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Britain's Game Workers Are Largely White, Middle Class, and Depressed

A survey of UK game developers reveals class stagnation and a stressed workforce.

by Natalie Clayton
Feb 5 2020, 5:09pm

'Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy' still courtesy of StudioCanal

The UK’s first Games Industry Census was released by the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE), a national trade body, this week.

The report gathered responses from 3,208 people working in the British games industry, which account for about 20 percent of the total scene. While the results aren’t particularly surprising, they bring some hard numbers to a question that’s sat at the back of our collective consciousness for a long, long time: Who gets to make games in this country, and who bears the burdens?

Let’s start with the obvious: the vast majority of respondents are young, white and male.

Roughly two-thirds of game workers are 35 or under, and 90 percent of respondents reported themselves as white (British, or other). That’s not too far off the last reported national breakdown in 2011, mind, even if it lags behind more general IT and computer tech fields. However, that figure becomes harsher the further up the ladder you go. Once you’re at the CEO or Director level, white folks are taking 96 percent of the seats.

Seventy percent of workers identified as male, compared to 28 percent female, with 2 percent reporting their gender as non-binary or other. Across the breadth of job roles, there wasn’t a single one where men were in the minority. Games are, at least, pretty damn queer. Twenty-one percent of respondents identified as LGBTQ+—well above the Office for National Statistics’ estimate for the population at large.

It’s pretty easy to joke about how many dozens of beardy white blokes named Mark or John or Dave you’ll run into on show floors and behind studio doors. But there’s a quieter problem that the survey reveals, one less talked about on convention floors: the industry’s got a real problem with social mobility, something Game Workers Unite’s UK chapter calls a “staggering disparity in class backgrounds among game workers.”

Low-income families are dramatically underrepresented in the industry. Instead, almost two-thirds of respondents reported that the breadwinner in their family had a managerial or professional gig.

That’s well above other creative industries like visual arts, architecture or film. The report even notes that the only field with a comparable figure is national broadcasting, and the Beeb ain’t exactly known for being a bastion of the working class.

Access to education is also reportedly vital to a career in games. Eighty percent of the industry has a university or college education, much higher than other cultural or creative fields. Twelve percent of workers attended fee-paying or independent schools—well over the reported national average of 7 percent. And if you’re a boss, there’s a 20 percent chance your school had a price tag and gave you access to the connections and prestige that a fancy education provides.

1580921985456-UKIE-Concentration-Map
Map image taken from UKIE's "Games Industry Census" report.

Even if you have got all that, you’re still looking at an industry where most gigs are centred around London. UKIE’s study reports 39 percent of the industry is based in the capital alone. Count the South-East and West Midlands, and you’re looking at over half of the UK’s industry represented in one, expensive bubble. The games industry is a local business in some of the richest parts of the country. For UK residents who didn't grow up there, joining it means finding a way to afford the move south.

The industry may also have something of a mental health crisis to reckon with. A whopping 31 percent of respondents are living with anxiety, depression, or both. Unsurprisingly, that figure skews disproportionately towards junior and mid-level roles, women and LGBTQ+ workers.

That’s in spite of only 3.5 percent of respondents reporting lengthy work-weeks of 51 hours or more per week. If nearly a third of devs are anxious or depressed, it’s not just because of crunch.

UKIE have done what trade bodies do when confronted with data like this: start talking about diversity initiatives, and get major stakeholders on board. Indeed this report itself was released in advance of an event promoting its “Raise the Game” pledge, an initiative aimed at addressing these issues of representation and inclusion, with involvement from firms like Microsoft, Facebook, and EA on board.

“Diversity isn’t a nicety; it’s a necessity if the industry is going to grow, thrive and truly reflect the tens of millions of people that play games every day in this country,” UKIE CEO Jo Twist said in a statement.

But diversity can’t be brought about through initiatives and pledges alone. The games industry has an access problem, one that requires structural changes. Until that’s resolved, British game developers will remain overwhelmingly monied, almost certainly white, very much male and perhaps a bit queer.

Tagged:
mental health
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social mobility
UKIE
games industry
diversity reports