Game Designer Abigail Rindo Likes To Play Around At Work
It’s all part of a hard day’s tasks.
In Elite Daily’s I Have The Job You Want series, we tell the stories of people working in the most ridiculous, unbelievable, and totally envy-inducing fields you never thought possible. In this piece, we talk to a video game storyteller whose job is all about making up stories at work.
Who says playing video games can’t be part of a hard day’s work? Certainly not Abigail Rindo. Rindo is the narrative design director at King Digital Entertainment, a video game developer and publisher that specializes in free gaming apps. For her, the ability to tell stories, develop characters, and shape environments through gaming is just one of the many things she adores about her daily career duties. “There’s actually so much opportunity for us to do storytelling in deeper ways,” she tells Elite Daily. “It amazes me how much deeper of a narrative experience we can create with the tools that are available.”
Rindo is responsible for crafting character arcs and storylines behind the famed Candy Crush Saga. It’s one of the world’s most popular games, and as of 2022, it has been downloaded approximately 3.4 billion times. With enough characters to rival a Lord of the Rings novel, the Candy Crush Saga is a “match three” puzzle game largely centered around matching three or more candy pieces to save the Candy Kingdom. Throughout their conquests, players befriend Candy Kingdom residents, like tutorial guide Mr. Toffee and shop owner Mr. Yeti, along the way. “I've been working on Candy Crush Saga for about three years now, and when I came into the game, it had already been around for seven years,” Rindo says. She joined King Digital Entertainment in 2019, seven years after Candy Crush’s launch.
One of Rindo’s main tasks has been streamlining the number of characters in the game and enriching their story arcs. “Many, many different developers [were] contributing, and there were over a hundred characters in the game at the time,” Rindo says. “I tried to get to know all of the characters, but I also realized our players just weren't remembering all of them.” So she teamed up with the art department and whittled the cast down to around 15 main characters. “It was [a] really interesting challenge to take all of these characters that had been around for many years and bring them into a cast that we wanted to be able to manage a little bit better.”
So much of games … is visual storytelling.
She may spend one day teaming up with the design department to weigh in on visual themes, or working independently writing dialogue between characters. She may even spend some time alongside the marketing team to navigate social media strategies. “When I see something that needs to be done, I roll up my sleeves [and] get ready to work, and that could be a really good thing,” Rindo says. However, her full plate can leave her exhausted if she’s not careful about pushing herself too hard.
“I have experienced burnout before in prior roles,” Rindo says. It’s a continuous struggle. “A lot of the time, being creative requires space,” she says. “I always have to make sure I’m taking care of myself and allowing myself to have that energy to do the creative work I need to do,” she says. According to a 2014 study in the Annual Review of Psychology, researchers found that more than 40% of creative ideas sparked during breaks and downtime, when the mind was free to wander. That holds true when it comes to Rindo’s routine. For her, being creative “requires time to be quiet or time to take a walk.”
Despite settling into her role as a narrative designer, Rindo didn’t always picture herself pursuing a career in the video game industry. In 2005, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in illustration and a minor in art history, and aimed to be an illustrator for comic books and children’s literature. “I actually use my illustration and art history background all the time, because so much of games … is visual storytelling,” Rindo says.
But like many people who want to go into the arts, though, she didn’t find it was a direct path from degree to career. “I did a lot of things,” Rindo says. She worked for several small gaming studios as a graphic designer, an animator, a production director, a creative lead — basically, everything under the creative design umbrella. Even her transition to Candy Crush came with a big pivot — since King Digital Entertainment’s headquarters is based in Stockholm, Sweden, Rindo and her partner had to move internationally. “It was a big decision, but there hasn’t been a single moment where me or my partner have regretted it,” she says. “[It’s] been amazing living and working here. It was really important for me to be able to be in the same time zone as the team, since narrative design is such a collaborative craft.”
Through her experiences, Rindo emphasizes how there’s no singular way to enter the gaming industry. “If you have something that you’ve made that’s really cool,” she says, “just keep making games. Keep trying, keep writing, keep making art,” she adds. “It’s important to always learn and be curious because that’s going to serve you in the games industry more than you know.”
Mentoring is the secret sauce that can help people in their careers.
While Rindo may be at the top of her game now (no pun intended), as a woman in the video game industry, she’s statistically within the minority: According to demographics on video game developers gathered from 2010 to 2019, while nearly half of all video game players are women, they only make up around 23.7% of video game developers. Rindo is now working with an entire group of talented women at King Entertainment, but that wasn’t the case early in her career. “The first studio I worked with, I was the only female game developer,” she says. “That can be, honestly, a bit difficult.”
Rindo, however, feels a better future is on the horizon. “I do believe the industry is trying to change,” she says. “It’s something that many people are committed to, including myself.” In addition to being a key creative lead on Candy Crush Saga, Rindo dedicates her time to mentoring young video game developers from historically underrepresented groups through her work’s mentorship program with Together. “A lot of women come into games, and they leave,” she says, citing unsupportive work environments for high turnover rates. “Mentoring is the secret sauce that can help people in their careers, and I’ve been very lucky to have some really excellent mentors myself,” she says. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
When it comes to words of wisdom for young women and femmes looking to pursue careers within the video game industry, Rindo has some simple sage advice: “Make games, and don’t give up,” she says. While she understands the industry can be a tough one to break into, she knows first hand that the work is worth it. “It doesn’t matter where you come from; it doesn’t matter what school you've gone to,” she adds. “There’s a place for you in the games industry.”