re passionate about, don’t ever give up, right? Find ways to overcome. Pivot when you need to, find ways to achieve your goals. That may mean learning new skills, seeking new opportunities or networking with others,” she says. “Be confident that we can do it, but also be collaborative, supportive, curious and adventurous. Be resilient and persistent.”  

“One of the core reasons I joined the company is because of our purpose, which is building a better world through the power of play,” says Duan, who brought experience from working at LucasArts and Leapfrog on game-based learning to Minecraft Education.  

Her team is responsible for getting Minecraft games to players on an array of platforms across console, PC and mobile. 

“When I joined Mojang three years ago, it felt like a homecoming to be able work on an IP [intellectual property] that is as universal as Minecraft and to understand the impact that we could have on the world.” 

For Walters, who leads efforts to deliver new experiences and expand outside of the core Minecraft game, that means extending the game’s ethos into entertainment. She’s just recently gone to work on a Minecraft film in progress. 

Minecraft’s consumer products business alone has doubled in revenue over the past two years.  

“Minecraft has hundreds of millions of players but has even more fans. They engage through our content, so they might be online on YouTube or following social media or purchasing consumer products, so we want to make sure that we’re expanding our ecosystem and creating new content for all of those Minecraft fans, including those who don’t play,” Walters says. Some of those collabs in recent years include Crocs and Burberry

But even as Minecraft expands into so many parts of society and culture, its values stay on course. 

“The way Minecraft embraces diversity and inclusion as well as safety, I think that is why it’s played by hundreds of millions of people around the world,” Walters says. “It’s so important for each player to feel represented and for each player to have their safe and enjoyable experience.”  

“It is really an honor to represent Minecraft. It is an iconic franchise, a cultural phenomenon. All of our teams take pride in everything they do,” Bredin says. “My job is making sure they have what they need to continue to do that so they can build great experiences.”  

*Lead photo: (L-R) Annie Chenn, Kayleen Walters, Ada Duan and Åsa Bredin