Dianna Lora has more than 12 years of experience in the videogame industry as a writer, actor, host, producer, and more. She’s produced her own videogame TV show, started a podcast “before it was cool,” and worked at companies like Sony, Deep Silver, ASTRO Gaming, and now, Ubisoft. It’s an impressive resume, even more so if you consider she began her career on a completely different path in musical theater. We spoke with Lora to find out more about how a girl growing up in the Bronx went from Broadway productions to working in Malmö, Sweden, as an account manager at Ubisoft Massive.
Tell us a bit about your background.
Dianna Lora: My family is from the Dominican Republic. I was born in Harlem. My family was very poor growing up but we never wanted for anything, I was just a kid growing up in the Bronx...so, (clears throat) Yerr. Before that, actually, I lived in Louisiana for a time in the middle of nowhere, and that’s when I was introduced to videogames. My mom is the one who introduced me to them, with an early Atari 5200. I never asked her what the motivation was for getting the system; I think it was because we were a bunch of immigrants living in the middle of nowhere, who didn’t speak English very well, and we needed entertainment.
Videogames have always been a part of my life. One of my fondest memories was coming home from school and seeing that my mom had laminated a Legend of Zelda paper map, and we were so excited to go play. We played that game so much that we wore out the map, so she taped it up for us (laughs). I had really good grades growing up like, top 3% in all of the Bronx, so I was blessed when I was given the opportunity to further my studies in boarding school, then went to Ithaca College for musical theater. I can sing, dance, and act at the same time, and I have a degree to prove it! (laughs again)
So how did you get involved in videogames professionally?
DL: When I graduated, I decided that I was going to perform, and that’s what I did. I tried Broadway, off-Broadway, even did a stint at a Renaissance Faire all that stuff, and little by little I got pulled to do more production jobs. I really enjoyed doing things on the back-end. A couple of friends of mine approached me with an idea for a show called Gamer Reaction for a public-access channel in New Rochelle. It was really random, but we did it, and I produced it. This was in the early days of YouTube, and so we brought it online and produced it for eight years. We started podcasting, going to gaming events, covering fighting game tourneys and uploading game videos before it really got big, and maybe it would’ve gone somewhere if we kept up with it, but at that point we stopped because folks wanted to pursue other things. We even tried to start up a video streaming service called Good Game TV, but Hulu came along and sort of blew us out of the water (laughs).
Those shows and ventures were how I created a network of friends and connections in the NYC area, and then I started working for DualShockers; I helped out with several other indie game sites, all while doing my “survival job” working at several off-Broadway theaters and a stint at a high-end linen company (laughs). Eventually, I started working at an agency for Sony before I got an offer to work for a Japanese mobile gaming company, which brought me to San Francisco. And at that point I was really working full-time in the gaming industry; I obviously wasn’t freelance anymore!
After that, I worked at Astro Gaming; it was an absolute blast. I then went on to work with Deep Silver, which was amazing until I was laid off and unemployed for six months before I got the call to come to Massive in Sweden. I was like, “Eh, I’ve never been to Sweden, let’s go,” so I went to visit Malmö for one day and interviewed, and decided to move here, and I’ve been here for two and a half years now. Not bad, eh?
What was your initial job at Massive?
DL: I was a collaboration coordinator, which is essentially like a co-dev producer. I helped Massive work with all the other development studios working on The Division 2.
And what do you do now?
DL: I’m an account manager, which I only started doing about three months ago. An account manager is akin to a co-dev producer to some extent. We are the face of Uplay. We connect with partners and production teams, and facilitate the relationships between them and the rest of the Uplay matrix. You have to have all the technical knowledge of what’s happening with Uplay, so you need to know when the games are releasing, what timelines look like, and know the little things that make the games tick. I’m simplifying it a lot, because it encompasses a lot of things.
Your career in games started with shows and podcasts. At what point do you think you acquired the experience to become a co-dev producer?
