#MeetIronGalaxy – Christen Van Allen
When a development team embarks on the journey to a make a game, it’s the Producers who keep their priorities and vision clear. Staying on track is essential. Producers have the unique opportunity to ensure that each individual contributor to a project is equipped for success, on a personal and professional level. Time to meet one of our most studious relationship developers at the company!
Iron Galaxy: Howdy. Tell us who you are and what you do here at Iron Galaxy?
Christen Van Allen: Hi! I’m Christen Van Allen and I’m a Producer here at Iron Galaxy. Currently, I’m responsible for two of our partner projects. I facilitate conversations around project timelines and team schedules, manage workflows and ticket pipelines, field requests and assess impacts/risks, and collaborate with my leads to foster a healthy team culture.
IG: Your plate sounds full! What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job?
CVA: I would say the most challenging aspect of my role is managing expectations and promoting open conversation around sensitive topics. As with any strong relationship, the name of the game is compromise. I’m here to look out for my team, but also to ensure that our partners are happy with the products we provide them with. I’m careful to balance both sides. At the end of the day, the health of my team is always at the forefront of my mind. We have a rapport where they feel comfortable knowing I’m going to have their backs, even if I can’t guarantee the outcomes we are looking for every time.
IG: What’s one skill you learned growing up that you use the most in your role?
CVA: The most important skill I learned growing up, which is still relevant now, is how to prioritize to organize. While I was in high school, I was working a full-time job and attending courses at Eastern Florida State College (EFSC). As a result, it became extremely important for me to manage my time and to determine early on what my goals were going to be, so I could evaluate how best to reach them. I used to carry around a binder that had every semester’s course load planned out, a list of major dates/deadlines, copies of important documents… anything I felt would help me to plan with purpose and keep track of where I was going. The effort paid off – I was able to graduate high school in my junior year with an Associate of Arts degree from the college, which saved me time and money on my education. Later, I went on to invest that into my graduate tuition, which is what brought me to the games industry! Now, when I’m deployed to a project at Iron Galaxy, I’m able to work in a similar way, where I can establish the high-level vision first, before burrowing down into the smaller details.
IG: That’s an incredible set of achievements. What has been your proudest moment as a member of the Iron Galaxy team?
CVA: My proudest moment as a member of the Iron Galaxy team was being deployed to my first project as a lead Producer. At IG, our partner relationships are invaluable, and we work to establish teams that embody the company’s values of people, partners, capability, and continuous improvement. Therefore, having the realization that I was being entrusted with establishing team culture, maintaining communications, and planning project outcomes for a kickass partner was a big deal to me. In offering me the opportunity, I felt that the company was showing a lot of trust in my abilities and an interest in my personal growth, which allowed me to advocate for my team more confidently.
IG: You’re a true reflection of what it means to grow with IG. How would you explain the intricacies of your specific job when compared to the other roles in our company?
CVA: At Iron Galaxy, Producers are responsible for looking out for our teams and the goals established on our projects. The role is unique because we help to set the tone and drive conversations around decisions that impact each team as a whole. This includes managing expectations, outcomes, team mental health, culture, and values. While other departments are impacted by these aspects of the project, Producers influence and promote the team’s values and the way in which interactions occur.
IG: If you could give someone who wanted to follow in your career footsteps one piece of advice, what would it be?
CVA: If you are looking to be a Producer, you must recognize that the keys to success are trust, communication, and flexibility. There is a stigma around Production, as it can seem that the main appeal of the role is “power” or “control,” but these are ideas that foster unhealthy team dynamics and stifle creativity, as well as productivity. In a healthy team, Producers need to be able to acknowledge when a decision is simply not theirs to make and trust the insight of their lead team. This means maintaining a team culture that is built around mental safety, where communication is encouraged and respected, rather than demeaned. When your team feels safe, it is then possible to embrace challenges and stay flexible without the fear that concerns are going to go unaddressed.
IG: Your experiences have taught you to be a well-rounded communicator and keep an ear out for everyone in the room. What is the best thing about working at a game development company?
CVA: Hands down, the people you get to work with. The level of talent here at Iron Galaxy is mind boggling – the Artists are imaginative, the Designers are focused, and our Engineers are too powerful. Pair that with kickass QA and Ops teams, add in a little Production support and love from the BizDev side and you’ve got yourself a studio that can’t be beaten.
IG: You’ve got that right. What is your favorite perk associated with your job?
CVA: This year, Iron Galaxy gave me the opportunity to travel to San Franscisco, California for the Game Developers Conference (GDC). It was a neat experience that allowed me to interact with developers from other studios, including some of the partners associated with my projects. The company is constantly offering opportunities for employees to expand their knowledge of the industry, which helps us to contribute better to our departments when we return from these educational opportunities.
