Hello, everyone! Welcome to my blog series: #CreativeQueens! Every few weeks we interview and feature an up and coming female content creator(s) in the video game and animation industries!
This week we interviewed Video Game Lawyer and Associate Counsel for Gearbox, Veda Cruz! Let's get started!
Hi Veda! Before we start can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you're from and about what you do?
For sure! My name is Veda Cruz and I’m a lawyer that works as in-house counsel at a video game studio. I’m originally from Miami but I moved to Texas to work at Gearbox. I work mainly with contracts, negotiating, and drafting deals with other video game enterprises.
“Video Game Law” sounds like an incredibly diverse and intriguing field, but can you take a moment to tell us what exactly it really entails?
"Video game law is basically business law but with a focus specifically on video games."
Of course, that’s the part that makes it fun – I get a real nice behind-the-scenes look at how video games come together from start to finish.
For a lot of people who are big-time fans of the video games and animation industries, many typically pursue fields that dive into aspects more outwardly interwoven into the projects like programming, art, or even creative writing. What made you decide to pursue a legal career in video games, of all things?
I had originally gone to law school to focus on Intellectual Property since I wanted to help artists not get their work stolen.
"It frustrated me when I heard stories of others stealing artists’ work and selling it as their own, so I wanted to help stop that in any way I could."
But as law school went on, I realized I didn’t want to practice law the traditional way of working at a law firm; I didn’t like the culture. That’s when I decided to get my MBA and focus on business. But in my last year of law school, I took a course titled Video Game Law, and of course, being the nerd I am, I loved that class. It reignited a love for law and business since that’s what video game law is – business law for video games. It was the perfect merger of my interests, and ten months in I still wake up excited every day to work on some video game deals!
You recently moved to another state from your hometown to pursue your first job as an Associate Counsel for Gearbox, correct? How has this experience been like for you overall? What are some challenges you’ve overcome along the way?
Yes, and it was my first move away from my parents too! It was definitely different. Texas and Florida are similar in some ways but also VERY different – it was all barbeque and cowboy boots and no cafecito or pastelitos. And yet, I was excited to explore this new area I unlocked! But then the pandemic hit two months in. It got very lonely at times during quarantine because I was all alone in my apartment. I am very thankful to FaceTime, Discord, and my pets for keeping me sane during the initial rough patch. The biggest challenge has been getting accustomed to living on my own for the first time and getting accustomed to having everyone I love in other states. I miss everyone like hell sometimes.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? Could you give us a story in where you really felt this first-hand?
The most rewarding aspect of what I do has got to be the sighs of relief my coworkers utter when I can basically translate a document written in legalese into plain English.
"For a lot of people, contracts can be daunting, but it’s my job to read through all that dense language and make it make sense."
That made me feel really helpful to the team.
What is the biggest and/or most challenging obstacle do you feel is in place for this specific career?
I would say it’s the barrier to entry. If you look at the job requirements for in-house counsel at most video game companies, they require 6-8 years of experience in a specific field of law, e.g. intellectual property, M&A, commercial transactions, etc. As a result, most law students take the bar, hopefully, pass it, and then go work at a law firm to get their feet wet for years before a video game company even thinks of hiring them. That’s what I was told by many lawyers in the video game industry when I started my hustle to get a job at a video game company – it’s the old, “you need the experience to put on a resume before they consider you” adage. I’d also like to add that “video game law firms” are very few and far in between, which means that the competition to join one is fierce.
“Video game law” by itself is a very narrow field.
The key is to start making a name for yourself early and getting on the radar of those key lawyers in the video game industry that can one day hire or refer you. It’s never too late to start – I always felt so behind because I was meeting first-year law students that were already clerking at video game law firms while I was a fourth-year law student trying to find a way to break into the industry! Because the industry is so narrow, you really need to work those genuine connections and show your passion any chance you get. I spent so many hours volunteering at conferences across the country just to make those connections, and I’m sure those “key lawyers” saw that. Be yourself, be genuine, and follow-up with the contacts you make. You never know who knows who!
What is your “dream goal” as a video game lawyer? Is there a specific company you would eventually want to work for? If so, what company is it?
"Honestly? I couldn’t be happier where I am now."
