Highlights of 2021 Game Developers of Color

Jason Martinez

The 2021 Game Developer of Color Expo streamed online last week, September 23rd through September 26th. The extravaganza featured work game developers from under-represented communities, where they showcased their latest projects, shared their professional experiences, and discussed important issues and trends in the gaming industry. Here are some highlights of the event that could also serve as guidance for students–particularly those of color-looking for tips from the insiders. 


Diversity and Inclusion

As the name suggests, the speakers at the GDOC Expo dived deep into the subject of diversity and inclusion. Some have started their own projects with other game developers of color to avoid the microaggressions that were commonplace from their prior work experiences. Others integrate their cultural heritage into their productions. As an example, in the story for Sephonie, the three main characters of the game are all biologists of Taiwanese descent that represent the Asian diaspora around the world. The individualization in style, background, and specialty emphasizes that racial minorities come in different shapes and sizes, and using one label on “nationality” or “ethnicity” tends to gloss over the nuances. 

Dani Lalonders, Black developer who identifies as non-binary, recapped their first year in developing the indie game, ValiDate. They broke down their learning into Concept, Team, Funding and Execution. Leading a team of twenty people of diverse backgrounds, Dani was candid about all of the unexpected issues and struggles at leading the game development, such as fund shortage, mental fatigue, difficulty finding a publisher, despite the popular reception by the public. They reflected on their approach and hoped to change the narrative of the gaming industry with improved diversity. “Someone out there will want your game,” they encouraged all the future game developers who would like to follow in their footsteps.


Socially Conscious Games

Racial justice is a formidable force at the convention, but the methodology to create a solution is much more important than just discussing the symptoms and causes. Sydney Adams, a game designer at Wizards of the Coast, walked the audience through the process of creating socially conscious games. Step by step, from planning, implementation to launch, Adams shared detailed strategies for game development that incorporates a meaningful social goal. These valuable lessons came from her personal challenges working as an indie developer and now at the AAA company. Whether it is to advocate for social justice, climate change, or inclusion, these games with an intent for the greater good of the society pose more difficulty for the developer. Recognizing this complexity, Adams responds, “Someone out there is waiting for what you have to say.” This is a beautiful message from someone who led the largest success in the history of Wizards of the Coast, Black Magic. Sometimes, the project is simply bigger than all of us.



The GDOC online platform is highly interactive. For each event, the attendee can reach out the panel or the guest speaker directly through a chat function on the right side of the event page. (See example below).

Additionally, the Expo also provides access for attendees to further their professional development with sections like Job Board and Attendees. In Job Board, companies have posted dozens of different roles that are available for all attendees to apply for. Employers range from Nintendo, Xbox, Oculus to NYU Game Center, representing a variety of demands for talent in the industry. Writers, engineers, programmers and artists are just some of the positions open. Even if you are not looking for a fulltime job immediately, it is still a good practice to scout the field and see the market demand.

You can also search the attendees list to view all the speakers and guests, to whom you can send connection requests using the on-platform message function. The role, company, social media and sometimes even contact details of the speakers are available to view. It is easy to narrow down target employers and connections of interest.

Originally founded by Catt Small and Chris Algoo in 2016, the Game Devs of Color Expo took shape when the two young game developers set out to pioneer a new market for showcasing games made by game creators of color. It has attracted a growing number of attendees and partnerships from large corporations, including Xbox, Nintendo, Niantic, Oculus, and Amazon Gaming.