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August 7, 2020

19 Min Read

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Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer

Last week, Ubisoft held its third Black Game Pros Mixer. The event was produced by Leon Winkler, director of global events at Ubisoft HQ, and Kurston Timothy, dev tester at Ubisoft Toronto, and featured speakers from around the videogame industry. Representatives from Ubisoft, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Microsoft, the Entertainment Software Association, and more all shared their “come-up stories” of how they got to where they are today. Following the event, we caught up with some of the speakers to find out more about why they wanted to participate, what they learned from the event, and what kind of change they’d like to see in the industry. Read on to hear directly from the speakers, and if you missed the live event, you can watch the recording below.

Lyisha Johnson – Manager, Events – Sony Interactive Entertainment America

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Lyisha

Why did you want to speak and what message did you want to convey at the Black Game Pro Mixer?

Lyisha Johnson: When Leon reached out to me to speak on the panel. I was slightly worried that my story wouldn’t resonate with the audience as I am not a gamer. I wanted to convey in my message that while my path into gaming is different, the great thing about the gaming industry is that there is something in this industry for everyone to do. It was also important to me to convey that you must maintain your authentic self.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

LJ: My favorite message was from Stan regarding keeping a generosity bank.

What did you personally take away from the event?

LJ: I took away that while we have different ways in which we have gotten here and that each experience looks different it adds to our individual story.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

LJ: More diversity is needed on all levels within the gaming industry.

Junae Benne – Esports Journalist – EQNX

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Junae

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Junae Benne: I wanted to speak at the BGPM because I wanted to share my come-up story, as well as let people know that I haven't reached my final form. I have been in the race for a while, but I am just warming up. It's important that I let people see a work in progress. I always felt like I had to figure it out. This is something I know many people feel, and I want to be a walking example.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

JB: My favorite story was Moustapha D'Nome talking about how he didn't want to starve and he made a career change. That resonated with me the most, because journalism is not a rich field when starting out.

What did you personally take away from the event?

JB: I took away encouragement, knowing that I am not alone, and I am in the right for not giving up.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

JB: I would like to see the industry change by making a conscious effort to be inclusive, as well as giving younger and inexperienced BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] the room to flourish in the space.

Annabel Ashalley-Anthony – Founder – Melanin Gamers

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Annabel

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Annabel Ashalley-Anthony: I wanted to speak at an event where the main focus was on the Black experience in gaming. Usually, when you see a person of color (POC) on a panel, it has to do with diversity, and while this is still important and necessary, it is also crucial that POC are given a voice and a platform that doesn't solely focus on checking off the diversity-quote tick-box. This panel was about sharing our similar and varied experiences about what it truly means to be a Black person in gaming.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

AAA: I really enjoyed all the stories. I left feeling awed and a tad hyper. It was so inspiring to hear the different “origin” stories of where they all started, and where they are headed.

A message I feel resonated with me that was a running theme throughout the mixer was, yes, as a Black person, we have to work harder, but slowly we are developing our own support system; we are not alone here. It may seem that way in our individual workspaces, but thankfully there is a wider network we can tap into. This panel is proof that, though change is slow, there is a shift in the tide.

What did you personally take away from the event?

AAA: I realized just how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many inspiring individuals who genuinely want authentic change, and are taking steps to ensure this happens.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

AAA: Short-term, I think there need to be more initiatives and grants that are geared specifically towards POC/women/LGBTQI community. While these initiatives won't level the playing field, they will bridge some of the gap, so we can diversify some of the spaces in the gaming community. Long-term, I would like to see a change from the grassroots to the very top. More POC in the boardrooms implementing changes, more POC learning that there are a plethora of jobs in the games industry. More POC being supported when they go for these roles, and retaining POC in these roles.

Stanley Pierre-Louis – CEO – Entertainment Software Association

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - stanley

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Stanley Pierre-Louis: Personal narratives help us identify pathways to success. We may each take different paths on our career journeys, so it’s empowering to see what has worked for others. I hope that in sharing my story, it helps other people of color in our industry chart their own path.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

SPL: Lyisha Johnson from Sony shared important insights on understanding your value and promoting your worth in the workplace. The earlier one learns that lesson, the more opportunities one creates for success.

What did you personally take away from the event?

SPL: I found the entire program to be inspiring because of the wide range of participants, representing all genders, playing different roles in the industry around the world. The Black Game Pros initiative is a positive step for promoting diversity, and should be supported and continued.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

SPL: Our industry is a leader in innovation and storytelling. Encouraging diverse voices to help shape the industry’s future will be vital to its economic growth and cultural relevance.

