Critical Census: How Diversity Can Transform the Videogames Industry

Critical Census: How Diversity Can Transform the Videogames Industry

As Ukie launches its first-ever UK Games Industry Diversity Census, we look at why addressing the diversity issue remains so crucial to the continued success of the UK games industry.

Let’s be honest, it’s about time there was a census. After all, the main problem cited for sourcing relevant information about diversity in the UK games industry is, well, the lack of it. Without such crucial research, the industry has been left in a difficult position – wanting to do something about the lack of representation but unable to determine where the key blind spots lie.

Bear in mind as well that the last study to touch on diversity in the videogame sector was a Creative Skillset survey way back in 2015. It stated that only 4% of people working in the UK games industry were black, Asian, and minority ethnic (down from 4.7% in 2012).

And according to our own Salary & Satisfaction Survey 2019, another underrepresented group, women, only make up an eighth of the global Games & Interactive workforce while the gender pay gap looms large – in the UK alone, men earn £45,828 on average while women earn £39,588. The feedback gleaned from our survey also highlighted some very real frustrations with the lack of progress being made on the diversity issue (see below).

Thankfully, Ukie’s census will result in the most in-depth overview of the UK videogame workforce and its diversity – and help the industry to finally identify and address any failings.

Now that’s an exciting prospect!


Why diversity is a win-win for the industry

Diversity group of staff smiling

The census itself is delivered via an online multiple-choice survey that only takes a few minutes complete - anonymously. Initial take-up has been high with many big names (SEGA Europe, Creative Assembly, Hutch Games and many more) all signing up and sharing the census survey across their companies.

And really, it’s a no brainer as to why! Diversity produces commercial benefits; the McKinsey report ‘Delivering through Diversity’ shows

  • Businesses with greater diversity outperform less-diverse competitors.
  • Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability.
  • While companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.

Plus diversity in the workplace...

  • helps to identify gaps, in turn leading to solutions which encourage people from different backgrounds to come into the industry.
  • creates a level playing field where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive in a successful sector, which in turn in the games industry brings fresh cultural insights that help shape new experiences for gamers.


Meet the people giving a voice to the unrepresented

Diversity then offers a genuine and exciting opportunity to transform the sector. This opportunity is already being highlighted by projects and initiatives that are challenging the status quo:

  • On the consumer side, websites such as the newly launched Gayming Magazine ensure diverse voices are heard and represented.
  • Within the industry, there are already several organisations (which we'd hope most of you are already familiar with) that help unrepresented groups find a voice such as
    • Women in Games - a not for profit organisation for women in the video, mobile, online games and esports. 
    • BAME in Games - a community dedicated to encouraging and supporting more diverse talent to work in the games industry. 
    • POC in Play - a community dedicated to encouraging and supporting more diverse talent to work in the games industry. 
  • Not to mention several of the studios who are already deploying initiatives or acting as advocates to bring greater diversity into the sector including: Jage; Rocksteady Games and Gram Games

Critically, there's also a hunger across the entire sector to challenge the norm: our 2019 survey reveals 72% of respondents say diversity in the games industry is important to them – but the real question is how can long-lasting change be successfully brought about?


Education: the key to unlocking diversity

Education is the key to diversity

It’s here, perhaps unsurprisingly, that opinions are conflicting. As part of our survey, we asked respondents about how they would address the sector’s lack of diversity. It revealed there is some resistance to ‘affirmative action’: “People should be hired based on merit, their various group identities should not be a factor”, states one respondent.

Another says such an approach potentially insults the very people it is trying to help: “I find any kind of ‘reserved spots’ or diversity promotions disrespectful toward the favoured minority because they will not be acknowledged for their worth, which is a shame because there is diversity in talent”.

What is clear however is that many respondents believe a holistic, multi-tiered approach to the diversity issue is required:

Education matters

The number one recommendation is education, out-reaching to potential minority candidates from a young age who may currently feel put off by the lack of representation within the sector and games themselves. “Make young people aware of careers and the required skills”, says one respondent. “Make them feel that they are capable, can do these jobs and that it is a valid career choice. This should be backed up by providing parents with information about careers in the sector.”

Another suggested that developers should “send non-white, non-male employees to give talks at primary/elementary/middle schools and secondary/high schools, not just universities. Representation matters – and when kids and teens see someone who looks or is a bit like them talking about how great it is to make games, they will recognise it as a career option for them too”.

Taking an educational approach is one that co-founder of POC in Play, Adam Campbell, agrees with: “The education pipeline is super important, if not the most important thing to get more people in the industry,” he told MCV. “One of the potential solutions is trying to get more people from the industry into schools that have underrepresented people… [This will help remove] the cultural pressures which may also influence the type of careers that people are going to choose.”



Workplaces enhanced

The inner workings of game devs must also evolve with many of our survey respondents stating there should be:

  • Changes made to the recruitment process and incentive packages – from ‘blind hiring’ (making the hiring and promotion process as anonymised as possible) to offering flexible hours to attract female employees
  • More effective onboarding processes, support of new staff early in their careers so they feel valued, and the provision of ongoing training and mentorship
  • Changes made to work environments to make them more appealing, adaptable and critically, safe.

One respondent says more serious attention must be given to employees who experience negative treatment due to their identity: “My wife found a lot of sexism, and uncomfortable situations were brushed off or not taken seriously.”


How the industry can – and must – change itself

To combat such prejudices, many believe a cultural shift is required with some companies already implementing changes. For instance, Gram Games’ Marta Gaczynska says that diversity “is also about promoting a healthy work environment where you can be you and you don't have to be an alpha male to get noticed. It’s been said that diversity is like being invited to a party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.”

Susanne Bauer, Senior Localisation specialist at Jagex, has written about the positive impact of the changes made at her company to make it more open and inclusive: “The freedom to talk openly about [diversity] issues has led to many positive developments, such as a code of conduct for internal chatrooms, improved use of inclusive language in internal documentation and better identification of potentially offensive in-game material.”

The end result? One of Bauer’s colleagues from a minority background told her that Jagex is “the first workplace where I’ve felt welcome for who I am”.


Speaking out: empowering or self-sabotage?

While there’s clearly a willingness to change – and in certain companies, change is underway – there are still many hurdles to overcome; the following comment from one survey respondent should resonate across the industry as the sector continues to address the diversity issue:

“I worked for a company whose directors were overtly sexist and racist but who’s really going to speak out over that? The game development community is so well-networked that if you vocalise opposition to these issues, you’re harming future career prospects – not just with your own company but with others as well. It’s just not worth it, and with no union protection, nobody will stand up to it.”

As an industry, we’ve got to collectively show that we’re better than that – that change is possible and is happening. Jagex’s Susanne Bauer hopes her company’s diversity success will inspire others “who feel like their workplace environment is very homogenous, and who yearn for change. All it takes is some will and some togetherness. From there, who knows how far you might go.”

And hopefully, the UK Games Industry Diversity Census will help add momentum to this grassroots movement by offering insights into what we’re getting right – and what we’re still getting wrong. To make your voice heard, take part in the census here; it’s ten minutes of your time that could end up transforming the industry forever. Change is afoot - what an exciting time to be part of the games industry!

Catrin Jones

Operations Manager

Catrin is a jack of all trades at Skillsearch, but she's master of them all too! The unflappable, enthusiastic face that will be your go-to for any questions - that's for contractors, clients and us in the office as well. She's always ready and willing to help and we haven't yet found a problem that she can't solve. She does have an Achilles heel though as she hasn’t yet worked out how to whistle, which would really come in handy when it comes to her new fur baby – Evie the Cockapoo! 

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