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“No region or city is free of the games industry's gender disparity”

Gram Games calls on companies around the world to push for better diversity, just as it's doing with The 22% Project

It's no secret the games industry has something of a gender issue.

Almost any survey into the workforce creating and publishing games around the world reveals that this is undoubtedly a male-dominated business, despite the rising number of female players enjoying the end products. This is, of course, not an issue exclusive to video games but is something many firms are keen to address.

One such firm is Gram Games, the developer behind mobile hits such as 1010, Merged and Six. Back in January, the company launched a series of workshops designed to encourage women to explore a career in games - an initiative entitled The 22% Project. First held in Gram's home city of Istanbul, the workshops are being recreated this weekend at its new London HQ.

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Erin O'Brien, Gram Games

The studio's culture developer Erin O'Brien tells GamesIndustry.biz why Gram feels such a project is necessary.

"Gender discrepancy is an issue in most industries, but it is particularly prominent within the games industry," she says. "We were aware of the issue, but when we came across the IGDA 2015 Developer Satisfaction Survey, we were particularly disappointed. The survey stated that while over half of gamers are women, just 22% of the gaming industry is female. We wanted to do our part to counteract this."

She adds that the "most unnerving part" is that this statistic has only doubled since 2009, when the amount of women in the industry was just 11%. O'Brien believes we should be aiming for no less than 50%, and a lot sooner than the next eight years.

However, more industry support is needed. O'Brien is quick to stress this is not just a call for other companies to take part in The 22% Project, but a plea for them to run their own initiatives that help push the same message.

"The only way issues as large as industry-wide gender disparity are going to be addressed is through industry-wide effort"

"We don't want this to simply be a 'Gram' project," she says. "The only way issues as large as industry-wide gender disparity are going to be addressed is through industry-wide effort. We would love to see even more studios start initiatives like ours. We are also keen to reach out and see how they might get involved with The 22% Project."

Fighting the lack of diversity in the games industry will come down to more than just the occasional workshop or summit, O'Brien continues. Companies need to actively show they are combatting such biases in order to establish video games as a business in which women "don't feel stifled, limited, judged or discriminated against."

"Internal education, workshops, reskilling and so on are critical to attract, support and retain women in the gaming industry," she says. "This wider industry needs to understand the importance of having equal female representation when half of gamers - i.e. half of their customer base - are women. Additionally, organisations need to take the time not only to recognise, but address, the fact that deep seated biases and misogynistic tendencies are often present throughout industries, particularly in games and the gaming industry, and take actions to mitigate their presence."

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Gram Games has held workshops in Istanbul with more to follow in London, but says a worldwide effort is needed

There are many ways to accomplish this, but one the Gram Games exec suggests is identifying and promoting new role models. If 22% of industry members are women already established in key roles, celebrating them and their accomplishments can help encourage more to follow in their footsteps.

O'Brien says: "In highlighting successful, influential women in the gaming industry, we want to demonstrate that there is a highly valuable path for women in this industry, and that with the right education and the resource, success is attainable."

There are more than just moral reasons why the industry should be pushing for better diversity. With such a high number of female players, a more representative workforce will help better cater to their needs and tastes.

"It's been shown that the male dominance of video game playing has been disproven," O'Brien says. "Female representation in teams should match the demographic of their customer base.

"It has been repeatedly shown that having more women on a team not only increases creativity, but can actually be more profitable"

"And it has been repeatedly shown that having more women on a team not only increases creativity, but can actually be more profitable - a business imperative - in the long run."

Reaching out to women who are already considering a role in video games is not enough. The biases that deter younger girls from exploring such a career path are actually affecting the potential talent pool at "a grassroots, educational level".

"Due to deeply rooted socio-cultural bias, women at a young age can be encouraged away from technical or scientific fields, which is a travesty," says O'Brien.

