Game developers 'need to be more diverse'

Most game developers see the marked lack of diversity in their ranks as a problem that needs to be addressed.

IGDA survey finds that while gamers are becoming a more diverse lot, the people who make the games are not.

While the demographics regarding who exactly plays games have been well documented, the numbers and makeup of the people who make the games are much less certain.

To remedy that, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) conducted a survey of 3,128 game developers in English-speaking countries. After compiling the responses and crunching numbers, the IGDA has answered the question of how diverse game developers really are. The answer? Not very.

The IGDA reported its findings this week, and it turns out the people making games are mostly white (83.3 percent), male (88.5 percent), heterosexual (92 percent), non-disabled (83 percent), and with a college- or university-level education (64.3 percent). Completing the picture of the average game developer were findings that respondents averaged 31 years old, with five years' experience in the industry, a college education, a US$57,000 annual salary, and a general agreement that diversity is important to the industry.

On the other hand, the person least likely to be found in game development would be a black (2 percent), female (11.5 percent), transgendered (0.96 percent) person with a disability (17 percent), particularly one related to mobility (0.68 percent), with a pre-high school education level or a PhD (1.4 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively).

The survey also cross-referenced salaries with age, education level, race, and experience, and found that by and large, the older, more educated, and more experienced a developer is, the more he makes. Whites did the best financially, with an average salary of US$58,593 and an average 5.6 years in the industry. Only those who listed "other" as their ethnicity had more experience on average (5.8 years), but they made significantly less than their white counterparts (an average of $53,433 annually). Hispanics averaged slightly less experience in the industry than blacks (3.5 years compared to 3.8 years), but made more on average (US$44,416 compared to US$42,603).

Opinions on diversity in the game industry were also looked at and broken down according to various other factors, and most respondents felt diversity was important to the industry and that a diverse workforce would have an impact on the games being produced. However, no matter how the numbers were broken down, it appeared that the average game developer (white, male, heterosexual) was less likely to value diversity than his non-white, female, or non-heterosexual counterparts. 53 percent of whites agreed or strongly agreed that a diverse workforce has a direct impact on the games produced, compared to 68 percent of nonwhites. Gender-wise, 58 percent of men said diversity was important to the future of the industry, compared to 79 percent of women. As for the current state of things, 37 percent of straight developers thought the industry was diverse, compared to 26 percent of gay, lesbian, or bisexual developers.

"Can we point to The Sims--which had a relatively gender-balanced production team and has gone on to be the best selling PC game of all time, appealing to a broad audience--as validation of the bottom line impact of workforce diversity?" the survey asks in its conclusion. "Games are emerging as the dominant form of art, expression, and culture of the 21st century. There is no doubt in our minds that the industry will benefit from a more diverse pool of talented creators."

The full report of the survey is available on the IGDA's Web site.

Brendan Sinclair reported for ZDNet Asia's sister site, GameSpot.