The somewhat mixed findings of Ukie’s recent diversity census of the UK games industry has prompted a conversation about what needs to be done to bring more diverse groups into the fold – and particularly into leadership positions.
One such person leading the charge to diversify the games industry is Brazil-born Sabrina Carmona, senior producer at King. We sat down with Carmona at the Yorkshire Game Festival – an annual event at the National Science Museum in Bradford – where Carmona and other industry figures gave talks addressed to the game industry workers of the future, a packed lecture hall of university students looking for advice on how to get their start in the industry.
The festival’s timing (and Carmona’s presence there) seems fortunate, given the surprisingly diverse set of faces attending each talk. Glancing over the audience during Carmona’s talk we spot plenty of rapt stares from students outside the white male majority. We wonder if this is what attracted Carmona to come up to Yorkshire in the first place.
“100 per cent,” Carmona confirms. “When they invited me to come, they said, listen, ‘it’s in the National Science Museum, it’s the Yorkshire Game Festival, it’s not in London’ and I was like, ‘I’m in.’
“Because that’s just it. I’m from a country where we don’t have the support, we don’t have the incentive. It’s really hard to open a studio and to work in games, but here you have really talented, really passionate people. So for me, I will always go for the underdog or the minority because hey, I tick all the boxes you could possibly imagine.
“I thought my ultimate goal was to be accepted for who I am. That’s not real, I want to succeed because of who I am.”
“For a long time in my career, I thought that my ultimate goal was to be accepted for who I am. Now, I know that that’s not real, I want to succeed because of who I am, because I’m different. And as a producer, I want to be able to give people opportunities and build teams. So I’m very passionate about giving that opportunity to other people to come work and be themselves. We want that, we want that different kind of person.”
Carmona has experience of being that different kind of person – And not just as a Brazilian woman working in the UK games industry, which is reportedly 70 per cent male. Carmona began her career back at home in Brazil where, she casually mentions, she was the second woman ever to work in the games industry in Brazil.
“It was not really an industry per se,” she notes. “There were not enough people in the beginning, right? I never thought that ‘oh, I’m the only one, or the second one.’ I only started thinking about that when I started studying. In my class there was me, and there was this one other girl who dropped out the first semester. So I was the only one. I was like, yeah okay, maybe there are more boys than girls in games, we’ll see.”
“Once I started my master’s degree, I was the only woman researching. And then I went to work, and there were no women at all. So I was like, okay, I have to change this. So I started teaching free lessons for game design at one of the museums back in Sao Paulo, in order to incentivise more people to join the games industry. And the women would come in, and I would come to them like, ‘Do you want to work? Because I’m hiring.”
She wasn’t just that different kind of person in Brazil, either. Carmona has worked in a frankly exhausting number of countries – Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Germany and Sweden before landing in the UK at King. It’s this global mindset that has informed Carmona’s stance on the importance of maintaining a diverse workforce. “I think I’ve worked with over 100 nationalities” says Carmona. “I’m very lucky. I’m very humble that I’ve had such opportunities.When I was in Mexico I was working for a Japanese company, so my manager was Japanese, and the other people were Mexican. I was the only Brazilian, and there was an American. So we were all different. It sounds like a joke, right?
“A Japanese, a Brazilian, a Mexican and an American enter a restaurant…” she laughs.
“If we want our games to thrive there, we need people who are from there – we’re not going to travel everywhere.”
“Then I moved to Chile to work for a Canadian company. So there were people from Montreal – French Canadians, and we had all these nationalities from Latin America: Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans… it was amazing. I moved to Germany and it was the same thing, and when I moved to London, well, everyone wants to be in London. So I get to work with people from Africa, which I’ve never visited, but I have someone from Eritrea on my team. And that’s amazing, because the way they see the industry and the world is so different.
“It’s the same with Indians – a huge country with so much possibility. The way they consume games, the way they monetise behaviours is completely different. So if you actually want to make a product global, we need those insights. The way they operate and use phones and apps in China is completely different than in the US. If we want our games to thrive there, we need people who are from there – we’re not going to travel everywhere.
“I’ve worked in so many languages, it’s been such an interesting experience for me. And that made me much more globally aware. When I started in Sweden, I built a team of 23 people with 17 nationalities, almost everyone was different. I think there was someone from Panama, which was like, ‘oh my god, I didn’t know they made games’, I didn’t even think about it. So I think that’s the brilliant thing.”
“King has a lot of initiatives for DNI (Diversity and Inclusion). Obviously, nowhere is perfect, but we are trying our best – And I think most big companies are doing that. It’s not about having a quota, ‘oh, we need to have this many women, or this many non-binary, or we’re going to Pride.’ That’s not enough, right? So we do some things like having blind CVs – we only see their capabilities. We don’t know where they’re from, or how old they are, because that’s exactly it – I have someone in my team who’s over 50, and in the game industry, a developer over 50 working with a 19 year old is the best experience you can probably have. The way they approach things, the differences in experiences… So it’s not just about gender. it’s not just about ethnicity – it’s people of different ages, people with different experiences, different backgrounds, different education.
“Every producer is different, and we’re always striving for that.”
“And with a company like King, we’re probably one of the biggest mobile developers in the world. So people come after us for jobs and we’re very privileged in that sense, but that does not mean that we just hire the same kind of people, right? I mean look, I’m there. Every producer is different, and we’re always striving for that. We look around and say, ‘okay, what are we missing? What do we want to do?’ It’s not only in games, but across all the other functions because we work with marketing, finance, legal, we do all of it, right? And they’re all very, very diverse.”
So with all her experience both embodying and rallying for the importance of diversity in the workplace, what does Carmona advise: both for members of minority groups looking to break into the industry, and for companies looking to hire them?
“I think first of all, you have to find similarities, you have to find your network” she notes. “Of course, throughout my career, there wasn’t only women mentoring me, it’s impossible. There were none. But I had to find people that would support me, because I was different.
“And besides that, I think, first and foremost, you have to believe it’s possible, and you have to be very resilient. And so for people like me who are already in the industry, you have to go out there and make yourself visible. You say, ‘look, I’m a woman. I’m Brazilian, and I’m different than everyone else here.’ And you will find people similar to you – like, I opened my Twitter and there were people like ‘oh, i saw your talk, and i’m exactly like you, I’m so happy to hear someone’s out there.’
“I go to schools as well, talk to young girls, like ‘hey, you ever thought about making games? Do you like games? Everyone likes games, right?’ Where I came from, I didn’t even know you could make a career out of it. I just thought it was something that just happened, so the fact that it is possible, I think it says a lot. As people in the industry, I think it is our job to talk about it and make it possible for others.
“You have to challenge things – I was talking to a lot of recruiters some time ago, because when you do interviews, you have that category, you have to see if the person is a ‘cultural fit’. I hate that. Why would I want a cultural fit? Then I’m gonna have another Sabrina, and I don’t need another Sabrina. I mean, the world can’t handle another Sabrina. I don’t need another Sabrina, I want someone completely different.
“We need someone that will be able to thrive in our values, in our culture, and would add to our culture. It was a big conversation when you’re talking about diversity in the recruitment process, because that’s exactly it – we were looking for a cultural add. We’re looking for someone who believes in our values but is a cultural add, not a cultural fit. I don’t want someone to fit in a box. If I hire producers just like me, we will make the same mistakes together and we won’t know we’re making them.”