Sponsored By

"The games industry uses Black music...and yet, when it comes to funding Black-owned games, there's a sudden silence."

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

March 21, 2024

2 Min Read
Det. James Savage in El Paso, Elsewhere.
Image via Strange Scaffold.

At a Glance

  • Strange Scaffold founder Xalavier Nelson Jr. called out the game industry for its consistent inability to support Black devs.

Developer Xalavier Nelson Jr. believes the industry has failed Black game developers. At the recent Black in Gaming Awards held during GDC, the Strange Scaffold founder won an award for Best Indie Developer.

In his speech, Nelson revealed his 2023 game El Paso, Elsewhere had "precious little" publisher support, and many rejected it. It went on to become a hit, but he said a lack of support isn't uncommon for Black developers pitching new projects.

It's made even more egregious because of how the industry often co-opts Black culture. Nelson was frank in calling out the industry's tendency to have Black characters and music, but then take a "sudden silence" when it comes to projects made by Black developers like himself.

Such issues are emblematic of the entertainment industry at large. But in the case of games, it's been further highlighted by recent discussions of Black hairstyles in games, DEI efforts like Sweet Baby, and the growing number of Black leads in titles like Alan Wake II, Suicide Squad, and the upcoming Marvel 1943.

"The industry uses Black aesthetics, because it's become the shorthand for what it means to be cool," he stated. "Yet when it comes time to promote Black professionals to direction and leadership, again, the industry is silent."

The industry remains unkind to Black and other POC developers

Comments made in the GDC's 2023 State of the Industry report add weight to Nelson's words. When asked of their company's diversity and inclusion efforts, two separate developers said most studios' attempts are "failures," or that their company works hard to cover up when it does wrong.

Nelson's speech similarly gets at this. Midway through, he notes how Black creatives can become "gladhanded to death" as "resources and visibility are placed elsewhere."

A third developer said DEI works across multiple teams, even in leadership positions. But those efforts have yet to hit on an executive level.

That lack of executive diversity is further underlined in a report focused on developer experience. Of those that have been in the industry for 21+ years, 92 percent are white men.

Group-wise, Asian men came in second at 15 percent, followed by Hispanic/Latino men (8 percent), Black men (6 percent), and Asian and white women (5 percent each). The survey indicated that almost no Black or Hispanic/Latino women have been in the industry that long.

Speaking to Black developers specifically, Nelson encouraged they "flee the city that starves you." Citing the industrywide layoffs of the past two years, he urged those in attendance to "not lay yourself at its mercy, do not play by its rules."

"Whenever and wherever possible, choose projects, scopes, and funding strategies that allow you to exist outside that cannot even preserve themselves. [...] We have the talent and vision to save each other."

Game Developer and GDC are sibling organizations under Informa Tech.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like