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Sisters and alumni both working 'dream jobs' in video game development

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Sisters Rachel (left) and Abigail Rindo, in the Södermalm neighborhood of Stockholm, Sweden, just before COVID-19 halted travel to Europe.

Sisters and Blugold alumni Abigail and Rachel Rindo always have had much in common, beyond a shared love for art, art history and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Once avid gamers as kids, the sisters since have taken their creative natures and Blugold art degrees to high levels of success in the video gaming industry, where the pair excel as a game writer and a narrative designer.

Despite their separate paths to the industry, this outcome may have been scripted while they were still young kids, known to take what they found to be boring games to new heights with their own creativity.

“Rachel and I played board games as kids, but we often got bored with the basic rules of games aimed at kids, so we would just make up our own,” Abigail says. “I remember one particular day when we extended a game of Mouse Trap into a giant Rube Goldberg device that went all over our basement.”

Abigail and Rachel Rindo

Prior to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Rachel was able to visit Abigail in Sweden, and the two traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, to attend a Leonard Cohen exhibit, where this selfie was taken.

These days, Abigail and Rachel are putting that creativity to work developing games for two major players in the gaming industry — Ltd. ("King") and PerBlue Entertainment, companies that have launched games played by millions worldwide.

Abigail is an associate director of narrative design for King and currently lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where she works on the wildly popular “Candy Crush Saga,” the top-grossing franchise in U.S. mobile app stores. Third-quarter data for 2021 puts King game totals at 245 million monthly active users.

Back in Seattle, Washington, Rachel is a game writer for Madison-based PerBlue, a brand with a user base of more than 50 million worldwide. Her current game projects are “Portal Quest,” along with “Disney Heroes: Battle Mode,” a winner of the Samsung Game of the Year.

We caught up with Abigail and Rachel Rindo, both Eau Claire natives, via conference chat, and asked them a few questions about their work, their paths to what they call “dream jobs” and their days at UW-Eau Claire.

Abigail Rindo, ’05, illustration major, art history minor
Rachel Rindo, ’10, art major, art history minor

How would you describe your work, a typical day or project for you?

Abigail: In my current role, I spend a lot of time helping teams of game creators decide on what themes and stories to use in their work. A lot of people say, “Wait, a second, 'Candy Crush Saga' has a story?” When I tell them what I do, the truth is a lot of it is built into the activities that the player is doing rather than having a lot of text for them to read. My job is about making the matching of candies meaningful and delightful. Prior to King, I worked in a lot of roles in art/creative direction and production, and the day to day in those roles was very different.

Rachel:  I get a cup of coffee, then sit down and write for eight hours. It’s fabulous. There are other duties that come with my job, but the lion’s share is writing. 

Abigail: Writing in games is already hard, writing funny games is nearly impossible, and Rachel is the perfect writer to do that.

Rachel: (Hides in sweater)

Abigail: No seriously, you are amazing.

Rachel: (From inside sweater) I’ll just conduct the interview from inside this sweater from now on.

When did you realize that your love for gaming could become a career?

Abigail: I had no idea that gaming was a career option until I was at a turning point in my career and looking to make a change. I had been an avid gamer for many years and reached out to several “dream job” opportunities in Madison, and I got a job at PerBlue as marketing account executive. This later evolved into different creative and production roles.

Rachel: I’ve always been a writer but didn’t think it could be my career until PerBlue encouraged me to submit materials when they were looking for someone to help with their game “DragonSoul.”

How did you land in the roles you currently hold?

Rachel: I was freelance for years, and the toughest part of advancing in my field was patience. Opportunities to be a game writer don’t come around every day, but it’s essential to keep at it if you want to crack that nut. The best surprise was when I was offered the opportunity to become part of the PerBlue team full time. Sorry, I keep speaking in idioms.

Abigail: My path has been a bit meandering. Like I said before, I started in marketing, but I started doing design specification and artwork to help out. I transitioned to a role of art lead and producer, while doing writing and narrative design. PerBlue was a small studio at that time, so I wore a lot of hats.

I joined Filament Games as a producer shortly after “DragonSoul” released because I was interested in serious and educational games, and they asked me to take on studio management as production director. We worked on about 20-30 games before PerBlue reached out because they had sold “DragonSoul” and were partnering with Disney to make a similar game. I leapt at the opportunity to work with Disney, and we shipped “Disney Heroes: Battle Mode,” which later won Samsung’s Game of the Year award. My current boss at King was playing the game at the time and really liked it, and he convinced me to come on at King as lead narrative designer at the Stockholm studio.

Every turn of this road was difficult, rewarding and unexpected. It’s hard not to look back and either think, “Did I really do those things?” or “Wow, it’s been a wild ride.”

