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Diversity in gaming is a topic that raises multiple questions, many of them without easy answers. One of those questions is: How does a prospective studio founder create a diverse game studio from the beginning? As three studio creators discussed at the GamesBeat Summit Next event, diversity of thought and experience can be just as important as any other kind.
The three studio creators who spoke on the panel were Don Bellenger, independent game developer and founder of the developer co-op The Beauty Cult; Theron James, CEO and creative director of Wildseed Games; and Carolin Krenzer, CEO and co-founder of Trailmix; and moderator Eve Crevoshay, executive director of Take This.
All of the panelists spoke about the importance of a diverse studio, from both creative and business perspectives.
On the business side, Krenzer pointed out that having a large pool of perspectives to draw from when you’re making a game gives developers access to an equally large potential audience: “There’s a very strong business case for why the group of developers who make these games should reflect the audience: Because they need to understand the audience, and really tap into the needs of the audience, and create amazing new experiences.”
Bellenger added that, on the creative side, it’s very difficult to create an original game concept without those perspectives: “To tell a story that connects with people in a really emotional and novel way is a thing that I just don’t think you can do with a homogenous, ‘classical’ game dev team.”
As the panelists discussed the details of how to build a diverse studio, they all pointed out that it wasn’t enough to have diversity of background or personality — it also helped to have diversity of thought.
In response to a question from Crevoshay on how to recruit diverse talent, Bellenger mentioned that promising young developers are often funnelled into the AAA game development system regardless of whether or not it suited them. He added that he recommended looking for game talent outside of the usual places — he recommended looking for writers or graphic novelists or programmers who were “close enough” to games even if they didn’t have the requisite experience in order to find fresh perspectives.
“Even if you find diversity in the game talent hiring pool, which is a hard thing to do, sometimes they’re used to a certain kind of development methodology. They’re not always thinking as outside the box as you might like, just because the game dev community is so insular.
James pointed out this insularity can mean that even people who originally might have had a different perspective had been changed by an overall non-diverse industry: “It really is in the thinking. In AAA studios, a room can look diverse — not real-world diverse, but more than it did 15 years ago — but the thinking isn’t. Those folks had to co-opt their own thinking and assimilate so they could participate in that space, so their ideas would resonate with the leaders in that space, because they’re more homogenous. Being able to break out of that has become crucial for that overall expansion of what players and audiences are able to receive.”
Diversity in the games industry is a very popular and important topic. Earlier this year, at the previous GamesBeat Summit, a panel of developers discussed how diversity in game development would lead to more diverse games. But as these panelists pointed out, differences in perspective and thought can be just as important.
James said of the hiring process: “One of the hardest things of doing a startup with this kind of agenda is finding those people who bring genuinely different perspectives — not just physical differences — but thinking, stories, histories… Find that mix of skills and aptitude that makes the experience almost irrelevant.”
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