Mobile Mavens

The Mobile Gaming Mavens: The diversity debate

What's it like for minorities in the industry?

The Mobile Gaming Mavens: The diversity debate

The Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

Last week saw Lady Shotgun's Anna Marsh take to our pages to detail what she believes is a lack of diversity in the games industry.

According to Marsh, most developers and publishers remain dominated by white men, making it harder for women, or those of different ethnicities, to make their mark.

The reason, she suggested, was because the industry hasn't moved on from the 'bedroom coder' willing to work beyond standard hours as a labour of love – a model many fledging developers were originally founded on, but one that some larger publishers and developers are still exploiting decades later.

"The knock on effect is that the working practices suit those who are already pretty obsessive about games and have little life outside of them – and that's people who are young, unattached, able to commute, have no kids and, it seems, mostly male," she concluded.

And so, we asked the Mavens:

Do you think the games industry lags behind when it comes to diversity, and is it right to suggest that working practices at many developers and publishers actually harms, rather than helps, game development?


Will Luton Luton & Son Founder

I don't think there's any question. We have awful representation, particularly in terms of gender.

One recent survey suggested more register disabled people than women in the industry. We're an industry led by white middle class men.

Scrolling the front page of now, I see two women - Anna Marsh and a GREE model - against six white men. The page beyond that is ten white men and Anna again. That points to something being clearly wrong.

I don't know if working practices are to blame, but there's certainly a "everyday sexism" that occurs in some industry workplaces. That's, of course, not exclusive to the games industry, but we have a duty to address it.

A diversity of backgrounds in the industry means more creative and exciting output. It's essential it gets addressed.

There is a multitude of reasons it occurs, from the way we represent women - booth babes, busty heroines etc - to a lack of understanding and latent prejudice.

However, I'm seeing lots of steps in the right direction as the industry starts to address the issue. In recent months there's been more opinion and public criticism of what people see around them - it will not stop and we'll march to a better place.

Brian Robbins President Riptide Games

The working practices at lots of studios absolutely harms game development. I think it affects the lack of diversity in the industry but it goes far beyond that too.

'Crunch' has been proven over and over again in every industry that's ever looked at it in the past 100 years to hurt productivity. This article on the IGDA's website outlines the fallacy of crunch and why it doesn't work.

Yet some studios still think that's "what it takes to make a great game" and celebrate the people that destroy themselves to do it.

To Will's point, the good news is that we are as an industry starting to talk about this. We're noticing the problems, and I definitely believe that this awareness is one of the first steps that needs to happen in order to make a change.

Sarah Thomson, Sony Computer Entertainment America
Those who are in the minority in the games industry need strong role models, and they need to visible.

Being smart is cool. Being creative is cool. There are lots of awesome women and individuals of various ethnic backgrounds in games... so who promotes them and thrusts them into the spotlight? Themselves? Media? Companies? Industry organisations? Schools? I, for one, am all for it!

I do think mobile and social has improved the female percentage in gaming as we are now part of the gamer demographic - not to say women don't play hardcore games, but that's an even smaller percentage.

Companies are also starting to realise that it is to their benefit to hire women if they're making games to appeal to that other half of the population. I see a lot more women at conventions these days than I did 4-5 years ago. I am no longer 1 of 10 women in the room.

Charles Chapman Director / Owner First Touch Games

On the subject of 'crunch' and working practices, the increase in self publishing is already helping here.

From my experience a lot of pressure to crunch originates from publishers in traditional work-for-hire relationships. Publishers will push and push to get the maximum out of their developers, and many wrongly believe this is through long hours.

Developers then cave in because they need the work - there will always be x other devs who will work harder and longer - and the cycle continues. I guess it's not until a developer reaches a status where they can stand up to a publisher without risk of reprisals that things can improve.

Developers who are self-publishing don't have the publisher pressure, and whilst they have other pressures to deal with, the management and team can deal with them appropriately, which doesn't mean crunch.

In terms of gender and diversity, would it be fair to say the industry currently reflects the market for games from 20 years ago or so?

When I played games as a kid, I didn't know any girls who played games. Games were the domain almost entirely of boys.

Move it on a generation, taking into account the influence parents have on their kids' career choices, and if a girl - or boy - came from a family where games weren't played, or aren't considered a good career choice, then that's another barrier to get over.

So is it just a case of it taking time for the diversity to propagate through from the players to the makers?

In the 15 years or so since I've been in the industry things have changed greatly and continue to do so.

Volker Hirsch Co-Founder / Board Member Blue Beck

Alongside multiple industry roles, Volker is the co-founder Oystercrowd, Blue Beck, and Digital M. Former posts at BlackBerry and Scoreloop add to an enviable CV, which also includes the co-founding of Connect2Me

Valve, Inc.

Nuff said.

Oli Christie CEO Neon Play

Employment in the games industry takes it lead from the university and college students as they are the employees of tomorrow.

When I've spoken at universities, there is still a 95 percent male dominance, with many of them huge console/MMO fans - and refusing to admit console is in decline. So, it's still taking time for women to have a real interest and passion in games.

I think the Wii and smartphone games will help excite a new generation of women in games, but it will take time.

I guess it's like women's football in a way, with more and more women slowly becoming interested - and accepted - in something that was once the sole preserve of hairy men.

