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Q&A: Leslee Sullivant, TikTok's game development truth-teller

Design producer and TikTok-er Leslee Sullivant explains her success in the bite-sized video platform, and discusses why so many developers relate to her videos.

If you've spent any time on TikTok or Twitter as a game developer in the last month, you've probably seen Leslee Sullivant's TikTok videos. When she's not working as a design producer at Scopely-owned Boundless Entertainment working on Marvel Strike Force, she's crafting short, bite-sized videos about game development, highlighting the industry's struggles and roasting its creeps, abusers, and enablers.

Sullivant has been making TikToks since December 2020, but only began making game development videos in January of this year. We caught up with her to ask about her process, and how she handles tough industry subjects with the bleak gallows humor that's resonated with so many developers.

What would you say attracted you to TikTok in the first place, and what made you take the jump from TikTok scroller to video creator?

I wish I could remember what video I saw that got me to finally download the app. It was definitely something very cringe and I wanted more, and since then it’s been a source of pure joy for me. I love how a lot of the content on there is so casual and accessible, rather than say, YouTube, where the entry point is so much higher and it feels more difficult to find the content you want to see. TikTok makes it super easy to create and find what you’re looking for.

I always wanted to make content but couldn’t get over the self-consciousness for a long time until I just… forced myself to do it. I had no excuse; the app makes creating videos very simple. I identified a mostly untapped niche, and I also found the community on TikTok to be largely supportive. Once I started making videos it got easier and easier.

Some of your videos are built as short sketches, others use the TikTok format of using pre-existing audio in a more kind of template format. What’s it like as a creator to jump between these two modes?

It’s simultaneously super helpful and slightly frustrating. I love using pre-existing sounds because it reduces my workload and they end up doing the heavy lifting for me, which is nice as someone who doesn’t want to/can’t spend all my free time working on content creation. But sometimes they can be very niche, or more relevant to people who scroll through TikTok and are familiar with the trends there, so when I cross post to Twitter there’s some context lost.

The short sketches I put together allow me a lot more flexibility, as opposed to making a scenario fit for existing audio, so it all depends on what story I want to tell that day - but it usually includes many more takes.

I’m always impressed by the costuming in your videos--you don’t just use dialogue to make characters, everyone has a different wardrobe too. Are there any choices you make on this front that help sell the stories you’re trying to tell?

For the most part they’re tools to help differentiate characters, but I use my husband's wardrobe a lot, which can be unfortunate for him. He tells me there are shirts he doesn’t want to wear anymore because they’re associated with certain characters.

That green button down he used to wear once a week? I’ve used it for the gross grooming character twice now. Absolutely ruined. The cute white-dots-on-navy shirt? That’s my go-to “unhelpful dude in tech” shirt, and that one in particular has elicited a lot of specific responses (“THE SHIRT!”) so I knew I made the right choice. I don’t think my husband plans on wearing that for awhile, either.

The videos you make have this incredible sense of timing--they always cut off at just the right point to sell the punchline or point. What do you think you’ve learned from making these videos about timing and storytelling, and has it shaped your work as a developer and creator elsewhere?

This was something I kind of stumbled upon. I already understood the concept of comedic timing, and there are plenty of content creators that do it well already so I had a lot of examples to turn towards in terms of what makes something “funny,” but I started looking at it more critically when I accidentally cut off a video when posting one to Twitter.

When you upload a video on Twitter it automatically goes to editing, and I didn’t realize that if a video is long enough it defaults to shortening it. I posted one without realizing this, it made the video much better, and now it’s something I try to plan around.

Your TikToks seem to get big reactions from other developers because you’re open and honest about really tough subjects like overwork, sexual harassment, and mental health struggles. What do you think you’re doing right in terms of being honest with these issues while still finding comedy in them?

Part of it is length of time--instead of giving people a 10 minute reading assignment on a heavy subject they only have to watch a 30 second video. Long-form content is clearly more substantive, but places a much higher demand on the viewer to commit time and brainpower--short, comedic videos are accessible and have broader reach.

Hopefully I’m tricking some people into thinking about topics they would otherwise pass on engaging with. The other part is a lot of these subjects are (unfortunately) universal, regardless of seniority, length of time in the industry, and even though I cover sexism and misogyny, a lot of them are relevant regardless of gender as well.

The most common reaction I see from developers to your videos is either “oh no this is relatable,” or “oh no I lived this”--do you see those same reactions when you’re online, and how have you felt seeing other developers share some of the same traumatic incidents you depict in your videos?

The reactions are simultaneously validating and sobering. I knew going into this that my experiences weren’t unique but I didn’t realize HOW widely shared they were until I was putting them out in video format on the internet. It feels great to not be alone, and that’s a lot of the feedback I receive from other devs who message me as well. But I also loathe that all of the things I touch upon are so common.

What would you say to other developers looking to talk about their games--or making games--on TikTok?

Do it! Jump in. It’s a very fun community, it’s so easy to make content on the app, and people on TikTok WANT TO KNOW about your game and how games are made. I find the conversations there can be very meaningful and you’re reaching a unique audience.

For more game development insight from Sullivant, be sure to check out (where else?) her TikTok page.

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