On The Lack of Non-White Developers in The Scene...

There is a common thread about how "white" the South African game development industry is.
You know, i hesitate to call it an industry as i think it's more of a community.


As the article above and many others demonstrate. Most South African game developers are white people.
I think, obviously, the "indiversity" does not start or end with South Africa.

It's a phenomenon spanning across an entire industry. A phenomenon that extends to the consumption of games media and amplifies itself in the creation of the aforementioned.

Film is about a 100 years or more old and Video Games are merely about 47.
Even newer is the ubiquity and democratization of tools to create media for video games.

Everything popular hit a tipping point.

Before the de factor tipping point were mini tips.

The amount of people making games will increase over time, the real area of interest should be the ratio of people within that increase. We cannot say "50 people of colour were making games in South Africa and 100 are making games today." when the truth of the ratio is 50:1000 turned to 100:10000.

I think that the development of games is a socio-culturally ingrained interest.
The factors causing the interest are more often found in white people by default of social association.
If you know of people of color that develop games, their social life was probably bad in relation to their peers. That or they had white friends.

I am confident that the deeper, demo-specific, socio-heritic, data-dependant reasons for the situation i'm talking about will prove my points. Explaining it is more complex than it seems.

But i want to reinforce that, specifically in our community, there is no... "real" epidemic. The way this issue tends to be raised can make it look like there is a game development apartheid in South Africa, lmao. Obviously this is not the case. We're a young community. As we succeed more, campaigns of inclusion should be an area of focus.

Until then, everyone is welcome, here in MGSA and the development community of South Africa as a whole.


  • Lets focus on making games instead of who looks like what.
  • edited
    I disagree that simply because a problem that is present in our industry is also present in other parts of the world, or in other related industries, that it isn't a "real" problem here.

    If anything, I see it as an opportunity for us to innovate, lead, and be a country for others to look up to.

    Claiming that film (and other industries) have been around for much longer and still struggle with social change is a bit of a false comparison. Film started before women had the right to vote, and when many people still believed slavery was right. If we're making media in an age where we believe that men and women are equals, and that people of all races should have equal opportunity, then I don't think it's unreasonable to desire upliftment of groups that are underrepresented in our industry's demographics.

    And if you're not convinced by ethical arguments, then in terms of seeking local investment or government funding, improving our demographics to be more representative of our local population is a pretty practical reason for tackling these issues anyway, if we want to accelerate local industry growth.

    I do personally think that I'd rather have more games, and better games, and more profitable games, in South Africa, than more game developers of the "right" demographics. (I'd be happy to have more professional game developers, full stop.) But I don't think we're faced with either-or. I don't think we're ever choosing to reject white developers when we help black developers afford the same opportunities. I don't think we're harming men when we help women. If anything, having more perspectives only helps us to make experiences that the game industry hasn't even seen yet (i.e. not GTA V), and that, again, is another potential for South Africa to innovate where the rest of the world has (aside from small pockets in the indie space) largely failed.

    I personally love the idea of flipping the bird at the US and Europe and other "civilised" countries and kicking their asses. :P I love the idea of doing the same thing at Hollywood, at the IT industry, etc. (And I believe that demographics improving is going to happen in all of those countries and industries, eventually, given enough time, so our window for being leaders shrinks daily.) I would love for them to have to emulate South Africa.
  • Lets deal with this in raw numbers.

    The racial demographic of PC and Console gamers in South Africa looks something like this (and I focus on PC/Console specifically as these platforms are more closely affiliated with the mid to hardcore "gamer"):

    Black - 9 130 000
    White - 1 300 000
    Indian - 330 000
    Coloured - 950 000

    So. 78% of the people playing games on computers or consoles in this country are black. The assumption that PoC do not play games are patently false. You cannot ascribe the lack of PoC developers in this country to interest based on culture or race. If we really want to grow this industry we need look at the structural issues that are preventing more PoC from joining.

  • @Elyaradine I'm not sure that @JoshKen was arguing that because of problems in other industries it's okay that the demographics in our games industry are so skewed. I think he was arguing against a notion that there's a kind of persisting apartheid in games in South Africa (as in a straw man version of the legitimate concerns you raise).

    I agree with all your points of course @Elyaradine :)
  • Ah, then I misunderstood. My understanding of the post was that we're too small, so that while problems exist we need not address them (yet) because other places are just as bad.

    My feeling is that structural imbalance is most easily addressed while we're small, so that structures can be put in place to allow everyone to participate in our growth (as I believe we inevitably will grow) rather than our having to be (bigger) "saviours" later on (and play catch-up).
  • @LexAquillia what's the source of those numbers? I'd really like to keep them on hand for smacking that argument down (as effectively as you did) in future.
  • @LexAquillia

    I'm also curious as to the source of these stats. For my own reference as well as appreciation of citations when numbers are used.