Melissa Canseliet – Research Project Manager – Ubisoft Montreal

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer -Melissa

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Melissa Canseliet: I wanted to participate because I really want to contribute to diversity and inclusion. When I think back to starting in this industry eight years ago, I know it would have helped me to see more people I could identify with, despite my color, gender, and unconventional path. I went from neuroscience research to business school, and then into the games industry.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

MC: It's difficult to pick only one, because I was amazed by all of them. I was so moved by the story of Lyisha Johnson as she was shining with generosity and authenticity through her incredible come-up story. But above all by Leon Winkler, who said this event was one of his proudest achievements, because it's true that for someone like me, he made a dream I wouldn't have dreamed of come true, and I'll always be grateful for his openness and determination putting this on.

What did you personally take away from the event?

MC: I personally felt great to see that I am not alone, even if it feels often that way as a woman of color in the industry. Impostor syndrome was really part of my career, and still is sometimes. Even I knew it was irrational, but I also know that irrational biases impacted the way I was given or not given opportunities. But being part of this event really helped convince me rationally that I'm 100% legit. It was like, "Not only am I not alone, but I'm 200% legit!" It was a great feeling, and I hope it will be even easier for generations to come.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

MC: In the short term, I would like to see more diversity and inclusion at the executive levels internally, including design roles, and also more methodologies/experiments to be diverse and inclusive in the way we study our markets, because I also know we could have a better market reach and be more innovative by doing so.

In the long term, I would love if the overall decision-making power across the industry was better distributed and more inclusive. I’d also like to see events promoting underrepresented groups as a place to be for everyone, for all of us to grow our empathy and to pursue and value difference.

Moustapha N’Dome – Internal Communications Manager – Ubisoft HQ

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Moustapha

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Moustapha N’Dome: I thought it was cool to be part of the conversations about representation and diversity, especially nowadays. I was not sure about the interest in my story, but then I realized that the fact that it was so specific is actually what makes it interesting, and probably inspiring. Just like all the others speakers’ stories.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

MN: I think what I loved the most was not one specific message, but the overall message that was part of all the different talks: whoever you are, whatever your story is, you can always make it, as long as you are true to yourself and to others.

What did you personally take away from the event?

MN: Personally, what I took away is that there is still room for improvement when it comes to having more representation and diversity in the videogame industry. The fact that events like BGPM are still necessary is proof of that. On the other hand, the speakers were so inspiring, and for me, being part of such a panel proved to me – or confirmed – that even in my position, I can still make a difference. We’re all in this together.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

MN: Well, it’s pretty obvious: more representation and diversity, especially in decision-making positions. Whatever the company, we need to get out of “straight-male-white-guy” being the reference for… well, everything.

Dianna Lora – Account Manager – Ubisoft Massive

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Dianna

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Dianna Lora: It was important to me to add a different perspective on the discussion. My coming-up story is not a "normal" story, and I wanted to give folks hope that there are many ways to get into the industry.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

DL: I really love what Stanley said about, "If you're generous with your time... you attract generosity." I really try to live my life that way, and really aspire to inspire those around me to do the same. It was affirming and incredibly moving to hear.

What did you personally take away from the event?

DL: The importance of kindness and humility. Of remembering that we're all in this together, and that we need to help each other and lift each other as much as we can. The people at the event love the industry in so many ways, and it was inspiring to hear that love and how it manifests in their work.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

DL: I’d love for us, in the short term, to have more events like this, where others can be inspired and assured that they're not alone in their journey, and where others can learn about varied experiences. In the long term, I'd love for the gaming industry to adapt and to realize that in order to bring joy to the world, we need to take care of each other and embrace the differences that we all have.

Kurston Timothy – Development Tester – Ubisoft Toronto

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Kurston

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Kurston Timothy: I wanted to show the masses that you don't need to be a college/university graduate to get into the industry. I figured it out in my own way, and I want others to know it's possible.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

KT: Literally anything Lyisha said, she was dropping gems from out the gate and I was all ears.

What did you personally take away from the event?

KT: Networking with good intentions is crucial. Whether you're looking to get into the field you desire, or even if you're looking to advance in your current role.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

KT: Short term: More conversations about how to create a safer and more inclusive space for people of all races and genders within the games industry.

Long term: Implementing said changes as a global initiative so that every company within the industry knows how to hire. Equal opportunity hiring needs to be standardized, regardless of educational background.

