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 '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 Snap Inc. head of games and entertainment partnerships John Imah about why he has always had to work twice as hard to convince people of his worth, and why this is a common issue with black people.
PocketGamer.biz: Can you start off by telling us about your role in mobile games and what it entails?
John Imah: As the head of games and entertainment partnerships at Snapchat, my team focuses on managing strategic partnerships and business development for all-things games and entertainment related. In short, it’s our job to ensure Snapchat partners have a great experience with our product offerings in addition to their success.
My passion for games fueled my desire to be a part of the industry that creates the immersive experiences I fell in love with as a kid.John Imah
Why did you want to work in the mobile games industry?
Growing up, I was (and still am) an avid gamer playing games across PC, console and mobile. Games allowed me to spend time with my family and make friends around the world. My passion for games fueled my desire to be a part of the industry that creates the immersive experiences I fell in love with as a kid.
How would you recommend people get started in games? Any tools or literature you would advise?
There are so many different directions or career paths in the gaming industry, so it’s important to identify the right one for you. First, ask yourself what you love about games. Next, I recommend applying for entry-level positions or internships. I've seen a significant increase in entry-level roles within the gaming industry - I've also made it a personal goal to offer internships at least once a year.
I also highly recommend networking by getting to know people who work in the industry. It's true that in many cases, knowing the right people can help you reach your goals or receive mentorship that can help you on your career path.
What did you study (if anything) for your role? Are there any courses out there that you would advise for aspiring professionals?
I studied management information systems in college; however, I realised early on, like most people, I learn better through work experience. I also recommend using the internet as a resource tool. We have access to an abundance of free information online that could help increase your skillset.
What do you think should be done to improve diversity, not only across the games industry, but across all industries?
Every year companies work internally to create team objectives. I truly believe that diversity should be added to each team’s objectives and key results. We create goals for objectives that are mandatory and if diversity is a serious company goal, make it mandatory as well.
What are the biggest challenges you have encountered since joining the industry?
As a kid, my parents sat me down and told me: "In order to be successful, you will need to work 10 times harder because of the colour of your skin." I wouldn’t understand what that meant until I was older. In every role I’ve held throughout my entire professional career, I’ve been the first black employee with the title. When you’re the first to do something, you set the tone for everyone else after you; this is amplified when you’re black.
As an avid gamer, logging into a game and seeing mission statements and banners within the game promoting #BlackLivesMatter makes me believe that the gaming industry values my life...John Imah
In my career, I’ve often had to do twice the work to convince people that I am capable and that I am "different". The reality is, I want companies to know that I am not different from other black people. There are intelligent, passionate, and hard-working people of colour ready to take on more challenging opportunities and accelerate.
In June, I spoke on behalf of Snapchat at our Snap Partner Summit. My hope is that when people see black representation in key moments like this, they’re reminded that we are assets.
What do you think can be done to help encourage more people of colour to get into games?
People of colour and black people are huge consumers of games. We can assume that most people who play games desire to work on games, but simply don’t know how to get into the gaming industry. Companies should create programs that educate our community on what it takes to create the games they love to play and the roles that make it all happen.
Why not put it in the game? Imagine a twelve-year-old playing their favourite game and sees information on how to get into the industry. They could be inspired the same way young people are inspired to go to the NBA or be a musician.
Is there anything that recruiters should be doing differently to address the lack of diversity across not only games development but all industries?
Recruiters play a critical role in identifying diverse candidates as they are the front lines of the company. That being said, when the company’s goals are to create more diverse teams, it makes it easier for recruiters to align with leaders across the organisation to achieve those goals.
Since the recent surge in the #BlackLivesMatters campaign, what changes (if any) have you seen from across the industry to address the issue?
I’m happy to see that companies have been outspoken about their stance on #BlackLivesMatter. As an avid gamer, logging into a game and seeing mission statements and banners within the game promoting #BlackLivesMatter makes me believe that the gaming industry values my life and the lives of black people who play their game(s).
What advice do you have for other people of colour that are looking at getting into games?
The first step is to apply. I also recommend reaching out to black leaders and leaders of colour you admire for guidance and encouragement. They don’t have to work in gaming to give great advice. Every industry has its challenges but remember, you are capable!