IG: You mentioned working close to both the partner and members of our internal teams. How collaborative are you with teams on both sides?
CVA: I primarily interact with Artists, Engineers, and Producers on the IG side of things, as well as Designers, on the partner side. Before my current set of projects, I was working on Rumbleverse, which gave me the opportunity to engage with the Marketing, DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility), Legal, Gameplay, Character Art, and MTX teams. One of the best parts of Production is getting to see firsthand what it takes to integrate the work of many different groups of developers – I’ve enjoyed how my role and interactions have evolved over the last two years with the company, as these understandings better inform the decisions my leads and I make now for our team.
IG: What’s the most rewarding aspect of creating games that other people get to experience?
CVA: The most rewarding aspect of creating for others is knowing that the project you were a part of is making a difference for someone else. Video games bring joy to players for various reasons, so I love hearing about their unique perspectives and learning which parts of the experience strike a chord for them. The teams I work with are passionate about what we do, so I also love being able to brag about other developers and, while I was on Rumbleverse, point out specific parts of the game that they contributed to.
IG: What’s the best impact you’ve ever seen a video game have?
CVA: During COVID, I was attending the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA) at the University of Central Florida (UCF). It was my first time getting back into an environment where I was seeing people face-to-face and it was clear that a lot of us had struggled to maintain friendships during the pandemic, which fostered feelings of loneliness. Coming into a space where we could be united behind the goal of producing engaging experiences brought a lot of people back to themselves – we connected through video games and the unique perspectives that each of us could offer to their development. By the end of the program, we went from being isolated gamers to lifelong friends where, years later, we still get together for game nights, dinners, and other adventures. While it isn’t a story about the impact of video games on a single person, I think it’s important to recognize how they can bring us beyond ourselves and unite us as friends too.
IG: That’s a powerful story that with a joyful finale. Sounds like you’ve solidified an amazing friend circle. Where are you from?
CVA: I spent most of my life in Melbourne, FL, which is about an hour south of Iron Galaxy’s Orlando office. It used to have more of a small-town feel, but in the last few years the city has grown exponentially! Every time I visit, I realize how little I seem to recognize of it now – it’s crazy what getting older does to the world around you.
IG: Indeed. Share a pro-tip you recommend for working from home.
CVA: Build a routine and stick to it! There are parts of every day that must happen for me – have water, eat food, complete morning stand-ups, get to the gym, etc. The more of these things you can build into the routine and hit consistently, the more accomplished you’re going to feel throughout the week. I’ve found that it’s helped to keep me motivated when I’m not seeing my team regularly, plus it has allowed me to better take care of myself too.
IG: What’s something everyone must do once in their life?
CVA: At some point, I feel everyone must take a stab at writing – whether it be poetry, novels, fanfiction, anything! There’s something so freeing about just getting words out on paper and seeing what sticks. It doesn’t need to be a Shakespeare level production, but the goal is to explore yourself, your interests, and the parts of you that may feel neglected by the world around you. Personally, I’ve been writing more poetry lately and I’ve found that it’s had a real impact on how I think about my life and the experiences I’ve been having.
IG: That sounds liberating, great advice. Where is your favorite travel destination?
CVA: I traveled to New Orleans with my partner in October 2022 and it was a great experience! While I grew up here in Florida, I was born in Louisiana and had always wanted to have an opportunity to visit the city of New Orleans. While we were there, we participated in a ghost tour that offered a bar crawl option and that was definitely the way to go. Since then, we’ve continued that tradition of drunken ghost tours in different cities – it’s so neat to hear about a city’s history while getting drunk in the same spaces mentioned. If you haven’t seen Drunk History on Comedy Central, I highly recommend it… it’s a similar vibe.
IG: What’s another place that you’ve always wanted to visit?
CVA: One day, I hope to see the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. The building used to be a palace, which gives it a lot of historical significance and explains why the external portions of the building are as intricate as they are. While the Mona Lisa is the most famous piece located at the museum, I would be more interested in the rotating installations. Right now, they have a collection themed around Myths and Legends, which I would love to explore.
IG: You are not alone in that want! What’s your favorite TV series?
CVA: My favorite television series is either Avatar: The Last Airbender or Law and Order: SVU… it completely depends on the mood I’m in, but they’re both nostalgic for me. I’m the type of person who likes predictability in hard times, so when I’m stressed or anxious, returning to shows that I used to have on repeat feels comforting. Plus, Avatar has such incredible character development and teaches so much about self-acceptance, conflict resolution, advocacy, and compassion for others that I always find something new to love about it.
