How Kay Arutyunyan Builds Diversity in Gaming Animation

Doing it all and then some

The gaming industry has more and more women players—whether it’s women advocating for more inclusion and diversity or developing games meant for all types of players. One of those women is Kay Arutyunyan.

Arutyunyan is the co-founder and general manager of CounterPunch Studios, a company that does CG animation for some of the most well-known game franchises. Aside from leading the company's successful Virtuos Group acquisition last year, Arutyunyan is breaking stigmas in the industry all on her own. 

Kay Arutyunyan

Kay Arutyunyan

"There's a huge stigma for women in the workplace and how they're slower or how family responsibilities might hold them back, but I sold my company of a decade while eight months pregnant, and then rolled over into an executive position at this new company while delivering my baby," Arutyunyan told Lifewire over the phone. 

Quick Facts

  • Name: Kay Arutyunyan
  • From: Kay was born in Armenia and has lived in L.A. since she was 6 years old. 
  • Random delight: Kay likes to travel (during a normal year) or tend to the trees she planted on her mountain property in her spare time. 
  • Key Quote or motto to live by: "Try anything twice."

Level One

Arutyunyan’s background and interests weren’t always gaming: she started in finance and real estate and exited that career path when she felt uninspired in her early 20s. 

After working in entertainment for Warner Bros. and being exposed to motion picture imaging, she co-founded CounterPunch with Andrew Egiziano in 2011, focusing on facial rigging and animation for video games. 

"The field we chose to specialize in and continue to learn and grow in has been the field that’s been the most exponentially affected by the ever-changing capabilities of video game engines," Arutyunyan said. 

CounterPunch has worked on a number of notable gaming franchises, including Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Mortal Kombat 11, and Injustice 2, among others. 

"It seems that every year and every game that is released tries to one-up the others and is groundbreaking in the fidelity that is achievable by a graphic like a CG humanoid," Arutyunyan said. 

A general view of "Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare" at Los Angeles Convention Center.

Rich Polk / Getty Images

In October 2020, CounterPunch was acquired by Virtuous Studios in a deal Arutyunyan calls her biggest career accomplishment thus far. "For CounterPunch, that was a goal of mine from the beginning—to grow to the level that Virtuous was at," she said. 

"And the actual process of the acquisition was completely led by me, so I feel 100% responsible for the acquisition, and I really feel that they were interested in my team and me."

Level Two

Before expanding her company, Arutyunyan said she experienced struggles in the gaming industry as a woman. While she said it’s gotten much better the past 10 years, entering the industry as a woman leader was a different story. 

"Ten years ago, there was absolutely no room for women in this industry. So I was silently doing the work in the background and would push Andrew forward for any kind of face time," she said. 

Especially at trade shows, Arutyunyan said she felt like it was a boys club that she wasn’t welcome in, and was often mistaken as an assistant rather than a co-founder. "I was usually one of two women in the room," she said. 

"I never really got any of the insider information and would get hit on at a party or something like that—it was extremely uncomfortable."

I still feel like a lot of the female characters in the game are supporting roles.

Level Three

Thankfully, the gaming industry is finally seeing more women involvement, especially in the higher-level positions. Women leaders like Amber Dalton, the senior director of global event sponsorships at Twitch; Jade Raymond, the CEO and founder of Haven Entertainment Studios; and Bonnie Ross, the corporate vice president at Xbox Game Studios, are slowly but surely dissipating the "boys club" image of the gaming industry. 

Going forward, Arutyunyan said the primary change she’d like to see in the industry is in the video games, themselves. 

"What I'd really like to see is more video games that introduce stronger female heroine roles," she said. 

"I still feel like a lot of the female characters in the game are supporting roles. So I can't connect to a game because I don't really have a video game heroine that I think represents me or that I can relate to."

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