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Niantic’s Karla Reyes: Creating a fairer mobile games industry | Pocket Gamer.biz

Here’s a quote from Karla Reyes that will be intimately familiar to you (PocketGamer.biz makes an educated guess) about 40 percent readers.

“I was never really guided into the creative industries – my parents are immigrants, and there was a prevailing narrative that if you can’t make it in a creative industry, you have to go down a more traditional route.”

Nonetheless, Reyes took her first steps into the gaming industry in 2019, and in three brief years she has cemented herself as a pioneering presence, with both a 2022 Develop:Star Award nomination for Diversity Star and celebrated like the 2022 Mobile Games Awards. Rising star.

She joined Square Enix as a product manager and is now a growth product manager at Niantic, but that’s her job with Code Coven, the gaming industry’s premier global accelerator and learning community for underrepresented talent, which has come to define the kind of meaningful impact she is. already imprinted on the industry.

But all stories have a beginning, and Reyes did it in an inauspicious way if he was looking to succeed in the games industry: senior partner at Visa.

Life Takes Visa

“I started out in the payments industry, always joking that I sold my soul to pay off my student loans.

“The goal was to enter a lucrative industry specifically for this purpose. But my dream has always been in creative spaces. Video games have always been in my heart, but it’s also a multidisciplinary industry that invites skills acquired in other technological industries.

However, her tenure at Visa was the perfect opportunity to explore emerging technology as a way to enter the gaming industry, such as blockchain, and she joined a blockchain startup. Although at first it looked like Reyes had replaced one bond with another – “at the time, crypto markets had crashed, and most companies were focusing on more lucrative sectors rather than creative industries, and I ended up working in finance-oriented projects” – she started learning Unity on her own and attended local game meetups in London.

Video games have always been in my heart, it’s a multidisciplinary industry and inviting skills learned in other technology industries

Karla Reyes

“I found Women in Games and BAME in Games and thought, ‘I can find mine here.’ I felt comfortable and felt like I could learn more about the industry.

After volunteering at several events, Reyes met Ed Perkins, then head of mobile publishing at Square Enix, in 2019. But it wasn’t until a year later that a chief product role in the mobile editing team, working on Tomb Raider Reloaded, became available.

code red

Among the initiatives Reyes led during his time at Square Enix was Square Enix RED, an employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity initiatives. Social justice initiatives certainly existed within the games industry, albeit to varying degrees of success or dedication. But a global movement reignited by the murder of George Floyd would re-emphasize the need for real representation.

“In 2020, with the resurgence of social justice movements – particularly, at the time, Black Lives Matter – there was a lot more attention to diversity. Specifically, the lack of it in the industry. There were a few GREs but no groups specifically dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity. Reyes then co-founded Square Enix RED, which was able to provide sensitivity advice to many teams, including the development of Outriders.

“The first step was to try to educate the how and the why. Square being a Japanese company, there was a somewhat traditional homogeneity, but the London studio wasn’t particularly ethnically diverse either. It was something new for a lot of people, but Ed was one of our champions, and I think 2020 galvanized not just Square Enix, but the whole industry.

in the coven

Reyes left Square Enix in early 2021 and joined Niantic as Head of Product Growth. But it’s his work with Code Coven, a global accelerator for underrepresented groups facing a crippling lack of opportunity, that has started to trickle down dramatically over the course of 2020-2022 — of course, the years of pandemic.

“So many people have lost their jobs during the pandemic, especially people working in service industries. We wanted Code Coven to be a way for people to improve themselves, and the gaming industry was booming. How can we close this gap and start supporting the underrepresented people who were really the ones most at risk of job and income loss? »

It was during a brainstorming session with co-founders Tara Mustapha and Francesca Carletto-Leon for a program similar to a summer internship for students without infrastructure for remote work, Reyes was approached in March 2020 in because of his fundraising experience.

ustwo’s Reyes and Jennifer Estaris at the 2022 Mobile Games Awards

“It’s a scramble! I’m pretty cheeky, so I approach everyone. But I know the benefits and the impact of what could be achieved with this funding, and I know the experiences of the people we seek to help. Regardless, initial fundraising for Code Coven came with “lots of calls, lots of late nights, and lots of rejections.”