Felesha Anderson – Office Manager – Ubisoft Film & Television

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Felesha

Why did you want to speak and what message did you want to convey at the Black Game Pro Mixer?

Felesha Anderson: Leon told me that I was speaking, so I didn’t have a choice! Laughs. Really though, when he presented the opportunity to me, I couldn’t turn it down. I was honored to represent my office, Ubisoft Film & Television, and to share my experiences as a Black woman navigating her own career journey. My intention was to offer encouragement and perspective to those who might feel stuck in their current roles, or who don’t feel that they have their dream job just yet. I’ve definitely been there, so one piece of advice I gave was to “get your money right” and invest in your own financial literacy. It really brings peace of mind to know that if something crazy happens at your job, or an unexpected financial expense comes up, you’ve got a substantial amount of savings that can cover it.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

FA: Literally every single speaker was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of them. One of my favorite stories was from Melissa Canseliet, who was about to start over in business and marketing, after previously working in the neuroscience field. Her story of Ubisoft reaching out to her for a position that combines both of those fields was so interesting.

What did you personally take away from the event?

FA: Personally, one of the biggest takeaways was the importance of being a multifaceted person. It’s okay to be interested in, or even good at, multiple things. Maybe all of those specific things can’t be incorporated into your role at the moment, but you just never know what the future holds, or how those skills could be used in current or future roles.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

FA: I would like to see more Black women in all aspects of the gaming and entertainment industries, especially in leadership roles. I’d also like to see both industries make a concentrated, focused effort on investing in and creating talent pipelines in their local Black communities.

Leon Winkler – Director of Global Events – Ubisoft HQ

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - Leon

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Leon Winkler: For me, I tried to not speak that much, and let stories from other Black pros speak for themselves. By focusing on sharing our “come-up stories”, I hope that we planted seeds in the minds of our attendees, showing them that there are so many ways into the industry

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

LW: Well, the funny thing is that I never heard any of the stories of our speakers prior to the event, so I went in just as open as our attendees. All of the stories shared were amazing, and while we all share different backgrounds, all the stories still felt like they were connected in one way or the other.

What did you personally take away from the event?

LW: That we are on the good path, that there is a need for events like these, and that we need to put an even bigger spotlight on the next edition of the Black Game Pros Mixer.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

LW: I would like to see the industry put more effort into generating awareness around job families that, right now, are not top-of-mind with more diverse audiences. If we as an industry want to become more diverse, we need to first make sure that people know about the jobs we have to offer.

In order to do that, we need to actively get out there (either physically or digitally) and lobby our industry to the next generation of colleagues. We cannot simply sit back and expect more diverse audiences to knock on our doors and ask, “Hey, you got a job for me?” Our job is to make sure they know the doors are wide open for them. Hopefully then, in the future, we see more diverse people across the board in our industry.

Jean-Philippe Doho – Legal Innovations Specialist – Ubisoft Paris

[UN][News] Catching Up On The Black Game Pros Mixer - JP

Why did you want to speak at the Black Game Pros Mixer, and what message did you want to convey?

Jean-Philippe Doho: First of all, I wanted to speak because of the invitation of Leon Winkler, a dear friend and colleague that I’ve know since my first event contracts at Ubisoft five years ago. Second reason is representation; we don’t see enough people of color in the videogame industry, so I wanted to be part of this effort to show younger generations that we are here, and we want to help inspire. The message I wanted to convey is to be patient, don’t hold back, apply, apply, apply. Also, I wanted to say to the youngest generation to cultivate their differences, continue to do things differently, and bring a new mindset in their job.

What was your favorite story or message from one of the other speakers?

JPD: My favorite story was the one of Leon talking about the conversation that he had in Holland with an event manager who told him everything was about business and nothing else. This really struck me, because I do believe it is about business, but also about being true to yourself and also elevating the debate.

What did you personally take away from the event?

JPD: It was a very inspiring event. I listened to all of these very personal stories and realized we barely talked about the companies we work for, but more about us.

How would you like to see the games industry change, both in the short and long term?

JPD: In the short term, I would like to see a shift in our recruitment and management processes. We need to focus more on psychological/sociological factors to recruit and manage. That is how the videogame industry will really think differently and change the culture that was in place. In the long run, I want to see more diverse CEOs, diverse studio directors, more POC, more women that haven’t been at Ubisoft for 20 years.

You can watch the entire mixer here. Be sure to visit Ubisoft News for more information on the next Black Game Pros event.

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