In this interview, yellowHEAD’s Marina Sapunova speaks with Jessica Tams about her life behind one of the most successful events in the games industry, why she moved to a farm and what she was like in high school.
Marina Sapunova: Hi Jessica! I’m happy to have you with me. I don’t think that you need an introduction for our audience, but it would be great if you could say just a few words about what you do.
Jessica Tams: I’m Jessica Tams – I am the Managing Director of CGA. We have a couple of things that we do: Casual Connect; we also organize Indie Prize, which is the scholarship program for indie developers; and a media outlet – Gamesauce.biz. We’ve been doing this for 13 years. We do 4 shows a year. So that’s what I do.
Marina: Nice! And you are so good at what you do! But let’s talk about Jessica. Who’s Jessica behind her title?
Jessica: I used to be always “go-go-go”. I was always an over-achiever. I was always doing my homework. I was more than just an A-student. I was technically an over-achiever. When some little kids I studied with were asked “What do you remember about Jessica?”, they told their mom “Jessica was always working”. And that was me.
M: Wow! I guess you had a good school back then. And now you never stop over-achieving in your professional life. Did you do any sports when in school or just study?
J: I’d do some running, weight lifting, a bit of soccer. But never really any team sports.
M: Was it because you didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t really like one?
J: I didn’t like one. I was such a typical over-achiever… in school but not in sports.
M: They say you can do anything but not everything, right?
M: You travel a lot, mostly to Casual Connect shows because they are so spread around the world. Do you travel for vacation a lot too?
J: No, I prefer to stay at home. A few years ago, I moved back to Utah, where I grew up, and I lived next to my parents for a while so they could help with the kids. And 2 years ago, we moved to a farm that we bought. And this is like a storybook to live in. It’s really like being on vacation every day. You wake up and you look out and there’s a deer running around – we see at least a dozen deer a day. We have turkeys that come through our property – wild turkeys! We also have horses.
M: Well, that explains a lot! Who needs to go on vacation when you live in a place like that? When you were younger, did you ever consider moving to a different country to live?
J: I took French in high school and I always wanted to go visit France, but I never really got to live in France. And, ironically, I don’t visit France a lot right now. Other than that, I never really got a thought that I should go out and move somewhere else. But I like people from other countries and I like visiting them. And when I do travel, I don’t like typical holiday spots. I like going to see people that I know and I like them to show me the REAL city. You come and see a REAL Kyiv, or you see a REAL Amsterdam. Where do normal people go? Not the tourist life. Where do normal people eat, where do normal people shop, what is that experience? Because, after all, you go to cities like Amsterdam, or Paris, or London, and the experience is the same in every single big city. The museums are the same, they share exhibits with each other, you go through the same kind of structure. But if you go to a city like Dresden or a smaller city, and you come to a less touristy part, the experience is totally different. So, to me, this is something that I personally like a lot better – smaller cities that have a lot of history. Kyiv is a great example. Kyiv doesn’t have the standard tourist experience, and even museums are different. And it’s not like having the same tourist experience.
M: You mentioned food. Would you call yourself a foodie? Do you like to eat and try new things? Or do you like to cook more?
J: Yes, I like to cook because I like the food I cook. And I don’t like to eat gross food. I don’t like to eat fast food, chips, movie popcorn – they make me sick. I guess I’m lucky because I never got into a soda and chips habit in my entire life.
But I like trying different foods. I actually spoke at a conference in Japan, and I was the only person who was from outside of Japan, and they gave us bento boxes – typical Japanese bento boxes with what they would eat. It had well-prepared parts of fish and it had different flavors from what most Americans are used to. And they were very surprised to see me eat every single thing in that bento box. They didn’t think that I will eat anything. But I liked it.
I had liver last night at dinner. And in America about 90% of people have never tried liver.
M: Did you try salo? (typical Ukrainian dish made of pig fat)
J: Oh yes.
M: Do your kids eat everything that you cook? Or are they picky?
J: I wouldn’t say they are picky. But they obviously don’t eat everything. But when I cook, I use these “kids” tactics – while I’m cooking I put fruits and vegetables on the table, so people are snacking with carrots and celery, and they eat it before you serve dinner. I always try to serve 5 or 6 different fruits and vegetables.
M: It’s not your first time to Kyiv. Do you see how it has changed over the years?
J: Oh yeah. A lot.
M: What is the most remarkable change that you could spot?
J: The very first time we came to Kyiv, the visas were just waived for the Americans a couple of months earlier. When we landed in the airport, we saw a huge mass of people at the border control – of course, no one was standing in line. There were just a few guards. No one really spoke any English. We had prepared letters in English, Russian and Ukrainian explaining who we were and what we were doing there. So you just gave them a letter, and they read it and looked at you – they were very concerned, and it was a little scary at first. And then you come out to the terminal and there are taxi drivers yelling at you – they were really just private drivers; there were no real official taxi drivers at the airport. We always had to arrange so somebody would pick up all the westerners from the airport for their safety.
And now when you come in, all is so orderly, everyone speaks English and we don’t even prepare documents for them. There’s Uber here. Negotiating with a taxi driver when you don’t know any Russian or Ukrainian is very difficult, I’d say impossible, so Uber has really made Kyiv a lot more accessible. A lot of changes are happening in Kyiv and it’s good to see.
M: It’s great to hear these things about Kyiv from your perspective. Thank you very much for your time, Jessica. It was a great talk!
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