Providing this kind of intimate support and truly breaking down the pervasive barriers faced by marginalized people means scaling up. Scaling may require focusing more on external support, and for some, losing the perspective of the person you seek to support. But Code Coven has found a sustainable way to implement its own means of scaling.

“What’s unique about Code Coven is how nuanced our curriculum is. We want to increase representation at all levels, starting with lowering barriers to entry. We have an introductory course that, thanks to Unity and Epic, we are able to give to all our learners.

“As a result, we have created an ecosystem through which once someone has taken our introductory course, they can qualify for our accelerators; if they decide not to join a medium-sized or triple-A studio, we can help them set up their own studio to work on their own titles. It’s our way of trying to encourage entrepreneurship, and the alumni of our accelerators have not only published, but are hiring introductory alumni, which makes this ecosystem really supportive where everyone is trying to lift each other up.

Whitening

There are two facets to the gaming industry: one immediately, extremely inviting; a circle of like-minded compatriots who seek to create, share and support games and communities around the world together. The other is one in which burnout is all too common, which regularly fails women and marginalized people, and international inequality – both in terms of importance, authority and value – of player bases, companies and opportunities.

Both are equally true. The industry should be celebrated as much as it should face the challenges of creating equal space in the world.

“The games industry has been dominated by top markets, North America and Western Europe, and then Asia. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, every nation – down to every studio – will have nuanced needs. Reyes sits on Niantic’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and has first-hand experience of the diverse needs of its various teams around the world and how DEI conversations in those countries have shaped the larger perspective. of the company.

“In the United States, the conversation tends to lean towards diversity and inclusion in terms of gender, and the Black Lives Matter and Asian American and Pacific Islander movements have lifted the conversation around race. While in the UK, Black Lives Matter has not had the same impact.

“You need to look very carefully at the demographics of your office location, your team location, your game setting itself, and understand where your knowledge gaps are and how that affects your ability to meet the needs of the people inside.”

Likewise, Reyes was cautious that Code Coven didn’t seem to be capitalizing on the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the resulting greater awareness of social justice. “It can be a bit bizarre – some people might argue that we are exploiting the increased emphasis on diversity. But I think it’s a question of intention and impact; I know the benefits and impact of this work, and I know what we are trying to accomplish, deep in our hearts.

Emerging storytelling

While many in the web3 space have celebrated the influence of blockchain gaming in regions such as Vietnam and the Philippines, focusing primarily on the financial benefits for gamers in low-income countries, this is no longer true as games such as Axie Infinity struggle to maintain their ecosystems and the financial benefit to gamers has not even, for some time, reached parity with average salaries.

Just wait until I created my own studio!

Karla Reyes

But especially for Reyes, with a mission to uplift everyone to have a home in the gaming industry, very few Vietnamese and Filipino voices have a central presence in these conversations, and a mimicked situation in many regions under -represented to the world.

“One of my initiatives in 2022 is to support the game development ecosystem in Africa – in particular, to strengthen local studios. But you obviously don’t want there to be a colonial side. How to find the right balance, provide them with sufficient support and remain autonomous and define themselves?

“A lot of that comes from open dialogue, and something that we’ve been tackling at Code Coven: really understanding the needs of the people you want to support so you can give them the very specific resource behind them. Hopefully we going in the right direction and I would like to see more truly established studios emerge in developing countries such as the Philippines, Uganda, Mexico and Vietnam.

These are compelling subjects, immense in scope and difficult to grapple with, let alone resolve. Reyes concluded with a gag – “Just wait until I’ve created my own studio!” – but I hope it’s a promise.


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