Pokémon Go creator invests $6 million in Black game developers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBfZ5eyfBuw The video game industry continues to struggle with diversity behind the scenes. Companies like Pokémon Go creator Niantic Labs are trying to right that wrong. CNBC’s Brandon Gomez spoke with Trinidad Hermida, Niantic Labs Head of Diversity and Inclusion, alongside Jessica Murrey, Co-Founder and CEO of Black and female-led W!CKED SAiNTS Studios. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2NGeIvi

Pokémon GO maker Niantic Labs announced in early February its Black Developers Initiative (BDI), a program designed to support Black game and augmented reality (AR) app developers.

The five-month program will fund new projects for Black game development teams with the intention of building a playable prototype and pitch deck for their real-world AR games.

“BDI is our commitment to providing access, opportunity, resources, and mentorship,” said CEO John Hanke in Niantic’s official announcement.

Trinidad Hermida, Niantic’s head of diversity and inclusion, told CNBC in an interview that the company’s recent Pokémon Go Fest 2020 raised $13 million, and roughly half of those funds will be dedicated to this initiative.

“Developing a game costs a lot of money,” said Hermida. “It’s a billion dollar industry and it’s moving fast with so many different pieces, so finance can be a huge barrier.”

The video game industry that has been booming during the coronavirus pandemic continues to struggle with diversity behind the scenes.

“The gaming industry has been predominantly white for the last 20 years,” said Hermida. “Although we’re moving out of that and we’re really creating more balanced and equitable studios, that’s still tough when you’re trying to enter into a culture that you really don’t know.”

According to an NPD Group report, U.S. consumer spending on video game products in the third quarter of 2020 shattered previous record highs reaching $11.2 billion, an increase of 24% year-over-year.

Niantic’s multi-million dollar commitment comes as a follow to the company’s pledge of support after the killing of George Floyd last summer.

“We think the next area where we can make a powerful, scalable impact is through the culture, ideas and role models we help to create,” said Hanke in an internal memo issued in June of 2020. “To achieve that, we are going to fund projects from Black creators and will bring the best of those creations to a mass audience where they can shine a light on characters, story, and points of view that validate the lives and experiences of the Black community.”

Nielsen reports that African Americans remain among the most likely groups to be engaged gamers (71%), the second largest ethnic group after Asian Americans (81%) and followed by non-Hispanic whites (61%) and Hispanics (55%).

Despite these high engagement levels on the consumer end, data from a self-reported 2019 International Game Developers Association survey paints a more bleak picture behind the scenes. The survey found only 2% of developers identify as Black, African American, African or Afro-Caribbean.

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