Game Republic

Jackie Mulligan, Kimberley Turner and Tabitha Marshall on three gaming chairs in front of a screen displaying a logo saying Scottish Games Week

Levelling Up the Games Industry

Kimberley Turner (Double Eleven), Tabitha (Tabbie) Marshall (Astrodreamer Studio ) and Marcia Deakin (Next Gen Skills Academy) joined Game Republic’s Dr Jackie Mulligan at Scottish Games Week to discuss diversity in the industry and what games companies can do to level up as well as why they should. As we come to the end of 2023, the insights provide some good examples of how studios can support levelling up in 2024 and beyond.

According to a Ukie census taken in 2020, whilst the industry is diverse, there are significant areas which could be improved. For example whilst 10% of employees within the industry were categorised as Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) which was slightly higher than national averages, they were noticeably less present in senior roles.  Organisations like BAME in Games are working to counter this alongside broader initiatives tackling barriers for under-represented groups.

In terms of international workers, in 2020 this was a third of games production but notably featuring less in senior and managerial roles. Kimberley Turner, Finance Director for Double Eleven co-leads a company that has grown from 64 people in 2018 to 375 people now with many nationalities relocating to the North East of England. “We work hard to support people to relocate and feel comfortable in this new environment. We connect with our future team members online and show them the places where they can live, the local town and areas of interest. When they join us and the bigger team, we support people to make friends by hosting social experiences so people can get to know each other beyond work.”

Under-representation of Women in Games

Women according to the census occupied only 28% of the games industry which was significantly under the national average. In terms of female representation in the industry Tabbie believed that this was not simply a games industry problem to solve. “We work hard to create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable, but the problem of accessibility starts far earlier when girls start gaming, or where games are not seen as a viable option for girls. A lot more needs to be done in school.”

Kimberley agreed highlighting an initiative currently being implemented by the company – a programme focusing on early careers aimed at young people aged between 15-19, giving young people an opportunity to participate in a week-long studio experience where they gain 30 hours of professional industry experience, as well as participate in daily masterclasses supported by experts in various disciplines within the industry. The company believes that this is a key time in a young person’s life and that this experience can play a crucial role in shaping their future ambitions and preparing them for the next steps on their journey.

Kimberley has also been recognised as a leading woman in games being crowned Tees Businesswoman of the Year last year and more recently won Game Republic’s Best Company Boss sponsored by Other Things. “This role-modelling is important, as girls and women see other women achieving and this can inspire them but also helps more people to understand that this is an accessible environment for women as well as men.“

Better games, relevant to more people makes good commercial sense and allows us to play an active role in promoting equality and inclusivity.
Marcia Deakin, NextGen Skills Academy

Neurodiversity in Games

In 2022, another study identified 23% of the industry as neurodiverse (neurodiversity is estimated to affect between 15-20% in the general population) and 13% having a physical disability (this is 17.8% in the general population).

Tabbie and Kimberley believed that in games industry, there is more neurodiversity and to this end accommodating diverse needs was crucial. Tabbie spoke about the need to create “quiet spaces and a safe space acknowledging differences in how people preferred to work”. Tabbie also explained that for Astrodreamer Studio the importance of self care and taking good care of mental health at work which improves experiences and outcomes for the studio.” Jackie added that Game Republic had worked with Screen Industries Growth Network (SIGN) on the design of events and as a result provides quiet areas at busy events, opportunities to add preferred pronouns, support and welcome to help people feel comfortable on arrival. She highlighted recent guides for event designers to support the development of welcoming environments during events. She added “What this does is improve the event experience for people with neurodiversity but as a result it improves the event for everyone creating a more welcoming and comfortable atmosphere.”

Creating an LGBTQ+ welcome environment in Games

According to the Ukie census 21% of the workforce identified as LGBTQ+, with 3% trans people and 2% non-binary

Tabbie described Astrodreamer Studio as a very diverse community which has attracted LGBTQ+ and trans people to its studio. “We have created a really queer-friendly environment, which is fun and means we can brainstorm easily and it is a happy place to go to work. We have also supported people in transitioning by creating a space for them to be in their new identity, giving them confidence. This has included providing changing facilities and companionship for them outside of work too.”

Economic barriers to careers in Games

The Ukie census also revealed disparities in social mobility with 81% of employees being educated to at least degree level, 62% coming from households where the main earner was in a professional / managerial position and 12% coming from independent or fee-paying schools. For Marcia and NextGen Skills Academy, much of her work has focused on broadening access to the industry through social mobility and also improving representation at all levels.

‘’ Through NextGen’s work with Princes Trust, including young offenders at Broadmoor prison, colleges  and work led bootcamps across the country we have had the privilege to experience the passion and talent of people who want to join our sector but are not included in the traditional, graduate routes in.  The wealth of talent and diversity of voice would enrich our storytelling and better reflect those playing our games.  Better games, relevant to more people makes good commercial sense and allows us to play an active role in promoting equality and inclusivity.”


The outlook for inclusivity and diversity in Games for 2024 and beyond

The games industry benefits from diversity because diverse perspectives will increase innovation and improve studios ability to design games that tell the stories, appeal, represent and are relevant to more people. As Tabbie identified in her own mission for the studio “It’s easy making a studio but what we’re developing is a inclusive community of artists that builds games that represent us”

The group concluded that it is important that conversations and work continues longer term to ensure that the progress made so far continues and that great examples of good work on improving diversity and inclusivity can be highlighted. To that end, Game Republic presented The Game Republic 20th Anniversary Inclusivity Award sponsored by Boneloaf  on 23rd November to Sumo Group. Alongside creating a welcoming environment, Sumo partners with several initiatives including Women in Games, Code Coven and mentoring programmes Limit Break and Mission Gender Equity. The group has also established The Sumo Digital Academy – a talent development programme that is opening new pathways into games and the first in the UK to deliver an industry apprenticeship recognised by government and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. It offers a Diversity Internship Training Programme, giving people from under-represented groups opportunities to receive training and mentoring in games programming.

The University of Bradford has been doing sterling work to improve inclusivity which you can read more about- see link here

We look forward to continuing this conversation into 2024. Thanks to the panelists for joining us at the event.

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