I love Gearbox, and I want to stay with them for many more years to come. However, besides Gearbox, working at Riot, Capcom, Nintendo, or Pokémon was always a dream of mine when I was looking for jobs.
One of my favorite parts of working at Gearbox is knowing that I’m working at the studio that made one of my favorite games ever – Borderlands 2. The same logic applies to those other studios because they’ve also made some of my favorite games!
Could you tell us about your experience in law school? What was that like and did you feel there was a plethora or lack of subjects specifically tailoring to interests combing legalese and video games?
Law school…sucked. I’m pretty sure every lawyer will tell you that. The first year was the worst and my mental health declined so much that I started to question why I was even putting myself through all the debt and frustration. (Spoiler alert to all law students: IT GETS BETTER BY 3L. I promise.) I actually wanted to quit in my second year and do business instead so I started looking at other options, and since I was already doing a lot of work with start-ups as a venture consultant, I decided to go the business route.
I did the joint degree program offered at the University of Miami for a Masters in Business Administration. It was tough sometimes balancing both degrees simultaneously, and I almost resolved to not take the bar! But then I took that one video game law course at UM and it changed everything. It’s amazing how one course, one professor can cause such a deep impact on you and change your whole world view (thanks Professor David Greenspan!).
"It reignited a passion for law that I had been missing for three years while in law school—everyone has their fire, and mine was video game law."
To your question, there is a severe lack of subjects specifically tailoring to the intersection of law and video games. This course was a short, two-week course offered once a year, and initially, I wasn’t even allowed to take it because I was taking too many credits with both degrees. But thankfully the Dean let me audit the course and all I have to say is that I wish it was longer. There should be entire courses dedicated to legal issues specific to the video game industry because it’s a unique medium that is only getting more popular. Plus, the cases are so fun to read.
What are some great books you’d recommend for someone interested in learning more about “Video Game Law”?
Oh man, there are so many.
My top two would definitely have to be:
“Video Game Law: Everything you need to know about Legal and Business Issues in the Game Industry” by S. Gregory Boyd, Brian Payne, and Sean F. Kane, and;
“Video Game Law in a nutshell” by Dan Nabel and Bill Chang.
"Both of these are great reads for anyone trying to get their feet wet in the legal world of video games."
What does your day-to-day look like as a lawyer working for a studio?
Well, in the “before times” I would go to the office at 10 a.m. and work diligently at my desk until 5 p.m.…and from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. it was “Game Hour” in which the studio encouraged us to play video games so that we never lose that inspiration, drive, and love for video games. Pretty solid deal!
But now, it’s a work-from-home arrangement in which I roll out of bed and log onto my computer for a daily meeting with my boss at 10am, work out by playing some DDR for thirty minutes after, eat some lunch, and then spend the rest of the day working on contracts, assisting game devs with any legal questions they may have (which usually requires some research), hopping on video calls with other team members to figure out deal terms and other legal issues that pop up, or attending meetings with other companies to negotiate game deals!
I love my day-to-day; thankfully my studio is very flexible, and I wouldn’t trade this position for any other in the world.
What advice would you give for someone looking into pursuing video game law? What skills do you think would be essential to have in this type of field?
I would say to be yourself. If you are looking for a job in the video game industry, then you probably love video games…which is sometimes frowned upon in the legal industry. It’s unfortunate but true – I had some non-video game lawyers tell me that I should “quit playing games all the time and get serious.” But it’s a new world we are living in, and video games are a legitimate medium of entertainment now. If you show that passion to lawyers in the industry, they will want to help you out. Educate yourself on legal issues in video games such as lootboxes, microtransactions, trademark and copyright infringement – it’ll go a long way when you’re having nuanced discussions at networking events.
"Also: network, network, network – with how narrow the video game legal industry is, everyone pretty much knows everyone, so start figuring out ways to get involved and get your name out there."
Essential skills would probably include a rudimentary knowledge of the business side of making video games, knowledge about the video game industry itself, and a desire to keep up with what’s trending (after all, video games are a form of tech and we all know how fast tech moves, so keeping up is very important), well-rounded legal skills, and tenacity.
Tenacity to keep going in the face of naysayers and go for what you want, no matter the obstacles.
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