    Also, is there any data regarding demographics of game devs or is it a conjunctive observation that we think they are lacking? Curious to know how the ratios would hold up to those ratios of gamers.

    (Honestly i'm surprised that there are so many black gamers. This makes me happy though.)
    Thanked by 1LexAquillia
  • ...If we really want to grow this industry we need look at the structural issues that are preventing more PoC from joining.
    Money, education (as with most other non-service/working class industries) and awareness of their potential (or even that a local industry exists).

    Basically, it's the problem South Africa faces as a whole - the workforce in general needs a skills upgrade, but doesn't have the means.
    Thanked by 1Trimpiece
  • From personal experience I can in a way agree with @LexAquillia's stats
    Most white people I know of has a PC in the house and so they are usually PC gamers and some console gamers. From the black people I know they do not really have PC's at home and if they do it would be a laptop too underpowered for most games but they do have a console with games like FIFA, Need for speed and Call of Duty.

    The reason I think this is, is because black people weren't able to access technology so easily due to apartheid and other factors so they did not have the opportunities to own and play around on a PC. So now they lack the technical knowledge for a PC so instead they buy a console which is as easy as putting the game in and starting it up so they end up buying consoles for their kids to play on etc.

    The best way to fix this is to get more people of color to have access to a pc/laptop with guidance from a person with knowledge on it. This could be done on school level, tertiary level or even an event where like MGSA members could invite people from poor communities to visit and get some basic training on a PC.

    Personally I feel that the stats @LExAquilla posted does not seem far fetched.
  • Ok, there are too many people to quote so i'll post a general response.

    1. Correct. People of colour do not often P.C game. They rather buy a console with the historically observable default purchases being: Need for Speed, WWE, FIFA and Grand Theft Auto. I like to think of them as "mass games". I think, throwing out the figure that there are more "black gamers" than "white gamers" makes it seem like all the "black gamers" are hardcore gamers. We need more insight into these demographics but i am sure that most of the "non-white" gamers are casual gamers. Casual not in the sense of Candy Crush but casual in the sense of buying generalist titles, or as i have referred to them, "mass games".

    Still, in a country where white people are not the majority, it noteworthy that they are, in the development scene, the majority.

    2. You're approaching a considerable angle when you say that non-whites of South Africa did not have P.C training because of apartheid but the angle tends to be mute when you consider the fact that game development tools have only recently been democratized, the bar of entry has only recently been lowered. Not to say that non-white gamers can only make games if there is a lower bar, but i am saying that the very viability of entry is fairly recent. Do you really think that for black people in the 1990's making games was more important than getting a job, let alone an education?

    3. Ok, because of social media, and the decreasing price of internet. Our real interconnectivity is new. I stand by what i said, the lack of colour developers is attributable to cultural lifestyles. People of colour interested in game development are basically either privaledged enough to take part in such a risk averse industry or social anomallies of their community. Right now, it's still an outlier's thing.

    4. Yes, i wasn't saying that because the problem exists elsewhere, it's ok for it to exist here, where, looking at the demographical ratios, it probably shouldn't so yes, we should lead the way. And i do agree that we need more games and better games over simply more people.

    However, i think that people of colour are obviously more discoverable in general I.T jobs than videogame development jobs. Since the interest in technology is there, we need to find them and hire them. But that means more money first. More money means better games first, better games first means finding the best people first. The best people first means hiring from the already game-participating pool, wich consists mostly of white people.

    5. In conclusion, game making tools are recently ubiquitus, we should lead the way in terms of colour hiring but making great games and pooling money into the industry are imperetives and in that process of money making, such structures should be set, to facilitate more the pooling in of colour people. Until then, the cultural positions and youngness of our industry are impedements.
  • @nekwaiidesu Dev stats are from our own research, the consumer stuff is a blend of data from the PWC report, new zoo and some commissioned research that I can't quite talk openly about (yet)
  • @nekwaiidesu Dev stats are from our own research, the consumer stuff is a blend of data from the PWC report, new zoo and some commissioned research that I can't quite talk openly about (yet)
    I don't trust PwC, a long time ago i read on Sunday Times that they overvaluated a company that was supposed to list on the J.S.E and alot of money was lost. Sounds incompetent to me. More auditing firms are needed in the country. Those guys can't keep popping up.
  • @joshken I don't trust the pwc report in its entirety either, if you look at the data they present they've added the marketing spend to the value of the games industry so it slightly inflates it, which is why we have also used newzoo and commissioned our own market research. That said even if the valuation numbers are off the PWC report is really good for trend analysis especially on a y platform basis so it has its uses.
  • edited
    Well as most of you guys have never been black and never lived in the township, your perspective may be a bit more blind. I'll firstly say it is false to say most black people don't own computers. Well from what I know in the township, I would say 90% of households that I visited in the township have at least 1computer, A PC. And if there's a student in that household you may add in a laptop. From what I know is that we have been pressured to get formal education so that we get out of poverty. So game development is a risky carrer even for people that I know had passion for games as I did when we grow up. There is lot of pressure for us not to dissapoint your family or become a joke in the community. So there was never luxury for us to learn anything for leisure. Everyday I wake up sometimes I do regret this path of making games as I may never see the fruits of my labour. But I keep on pushing.
  • Thanks @SkinnyBoy for sharing your perspective and actual lived experience. For whats it's worth the data we've collected reflects your observations. The number of people using PC's to game was more than double that of the console.

