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What It's Like Building a Company for Marginalized Voices

Brass Lion Entertainment is being founded by three gaming industry veterans, and will focus on telling "the stories that aren't being told."

by Ricardo Contreras
Nov 22 2019, 5:28pm

Image courtesy of Brass Lion

It's been two years but he's finally back. Manveer Heir, who came on Waypoint Radio in 2017 to talk about his time working on Mass Effect: Andromeda, has returned to the podcast studio with Rashad Redic, an industry veteran whose worked on games such as Fallout 3 and Skyrim. Together they make up two thirds of Brass Lion, a new entertainment studio with goal to tell the stories of underrepresented and marginalized groups in their own voices, from their own perspective. Austin sat down to chat with them about their first game, Corner Wolves, their experiences in the industry, building a new startup, and the best hip-hop artists of all time. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below.

Austin: So give me the pitch on Brass Lion, before we get into Corner Wolves specifically. Again, centering black and brown voices, obviously, something you talked about a lot in the past, both on social media and on podcasts and etc. But how do you how do you do that besides just hiring black and brown creators, which is a huge and important part of that. But what goes into that when you sit down and go "Alright, I'm starting a company called Brass Lion. This has to be filled with people who don't show up in other leadership roles across the industry."

Manveer: Yeah, it's a few things. So one, while we are starting out talking about games that are for black and brown audiences, I think long term we're thinking even broader in terms of just marginalized voices. LGBTQ, the intersections of all those places, right? So really, what are the stories that aren't being told? Because I think [AAA] games keep telling the same seven stories over and over, and it's real boring at this point, for me at least.

And I've said that on this podcast before, so when you talk about building it, it is first off having your founding team be the types of people that you want to work with and that represent that. So, obviously Rashad's here. I'm really fortunate to get to work with him, he's an amazing artist and creative director. It's like both of us are creative visionaries for what we do. We have a third partner who was not able to be here right now, Bryna Dabby Smith, and she's our CEO and executive producer. And so like, how often do you see women of color in those roles like in our industry? And we're all very talented have shipped titles, like she's worked on Sleeping Dogs.

Austin: Yeah, big titles for real, [you're] coming from a AAA space, now moving into an independant space.

Manveer: She's run her own companies before.

Austin: And then you have Just Blaze doing music.

Manveer: We have Just Blaze doing our music supervision, and we have Evan Narcisse doing the writing for Corner Wolves.

Austin: Yes, who, disclosure Evan and I are working on that New Day comic for Boom, but also Evan and I have been friends for years, that shit happens. You know, disclosure because I have to do it otherwise I'll get bad tweets at me like, "Austin's out there doing promo." No, [Manveer and I] had a great conversation. I want to have another good conversation. So that's a great team from the jump.

Manveer: Yeah so far. I mean, that's just the beginning of the team.

Austin: Why do you sound like you were dunking on your future self for making a bad hire? You were like, "Yeah, so far! But I'm gonna fuck up in three weeks, I'm about to hire a dumbass."

Manveer: No, I tell Bryna and Rashad all the time "You gotta save me from myself."

Austin: I mean, part of the thing that is funny to me is you founded the company, well not funny, but I'm curious what went into your mind? You were like, "I need an executive producer and a CEO who is not me."

Manveer: Yeah, so I started reading a lot of startup books and like how to be a businessman because I did not listen to my parents and go get an MBA. Indian parents always wanted to get an MBA and I was done after my compsci degree in Bachelors. So I just started reading all these books, and there's a few different things that came up. One was that like some investors don't really talk to teams that have a single founder. Second thing was if you don't have people who are a strong founding team, a lot of the weight's on your shoulders.

So I kind of funded this thing out of pocket for like the last couple of years, like to I left bioware in February 2017 when Mass Effect Andromeda finished. And so for me, it was just a lot of stress. I had some mental health issues to take care of frankly because of the stress casualties that many of us were over there.

And I'm good at business stuff, but it's not what I'm passionate about, right.? So my thought was like, "Well, how do I find someone who's passionate about spreadsheets, and schedule and all the stuff I don't like and want to do, but I have to do because I've decided to just start a business without partners?"

Austin: Right.

Manveer: And Bryna and I had been talking, we had brunch with a mutual friend. And she's like, "oh, if you ever need any help, let me know." And I kind of slowly roped her in as a contractor. And then eventually I was like, "This is going well, you want to be the CEO?" And then very similar, with Rashad, we have a mutual friend that had talked about us to each other separately. And he kind of hit me up and was like, "I hear you working on something really cool, can we talk?"

And it was really just trying to find the right fit. When we talked, we were like, "oh, we think the same way about this stuff." We have the same vision for what things could be. But also, you perfectly complement my weaknesses. I'm not visual, I can't do art. I'm not a great world builder. I'm a good character builder, I'm systems builder, I'm a combat builder. And he's great at all those other things. And so it's like combined, well now we have a full team.

So really for me it was getting some of the stress off my shoulders, getting other people to share in that burden and vision. And then when you go out and try to fundraise, whether it's investors or publishers or whomever, angels even, you look a lot stronger because you are a lot stronger, right? Because if I was still trying to do this on my own? This is almost at year three. Nah man, I'd be a puddle of mess outside.

Austin: You would have switched from which sort of stress you had. You had big business, "stuck inside of one cog in the machine" stress and then you would have had just all of the weight of trying to do one thing by yourself stress.

Manveer: Yeah, which I still have which is fun, but not nearly as bad because Rashad here and Bryna both do a great job of just taking some of that off and I trust them. I know that something is going to get done and I don't have to sit there and follow up every few seconds. It's hard to find people you trust, at least for me, I'm not a very easily trusting guy.


This transcript has been edited for readability and length.

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Tagged:
Skyrim
Sleeping Dogs
Mass Effect
Waypoint Radio
People of color
video game companies
Brass Lion