Earlier today, we ran an interview with former Raccoon Logic co-founders Alex Hutchinson and Reid Schneider, formerly the developers behind the Google Stadia-backed Typhoon Studio.
That interview included a photo of the mostly-white, mostly-male development team that makes up the foundation of the company.
Shortly after publishing, Bloomberg games reporter Jason Schreier cited the photo tweeting, “It’s pretty wild that in 2021 a new game studio still looks like this.”
It was a succinct indictment of a game industry infamously regarded as a boy's club, coming at time when major game companies and notable men in video game development are embroiled in widespread controversy, not the least of which is World of Warcraft maker Activision Blizzard being sued by the state of California over a toxic culture and sexual harassment.
What followed was an online brawl and mini-reckoning as developers and press weighed in on social media, highlighting the stark imbalance between white men and marginalized groups within the game industry. While gender balance is improving year on year, a recent Game Developers Conference State of the Industry survey noted 73% of the game industry is men, 21% were women, and 3% non-binary.
In response to the criticism, Hutchinson claimed that Schreier was “trolling” the Raccoon Logic team.
In an e-mail exchange with Gamasutra, Hutchinson and Schneider explained how they picked their foundational team, and said they were hoping to improve diversity at Raccoon Logic.
Schneider said that going forward, the team is “always looking for new voices and hires from other backgrounds. From our perspective, this is similar to team culture: it’s never finished or completed and nothing to take for granted.”
When asked why they didn't prioritize a more diverse team from the get-go, Schneider pointed to the hiring of their lead producer, Noémie L'Écuyer, who couldn’t join the studio photo because of COVID-19-hampered travel to Mexico.
Hutchinson responded by saying that “the really important angle for the business is a diversity of visions and diversity of entire teams. If I were running any of the big publishers I would be giving the whole project to different groups and then letting them hire who they want and make the games they want.”
When asked about the decision to not emphasize diversity so early, especially with financial backing from Tencent Holdings, the pair said Tencent hadn’t been in the picture when they began putting together the initial team. “We weren’t hiring in general, we were cobbling the team together with promises from people around us,” Hutchinson reiterated.
Schneider again noted that the goal was to “evolve the team” and pointed to the proactive decision to hire L'Écuyer, who now manages two-thirds of the Raccoon Logic team.
Throughout both queries, Hutchinson and Schneider ended comments by explaining the team is still hiring, and they welcome developers to apply to the studio. The comments to Gamasutra were similar to those made by Hutchinson on Twitter, where critics were mostly dissatisfied with his answers.
It’s always a bit hard to explain the value of a Twitter dust-up but this one spoke to industry frustrations about how opportunities are denied to developers from marginalized backgrounds, but still offered mostly to white men.
We saw some indie developers from marginalized backgrounds express frustration about being turned away from investment opportunities because they were deemed to be riskier ventures. Other developers expressed nervousness at applying to studios like Raccoon Logic that show off such homogenous teams, being familiar with the kind of work environments that emerge in such circumstances.
Hutchinson and Schneider’s replies to us were definitely considerate, but there was something dissonant about watching these carefully worded responses come in to us while Hutchinson tweeted at detractors and labeled Schreier’s tweet as “trolling.”
Additionally, Raccoon Logic's enjoinders to us and Twitter to “send us your CV!” sort of speaks to how ineffectively companies of all sizes have attempted to respond to concerns about diversity for years. "We can’t find enough diverse candidates" is a common refrain among employers, yet more and more candidates from all kinds of backgrounds circulate through the hiring pool all the time.
But when studios are built on connections, marginalized candidates can’t get in on the ground floor because they were passed over for any number of structurally-driven reasons up to this point, with organizations ultimately making a hiring decision for the mostly oddly specific and arbitrary reasons--like “culture fit.”