The good news is the games industry has been making progress on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). However, that progress has been slow, and particularly so for Black professionals.
As noted by a recent Washington Post article, the IGDA's 2021 Developer survey report said that the group has doubled in 16 years to account for 4% of the industry.
That survey is open to developers globally but it leans heavily North American. For comparison, the 2019 US Census reports that Black people make up 13% of the country's population. In Canada, the 2016 Census found 3.5% of the population identified themselves as Black.
The industry by and large acknowledged the systemic issues present within it like many others in 2020. This was in direct response to the nationwide protests calling for equality that followed the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who was killed while in police custody in May of 2020.
Many companies came forward to express support for Black Lives Matter support and promised to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive of Black professionals.
With the two-year anniversary of those promises coming up in a few months, GamesIndustry.Biz reached out to DEI professionals and researchers to ask them about the progress the industry has made and their predictions looking ahead.
Is the industry making progress on the DEI front?
"Overall progress is being made when conversations are taking place when BIPOC folk are speaking out about their experiences, and setting boundaries"
"Overall progress is being made when conversations are taking place when BIPOC folk are speaking out about their experiences, and setting boundaries," said Rejess Marshall, head of diversity and inclusion at Iron Galaxy.
Marshall adds that progress has been visible in some specific areas.
"Content creators are speaking out, gaining more visibility, and finding spaces that celebrate their unique perspectives. Within game development, companies are hiring more DEI professionals to help lead these efforts and there are more efforts being made to show diverse representation in the games."
When speaking about the headway that has been made, Cinzia Musio, diversity and inclusion advisor at Splash Damage, notes that the media's broader coverage of company problems and allegations has shifted.
"While progress is always slow, it is clear to see that the games industry is moving in the right direction. It was encouraging to see that late last year, with new allegations of abuse and harassment in the industry, there was a real drive across the board to create accountability," Musio explained.
"From games media refusing to publish any articles without mentioning history of abuse and harassment, to major platform holders calling out the behaviour. The next few years will be key to see whether that accountability continues, and whether it turns into real action across large studios."
Has the industry followed through?
Stephanie Ijoma, DEI consultant and founder of gaming outfit Nnesaga, agrees that the industry has quite a way to go in terms of addressing diversity and inclusion.
"Quite frankly, the industry only decided to wake up when the Black Lives Matter movement became popular and [the industry] panicked"
"Quite frankly, the industry only decided to wake up when the Black Lives Matter movement became popular and [the industry] panicked," Ijoma said.
"They tried to outsource DEI consultants to internally fix a system that has been purposely designed to not embrace and include diversity, representation and inclusion when this should have been a priority before things hit the fan," Ijoma adds.
"We constantly still fight tooth and nail to ensure that active changes are put in good faith till this day."
Dr. Kishonna Gray, author of "Intersectional Tech: Black Users in Digital Gaming" and an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, questions if companies are working on efforts that are both front facing to the public and internally.
"So diversity can be those outward-facing kinds of things, and equity and inclusion really looks more internal to a company/organization. So, is there equitable hiring? Are folks getting promoted and being hired at the top ranks of a company? Are there inclusive practices addressing all of the harassment claims?"
"So diversity can be those outward-facing kinds of things, and equity and inclusion really looks more internal to a company/organization"
Gray continues, "But we can point to specific things from companies and point out what they're not doing that well. Conversations related to unionization, harassment, hiring, etc."
"We have to ask more questions to understand what a company needs to be doing right now. And it's different across companies. So Twitch DEI might be different than Discord and of course, Microsoft has completely shifted the conversation with its recent acquisition."
Gray further expounds that the efforts for the industry at large need to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive isn't a one size fits all concept.
"I don't think we can really answer that in a general way, but broadly 'Is the industry making progress?'" she says.
"It depends on how you define progress and DEI," she says. "Visibility and representation of diversity might be enough for some, but not for all."
When addressing the promises companies made to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in 2020, Ijoma is rather candid in her response.
"Out of 100%, the industry has only improved by 20-25% if I am being completely honest," she explains.
"Words do not mean anything without action. Permanent action."
"Having worked with a lot of companies from 2020 and now, while there have been companies that have actively made changes, there have been many that have fallen short and returned to their old ways. Words do not mean anything without action. Permanent action."
Saba Ghebreyesus, 2K Games diversity and inclusion manager, agrees that changes have been slow.
"In many respects, it feels like we've all agreed to attend the dance, but many are still staring at one another from across the room and not out on the dance floor just yet," Ghebreyesus says.