IG: Solid go-tos to lean on after a long day. Each of those shows hit different marks too depending on the mood. Are there any bingeworthy series you’ve been into recently?
CVA: I highly recommend Love & Death on HBO and Wanda Vision on Disney+. I’m a fan of Elizabeth Olsen as an actress and the characters she portrays in these two are complex, imperfect, and reflective of struggles that I think a lot of people can empathize with. In terms of being bingeworthy, both series are short in length (7 for Love & Death and 9 for Wanda Vision), so you can get through them in a few nights, or a single day, without issue!
IG: We’re sold. Nice pitches. What movie have you seen the most?
CVA: I would say that the film I’ve seen the most times is Crazy Rich Asians. It’s gorgeous and I’m a sucker for love stories that tackle real-world challenges and show some of the complexities of relationships.
IG: What was the last concert you saw?
CVA: The last concert I attended was in October 2022 and it was Panic! At the Disco in Tampa, FL. I was able to grab front row seats, which was wild to me – the app I was grabbing the tickets from glitched out and, for once, it worked out because those seats had dropped back into the mix. Brendon Urie announced shortly after that he would be disbanding the group, since he was expecting a baby, so I’m excited that I got to see them during the tour before the end.
IG: Brendon made a choice “with a sense of poise and rationality.” Lucky you to catch them while you still could! What game have you spent the most time playing?
CVA: I have the PlayStation Platinum achievement for Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I believe required about 700 hours of time to complete. There’s five playthroughs included in there, so I promise, I made it out of the Hinterlands… eventually. I love narrative storytelling and I’m a big fan of RPGs in general, so it was the perfect game to get me through COVID. If it’s worth anything, Skyrim is the game with my second highest playtime, and I have something around 600 hours spent there.
IG: Both of those are incredible feats. What’s one superpower that you’d like to have?
CVA: I’ve always liked the idea of being able to read minds. It seems like it could backfire majorly, but I’m the type of person who likes to know when people aren’t being honest about their intentions. Plus, it would be super helpful as a producer to be able to know how people feel about conversations, decisions, etc.
IG: You’d become the world’s first Super Producer. If you had one wish and you couldn’t wish for more wishes, what would you wish for?
CVA: That’s a high-pressure question, but I should have expected it. Honestly, I wish Dragon Age: Dread Wolf would come out right now – complete and ready to go. For one, it’s in my fantasy league for this year’s game releases and I could really use some points over there. For another, I want to know so badly what’s up with Solas. If there’s not currently a Solas fueled narrative for the new game, as the naming implies, then my wish also lays that as a requirement.
IG: We’re rooting for ya. Given a time machine, which historical period would you like to experience first-hand?
CVA: I wouldn’t like to stay particularly long given the founding fathers’ lack of acknowledgement toward the women of America… but, I would love to visit the time of the American Revolution and hunt down some of the major political figures at the time. I have a Hamilton tattoo that says “non-stop” and I think it would be neat to explore more of the history that inspired the musical itself.
IG: You’d produce them right into shape. What fictional universe would you choose over our own and what if there was no coming back?
CVA: I would love to be a part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – it’s close enough to our own to feel familiar, but who wouldn’t want to add a little magic to their life? I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series as a child, so it’s been neat to see how that universe has expanded and become a fandom that’s shaped by the public, rather than the author. As for not being able to come back… I’d be alright with that. Voldemort would be out chasing Harry anyway, so I’d probably just join Dumbledore’s Army and hope for the best out of the Battle of Hogwarts.
IG: We have to ask. If the Sorting Hat was placed on your head, what house do you think you’d be sorted into?
CVA: I’ve always been sorted in Ravenclaw, and I tend to agree that’s where I fit best. I think Slytherin could also be a contender, though I’m definitely more of an Ominis Gaunt type than a Tom Riddle type.
IG: Spoken like a true wizard. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you invite?
CVA: Tom Holland. He seems like a sweet guy and there’s a chance he would bring Zendaya, which would be a fantastic opportunity to meet them both. Also, I just know he has Robert Downey Jr.’s number and I have so many questions for that man… I’m a big Marvel fan, if that wasn’t already clear from this.
Crystal clear! Pop culture sounds to be a reliable resource of entertainment for you. Thanks for entertaining our questions. We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a few different producers on the blog recently and hearing each pathway towards landing a spot here in production at IG has been an exciting one. Each story has provided a unique perspective on what it’s like being a producer in game development. Thank you for highlighting how employees are encouraged to take a personalized approach to their work, while sharing a bit of who you are with us.
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