We are in a pivotal moment. 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 new '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 with Fellow Traveller production manager Des Gayle about his journey into video games, the troubles encountered because of his colour, and why apprenticeships and internships are the way forward.
PocketGamer.biz: Why did you want to work in the mobile games industry?
Des Gayle: I didn’t, particularly. I was already working at a development studio in Oxford making handheld titles when we were given the opportunity to make a Tiger Woods game for the early iPhone.
Back then it was shiny and new, so it was a welcome distraction for us but it also lacked many considerations for game development. Clearly, those things vastly improved over time and it got to a point that we could make some kickass games for it.
After my A-Levels, I was doing a Computer Studies BTEC at evening classes while working at McDonald’s and got into the industry through nepotism.Des Gayle
How would you recommend people get started in games? Any tools or literature you would advise?
Oh man, now is such a great time to jump in. YouTube is a great learning resource that’s free. You can get started with game engines for free. I won’t get specific about game engines but what I will say is choose the right tool for the job.
Questions I ask myself are: "do I need 2D or 3D? Do I need graphics at all? Has it been previously used to make the same type of game I want to make? Does it use the same programming language that I’m proficient in? Is it well documented and/or supported?".
What did you study (if anything) for your role? Are there any courses out there that you would advise for aspiring professionals?
I didn’t study anything specifically for video games let alone production. Since I’ve already betrayed my age, I’ll say that the industry wasn’t as accessible when I joined as it is now (yes kids, it was way worse.)
After my A-Levels, I was doing a Computer Studies BTEC at evening classes while working at McDonald’s and got into the industry through nepotism.
What do you think should be done to improve diversity, not only across the games industry, but across all industries?
Leadership teams need to recognise that in order to improve diversity and inclusion, investment of time and money is required.
Companies need to take a hard look at themselves and not be afraid of what the results will tell them. Once they know what their starting point is, only then can they take active steps on the path to improvement.
Personally, I would like to see more paid internship and apprenticeship programs. Let’s open up a wider variety of opportunities for people to join our industry and make cool stuff.
What are the biggest challenges you have encountered since joining the industry?
I was working at a publisher and was racially abused by someone in a management position. Having grown up in England, I was no stranger to this type of abuse, so I had become semi-immune to it and wanted to ignore the issue.
My work colleagues saw the situation differently and eventually, someone told HR. Long story short is that HR fumbled the football and didn’t handle it very well. At one point they even asked me what I wanted them to do about the situation. (Yes, really.) The solution we ended up with was simply he avoids me and I avoid him. Job done.
It was a shame because I genuinely loved the company and the experience did take the shine off of many happy memories there. Fast forward approximately a year and I got the opportunity to leave, he was still employed at the company so it was clear to me which one of us they valued more, so I left.
What do you think can be done to help encourage more people of colour to get into games?
Improved representation both on and behind the screen. This is one of our core tenets at POC in Play. Sharna Jackson and the Games London team have been doing a wonderful job over the last few years with their 'Ensemble' showcase. It’s beautiful.
Companies need to take a hard look at themselves and not be afraid of what the results will tell them.Des Gayle
After that, it’s all about connecting with education and getting to children early. Engage with local schools via code clubs, career days or work experience programs. When this pesky virus thing goes away, invite schools in for studio tours. Inspire them.
Is there anything that recruiters should be doing differently to address the lack of diversity across not only games development but all industries?
Absolutely. External recruiters should throw all their keyword algorithms in the bin, get off their (digital) asses and expand their networks. They shouldn’t wait to be mandated by whoever hired them to go and find someone who is considered "diverse”.
Internal recruiters need to put in the leg work too. Adding the line “we welcome applications from blah blah…” to the end of your job descriptions is a good upward trend that I am seeing but the work doesn’t stop there. If a company's 'About Us' page has a team photo on it that looks a certain way, it’s not helping in the way that you think and it would probably serve you better by not being there.
For both sets of recruiters, I’ll leave you with this radical tip: Find some people of colour that would suit a role that you are hiring for, contact them and personally invite them to apply.
Since the recent surge in the #BlackLivesMatters campaign, what changes (if any) have you seen from across the industry to address the issue?
There is one company working on something very cool but it’s not my place to out them. They are probably a year away from saying anything publicly but the attitude and work ethic going on right now is very impressive.
I really liked how Crayta went about their business and consulted with POC in Play about their prize fund and mentoring programme. I should throw a shout out to Humble and Kowloon Nights for their initiatives too.
What advice do you have for other people of colour that are looking at getting into games?
If you have written a game idea on the back of a napkin, downloaded Godot, GameMaker or whatever, you're already in games. Put in the hours, keep going with your idea and have fun. If you want to forge ahead and get a “proper job”, then apply those same principles to networking your ass off.
This industry is too small for anyone to be awful and to go unnoticed. If you're based in the UK, then the UK Games Industry Slack is a great community to be a part of. I look forward to seeing you.