Ladies in Gaming Biz

Ladies in Gaming Biz: Sarah Schaffstall at Astral Clocktower Studios

The name LadiesGamers isn’t chosen randomly, our name sort of gives it away: even when our writers and readers are of different genders, we especially welcome female gamers. After all, that’s how the site started: with the views of an older woman on the world of gaming. And for a couple of years now there are two older ladies at the helm!

We feel it’s time to give women that work in the gaming industry a podium. A lot of avid gamers would probably love to have a job in the industry themselves and we think it’s especially important to encourage girls, in particular, to go for their dream job.

So time for a new series of articles, featuring ladies who are working in the gaming business! Interested? You’ll find the other interviews here. This time we talk to to Sarah Schaffstall who was managing a marketing department before she co-founded Astral Clocktower Studios.

Meet Sarah at Astral Clocktower Studios

Who is Sarah Schaffstall in everyday life? Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

In my professional every-day life, I’m one of the three studio owners over at Astral Clocktower Studios and I also serve as our fearless Marketing Director! We’re currently hard at work crafting our inaugural title, a 3D Dark Fantasy ARPG about badass, magical warrior cats. I have over 10 years of experience in the digital marketing space (though trust me…nothing is more fun to market than a video game).

ladies in gaming biz

When I’m not hard at work fostering the ACS and Kristala brands, you’ll typically find me kicked back in a hammock somewhere, exploring in my kayak, boogyin’ to live music, tending to my growing garden, or curled up with a good book and my three sweet felines.

I’m also pretty artistic and I love both reading and writing—mostly fantasy and fiction on the former, and primarily poetry and short prose on the latter. One of my newest hobbies is experimenting with bleach dying and trying out new patterns and application techniques. 

What is your professional history when it comes to gaming?

I actually have a bit of an interesting story when it comes to how I became professionally involved in the gaming industry. 

In truth, I didn’t have aspirations to work in the gaming industry growing up, nor as I began my professional career as an adult. In fact, it wasn’t until I met our studio founder, Alexis, at a day job that was completely unrelated to gaming when the idea of starting a career in the game industry popped up on my radar.

At the time, I was managing the marketing department at said day job, and Alexis was hired as a Software Programmer. We quickly bonded over a conversation about our shared love of cats, and it was then that Allie told me about her dream of starting an indie games studio and asked if I’d like to join her and her business partner, Tiffany, as the third studio owner.

At this point in my professional career, I’d been working in the digital marketing space for over ten years in various roles and capacities. Although I wasn’t incredibly well-versed in modern gaming or the indie gaming space, the idea of marketing within an industry that would allow me to develop a more relaxed and creative brand voice was incredibly alluring.

Logo trademarked by Astral Clocktower Studios

Accepting Alexis’s offer to join her and Tiffany as the leading ladies behind Astral Clocktower Studios was ultimately an easy choice. We officially founded the studio in 2018, and I’ve been working as our Marketing Director ever since. It’s truly been a pleasure learning more about game development and interacting with folks in the indie gaming realm. I can honestly say now that I truly can’t picture myself working in any other industry. It just fits.

Tell us a bit about Astral Clocktower Studios

Astral Clocktower Studios was founded by Alexis Brutman, Tiffany Gomez, and myself. What started as just the three of us has since grown into a rich, robust, and diverse family of over 30 creators hailing from all over the world. 

We’re also pretty proud of the fact that of our wildly talented team, over 30% identify as female, and our female members oversee and lead over 70% of the individual areas of development for the studio—including Production, Game Design, Level Design, Narrative Design, and Marketing. 

While we’re still technically a fledgling developer working towards completing the demo for our inaugural title, Kristala, our core culture and key pillars are centered around celebrating diversity, equality, and inclusion in the traditionally male-dominated gaming space. 

We encourage an “open door” atmosphere that’s free from judgement and celebrates the vast and diverse cultures our team members represent and bring to our family. These same values and principles aren’t just present in our work life and company culture, but also bleed into the overall development for Kristala, a 3D Dark Fantasy ARPG featuring anthropomorphic feline and rodent characters. 

ladies in gaming biz

Each clan of felines and faction of rodents featured in Kristala possesses its own unique culture, specialties, traits, and skills—all of which represent key differences that are not only focal points of the game, but also serve as the driving force behind Kristala’s core themes and primary storyline. 

We hope to bring a unique voice and fresh perspective to the indie gaming industry and we are eager and excited to forge strong, long-lasting relationships with other like-minded gaming organizations—like Ladies Gamers—that share our passions and believe in our overall goals.

Does your educational background match your position in the gaming industry?

Although my role with ACS Games is the first in my professional career that’s within the gaming industry, I have a strong marketing background that I bring to the table. 

In addition to earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and Journalismwith an emphasis in Public Relations—I have worked in the digital marketing space in various roles and capacities for over ten years. This rich and expansive experience has allowed me to grow as a marketer and evolve with the industry as it shifts from traditional marketing practices to more complex, content-based marketing strategies. 

ladies in gaming biz

It’s been a pleasure developing and fostering the ACS and Kristala brands with the aid and support of my incredible marketing team and fellow studio owners.

Gaming Habits

Do you play games yourself, or have you played them in the past growing up?

