Last week, a launch party was held for Out Making Games -- a new industry network that, for many people, has been a long time coming.
The group's purpose, according to Sheridans' Liam Price (one of the 11 founding members), is to "unite the LGBTQ+ community working in the UK's games industry" and "build an empowered and safe space where our community can come together, share ideas and network."
Out Making Games was born over the summer and "came together thanks to several people having a very similar idea," says Allison and Partners' Andrew Rogers.
"We were all looking around and asking where the network was for LGBTQ+ folks working in games here in the UK?" he explains. "We were lucky that we all eventually crossed paths -- perhaps it was fate? -- and came together to create Out Making Games."
"We suffer from underrepresentation in the workforce, and underrepresentation in the content we create"
Elli Shapiro, Out Making Games
The seed of the idea can perhaps be traced back to an LGBTQ+ roundtable discussion, hosted by Media Molecule's Richard Franke -- also known as gaming drag icon Kitty Powers -- at Develop:Brighton.
"The overwhelming consensus was that we needed a UK LGBT+ Games Industry professional organisation," Franke recalls. "A group of us started a Slack channel but at the time it didn't get a lot of traction. Then a couple of months ago I got word that someone else was trying to organise a similar thing, so we jumped on board."
Price adds: "The key thing was that we decided to come together as a group to share ideas and join forces to provide our fantastic industry with an equally fantastic LGBTQ+ network for people to come together, network, share ideas and develop a community. So far, it's going great."
There are 11 volunteers in the current leadership group. In addition to the aforementioned three, Out Making Games is run by Gayming Magazine editor Robin Gray, PlayStation's Zoe Brown, Flick Games' Ian Masters, M&C Saatchi London's Izzy Jagan, Disney Interactive's James Wright, Fusebox Games' Michael Othen, Minecraft Dungeons producer Steven Taarland and Rocksteady Studio's Elli Shapiro.
In addition to organising the launch party, the group has been growing the community on Slack and Twitter and connecting with studios to see who else is interested in either participating in or supporting Out Making Games' activities. And Shapiro says the goal is to go beyond just networking.
"Personally, I'd like to see us organise outreach opportunities to provide education and inspiration to those not yet in the industry and provide resources to help encourage developers to have better in-game representation of LGBTQ+ people," she says.
"We also want to partner with and support other special interest groups and work together to increase representation across all underrepresented groups such as BAME, women and people with disabilities."
"I'm just glad that we've finally made this group a reality, it's been a long time coming"
Richard Franke, Out Making Games
Franke adds that the organisation is still "ironing out the details of our mission" based on what members believe the priorities should be, but a combination of professional support and advice is likely to remain at the core.
Equally important will be raising awareness of both the presence and underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ professionals in the UK games industry. As anyone who has attended either of the Develop:Brighton roundtables on the subject over the past two years, members of this community face a wide range of issues.
"We suffer from underrepresentation in the workforce, and underrepresentation in the content we create," says Shapiro. "This leads to marginalisation and isolation, and LGBTQ+ people are more likely to suffer harassment. Building a supportive community is a primary way to empower LGBTQ+ people to help ourselves."
Price adds: "Although the video games industry can be fantastically diverse and welcoming, unfortunately that is not always the case in every organisation. According to Stonewall, one in five LGBTQ+ staff in Britain have been the target of negative comments because they are LGBTQ+ and more than a third of LGBTQ+ staff have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT for fear of discrimination."
Rogers observes that demand for such a network has been loud and clear since Out Making Games first announced itself via Twitter last month.
"It warms my heart to say that the reaction has been so positive already with individuals, studios and organisations coming forward to support us and our mission. Our recent launch party in London had over 90 people attend, which was massive for a first event.
He continues: "We loved our launch party, but we want Out Making Games to be more than just networking drinks events, and more than just London-based events. We want to put on events and provide resources that actually help to empower or inspire our members."
In between events, the Slack channel will be the main forum for the group, and Price says Out Making Games wants to explore the possibility of mentoring initiatives and advocating LGBTQ+ rights "on a wider basis from within the games industry." More immediately, Shapiro adds, the team wants to nail down a tagline that effectively communicates the true breadth of the group's goals.
"We love our name and its acronym OMG, but we are well aware that not all of the people we want to represent have the luxury of being 'out' nor may all those in the industry consider themselves making games," she says. "We're developing a strapline that makes sure everyone feels included, while maintaining our catchy name."
While things may be winding down for the holidays, the core team is busy talking to all the people they connected with in the capital last week in order to map out plans for Out Making Games in 2020 and beyond.
Franke concludes: "Now that the dust has settled from our fantastic launch party, we're surveying our members for their priorities. We'll be organising a diverse range of our own events across the country at reasonable intervals, as well as making our presence known at the various games industry and LGBT+ events that will happen in the coming year.
"I'm just glad that we've finally made this group a reality, it's been a long time coming. Especially for me, having worked in games for 23 years."