DL: All of that is hustle. Everything that I did before “getting hired” and becoming “official” was W O R K. When people ask me how much experience I have in this industry, I say I have 12 years of experience, because the work that I was doing in those early days was HARD. I was hustling, networking, marketing, partnering with companies, reviewing games, editing videos and podcasts, working websites—man, I did it all. That’s really the basis of my experience: the networking I did, the events I attended and participated in, the panels I’ve been on. My experience all comes from all the things I’ve done in those 12 years. There weren’t many gaming schools at that point. I kept my head down, wasn’t a jerk, and focused on the WORK. Because of the different types of people I ran into from all across this industry, it allowed me to navigate so many different opportunities and gain the knowledge I needed to get where I am today.
A lot of it also comes from my theater experience. I’m not afraid to fail. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. I’m able to sort of put myself in other people’s positions. If a developer is really upset about the way that something is going, I try to look at it from their perspective and work through a solution that way. Someone once told me, “You’re so diplomatic, Dianna,” and I said, “I don’t have a choice, this is part of my job!” (laughs). My job is to navigate through directors, interns, technical artists, programmers. I have to be able to communicate with everyone.
You just mentioned it, but do you think your musical theater background is part of your success? If you could do it again, would you still choose to study musical theater?
DL: Oh yeah, definitely. I think developers in the gaming industry need that humility sometimes. I have been rejected so many times at so many auditions. I’ve been told at auditions that I’m fat, too skinny, my eyebrows are too big, my hair is too curly, I'm not black enough, I'm not white enough blah blah blah. It sounds terrible, but it’s the sort of thing that creates this shell that I know how to accept the “no,” and I don’t think many people get how to take the “no” or accept the failure, learn from it, and apply that failure to something else. Many folks in the gaming industry could learn to take that better, and I think the humility, compassion, and empathy part of it is sometimes missing. For me, it’s always about communicating, collaborating, and checking up on people.
If you had said to me three or four years ago that Dianna Lora would be living in Sweden, I never would’ve believed it. That was never in the cards for me. Everything that was told to me was that I should stay where I am, that I should be gracious and thankful, that it’s bad to be too smart, it’s bad to be too ambitious, it’s bad to want better things for yourself, because that’s too cocky. Statistically, I never should’ve made it out of the Bronx, but even saying that, “made it out,” is sad to me. The context of it is sad.
Why does it make you sad?
DL: “Making it out” has connotations. It makes it seem like where I grew up is shit, that my community is less than. That the people I surrounded myself with back when I was in the Bronx are not worthy of the life I have now. To me, saying “making it out” makes me uncomfortable, because everyone should have the opportunity to further their education, everyone should have the opportunity to travel. I never in my life thought I’d travel. I never in my life thought I’d own a home. My god, the things that other people of privileged positions can do, I never in my life thought that I, some chick from the Bronx who came from nothing, could have. I’m blessed and I always make it my mission to reach back and bring people with me who are looking for that opportunity that I’m always pushing for.
Speaking of travel, I can’t imagine what it takes to pick up your entire life and move to another continent. I think a lot of people would be afraid to take that leap. What made you decide to move to San Francisco, and then to Malmö?
DL: I hit a wall. I was in New York. I love New York. New York is in my blood. I crave a baconeggandcheese (all one word) —with hot sauce, every day. But I always remember this story, this was the turning point: I was sitting on the train, and it was one of those super-busy days, and it was packed. I happened to have a seat in the corner, which is the prime seat, because you get to rest your head; no one messes with you, and you can avoid the “showtime” people who dance in the middle. There were some delays or something, I don’t really remember, but what I do remember vividly was this one guy. It was quiet, as quiet as a train can be, and he just goes “AHHHHHHHHHH THERE HAS TO BE MORE THAN THIS!” And he screamed this on the 6 train. And I was just kind of like, “yooo,” and it hit me. To be clear, I couldn’t afford to move, where was I gonna go? I didn’t have any savings, I was living paycheck to paycheck. Where am I gonna go? So, when this opportunity came to move to San Francisco, and they were going to pay for my relocation, I decided to do it.
It’s the same thing with Malmö. I applied on a whim. I was broke, I couldn’t move out of SF, I never thought they’d want a “mouthy girl” from the Bronx. But I got the offer and I just thought, “all right, sure. Love The Division, let’s go for it.”
