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A Progressive Stance

Hiive's Brian Baglow on why the responsibility for industry gender balance is a shared one

A couple of decades ago, the video game stereotype was of boys who lock themselves away playing shoot-'em-ups, sports games or RPGs. Boys played games and girls played with dolls. But that perception is old hat. Data out last autumn showed how, for the first time, more than half of UK gamers (52 per cent) are now women.

Women in gaming have come a long way. Sure, plot lines about rescuing princesses and beefcakes with big guns may persist, but times have changed, and the explosion in new game platforms and genres has brought gender equivalence to our customer base.

So, when you look at the development studios and publishing houses of our industry, why is the industry still stuck in the 8-bit era?

The paucity of female representation in games production is a disgrace. Despite being the majority of players, only 14 per cent of people employed by the industry are female, according to Next-Gen Skills Academy.

"The Gamergate controversy is not just nihilistic and stupid - in terms of rebalancing our industry, it has turned the clock back by years"

That is something we should all be ashamed of, and it's getting worse. The Gamergate controversy is not just nihilistic and stupid - in terms of rebalancing our industry, it has turned the clock back by years. I have several female industry friends here in the UK who have been affected by rape and death threats, who are now scared to stand up and make their voice heard.

How can we begin to build an industry that is truly representative if women are too intimidated to enter the industry? Not by shying away from the issue. That is why it's time for all of us in gaming to state, categorically and as one, that we will not tolerate any barriers that stand in the way of that goal. Overcoming Gamergate may look like a diversion from the existing task of righting the sector, but, in fact, it can become a powerful first step to doing so. The whole episode can galvanise the industry to acknowledge the changes it should have done years ago.

Opening the industry to more women can help unlock even better days for what is already a success story in the UK's creative economy. Having boomed in the last 10 years thanks to entrepreneurial spirit and strong public interest in mobile games, the sector now boasts 1,902 companies spread right across the country. In fact, the sector is worth some £1.72 billion, according to the group's recent report, and it is growing by 22 per cent every year.

That represents tremendous employment potential for a generation of creative millennials that are certainly playing but are not yet producing.

More universities and colleges in UK are offering game-specific courses than ever. Hiive, Creative Skillset's online professional network for the creative industries, currently lists 1,496 games courses. But tutors can only teach students who apply to the course. Before higher education begins, girls still aren't being encouraged to think about technology or IT as a career.

When I visit schools across the UK to talk about our industry's employment prospects, boys immediately self-identify as gamers, but girls disengage. You have to actively intervene to remind them that, yes, Candy Crush Saga and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood are games, made by actual game developers, many of whom are female.

An industry in which more of the products are made by the people who consume them will be one that functions far better, one which represents them and caters to their needs. Plus, as an added bonus, it may rescue us all from the monotony of the latest AAA war franchises.

"An industry in which more of the products are made by the people who consume them will be one that functions far better"

A great hope lies in the diversification of skills required by our industry. Ten years ago, to be in games you had to be either a coder or an artist. Now, there is a broader variety of necessary expertise, from writing and visual effects to audio, animation and analytics. I am hopeful this growth can play a part in encouraging women to seek greater representation behind the keyboard.

Within Hiive, there are 168 members identifying as being from the games sector, albeit from a rich range of non-traditional backgrounds. We are proud that over 25 per cent of them are female, a proportion that outstrips the industry at large.

But there is a long way to go, and initiatives like the Next-Gen Skills Academy's Gender Balance Workforce Project are pointing us in the right direction. To imagine what's possible, you only have to look at how the recent concerted media effort to cover women's sports has yielded far greater attention, something that will likely increase female participation at all levels.

I back Geraldine Cross, the former Blitz, HSBC and Next HR Director, when she calls for gender-neutral job descriptions to be mandatory and for recruitment to be opened up beyond the same old word-of-mouth mechanism. Now it is over to the industry at large. Who will take the stand to make the difference?

Brian Baglow is games partnership manager at creative networking site Hiive, which is powered by Creative Skillset, the industry skills body for the creative industry

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