"As women grow older and start looking for careers, those deeply rooted biases can encourage them away from gaming towards other industries. Also, throughout their educational career path, they might not seek out the admittedly very niche or esoteric skills necessary for success in the gaming sector. So it's a confluence of factors - all of which can begin to be addressed by providing young women with the resources necessary to counter these biases.

"Other companies can start by ensuring women in the industry and those within their own organisations receive ample support, education and the necessary resources to succeed in the gaming industry. Employees within the organisation should also receive education about the necessity of gender parity within any industry. This is not just as a moral imperative, but as a business one. Women are half of the talent pool - it is an unwise business decision to not take advantage of that."

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While it's important to support women already established in the industry, Gram has found The 22% Project resonates best with university students

Following the success of The 22% Project's first round of workshops, the London-based event will follow much the same structure. The objective is not just to recruit women, but to raise awareness of the possibilities our industry holds, and workshops aren't the only way to accomplish this.

"The issue of gender parity is one that requires full industry support and effort. Conferences are a great way to create the kind of visibility"

"We think education is imperative to help women break into the gaming industry," O'Brien says. "I think the pedagogical format of a workshop or conference is effective. They can provide women with the necessary resource, skill and information to break into the industry. Additionally, the issue of gender parity is one that requires full industry support and effort. Conferences are a great way to create the kind of visibility.

"The skills necessary for success in the gaming industry can be, as previously stated, quite specific or even esoteric. Many of these skills are not ones that would be automatically learned in a generic educational environment. We want to provide a space where these skills can be learned, so that, in the long run, women can be competitive for games industry careers.

"While we encourage women at all levels of the career path - be it student or mid-career professionals - we've found the women who show the most interest in The 22% Project are those at the university level. This is a particularly effective point at which to provide this kind of education and resources because many of these women haven't yet necessarily determined a specific career path - they might have an idea, or a particular interest, but they're not cemented into anything.

"For young women who are interested in gaming, but who might not know how to make the transition from university to the gaming industry, providing education and resources in the form of The 22% Project can be particularly effective and formative."

Having started in Istanbul, Gram's workshops are now moving to London but O'Brien is keen to see similar events held on a global scale, stressing that addressing the issue of diversity has become "necessary around the world."

"No region or city is completely free of these gender biases, or of the gender disparity of the gaming industry"

"No region or city is completely free of these gender biases, or of the gender disparity of the gaming industry," she says. "It needs to be demonstrated that this isn't an issue that is limited to Istanbul, or to anywhere else. It's an issue that permeates everywhere.

"We want women in London to benefit from these workshops in the same way women in Istanbul did, as they are facing many of the very same issues."

And it's not just the gender imbalance that needs to be addressed. There are other demographics this model - or initiatives similar to it - can be used to reach, fighting any kind of disparity and improving the diversity of the industry in multiple ways.

"Women are not the only group that are discriminated against on a societal level, and thus face biases when trying to enter an industry like gaming," O'Brien says. "Providing groups that have fought against bias with education and resources to mitigate the negative effect of those biases is critical, and always a benefit.

"Additionally, just as with women, and deeply rooted tendencies within industries, it is always productive to provide internal education to identify and address language, practices, behaviours, or systems that might implicitly or explicitly be working against or discriminating against a certain group. Awareness is key in trying to address any issue."

If you're interested in attending this weekend's 22% Project workshops, you can register here.

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Latest comments (7)

Ruben Monteiro Engineer 8 days ago
"Due to deeply rooted socio-cultural bias, women at a young age can be encouraged away from technical or scientific fields"

Really? Any sort of proof on this? Because the way I see it, women are generally less interested in programming games than men, the same way men are generally less interested in clothing accessories than women. And here's a shocking thought: maybe that's OK?
7Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Hi Ruben, the evidence I've seen from studies shows women leave STEM subjects & science careers not because they don't like the subject or they're too hard, but because they find the macho competitiveness they thrive on pretty galling. It's not that most women are getting sexually assaulted or abused (though you know that's an issue too), it's more that most find the environment unfamiliar, unwelcoming and unprofessional. One way to combat that problem (without making being an asshole in the workplace illegal) is simply to hire more women. Picture your foul mouthed friend talking to his mates. Now picture him speaking in the presence of your mother or sister or daughter. That's the general mood of the idea. It's a bit clunky yes, and arguably less brave than other approaches, but the costs are small and the benefits real.