Wow. So after that moment on the train, did you feel like there just had to be more for you?
DL: Yeah, there had to be more. If this opportunity was there, I had to go for it. If I’m serious about my ultimate goal at the time, which was becoming a producer, I had to make the decision. For someone like me, who looks like me, with my background, I had to take it. The same for Sweden. I was like, “What? Europe? And I’m gonna get paid? Get outta here!” (Laughs).
My family is from the Dominican Republic. All of our clothes that don’t fit us anymore go down there. We sent them there. This is one of those things where it’s like, “Dianna’s in Sweden? She made it!” I was the first person to go to college in my family, the first person to go to boarding school in my family, and I got a full ride to college. These are things I never thought I’d have in my life. When you’re given the opportunity to move to Sweden, a place I never in my life thought I’d move to, I had to take it. I own a home! I never thought that would happen. That was never in the cards for someone like me.
Were you nervous about feeling different in Sweden? I’m guessing there aren’t many Afro-Latinas there.
DL: Nah, there aren't. I’m Latina, but I’m also Black. When people see me here, they see a black woman. I’ve been a unicorn this whole time— I've certainly felt like one. It’s not new to me—I went to an all-white boarding school, this is nothing. That just fuels the fire to uplift others. That’s why I always say, “Reach back and bring others with you.” Always bring people with you. Surround yourself with good people. I’m really happy to see some of those folks hitting their stride. I have been fighting so hard to bring some people to the forefront. I was the only woman of color at some places I’ve worked at before, and I try to be as vocal about it as possible. I really push for diversity efforts. I can be loud about the things that matter— that’s The Bronx in me.
As a Black woman born and raised in America, how does it feel to be abroad when there are Black Lives Matter protests happening all across the country, and even the world?
DL: I’m extremely inspired. There’s a group of us here at Ubisoft Massive who regularly communicate and are active in different ways. What’s happening right now has been a long time coming. I think there’s a bit of FOMO, to be frank, because we would be there. I would be right there by my friends in the streets, banging the drums, protesting alongside them. There’s a sense of surging pride, that we’re finally getting our due and our moment to speak. We’re getting the visibility that we’ve been screaming for this whole time. Why is it that suddenly the people working with diversity and inclusion are getting jobs? Because it’s hot right now? These people have been around for years, and the industry did nothing until now.
The gaming industry needs to wake up and stop the lip service. People of color are paying attention and talking to each other and aware of those folks who are tokenizing people. Why was it a secret to say Black Lives Matter? Two years ago, if you said “Black Lives Matter,” people would’ve been like, “Yoo, that’s political,” but now it’s totally cool because the corporations are saying it? Get outta here, man.
It’s a long time coming. Using my voice and my platform to elevate those that have been deserving for so many years is so important to me, and it’s sad to say that my efforts at times failed because of industry politics, but I’m happy that it’s happening now. We need more Black women. I’ve navigated these spaces as a Black woman, and it’s complex, painful, and difficult. It wasn’t gonna stop me from speaking up or defending those that aren’t given a voice. As a woman of color, I’m tired; we’re tired. So, it’s great to see other people doing it. But don’t just do it now, do it always, and be fully aware and active, and hire more Black women and people of color—and FIGHT to keep them.
It’s got to be exhausting to have to constantly fight those battles.
DL: It is, but it’s a blade that cuts both ways, as they say. It’s fulfilling, being able to say, “Hey, let her speak.” And the person interrupting says, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And hopefully learning that it’s not cool to keep interrupting women in meetings. I’m OK being that that person that will speak up for people if they feel like they can’t. But, it’s also hard. I’m not gonna lie, it’s draining.
What advice would you give to women of color to succeed in this industry?
DL: Never stop. Never stop fighting for what you believe in, and fighting to get your opportunities. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of bullshit that you’re gonna hear. It’s really a matter of being persistent, knowing what you want, and going for it. Take those leaps of faith when you can. Speak up. If I had listened to that little voice in my head saying, “This is scary,” then I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Do the scary things.