Like many in Virtuos, Abigail Canavese harbours a passion for games. But she never did set out to pursue a career in the games industry; like the age-old saying goes, it chose her instead.
As an Account Manager, Abby (as she’s known to her friends and colleagues) wears many hats. To clients, she’s seen as part evangelist and part troubleshooter. Back at Virtuos however, she serves as liaison, advocate and cheerleader on behalf of the teams as they complete projects one after another. It takes someone special to be an Account Manager, and we’re glad Abby has our back.
In our next interview, we catch up with Abby as she takes time out from her busy schedule to talk about her experiences before and in Virtuos, what she thinks mobile games truly need to be successful, and her interests outside of work.
Tell us a bit about your career history and your current work at Virtuos.
Unlike some of my friends growing up, I never fantasized about working in the game industry—it just seemed too far-fetched for a girl from the Philippines. Ironically, my degree in Journalism led me to my first ever full-time job: a writing gig for an online community, which very quickly developed into a community for an online game. In a roundabout way, I ended up in games after all, doing PR and Marketing for a bit, Production and Project Management for another. I very quickly realized that I couldn’t picture myself in any other industry, so I packed my bags, moved countries twice, all in pursuit of my fulfilling new career path.
So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of working at Virtuos, where I was told I could work on multiple games at a time, from mobile to AAA. It seemed like the perfect fit—a job where could really apply the skills I had developed throughout my career, while indulging in a medium I love. Almost 3 years in, I can say working at Virtuos has exceeded my expectations in the best possible way.
In your time at Virtuos, which period or project is the most memorable one to you?
It has to be Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. It’s my biggest project to date at Virtuos, but more importantly, working on it taught me two things. First, it taught me the value of a strong relationship between an external developer and a lead studio—a relationship built on mutual trust and open communication. Second, it cemented in my mind one key aspect of my role as Account Manager: to support and empower our production teams to do what they do best. I only have good memories of that project, and frankly, it felt pretty amazing when my friends saw my name in the credits!
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
I’ve had so many memorable projects and experiences that were significant in their own ways, but there’s one specific moment that I often look back on. I was helming a production of about 15 people, having been catapulted into a Producer role so early in my career. During one particularly challenging meeting, things got heated, and afterward I had to retreat to my desk to cool off. I had been a lead before, but with smaller teams, lower stakes, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself in that moment that I was in way over my head—that I had made a mistake accepting the position.
Not a “highlight” per se, and maybe not the happiest memory, but I still hold on to it to appreciate where I am now. It was a fleeting moment, but a potent one, and I remember getting up from that desk, deciding never to doubt myself again.
What is the best thing about being an account manager at Virtuos?
Helping people solve problems has to be the most fulfilling part of the job. To me, there’s a palpable sense of satisfaction that comes with resolving issues, overcoming project challenges, or even just putting together straightforward solutions, especially if I can do that by bridging the gap between a client and our teams.
Virtuos has offices all around the world, including several footholds in North America. In your opinion, how is it like to work in the Vancouver branch?
Vancouver is an amazing place to live, so being able to work here has been a great privilege. Besides its fantastic views, the city is filled with creative people with a passion for life, so it’s a really conducive setting for working in games. Great food is always a plus!
What’s a normal work day like for you?
A lot of calls, emails, and chats, both internal and external. It’s a very people-centric job and communication is key, so on any given day I could be juggling a couple dozen conversations to make sure those lines of communication are flowing smoothly. It might sound dizzying, but when you’re focused on building relationships, it can feel no different than chatting with friends.
You have worn several different hats throughout your career, including stints as Community Manager and Product Manager for several games. Were those experiences helpful to you in your current position?
I think the biggest advantage has been learning to work and communicate with different types of people—developers, artists, marketing folks, even players. It gave me a real appreciation for the larger ecosystem surrounding games and game development, and how people will have different perspectives, priorities, and responses based on where they’re viewing the bigger picture from. I believe it’s easier to solve and even prevent problems when you can see things from other people’s perspectives, and that mindset has been really helpful to me as an Account Manager.
Have you also worked on mobile titles before? If so, what’s the most important feature a mobile game should have in your opinion?
I have worked on several mobile games, but nowadays that can mean anything in terms of content and quality. (Used to be that “mobile” meant simple and low-end, not so much anymore!) Hard to pick a single gameplay feature across different genres, so in my opinion—and this may sound a bit boring—I’d say it’s built-in analytics. The ability to track which features work and how they’re being used, then to measure the success of subsequent releases, is priceless. Mobile is a very unforgiving market, and mobile devs can’t afford to just ship and hope for the best.
Tell us a bit about your personal life. How did you get exposed to technology and games?
I’ve been playing video games since I could remember, since the Sega Genesis. It was my older brother who introduced me to games and technology in general, and some of my best gaming memories are the ones I made with him when we were younger. We didn’t have access to many games at a time, so when we could choose, we chose co-op games as much as we could, never competing against each other. Even when a game was single-player, one would watch the other as if we were both playing, and since we played everything together, we had all the same taste in games growing up. Our tastes have diverged recently, but since we still talk almost every day, we still share our gaming experiences that way.
We recently played the new Streets of Rage 4—online co-op, of course. It really threw us back to those Sega Genesis days.
What sort of interests do you have?
I’m interested in everything culinary, but I come from a very artistic family, so music and art will always have a special place in my heart. I also enjoy writing, and I do aspire to be a published writer someday (maybe when I stop being overly critical of my work).
What do you like to do to relax after work?
Besides the usual suspects (playing video games, watching movies), cooking and baking are my go-tos. I love experimenting with new dishes and taking on complex recipes, and besides enjoying the finished product with my husband, I just love the process of putting a meal together, and I never really feel stressed when it comes to food.
Do you have a favorite game, or a genre of games?
These days, I mostly play multiplayer team-based games like Overwatch, Apex Legends, Smite. Single-player experiences are great, but I can get pretty competitive, and I like the idea of testing my skill against other people. For me, nothing in gaming beats the thrill of pulling off a great play and winning a team fight, or the disappointment of making a bad call and costing the match. It feels a lot more meaningful knowing that you’re playing with, and against, other people.
Is there anything you would like to say to anyone reading up about Virtuos?
Working at Virtuos has overturned many of my preconceptions of external art and development. Our teams are extremely passionate—they treat game projects as their own, and they have a real appreciation for their place in the industry, which shows in the quality of their work. I believe that their passion is a product of the company’s culture, and I’m happy to be part of a group that cares for its teams as intensely as it pushes toward its dreams.