Brianna Wu is head of development at Giant Spacekat, a prominent game development team in the industry with female leadership. She is also a well-known public speaker on issues affecting women in tech. She rose to be one of the most prominent women in game development in 2014 after being subjected to threats on her life from GamerGate.
Born in West Virginia, Brianna Wu was adopted into a family of religious, conservative Mississippians and moved there in the early 80s. Her father, a surgeon and entrepreneur, recognized her penchant for technology and enthusiastically supported her interest in technology any way he could — included classes and buying very expensive hardware. Wu has stated that some of her happiest memories as a child involved learning to program and modify computers her family bought for her. When the Sony Playstation debuted, her parents bought her a prototype “Net Yaroze” system that allowed her to make games and upload them to the Playstation hardware.
Wu has frequently described her childhood as difficult. She felt very alienated by the culture of Mississippi — which she did not feel she fit into. She tried to find meaning by attending church frequently, sometimes as often as three times a week. She also followed her father’s extreme conservative views in an effort to bond with him. Entering the University of Mississippi as a freshman, she did not believe racism was a problem, disliked environmentalists, and was strongly against feminism and gay rights.
Even at an early age, Wu took a strong interest in entrepreneurship. She had businesses at 15 out of her parents’ garage, modifying cars and computers. By at the age of 19, she dropped out of college to produce a $200,000 animated pilot — renting a house and turning it into a production studio.
At the age of 23, she decided to move to DC and work in politics for the Republican party — despite having no job leads. She threw everything she owned in her car and kept applying until she found work doing constituent services and fundraising. Wu has frequently spoken about this time period leading to a strong shift in her political views. Seeing the way the Republican party operated was in stark contrast to the ideals of the Republican party she saw stated on Fox News. By 26, she left DC disgusted — and decided to finish her undergraduate degree at the University of Mississippi.
By 2004, Wu was extremely frustrated with the Bush administration, and started reading books by prominent liberals reevaluating her beliefs. She spent 2004 campaigning heavily for John Kerry. In 2005, she was disowned by her parents over differences over the election and GLBT rights. Wu has stated she was homeless during this period.
By 2007, Wu was living Colorado and met her husband-to-be Frank Wu. They were engaged within three weeks and were married just 11 months later.
For her professional career, Wu worked a number of jobs related to the tech industry — frequently with emerging technologies. In the early 2000s, she became an expert in writing applications for Palm OS and producing websites with programs such as Dreamweaver and GoLive. She frequently held jobs with enterprise systems, and frequently did freelance art work with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. She also worked multiple jobs in reporting and investigative journalism.
In 2010, Wu was excited by the launch of mobile Unreal for iOS, and decided to launch a company to make games with the technology. This was the birth of Giant Spacekat. Wu had no previous experience in Unreal but assembled capital and a team, and spent most of early 2011 teaching herself 3D programs such as Maya and Unreal. She also became an expert in Kismet and visual scripting.
Wu has described herself as, “barely a feminist” when she started the company in 2010. She wanted to create games with strong female characters, but believed it was best to “just do a good job and don’t make a big deal out of it.”
Working in the game industry, Wu found herself frequently frustrated by what she described as the “boys club” mentality in games, which was much worse than any of the other industries she’d worked in. This was reflected in the tone of their first game Revolution 60, which featured an all-female cast of special operatives, in a game many describe as having strong feminist overtones. Revolution 60 shipped in July of 2014 to critically acclaimed reviews from Macworld, Kotaku, Gamebreaker, 148Apps, and others. A sequel is currently in the works.
Over the course of shipping Revolution 60, Wu found herself speaking more and more on what women were experiencing in the game industry. In 2013 she wrote a critically acclaimed piece called, “Choose your Character,” for ‘The Magazine’ outlining the culture of her studio and how she’d changed over the course of leading the company. This led to speaking roles at tech conferences all around the country including the keynote at i360 in Denver. In 2014, Wu was speaking on women in tech issues at PAX East, and writing critical pieces on the lack of women voting for game of the year. She also wrote, “No Skin Thick Enough,” for Polygon, a piece about the daily harassment of women in the game development industry.
In 2014 Wu also launched Isometric, a games podcast with a majority of women voicing their perspective. This was quickly picked up by the prominent 5by5 network and quickly became one of the most listened-to podcasts in games. She also hosts Rocket on Relay.FM.