Friday, July 31, 2009

Are minorities under-represented in video games? I just responded to a reporter who is writing a story on that. My response: http://ping.fm/V34iM

Video Games and Minority Hiring

I was asked about how minorities were underrepresented in the video game universe for a newspaper article - I have no idea if they'll use a quote or not. Here's what I sent in:

I am a game developer. You can look my background up on www.linkedin.com/in/billycain if you'd like to learn more. I run a game development studio in Austin, TX.

Yes, minorities and women of all races are underrepresented in the video gaming "pantheon." I have been working for over a decade to change this. I work with Full Sail University as an adviser and this is a huge topic that we struggle with from both sides: how do we attract minorities to the industry, and how can we make changes that will result in change in the games that ship.

We need to get more minorities into the game industry, bottom-line. Only then will we see their influence in the final product. I work with many universities that are working very hard to get the word out that you don't have to be a white man to make games, as well as with summer camps like www.gamecamp.org that not only have females and minorities represented, but also serve low-income families as well. Socio-economic status has nothing to do with intelligence and drive. We need to create more programmers, artists, and designers in our schools, starting in at least 4th grade. That's when we start losing our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students to social groups that aren't as interested in 'cerebral' activities. And that's what the game development world requires to a large extent. Well directed funding and community support for programming and arts are key methods to get everyone excited about the possibilities  We also need to do better about educating parents that there IS a career in gaming. I work with the Game Education Summit (www.gameeducationsummit.com) and the Game Education Network (www.gameeducationnetwork.com) to get the word out to parents, schools, and universities worldwide, that anyone can be a game developer if that is what they want to do. You have no idea how many parents do not see this as a career.

It has been my experience that publishers (the ones that pay for larger games to be made) are extremely "risk adverse" when it comes to the content of their games from every angle, whether it's gameplay, story, and lead character choice. There are many issues surrounding this topic, but I think the main one is that traditionally, game developers in America happen to be white and male. We have made great strides (in some games) in gender equality because there are enough enlightened people making games to recognize that women make up a growing population of gamers. We can be 'inclusive' of women gamers by adding features that cater to their different styles of gaming without changing the main structure of the game's design. This has actually made a huge difference in sales numbers for games. In fact, some types of games are played more by women than men, and people are beginning to see why it is important to serve that market. Until someone can convince the people with the checkbooks that there is a real need to cater to a specific type of player (whatever that type may be), we are likely to be stuck in this loop.

On the positive side, many of the largest selling games are either completely neutral or are just as inclusive as the real world. Sports titles have every player from a given sport all over the world, fantasy games let you play any "race" imaginable from orcs to dark elves, casual games that do not need a player "avatar" (who 'are' you in Bejeweled? Yourself!), and 'god' games where you rule your minions in any way you wish from an omniscient point of view. Casual or social games like Zuma or a social game on Facebook that are completely gender / race neutral are rising in popularity to a point where the bigger games are losing ground in the market (you can look this up, but it's not well-documented... YET).

It stands to reason that an industry would be reflective of its constituents, but the game industry reacts QUICKLY to changes in the market. The business models in the game industry have gone from almost 100% packaged products, like John Madden Football, to charging a subscription to essentially rent the game, like World of Warcraft, to "freemium" games that allow you to play for free, but charge you to add things to enhance and expand your game, like Guild Wars. The game industry changes on a dime when it needs to. If there is a market that is underserved, and a business case can be made that said market will pay for games, we will change. But in the meantime, come join us! The water's fine and we're looking for new developers of all types.

So, what do you think?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ion Drum Rocker 4 Rock Band is a great investment. It is fun, as real as it gets w/o "real" trapset, + great exercise! http://ping.fm/Sm3Sw

Monday, July 13, 2009

The kids are leaving for a 2 week grandparent trip tomorrow! Yay for them (and being spontaneous)!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I can't get over how much fun the Ion Drum Rocker is on Rock Band. ROCK!

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