They go on to note the publisher's ongoing commitment to staff in becoming more inclusive and diverse.
""We promised employees that 2K would hire diversity and inclusion team members, provide further education, create safe spaces for employees, and much more -- and further -- that we were all going on this journey together," Ghebreyesus explains.
2K director of diversity and inclusion Toni Ligons says the company has already seen a shift in the data as a result of its DEI efforts, which have included rolling out unconscious bias training for staff and other learning initiatives, as well as partnerships with not-for-profit organizations and historically Black colleges and universities.
When assessing the efforts following the summer of 2020, Gray questions the results made thus far.
"They affirmed their beliefs and values that Black Lives Matter," she explains. "They affirmed their commitment to addressing the violence against Asian communities."
"So they said some really amazing rhetorical and discursive kinds of things that sound really nice and look really good on their website but to answer the question have they followed through on what their statements outlined? I'm not so sure."
"When we think about the larger companies, I don't know if we can see the tangible results of their commitments. And I think that's a problem"
Dr. Kishonna Gray
She goes on to acknowledge the work done with large investments to overlooked communities, increased visible representation, and better hiring practices.
She names Niantic's efforts as an example of a company doing a lot of work in that regard. However, she believes that when improvements can't be seen, that may be a matter for concern.
"When we think about the larger companies, I don't know if we can see the tangible results of their commitments. And I think that's a problem," Gray states.
Where is the games industry falling short on DEI?
When assessing where the games industry is lacking, Marshall says it's the lack of outreach to unserved and overlooked youth.
"I think we're falling short in reaching out to underrepresented minority youth to provide them with access to resources and knowledge about potential career opportunities in gaming," she explains.
"That's one of the reasons why Iron Galaxy Studios has endowed two scholarships for underrepresented students in our markets."
Although there have been advancements for DEI over the years, missteps continue.
When considering the industry-at-large's deficiencies, Musio notes an ongoing problem with intersectionality regarding gender and marginalized people. She also mentions a tendency to focus on a particular kind of diversity.
"We often focus on the experience of women in the games industry, without considering the vast gender diversity present..."
"We often focus on the experience of women in the games industry, without considering the vast gender diversity present, especially in an industry that has a much larger portion of LGBTQ+ people than other industries," she explains.
In terms of moving forward, Gray cautions that increased visible representation reveals a problem seen among other industries grappling with DEI.
"But there is a fine line of this becoming tokenism as well," she explains. "There are some companies accused of 'discovering' their workforce of diverse folks."
"So people who have been at the company for a while are finally getting recognition. This is a positive thing," she adds.
"But it's sad how it had to come about. So many people were feeling neglected inside their companies and many suggest that external hires are getting the attention and praise to the detriment of existing employees who have been there."
What are the next steps?
Looking ahead, Ijoma says DEI headway will be reliant on the efforts of leadership and their dedication.
"The biggest improvements will have to be made from the very top of the hierarchy. Where the executives and decision makers sit," she explains.
"If we have more diverse perspectives and voices, the influence will carry down and across in what you see: campaigns, launches, HR and communities."
She adds, "The industry won't move unless they consciously make an effort to implement change. This will enable us as consultants to work cohesively and not let our work be in vain."
"Through continued learning, connection and conversation, action, and accountability, we can and will initiate the change we continue to need internally..."
Ghebreyesus echoes the importance of working continuously to improve as well as using employee resource groups.
"Through continued learning, connection and conversation, action, and accountability, we can and will initiate the change we continue to need internally and across our industry," they say.
"We're also really proud of the work our ERGs have done to date and are scheduled to take on in 2022. We encourage any fellow developers and publishers out there who don't have ERGs to explore investing in them for their employees."
Musio herself hopes to see that diversity continues to improve; she notes she's waiting to see the UKIE Games Industry census report for 2022. Additionally, she would like to see leadership that is more representative of the world.
"My hope is to see that diversity has improved at the more senior layers of studios, where we are likely to see long-term changes which will positively impact the industry," she explains.
"With the games industry being more competitive than ever for candidates, it will be interesting to see the shift in employee wellbeing that studios are likely going to need to make, in order to make their companies be the most attractive on the market."
Musio adds that it will be interesting to see changes alongside the shifts in studio work cultures.
"We have started seeing a big shift to four-day weeks from studios of all sizes," she explains.
"As these efforts do tend to attract and benefit marginalised people in more impactful ways, we are likely to see Diversity & Inclusion at the forefront of it in the coming months/years."
"I hope that it means having a dedicated Diversity & Inclusion role at studios will become a staple across the industry."