Rachel: Now who’s speaking in idioms?

Abigail: (Laughs) 

What aspects of your work do you find most enjoyable or rewarding?  

Abigail: One of the things I love about working in games is collaborating with really talented people from many different fields. Each game is a unique problem to solve, so there are always exciting challenges — the work is ever-evolving. It requires a lot of research, and I’m always learning new skills. At King, being able to reach millions of players is a big reward, and we get amazing stories from our fans talking about how “Candy Crush Saga” impacts their lives.

Rachel: I’m so grateful to be able to do what I love every day. Working on “Disney Heroes” is interesting because the characters are already established, so trying to keep true to the brand is a challenge, but in the best way possible. I get to bring depth and humor to these characters and make them more realized. 

What experiences did you have as a student at UW-Eau Claire that you feel most contributed to reaching your life/career goals?

Rachel: I had a fantastic mentoring relationship with Jessica Witte, who was head of events for Career Services. She instilled confidence in me that I did not know I was capable of. I worked in that unit for three years and I learned what it felt like to have a job that I would gladly do for free. The career services professionals were so encouraging when it came to building up their student staff. In the marketing and events department, there was no such thing as a bad idea — it was a safe space to pursue your passions without judgment. 

Academically, what Allyson Loomis and Fred Poss from the English department taught me still serves me daily. They both showed me that I had a gift for writing, and I should consider pursuing it professionally. When I was asked to write for “DragonSoul,” their encouragement was the deciding factor in going for it. 

Abigail: I worked in the dorms at the front desk and at the News Bureau office. At the News Bureau, I gained data entry and organizational skills that I would use throughout my career, particularly when I worked in higher education and nonprofit administration, but it also helped me understand the basic components of a press release, which I have used in crafting marketing communications. 

Overall, I’d say that a liberal arts degree taught me to have a lot of interests and pursue a lot of skills, which has been incredibly helpful in game development in general and especially in creative directions. Oftentimes in games, we are creating entire worlds from scratch, and that requires an understanding of a lot of different fields.

Talk a little about the life steps you’ve shared with your family, right now working in the same tech field as sisters, and years ago attending the same college where your father, Mike Rindo, worked as assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations.  

Abigail: For me, being able to work in the same field, and during a particular time, at the same company with Rachel, has been really special. Some of my favorite moments in game development have been when we were working together at PerBlue and would laugh and talk about what we could do with certain characters or worlds. 

Rachel: Aw ...

Abigail: Our dad started at UW-Eau Claire when I was a couple years in and we would meet weekly for lunch, which was always one of the high points of my week. We would go to campus events together sometimes as well. I remember going to a Preservation Hall concert together and finding a shared joy in New Orleans jazz that we didn’t know we had — that was special.

Rachel: He worked for UW-Eau Claire the entire time I attended, and it was a wonderful and unique experience to be able to see my dad while on campus. I felt like it strengthened the connection between us at a time of life when many parents can have a strained relationship with their kids.

What advice would you give to students interested in a career in video game development? What traits are valuable?  

Abigail: Adaptability is important since the industry is always shifting. And I think bravery is something we don’t talk about enough — it’s scary to reach for what you want, and advocate for what you think is best. Confidence is something I’ve struggled with over the years; bravery has given me the resilience to overcome that struggle.

Rachel: Be patient and diligent. Don’t give up!

Abigail: I completely agree. The games industry is highly competitive, but if it’s your dream, you shouldn’t give up on it. Look at people you admire and aim for that same level of quality in your work. Be committed to continually learning and improving. And get used to group projects. Game development is working with other people from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds — collaboration is key.

Rachel: I have a wildly vivid imagination! And I’m an avid researcher, also essential.

Abigail: I 100% agree with that. I think curiosity is important as well, along with a sense of humor, which you also have.

Rachel: Yeah, I’m hilarious.

In tapping the Blugold family legacy, we were also able to connect with Mike Rindo, now thoroughly enjoying retirement with his wife, Pam. As two fellow Blugolds themselves, it's especially rewarding to witness their daughters chasing their dreams. 

"When Abigail and Rachel were exploring higher education options, Pam and I encouraged them to seriously consider UW-Eau Claire even though it was 'right in their backyard.' We were delighted when both decided to become Blugolds. Our daughters share their creative passions and talents with Pam, a UWEC art major as well, and it has been a joy for us to watch them utilize their abilities and education to pursue and achieve their dreams," Mike Rindo says.

"While they were students, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing them regularly on campus, in both planned and chance encounters. Not many parents have that opportunity, and I will always cherish the time I was able to spend with them."