Interview

Why Square Enix's Karla Reyes believes there is a "sense of duty to pay back and pay forward" for those already in games

"It’s worth reiterating that representation and allyship in leadership roles are essential."

Why Square Enix's Karla Reyes believes there is a "sense of duty to pay back and pay forward" for those already in games

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 Square Enix product manager Karla Reyes about their journey into the mobile games market and why people of colour need to help "pay back and pay forward" to help others enter the industry.

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

Karla Reyes: I am a product manager on Square Enix’s mobile publishing team based in London. We are working on titles across multiple genres within the mobile free-to-play ecosystem, including the recently announced Tomb Raider Reloaded.

My role is highly collaborative, and my responsibilities include - but are not limited to - market research, user research, supporting with game economy balancing, contributing ideas to and prioritising our feature backlog, evaluating prospective developers with whom to partner and once our games launch, and managing live ops.

As a product manager, I aim to maintain a player-centric and empathic mindset and deepen my understanding of player motivations and values in order to create meaningful and rewarding experiences. I also serve as a representative for a POC employee resource group at Square Enix.

I always aspired to enter a career that combines my love of art and technology and contributes to making a social impact.
Karla Reyes

Outside of Square Enix, I participate in advocacy groups as partnerships manager for BAME in Games and head of business development for Code Coven, a global games industry accelerator and learning community for people from underrepresented backgrounds. These roles involve partnering with studios and other organisations to curate programs that mentor and elevate marginalised talent.

Why did you want to work in the games industry?

I always aspired to enter a career that combines my love of art and technology and contributes to making a social impact. After graduating from university, I worked in financial technology in order to support paying off student loans but craved sinking my teeth into a more creative field.

One of my main motivators to join the games industry was the immense and unique platform we have to educate, inspire and ignite positive social change. I am especially intrigued by the ways games can enable players to discover empathy and learn effective collaboration skills. The games industry is so vast and nuanced – from powerful storytelling to pushing boundaries with new technologies, there is an expansive universe to explore.

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

The best place to start is to play lots of games across multiple genres if you do not already. Join platforms like Playtestcloud and become a playtester so that you can adopt the mindset of a game creator and dissect/analyse different game features and mechanics. Take note of the questions asked, formulate your own questions and keep seeking sources of inspiration.

Attend virtual meetups and conferences, watch the plethora of free presentations and workshops from games conference YouTube channels like GDC, listen to podcasts like Deconstructor of Fun, and read industry publications like PocketGamer.biz. This should help you begin to absorb knowledge, acquire the vocabulary that game creators use and hopefully identify the specific niche(s) within the industry that you want to pursue.

If you really want to dive in, participate in community game jams, especially when in-person jams restart. Many jams are open to people with no game dev experience, so this is a great way to get some practical experience while networking with industry peers!

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

After I left my job in FinTech, I completed a software engineering boot camp so that I could further develop technical literacy and work on personal creative projects. Although I’m not a programmer by trade, I have found my coding knowledge to be valuable in product management roles. I learned language-agnostic programming principles that enabled me to subsequently complete Code Coven’s Unity development boot camp.

Code Coven’s course was profoundly impactful because it not only equipped me with technical skills but also provided me with practical industry experience simulating the Agile sprint cycle and the rare opportunity to work alongside an all-female dev team to create prototypes for Glow Up Games’ Insecure: The Come Up Game, a mobile game primarily designed for a diverse audience.

Investing in scholarship and mentorship programs for people of colour will pave the way for the next generation of diverse and inclusive leaders.
Karla Reyes

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

Tackling a lack of diversity is a multifaceted challenge. The first step is to take an introspective look at your organisation and evaluate representation at all levels. Conduct internal surveys to identify the gaps and needs of employees.

Encourage open discussion about hard-hitting topics, learn and adopt best practices from organisations that are leading in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). On top of this recuit from, empower and support organisations that uplift underrepresented talent like POC in Play, BAME in Games, Latinx in Gaming, Out Making Games, Gameheads, GamePad, Limit Break and Code Coven.

