This past month, game industry sales declined by 12 percent over January sales last year. However, the industry still raked in nearly $1.2 billion dollars domestically for the month. Over the past years, this multibillion dollar industry has grown at exponential rates, and its growth seems likely to resume later this year.
Opportunities for games are arising in new devices like the iPad, iPhone, or Android devices. And at a time when jobs are being lost in other industries, the gaming sector has proven to be resilient. But only a relatively small percentage — about 18% — of the workers in the gaming industry are women or minorities.
Sheri Grainer Ray is a game designer and author of the book Gender Inclusive Game Design, expanding the market. She says that in 1989, when she began working in the games industry, women made up only three percent of the workforce. Now the workforce is roughly 10 to 12 percent female, while both Latinos and African Americans comprise less than five percent combined.
Ray says that one-third of the game-playing population is women aged 18 and up. So why don't games reflect that diverse consumer base? She says the problem is that women and minorities are not drawn to work in gaming companies or in technology.
Ray tells people, "If I ever want to find a game designer, I go to the storage closet, and when I open the door there will be six people standing there with their resumes. The problem is that none of them will be female, and none of them will be people of color. They will simply be white males."
Ray says that if females, Latinos, or African Americans began to create and develop more gender and culturally specific games, then even more minorities would purchase and play them. According to Ray, playing games will help spark interest in technology, and that can open up new untapped markets for gaming companies. Not only for them to sell games, but also to fill new technology jobs.
Joe Saulter is chairman of the International Game Developers Association Diversity Advisory Board. He says that there are very few African American game developers. And because of the lack of diversity in the workforce, games are targeted at white males. There is a void of content targeting African Americans, Latinos and women. Although the market clearly exists, there is no model to make companies want to invest.
Saulter says: "The game industry hasn't seen that model yet... but there are ideas in the African American, Latin American, and Asian community that are bubbling with innovation, all we have to do is bring them to fruition."
One of the companies trying to create this model is Nerjyzed Entertainment Inc. It has a game called the Black College Football Experience or BCFX, which is a cross between Madden and Rock Band. Using drum lines and traditional Black college football teams, Nerjyzed tries to create a different experience and cultural perspective. It is one of the few examples of a company or game specifically aimed at a minority audience.
"If we really want to reach a diverse audience, then our workforce has to reflect that," says Ray, "we are not reaching our full potential, because we only have one set of experiences, and one set of viewpoints that we are building from."