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The games industry has a skills problem. More precisely, it has a retention problem. It’s hard for companies to hang on to talent. Crunch, salary disparity, and burnout, not to mention harassment, are all factors. One issue discussed during the GamesBeat Summit 2022 “Building Diversity and Equity into the Games Industry Through College” panel is about the way we look at diversity.

“I think people can get really stuck on diversity being a single characteristic particularly within the games industry, it’s about women and the lack of women, but I think diversity is much bigger than that, ” says Gina Jackson OBE, founder of GameDev Bootcamps. “The work I do is really to counteract the skills crisis we’re in at the moment where we need more experienced people. We can bring people in from university, and we can bring in people in their twenties, but the people we need, at the moment, are more experienced people.”

Working in games, to many people, sounds great. However, many jobs are highly sought after, not to mention the barrier to entry. In order to work in the games industry, most companies require you to have experience in the games industry. Whether it be shipping a game or having worked on a franchise, it’s experience most people do not have.

Experienced employee/new career

“Part of the work I try to do is bring these people in and give them new skill sets,” said Jackson. “But then we still battled with those who insist on having people who’ve got a games relevant degree, or they’ve at least produced one product from start to finish. Well, you’re naturally excluding huge portions of the industry by saying that. It’s in your diversity of thinking and thought you need to get rid of those things. And those barriers that you are putting up in your job ads and who you are talking to, and think more widely about what your company really needs. Who can help you, who can make you different?”

What can the games industry do to address these issues? Jackson believes that working with people who want a career change is the right way to go.

“So, the bootcamp that I run is about career changes and bringing in that diversity of experience, which may not be five or ten years in the games industry,” continues Jackson. “It may be ten years in engineering or software development or film or storytelling and teaching those people about how games work. and what people can do within the games industry and how they can bring a different element, skill, thought, or background into what we are doing.”

Location, location, location

USC Games Expo

For a long time now, game development has been centered around a few choice locations. If you weren’t in California, London, or any of the other “major development” hubs, you were out of luck. Since then, though, the world has become more connected.

“I’m from Uruguay in South America,” said Gonzalo Frasca, developer with Dragonbox | Kahoot. “When I was young, there was no game development in my country. There was a guy who I, unfortunately, never met whose name was Eduardo Barreto. He used to draw Batman for DC comics from Uruguay. He used to mail the drawings. For me, knowing that a single person could achieve something so farfetched encouraged me to say ‘okay, well, maybe making games is possible.'”

People from lower-income families have so much more access to knowledge today than even a decade ago. With the internet and online education, positions that were unthinkable before are possible today. Jim Huntley, with the University of Southern California Games program, aims to assist black and indigenous students.

“We launched the Gerald Day Lawson endowment fund in 2020,” said Huntley. “Our focus is doing what we can to create some equity when it comes to those two specific demographic groups. Mainly because of other groups, even though there’s still a long way to go in terms of their demographic representation within the games industry, the presence of black developers and indigenous developers has been hovering between 2% and 3% for the last 10 or 15 years of data that we could find. In terms of indigenous representation, it’s below 1%.”

Focusing on goals

Many students, after jumping all the hurdles and making it into a program, still have a long ways to go. It’s easy to lose sight of this simple fact. Carolina Cruz-Neira, of the University of Central Florida, has taken notice of certain trends with her students.

“You still have to do the work, the process, the incremental acquisition of the knowledge and the fundamental base to get things done,” says Cruz-Neira. “So it’s sometimes heartbreaking when a student at a more advanced level comes with like 20 different activities that are superhuman. There is a point in our lives where we all know that we cannot be superhumans. It’s time to focus and start letting things go. And I’m starting to notice that they almost feel like a failure because we’ve been telling them, you can do all these things and you are strong and you have to persevere and go for it.”

What kind of effect can this have on a young person trying to prepare for their future work? The best course of action, according to Cruz-Neira, is to help students focus on what’s important to them.

“We have to try to be thinking more of long term on how we influence this young generation to give them that empowerment,” continued Cruz-Neira. “But also the understanding that that empowerment is not entitlement. It’s not immediate. It actually has a process. You have to work. You have to study. And more importantly, you have to focus because we are not superhumans. Again, this is my observation, not a study.”

No matter how you look at it, the games industry is still growing. Growth requires new and veteran employees at all levels to healthily continue. For more of this conversation, and many others, check out the GamesBeat Summit 2022!

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