Hiroko Hoshikawa is a relative newcomer to the videogame industry, joining Ubisoft just over two years ago as an associate producer. Raised in a small town in Japan called Yamagata, she attended college at University of Central Oklahoma where she studied theater arts. After college, Hoshikawa moved back to her native Japan where she taught English to children and worked as a translator. Feeling her job was not in the alignment with her goals, she visited a career counselor. The counselor – inspired by Hoshikawa’s wishes to work in an exciting job where she could speak English – recommended an opening at Ubisoft for an associate producer position.
Hoshikawa grew up playing videogames and was familiar with Ubisoft, so when this opportunity arose, she jumped at it. When she’s not busy working on or playing South Park: The Fractured But Whole and Rocksmith, Hoshikawa’s love of shooters has her playing a ton of Rainbow Six Siege.
What is your favorite part of being a producer?
Hiroko Hoshikawa: To me, working as a producer feels like theater. In theater, you have to rehearse so much and you’re physically and mentally tired working up to the opening of the show. But, once you reach that moment, all that effort pays off and you have something you can really be proud of. That’s what the games industry feels like to me.
Day-to-day work is fun with this team. I like to see what the designers, engineers, and artists are all creating because it’s something that I can’t do. Everything comes together at the end and everyone’s work has combined in the final game. I get excited to see the effort that each team member puts into the game and seeing it translate into the final product when I’m playing it is my favorite part of being a producer. Playing the finished version of South Park for the first time was a great moment.
What prepared you to be a producer?
HH: I’ve always enjoyed getting to know people and talking to them. I think when I first started at Ubisoft I had no knowledge of how games were developed or how a producer should behave so I asked questions to everyone. Producers have to be able to communicate with many different teams so if I didn’t understand an engineering word, I would talk to an engineer; if I didn’t know what was happening in a project, I would talk to senior producers. I’m always talking to and learning from my peers.
I feel like I am good at team-building, which is an important part of a producers job.
“I was able to help bridge the gap between two studios.”
Do you think your background in theater and teaching helped you become a producer?
HH: Absolutely. Having lived in the United States as a Japanese woman also really helped. In the theater department at Central Oklahoma, there were only a few Japanese people there so I really had to speak up to make myself heard. If I had a question, I had to ask the question; no one would come up to me and say, “Hey, do you have any questions? Are you ok?” That’s where I learned the habit that I needed to seek out help if I needed it.
Theater and teaching are two fields that tend to be more balanced in terms of gender, what was it like joining the gaming industry that skews male?
HH: First, I was surprised at how many men there were in the office, because the companies I used to work at were at least half-female, if not more. When I started, there were only a few women working in the office, which helped us get closer with each other. But I never felt that women were being underestimated or mistreated in the office. We were always treated with respect and as equals.
The office is incredibly diverse, there are more men than women, but there are so many people of different ethnicities and cultures here as well. The culture of the company here in Osaka is very different than the culture of the companies I’ve worked at in the past. It’s more comfortable and accepting.
What was it like going from Oklahoma, where you were one of a few Japanese people, to the games industry, where you were one of a few women?
HH: They were definitely different experiences. I don’t feel like a minority at Ubisoft Osaka. Going to the United States as a Japanese person was tough. It changed my perspective on society for sure. It was a huge culture shock and I definitely felt different, but maybe that’s why it didn’t feel as different when I came to Ubisoft. I know there are more men in the gaming industry than women, but I don’t feel that women are a minority anymore. We’re everywhere in the industry.
Have you ever had any female role models as a producer?
HH: I try not to put any one person up on a pedestal as a singular role model. I think everyone has strengths and weakness, so I think I try to identify the certain aspects and qualities of many different people that I admire. We have quite a few producers who are women and I’ve learned a little bit of everything from each and every one of them.
“I learned the habit that I needed to seek out help if I needed it.”
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
HH: When I first started working at Ubisoft, translation was a big part of my job and that first year was tough for me. We talk to the San Francisco office quite a lot, and when I started, less than half the team spoke English so I had to translate a lot. I had to work hard and had many long days in my first year.
One day, I was speaking to the studio manager here and he asked me how I was doing. I mentioned how busy I was and said that I didn’t know if I could keep it up at this rate and he gave me some advice that’s really stuck with me. He said, “Ask for help.” I was already behind as a producer in a gaming company, I was trying so hard to do everything on my own, and I felt like I needed to learn everything on my own. My studio manager really understood and told me that it’s impossible to learn everything all at once and that it’s ok to ask for help.
What advice would you give to young women who want to become producers?
HH: To me, the most important part of being a producer is being flexible. Our job changes in every phase, month, week, and even day. You’re always doing something different, so be ready for that change and learn to thrive in it. Be willing to change your course, don’t be set in stone with any decision because it’s important to be able to adapt to how the team is working.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
HH: For South Park, I worked a lot with Ubisoft San Francisco as an associate producer, and using my English speaking abilities, I was able to help bridge the gap between two studios. As I mentioned before, when I first started we had many non-English speakers in Osaka that weren’t comfortable communicating with team members in San Francisco, but over time, I helped them become more comfortable. It’s not something that is quantifiable but it was crucial for us to come together to be able to make the game.
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