‘You can’t have diverse video games without diverse people making them’
Since well before Lara Croft raided her first tomb in 1996, the video games industry has been weighed down by stereotypical images of gamers, often deservedly. For most of its history, players were widely seen as socially isolated, daylight-shy white males. But it’s now well accepted that the portrait is becoming historical: player demographics are changing, with more and more consoles in the hands of women and minorities.
But what of the developer side? Is being a straight, white male, possibly with a beard and glasses, still a major part of the person spec for a career in video games?
First impressions say yes – but promisingly less so than before. New data in an industry-independentreport on the UK video games workforce, written by Dr Mark Taylor of the University of Sheffield and backed by games industry trade body Ukie, shows that if you’re BAME (black, Asian or minority ethnic), you have a higher chance of making video games than of a job across the general workforce, while if you identify as LGBTQ+ you’re more than three times as likely, with an even higher likelihood for non-binary people.
Women are still less well-served. With men comprising more than two-thirds of the workforce, the industry is still male-dominated. However, the proportion of women is on the rise. Ten years ago, according to the International Game Developers Association, only 11.5% of game developers identified as female. Now it’s 28%.
The figures are robust: the report is based on a September-October 2019 census of more than 3,200 games workers – around 20% of the overall workforce. It shows that 10% of people working in games are BAME, which is slightly higher than in the national working population and also higher than in the creative industries generally.
Meanwhile, 21% of people working in games are LGBTQ+, which is a significantly high proportion compared to the UK as a whole, with various other sources indicating that LGBTQ+ people make up 3%-7% of the national population. 3% of the games industry workforce are trans people, above the estimated 1% within the national population and, at 2%, non-binary people are estimated to be five times the national population average.
It’s also a young industry, with two thirds of workers in the sector aged 35 or under. 54% have worked in the sector for five years or more, suggesting a young age at entry for many.
So for BAME, LGBTQ+ and non-binary students, future career prospects in the video games industry are favourable and they’re increasingly – if slowly – also becoming more favourable to women.
Diversity is essential
For Dr Jo Twist, Ukie CEO, increasing diversity in the workforce is essential, and not just for equal representation: “it’s a necessity if the industry is going to grow, thrive and truly reflect the tens of millions of people who play games every day in this country,” she says in the Guardian.
Samantha Ebelthite, country manager for the UK and Ireland at global games giant EA, agrees. “You can’t have diverse games without diverse people making them,” she says in the Guardian and Gayming Mag, adding, “The more diversity we have, the more people we can appeal to with our games.”
For anyone pursuing a career in games-making, qualifications are very likely to be on the person spec. 81% of industry workers are educated to at least undergraduate level, with 27% of all workers holding a game-specific qualification. These figures are higher in core production roles, where 88% of art or programming workers are educated to undergraduate level or higher and more than half of workers in design and art have games-specific qualifications. Generally, almost a third of workers have qualifications in STEM subjects, increasing to 60% in programming.
But there is more to be done before industry glass ceilings are shattered. Women and minorities are less well represented in senior positions, making Sam Ebelthite something of an exception.
For the future, though, the industry is looking more and more welcoming, not least with the launch this month by Ukie of #RaiseTheGame, a new industry-wide diversity pledge committing signatories to inclusive hiring practices and to ensure representation across all areas, from development to marketing. EA, Facebook, Jagex, King and Xbox are already on board, with the ambition to sign up 200 UK game businesses covering 50% of the workforce by 2021.
“It’s really important that we have this as a benchmark,” says Ukie’s Jo Twist. #RaiseTheGame “gives practical advice and guidance to companies who want to make sure they’re being more inclusive and representative. The pledge gives clear steps, no matter what size of company you are and no matter who you are.”
So overall, job prospects are moving in the right direction for both women and people from minorities. If the current rising trend for women continues, for example, today’s secondary school entrants could arguably find equality by the time they graduate with a first degree, perhaps pursuing STEM subjects and industry-specific qualifications along the way.