Although I wasn’t incredibly well-versed with modern games when I joined the ACS family, I do have super fond memories of gaming with my sister growing up. Our first console was the Super Nintendo, and my absolute favorite games to play on the SNES were all three Donkey Kong games, the Lion King game, Yoshi’s Island, and Super Mario World.

When the N64 was released, we soon graduated to that console and I was a big fan of Yoshi’s Story, Mario Kart 64, Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda, and the Mario Party games.

Sadly, the N64 was the last console we owned growing up, but I had plenty of friends throughout my teenage years who owned Xboxes and PlayStations that I’d often commandeer when I came over to hang out (you’re talkin’ to an expert-level Guitar Hero wizard here haha!).

Now, as an adult, I have an Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch in the house, thanks to my incredible partner. In addition to our growing library of games, you’ll often find me playing the latest build of Kristala on my PC and hunting for bugs to pass along to our programmers.

What is your favorite gaming genre and why?

I’m a huuuge fantasy nerd, so honestly…anything with fantasy elements in it is super alluring to me. I’ve most recently been playing through the Ori series from Moon Studios for the first time and I really enjoy the Action-Platformer format of those titles.

Also, because I’m a huge reader, I tend to enjoy story-heavy games that are full of lore and lots of quests and NPC interaction. I’m the type of player who will stop to inspect every little nook and cranny of any given area before I feel satisfied enough to move forward.

Although I hadn’t had much experience at all with Dark Fantasy ARPG titles prior to working on Kristala, I’ve since really come to enjoy and respect the Soulslike format too. I enjoy figuring out the attack patterns for enemies and learning the exact right moment to attack…almost like a delicate dance.

What is your preferred video game console or handheld device to play games on and why?

I think my favorite console right now is probably the Switch. Compared to other consoles, it’s relatively affordable, has an impressive library of games, and it can be played on both a big screen and on the go. I love taking it on long car or plane rides! Win, win.

Women in the Gaming Industry

Do you feel the gaming industry is still very much male-dominated, or do you think that has changed or is changing?

I do think the gaming industry is still heavily male-dominated, but I also think that’s beginning to shift and will continue to shift as the conversation around diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry continues.

…I can’t tell you how many incredible women I’ve met over the past four years working in this industry, and it’s so nice to see that kind of strong representation from talented women creators from all across the globe.

There are also a ton of awesome organizations that are advocating for women in gaming toolike Women in Games and the lovely folks here at Ladies Gamers (just to name a few). I was actually recently accepted as an Individual Ambassador for Women in Games, and it’s definitely one of my proudest achievements. 

It’s so important that we continue to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the gaming space, and it’s such an honor to be included as an Ambassador amongst so many other incredible women and allies.

Do you think a woman has a different approach when it comes to making games?

I definitely think women have a unique perspective and approach when it comes to making games, especially when it comes to understanding what other women might want to see or experience within a gameplay atmosphere. 

We’re all unique individuals with our own thoughts and observations about the world, so of course every developer or storyteller creates from his or her own specific experiences (thus making every approach to development unique in some way), but I think women in particularmuch like devs of color, devs with disabilities, and devs who are members of the LGBTQ+ communityhave experienced some form of feeling marginalized or judged or doubted or singled out in some way. These difficult experiences in turn, I believe, have the potential to shape more dynamic (or, perhaps, just differently dynamic) narrative themes and gameplay elements.

ladies in gaming biz

For this reason, we truly believe it’s incredibly important to welcome a diverse and inclusive atmosphereboth within our own development studio and within the gaming industry as a whole. Creating space for different voices is paramount to creating audio, visual, and gameplay experiences that every single one of us, at some point, can relate to. 

What advice would you give girls who have a dream to one day have a job in the gaming industry?

I think my biggest piece of advice for anyone of any gender would be to seek out a solid community that’s centered around whatever area of focus you want to learn within the gaming industry. Are you interested in Level Design? Seek out other Level Designers. Want to learn 3D Modeling? Chat with other 3D Artists. 

It’s so important to have others around you who can not only help answer your questions and guide you as you learn new skills and concepts, but who can also rally around you and provide support and a safe space to unload when you’re feeling frustrated or doubting yourself.

The indie gaming space is such a wonderfully supportive atmosphere filled with tons of talented and kind creators who are in the same exact boat you are. I’ve personally found that there will rarely be a situation or problem you face that someone else in this community hasn’t also experienced or gone through. Lean on those around you who want to help and see you succeed.

For girls and women in particular, my advice is to seek out some of the communities specifically geared towards women in the gaming industry…like Women In Games, Ladies in Gaming Biz, Code Coven, The GameHERS, Girls Make Games, etc. There’s an entire community of women and allies who are passionate about guiding girls and women towards the path of success in the gaming industry.

Just remember: YOU GOT THIS!

Last Question: If you could be a character in a game, which one would it be and why?

This might sound incredibly silly, but I would love to romp around as Dixie Kong for a day. Not only is she a badass female in a world dominated by male counterparts, but she has the coolest abilities compared to the other playable characters in the DK series. If I could ward off enemies, carry objects, or hover-fly using nothing but my ponytail, I’d be GOLDEN. 


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