Interview

LEGO's Ankur Suri explains the difficulties with visas if you live in a developing country

"It was easier to offer someone with less experience that was based locally"

LEGO's Ankur Suri explains the difficulties with visas if you live in a developing country

For decades, no matter the industry, people of colour have suffered through a lack of opportunity and a lack of respect, leaving them stuck playing second fiddle throughout their careers.

The games industry is no different, and here at PocketGamer.biz we wanted to do our part and help bring attention to the many incredible people of colour that help make up this sector. That is why we are committing to a new long-term regular feature to spotlight these people and their careers.

So, welcome to our 'POC in Mobile' series, where discussion about finding a place in the games industry, the various challenges faced as a minority, and what truly needs to be done to make games more diverse will be the focal points of conversations.

This week, we spoke to LEGO strategic partnerships lead Ankur Suri about his time in the industry and the challenges of obtaining a job when you live in a developing country. 

PocketGamer.biz: Can you start off by telling us about your role in games and what it entails?

Ankur Suri: I’m currently leading strategic partnerships and first-party relationships at LEGO Games. Before this, I worked across marketing, PR, performance, brand, community and leading teams at game studios like Deep Silver and Gameloft.

As I did not possess a background in software engineering or development, I never considered a career in games while growing up in India.
Ankur Suri

Why did you want to work in the games industry?

Actually, I ended up working in games serendipitously. I was working as a consultant in the evolving world of digital marketing and social media when Gameloft offered me a role in the industry.

As I did not possess a background in software engineering or development, I never considered a career in games while growing up in India. However, when Gameloft approached me, I realised that this was a great opportunity to turn my passion into a career and I grabbed it with both hands.

How would you recommend people get started in games? Any tools or literature you would advise?

I arrived into the games industry with functional experience in marketing, however, I had no knowledge of or experience with the business side of things. In the beginning, it meant a lot of reading up on the games industry through more business-focused media (like PocketGamer.biz), as well as getting up to speed on tools that provide industry insights. App Annie was one that helped me better understand mobile games data, alongside services like Sensor Tower and SteamSpy.

In general, for anyone starting in games, I'd recommend always having a solid foundation in your specific functional role – be that art, programming, project management or marketing. Having a passion for games on a personal level helps a lot but if you can merge your knowledge, experience and passion together, then that will go a lot further.

What did you study (if anything) for your role? Are there any courses out there that you would advise for aspiring professionals?

I originally studied Sociology, before later completing an MBA, which in theory seems far-off from what you need for a career in games. In reality, it's probably a great fit for a career as a games marketer thanks to its focus on audiences and communities.

Suri previously worked on the Apple Arcade exclusive LEGO Builder's Journey.

From a course perspective, I always feel a generalist course in your preferred functional area will provide anyone with a better foundation for building a career in games.

What do you think should be done to improve diversity, not only across the games industry, but across all industries?

Diversity and inclusion lead to challenges that a lot of us face - not just at work, but in all forms of life. Two things have contributed to me tackling these challenges head-on: being confident in my abilities, and having people around me who have hired, supported, promoted and recognised me and my work based on those abilities.

That said, I realise that I’ve had the privilege of being given a chance in the games industry, despite my background as a person of colour. Unfortunately, not everyone who looks like me gets that fair chance to prove themselves.

Industries don’t operate in a vacuum and until society aspires to a more be a more equal and meritocratic world, what individual industries do will always feel like putting bandages on a gaping wound.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered since joining the industry?

My biggest challenge was also one of access. As someone who grew up and worked in India, getting considered for roles at the best game studios across Europe, North America and Japan can be a challenge that has nothing to do with skills, yet everything to do with nationality.

I applied for many roles where the job offer was withdrawn, simply because it was too complicated for the employer to figure out the visa technicalities of hiring someone from a developing country.
Ankur Suri

Before I joined the LEGO Group, I applied for many roles where the job offer was withdrawn, simply because it was too complicated for the employer to figure out the visa technicalities of hiring someone from a developing country. It seems like it was easier to offer someone with less experience that was based locally, or in a country with easy access to work visas.

Another major challenge in the past has been to convince some sceptical colleagues about my abilities, which is again a result of unconscious bias, given the way I look and talk. Frankly, since joining the LEGO Games team a couple of years ago, the emphasis placed by the entire company on making our teams more diverse and inclusive has been very refreshing, not to mention the respect and care teammates show for each other.

It is a proud moment for me when I see myself working at the LEGO Group with a diverse mix of the most creative, intelligent and empathetic colleagues from all over the world. All of which, bring together their own very different perspectives and viewpoints to create products and experiences for kids across the world.

What do you think can be done to help encourage more people of colour to get into games?

I tend to think of this in a different way: As more people of colour are playing games, and more of them are also getting trained in functional disciplines related to games, it’s important to understand what may be the challenges that stop them from working in the games industry.

Lack of access to jobs is always an issue. But issues tied to work culture, employee rights and financial security in the game industry can have an impact on its desirability for people of colour, who are disproportionately coming from underprivileged backgrounds.

If the games industry can provide more financial security and better employee rights for people of colour who want to follow their passion, then leaping into a career is a no brainer.

Is there anything that recruiters should be doing differently to address the lack of diversity across not only games development but all industries?

The lack of access for people of colour is something recruiters across industries can easily address. Looking at candidates based on talent, merit and potential is what most recruiters usually do, though sometimes taking that extra step or leap of faith for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds is what recruiters should be doing more.

I’m where I am today because hiring managers and recruiters at various points in time took a leap of faith to hire a marketer from India to lead marketing for their global games teams. We need more of such people in the games industry, and probably across all industries in general.

Since the surge in the #BlackLivesMatters campaign that took place last year, what changes (if any) have you seen from across the industry to address the issue?

I feel the #BlackLivesMatter movement has brought conversations that were on-going already within the games industry about diversity and inclusion onto a bigger stage.

Of course, the movement itself is much bigger than just games and workplace diversity, but at its core it asks the same questions we ask about diversity in the games industry: How can people of colour be treated equally, and be given the same opportunities, access, respect and recognition?

I feel the global impact of the movement has already led to the games industry looking itself in the mirror and asking: What can we more do?

What advice do you have for other people of colour that are looking at getting into games?

Understand that you are a pioneer in the industry, which means that you and your journey within games are unique, and others may not understand that. Help them understand and include them on your journey, as they and the world will be in a better place for it.

Features Editor

Matthew Forde is the features editor at PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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