I know you "see it" as women being "generally" less interested in science but I think you agree, gut feeling & generalisations are fine for an opinion but irrelevant as evidence to back a policy.
If you'd like to study up on the actual evidence you could start here: https://hbr.org/2008/06/stopping-the-exodus-of-women-in-science

Another retort I hear is that legally and socially women are free to do what they please in 2017, therefore every job is neutral now so what's the problem? This is an appeal to forget all of history up to 2017. No mean feat. Men have had total control of the sciences since ooooh, the Enlightenment, so say 500 years. Women have been barely free of kitchen sink expectations since, what, the sixties? The environment is imprinted a certain way, and in order for women to live equal lives in 2017 it has to change.

But I agree it's not all about the workplace, it starts much earlier, and elsewhere - well meaning teachers & parents have to stop "seeing it" that girls "generally" just don't like maths and technology.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises8 days ago
Half of gamers are women, but not every platform and every genre is split evenly. There's another survey out there by Quantic Foundry that shows sports, fighting, and shooting games are played mostly by men (80-95%). While match-3, puzzle games, story focused games were mostly played by women (60-75%).

It was a great survey because it also showed the outliers in each genre. Games like Mass Effect, which had a much higher percentage of women playing it than the rest of its genre. (I think they were at 30 or 40%)
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Show all comments (7)
Andy Cowe Mobile developer, Moonjump8 days ago
My experience across 20 years of working in games is that developers are very accepting of diversity of all kinds, but the industry does not attract all demographics.

The percentage of women I have worked with in game development is far higher than the percentage I have seen come in for interview. This might be because they are being rejected before the interview stage, but I very much doubt that because there seems to be an even smaller number in education.

I also work part-time as a lecturer in Game Computing. One of my students said she was discouraged from taking the course by her school teacher and was told she would not be welcome in games. Apparently hers was far from an isolated case. My experience is she would be very welcome.

Over half the customer base is female, but there is gender disparity in game genres. The male dominated genres tend to be the ones that dominate AAA, which happens to be the format that requires most developers per title. The further I have moved from AAA towards smaller and more casual markets, the greater the number of female developers I have seen. This may be partly due to the appeal of the games made, but the larger companies have been going longer and a employee base from when there was even more disparity.

STEM has a gender imbalance, and games even more so. Only when STEM subjects appeal enough to women for then to make those choices in education can we get equality. Because only with gender balance in applicants can we get the balance in industry.
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Arnaud De Pischof Head of Video Games, ISART Digital6 days ago
@Ruben Monteiro: Hi Ruben. Well that's the whole point. Liking "clothing accessories" or coding is societal, not genetic. Our society is build this way (TV, commercials , media is general, and of course industries) telling us (adults and kids) what we should play, look, listen , like...
Maybe, just maybe, this is not 100% fair.
My two cts.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 days ago
This is the point when we post that viral video of the female child pointing out that girls' clothes all make statements about 'looks' and boys' all make statements about 'aspirations'.

I think that's a good place to start from, Ruben.

If there was no gender disparity then those sorts of things wouldn't happen and wouldn't lead up to events 10 years later in the lives of those children. In the same way the millennials are blamed with having expectations that are too high, the blame really comes from their parents/teachers and role models who ingrained that and any other expectation into them. (If such an expectation really exists - they're blamed for too much at the moment in USA media).
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It is hard enough to find talented persons, I don't think many indies can take into account gender. What I have visited Finnish institutes where game design is teached, up to 90% of the students are female. In programming 95% male.
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