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Game Changers 2021: Part Three

We celebrate people being the change they want to see, funding the future of games, telling African stories through games, and giving free legal advice to newcomers

The GamesIndustry.biz Game Changers is an initiative that profiles individuals and organisations making progress in vital areas like diversity, accessibility, charity, mental health, progressive politics, lifting emerging markets, uniting communities, and more -- people whose stories can show us how this industry can be that better and more inclusive place.

Below is the latest wave of 2021's Game Changers, with more to follow every working day, with a full wrap-up coming later this month. Find previous articles and more about this project here.

Stephanie Ijoma, NNESAGA

You often hear that you need to be the change you want to see, and that's exactly what Stephanie Ijoma did.

Stephanie Ijoma, NNESAGA

In 2015, she found herself frustrated as she didn't see anyone who looked like or represented her in the games space. So she founded NNESAGA to be a safe and inclusive hub for players to celebrate their love of gaming. Ijoma wanted to help Black people and other marginalized communities find opportunities as well.

"I tried to get into the games industry myself," she says. "Our mission is to prioritise diversity and inclusion by creating training, inclusive gaming events, panels and workshops to implement permanent solutions for permanent change."

With these goals in mind, NNESAGA has become one of the UK's leading Black entertainment platforms dedicated to DEI for games, comics, and anime, with Ijoma serving as CEO.

The platform offers services such as DEI consulting, production, events management, content creation, community management, workshops, and more.

"We want to make sure that we champion diversity, inclusion and representation not only in the UK, but globally too," Ijoma adds.

Since its creation, NNESAGA has gone on to regularly work with a number of brands and has been featured for the work that the platform has done, and continues to do, for the underrepresented.

"Share the word, create and include us in the spaces that were also meant for us"

Stephanie Ijoma

Ijoma was running the company on her own until a year ago when she expanded the business with a media team to assist her with content creation and management. She is also represented by talent agency CAA, who helps her look after the business overall.

"I am naturally hyper-independent so it was hard to let go and give away responsibilities that I can already do," she says. "However, when building an empire, it's going to take more than me, so I am really happy to now have a growing team who believe in the vision."

When speaking about how to support the organization, she says it's just about letting people know about it and spreading the word. It's also about creating long lasting working relationships and not just checking off diversity boxes. The catchphrase NNESAGA has often used online to describe the platform's work is "impact over numbers."

"Listen to not just my voice but the voices we are representing. The underrepresented. Hire NNESAGA to consult and help execute better and more meaningful campaigns. Share the word, create and include us in the spaces that were also meant for us. Lastly, look past the numbers. NNESAGA's impact and influence exceeds beyond measure."

Evva Karr, Glitch

Evva Karr is a veteran in the games industry, or as they put it, "I've been making battle simulators in AOL chatrooms and running small businesses such as selling thousands of collectibles online since before the days of PayPal and eBay."

Evva Karr

Having worked in publishing and strategic partnerships for big studios like Riot Games and Activision Blizzard, it's their own company Glitch, founded in 2013, that is focused on shaping the future of the industry, with the apt hashtag #FutureOfPlay.

One of Glitch's big successes includes arcade action game HyperDot, which was nominated at last year's The Game Awards for Innovation in Accessibility alongside big hitters like The Last of Us Part 2, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, and Watch Dogs Legion.

Most prominently, you can see the work Glitch is giving a platform through its own Toonami-inspired #FutureofPlay Direct broadcast, which premiered last year as the pre-show to The Game Awards, and returned to with 'Season 2' this year.

When discussing the #FutureOfPlay, Karr says that the industry has the potential to be far bigger and more inclusive, while also being sustainable, co-creative, and shaped by new types of players and experiences.

"The games industry is a $159 billion media giant -- bigger than both the film and music industries combined," says Karr, while also pointing out statistics showing that 49% of people who play games are women, while 50% are people of colour.

And even though they may play games, most adults do not identify as 'gamers'.