    @Joshken I agree with most of your points, and think it outlines a defendable medium to long term strategy. I have particular interest in what short term measures can be taken however, and would love to hear your thoughts (i.e. how do we keep and enable our current PoC developers and how do we ensure more graduates are being employed)
  • Again, no quotes since we're all reading.

    It is silly to me, the idea of going out of our way to educate poor people who don't have access to a computer about computers. This is the government's job. As I have said already, here is what I think we must do, by priority:

    A) Make Good Games
    B) Make Games
    C) Unify
    D) Pay Talent Competitively Well
    E) Create Participation Incentives such as talent competitions for PoC (I like this term, "PoC", lol, it's simple.)
    F) Create awareness campaigns for the poor or eager. Targeting University students and descending.
  • SkinnyBoy said:
    Well from what I know in the township, I would say 90% of households that I visited in the township have at least 1computer, A PC. And if there's a student in that household you may add in a laptop.
    90% P.C adoption is an exaggeration.
  • @joshken, you cannot force people to like something they simply don't have interest in. Believe me I have tryed. I gave my programming friends some of my books, but quit to early and tell me that they are to hard to read, so they are okay building those stupid accounting applications, as long as it pays their bills. So passion for making games is simply not for everyone. For me is more than a sacrifice because I love it so much.
    Thanked by 1Bensonance
  • I know you can't, I was entertaining the idea. It is also why I added "and eager" at the end of the statement. And why it is a solution so low on the list.
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    I don't think that when we're talking about women and PoC in the game industry that we're necessarily talking about people in abject poverty too. (Of course there is a correlation, thanks to past structural bias, but there are surely middle+ class PoC and women who can afford the very large risks of a game dev career, just as there are poor white men.)

    Heck, I don't think we should be targeting the poor to make games. If whether or not you can put bread on the table is something that you're not certain about, a risky career in game development is about the last thing you should be considering.

    And, again, it's not either-or. Some of us are already making profitable games. Many of us have already embraced a prototype/jam culture that breeds more games. We already have regular meet-ups, and have built places like MGSA and IESA for meeting other devs, giving feedback, and petitioning our cause with government. Some of us in more senior positions are already being paid better in games than we would elsewhere. We're already making progress with all of those.

    I feel like you're making the bar for having women and PoC participate unachievably high and then saying it's impractical, and therefore deprioritising it.

    There are far smaller (but still difficult) problems that we can solve without requiring lots of money. Things like directors not hiring people because of a "culture fit", and perhaps not being quite self aware enough to admit how easily this can turn into racism/sexism. Or making judgement calls on the skin colour of a character, or whether a female character design is too skinny when the room's 100% white men (aside from me), and then dismissing my objections because it's not important enough to fix because we "don't have the time" for it. Or talking about how our female character costume designs need to show more "T&A". These aren't hypothetical. I've witnessed every one of these myself, across multiple studios, some on multiple occasions (though, thankfully, not at every single studio I've worked at). Is it any wonder then why we don't attract more women and PoC to our events, workplaces and forum, despite their definitely being out there?

    And then, when demographic problems are pointed out, no, our first priority is to make better (more profitable) games, as if we arent using that as an excuse because it's comfortable to continue keeping our spaces clear of people who don't look like us.

    Of course putting bursaries together, and helping people financially, is great. I'm just saying that there are ways to contribute that aren't financial, and that if the only way we look at addressing things is financial, that we won't ever succeed. And that these are things we can practise already, right now.
  • Or talking about how our female character costume designs need to show more "T&A".
  • @mattbenic @nekowaiidesu those SA demographic figures @LexAquillia quoted are some of the results I've provided as part of a statistical research build-out that IESA has commissioned from my agency.

    The data is pulled from a consumer survey that our media group (Dentsu Aegis Network) conducts every couple of years, providing a comprehensive look at a local audience (via a nationally representative sample of people from ages 15+) across multiple media touchpoints, particularly digital.

    So while we normally use this survey to profile audiences for large commercial clients like BMW or the Spur Group, it can also be used to segment and take an in-depth look into the SA gaming audience including details like what devices they use to play games, how often, what age groups, gender etc.
  • Ok, so hopefully that research will ultimately be something that can be linked to. Awesome :)
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
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