I know many of my peers have stated this, but it’s worth reiterating that representation and allyship in leadership roles are essential. I am proud to work on a diverse team at Square Enix mobile and that can definitely be attributed to leadership.

Improving diversity is a learning journey for everyone involved, and in an increasingly multicultural and globalised world, it’s important to perpetually ask questions, conduct research and remain on the pulse.

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

Educating colleagues about the importance of representation, diversity and accessibility so that it is embedded into a team’s DNA as opposed to an afterthought can definitely be challenging at times.

I am grateful and fortunate to have a team leader who champions these values; however, unfortunately not everyone always shares this perspective. I constantly have to research and collect data to build my case. Thankfully, recent movements to promote EDI across the games industry and others have meant that more people are willing to listen.

A BAME in Games event that Reyes helped organise in London.

On a more personal level, as the daughter of immigrants from the Philippines and Guatemala who worked incredibly industriously to give me opportunities and as someone who was a scholarship kid, I feel a sense of duty to pay back and pay forward. Sometimes this means working twice as hard, but it’s a labour of love.

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

Investing in scholarship and mentorship programs for people of colour will pave the way for the next generation of diverse and inclusive leaders. Free online resources are great, but sometimes there’s a learning and development threshold that is tough to pass without the support of high-quality instruction and a community. I would also encourage studios to host free presentations, panels and workshops for POC.

As professionals, we can sometimes take for granted the knowledge we possess, and even taking a spare few minutes to share ideas and resources with POC aspiring to break into the industry can go a long way.

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

With the recent surge in the overall success of the games industry due to the pandemic as well as a shift to remote work, this is an opportune time to access more diverse talent pools and bridge the diversity gap.

Recruiters should collect feedback about application processes, ensure the language they use in job postings is inclusive and highlights the organisation’s commitment to diversity, and as mentioned above, reach more diverse candidates through advocacy groups.

Free online resources are great, but sometimes there’s a learning and development threshold that is tough to pass without the support of high-quality instruction and a community.
Karla Reyes

According to recent studies, companies that have more racially and ethnically diverse employees have a 35 per cent performance advantage and generate nearly 20 per cent more revenue than companies that tend to skew monocultural. Recruiters should present this data to stakeholders to facilitate investment in EDI efforts.

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

The BLM campaign catalysed a very palpable movement across games and other industries to invest in EDI efforts and move the needle. I have noticed studios advertising paid work and trainee experiences exclusively for Black candidates. Additionally, more studios have been seeking ‘sensitivity consultants’ to provide feedback and input on game content that portrays specific cultures.

At Code Coven, we launched a scholarship fund for POC students, and many sponsors have been committed to supporting our community beyond donations. They want to mentor, participate in panels and presentations and even co-create initiatives. Overall, I have observed an increased desire to learn about the adversities that Black and other POC encounter and an altruistic wish to effect change.

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

In addition to perusing some of the resources I previously mentioned, I would encourage you to apply for mentorship programs like Into Games, BAME in Games and Limit Break. Follow advocacy groups on social media and identify studios and individuals that are trying to recruit more diverse talent, and please feel free to reach out!

Also, create content! From blogs to podcasts to self-published games on itch.io, continue to realise ideas and build your experience and portfolio. This self-determination will demonstrate your passion and increase your desirability among employers.

Additionally, join industry Discord servers and Slack workspaces that are open to aspiring game makers. Some (e.g. Game Dev London, which is open to non-Londoners, Code Coven, Latinx in Gaming) have channels that offer support such as CV/portfolio reviews and discipline-specific advice.

Once you start applying to roles, persevere and accept rejection as a source of motivation because studios are looking for diversity now more than ever, and you will find a home. Once you’re in the industry, I would encourage you to pay back and pay forward because we still have work to do.

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 @MattForde64 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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