"There is a bigger-than-we-realize audience that is hungry for games, but unlikely to self-describe as a community of gamers"

Evva Karr

"There is a bigger-than-we-realize audience that is hungry for games, but unlikely to self-describe as a community of gamers," Karr says. "From a value perspective, this means that there are dollars left on the proverbial table, and money to be made and moved through new channels."

This has led to the creation of the Moonrise Fund, where Karr, along with a team of successful leaders in games, is providing funding of up to $250,000 to early stage game studios who are building what they believe is the future of play.

Karr encourages game developers to apply to the fund (which may also see new experiences showcased in the #FutureOfPlay Direct) while also inviting more backers and investors to contribute to the Moonrise Fund.

Last but not least, they understand the future is also decided by the audience.

"Players, if you -- like us -- believe in the #FutureOfPlay, buy our games, follow along with all of the developers participating in all of the shows and don't forget to join our Discord server. You're in for something fresh and new like you've never seen before."

René Otto, Van Iersel Luchtman

A lawyer at Van Iersel Luchtman, René Otto founded the Netherlands' sole full-service legal team dedicated to the video game industry. It supports not just developers but also publishers, hardware manufacturers, and more, right across the world.

Following a life-long love of gaming -- through which he met his partner while playing World of Warcraft -- Otto believes every developer "should have proper access to legal knowledge" to help negotiate investment and publishing contracts. Consequently, he offers free legal consultations to developers and gives lectures about law and the games industry.

"I try to help the industry on a national level as well," Otto says. "In the Netherlands, our firm has partnerships with organisations like Dutch Games Association and Dutch Game Garden. Whenever there is a topic that impacts the industry we try and represent it in the best possible way, such as the discussion in the Netherlands concerning loot boxes and the evaluation of the Dutch Copyright Act."

René Otto

Otto won 'Best Young Talent' award at the Dutch legal awards, and is a founding board member with Breda Game City, a non-profit foundation that focuses on developing the local video game industry. He is also a proud Women in Games Ambassador, a position he took after seeing friends in the industry subjected to harassment.

"To see with my own eyes what happened to them and what it did to them shattered my heart, and I tried to help them wherever I could with personal care and pro bono legal advice," he explains. "While I was happy that I was able to help them reactively, I felt the urge to prevent these situations proactively by contributing to a more inclusive industry."

Otto is grateful for the support of his teams at Van Iersel Luchtman and Breda Game City, and is also thankful to both Dutch Games Association and Dutch Game Garden.

"In the end, I think it is important that we all join forces to improve and further develop the video game industry," he says.

"I would really appreciate it if people reached out to me if they are struggling with legal topics or help to spread the message. Furthermore, I am always happy to provide talks and lectures to groups who want to develop their legal knowledge."

Game Jam Plus

Mwaaba Mugala, Game Jam Plus

Game Jam Plus stands apart from other game jams.

Not only does it connect developers, new and established, across genres and disciplines, it also encompasses the whole process of releasing a game, too, not just developing it.

This means that Game Jam Plus invites participants from right across the industry -- regardless of prior work experience -- in ancillary roles such as marketing, advertising, and monetisation, too. It is particularly welcoming of newcomers to its collaborative and competitive events.

Mwaaba Mugala -- a data associate and co-founder of Zambia-based EpicArts Studio -- is a regional organiser alongside partner Eddie Musabula. The organisation is entirely self-funded.

"I became active in the game industry in 2018," explains Mugala. "After I won the Digital Lab Africa competition, I decided to open my own studio with Eddie Musabula.

"I was passionate about helping the gaming community through game jams. I joined the Game Jam Plus organisational community last year because it was in line with what I wanted to achieve, and I felt it would be an amazing opportunity for the African game development community."

Mugala's work has inspired other game developers from Africa and other nations where the games industry is less established. It let people know that they were "not alone in the pursuit of their dreams," he says, and encourages jam participants to consider diverse and socially impactful themes in their games, providing mentors to those starting out on their game-making journey.

The organisation would love more funding to support up-and-coming developers who "aren't established but have promising projects in the works."

Check back on Monday for more profiles of our 2021 Game Changers. The profiles will all be compiled on this page until our wrap up article later this month

Freelancers Alan Wen and Vikki Blake also contributed to this article