The 'crunch' that most console studios seem to love isn't sustainable and it baffles me that so many staff have put up with it for so long - revolution is needed! A work/life balance creates a fresh and motivated team who make better games. Doesn't it?

Stephen Morris Co-Founder, Technical Director, Lead programmer Greenfly Studios

As a Co-Founder, Stephen is responsible for managing and growing the company whilst working directly with each client to achieve their business requirements. Stephen is a professional application developer with substantial experience in creating and maintaining in-house and commercial software utilising state-of-the-art interactive whiteboard technology and mobile systems.

Stephen has a 15 year history of creating software, highlights include features in PC Gamer and Gulf News. He also filled game design positions at Bizzare Creations, Kamehan Studios and Ravaged Entertainment. Prior to Greenfly Studios, Stephen was a specialist developer for hire; developing educational software on the forefront of interactive classroom technology. Stephen currently lectures at Futureworks Manchester (part of the University of Lancashire family) and has also lectured at Staffordshire University and provided guest Q&A sessions. Stephen graduated from Staffordshire University with a First Class in Interactive Entertainment Technology. He is also well-known for his fascination with alternative control devices.

I remember chatting to Will at length after his Develop article on gender diversity and agreeing full-heartedly that the balance is still not there.

I am currently in a position in which I am both a games lecturer AND on Anna Marsh's team.

Looking at it from the games education side, my current class of 38 is broken down into three females and 35 males – 92 percent male dominance. When entering uni around 10 years ago, it was 18 males to one female – 94 percent male dominance. Not the greatest change over time and I don't think that will change in the near future.

Could it change in the next 10 years? Doubtful, but I think the 10 years after that will be where the change will happen.

Coming at it from the industry side, Greenfly Studios consists of two ladies and myself, whereas Lady Shotgun has five ladies and three men - both teams predominately female and I, for one, love it.

It may have been testament to Anna's management skills but the combination of flexible hours and talented individuals meant the entire process at Lady Shotgun was extremely smooth. If one person was struggling, another would come by, help them and the favour returned later on.

The biggest difference I found when moving to predominately female teams: communication. Everybody is always informed of the current status, areas that needed to be looked at and people took the time to write detailed replies to remove any doubts/confusion. A far cry from a one sentence reply that takes an hour to decipher and with egos attached.

As for 'crunch', you only need to take a look at Relentless to see the impact of 35 hour weeks - a highly efficient company that has erased the need for crunch and with good reason.

It's just as Oli says - a fresh and motivated team makes better games.

[people id="51" name="Christopher Kassulke"]

We are more then happy that we don't have 'crunch' time within HandyGames.

Eight hour days, five days a week and enough vacation per year are way more efficient - agile development, great product planning, no pressure from external sources are the key.

Every company, shareholders and management handle it differently but quality of living and working is very important. Working 14 hours a day seven days a week cannot be productive!

The second topic about women in the industry - it's all up to the companies and persons in the industry to change it.

HandyGames have around a one in five split of women to men. We will see more women in the industry soon quite simple as we develop also games for all gender and age.

Games are no longer dominated by small or big boys, so I guess we will not talk about women in the industry in around 10 years any more. They will come.

Did I already mention that we are hiring?

Adam Telfer Consultant MobileFreeToPlay

Adam has been in the mobile game industry since 2007, creating games independently. He's since grown into a full 50+ person studio manager.

Recently he's taken a position at Wooga in Berlin to sharpen his design skills and work with the world's best to create amazing, well-crafted products onto the mobile marketplace.

On the point of overtime, I see a big change with full package product versus games as service models.

When a product has one chance to get things right, one shot to make a splash in the market, then the game team has tremendous pressure to deliver the best product possible.

I find at many product model studios, the team slowly assumes they have to work long hard hours to prove to other team members and external stakeholders that they are doing everything they can to deliver the product.

The company pushes the teams to the brink closer to launch, because sacrifice for the short term is more valuable then the long term effects this has.

Many games as service companies do not suffer from this. The first launch is soft - it is better to have the product working and collecting data then to be fully featured and completely polished.

There is less pressure to get it right, more pressure to be able to learn and adapt quickly. Triple-A teams crunch for months before launch. Usually on a soft launch, a games as service team will crunch for one to two weeks, and then figure out how to deliver every three to four weeks without crunching.

The team is then in marathon mode. They have to deliver constantly over many months (or years), which is exhausting in its own right. Great games as service companies put more emphasis on work life balance, reducing overtime, and building automation to reduce redundant work overhead by a team.

If you keep a team focused on delivering goals on a steady cadence, rather then trying to race against the clock to get the product out, then you'll see significantly less overtime, less stress, and better work environments delivering better games.

So if we want change away from 'crunch', bring on games as a service.

Not to say there is no exceptions to this rule. Product driven companies that are self-published and have the self-confidence to value company health over short term product goals are out there.

Valve is very much following this marathon model, but it can only do this because it controls its own timelines, and it has great products that are running long term to keep everyone paid and happy.

Some games as service companies - especially those with unrealistic targets or large external stakeholders such as publishers - can still create crunch.
However, I think (and hope) that this hurts them in the long run when their people are burnt out and leave for successful games as service companies - ones that can prove that work/life balance is possible.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.