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Revisiting Mohawk Games' diversity overhaul - GDC Podcast ep. 23

This episode brought to you by Telstra

In this episode of GDC Podcast, recorded earlier this year live at GDC Showcase, Kris Graft and Alissa McAloon talk to Leyla and Soren Johnson, CEO and design director at Offworld Trading Company and Old World developer Mohawk Games.

Soren and Leyla talk about how you might avoid typical small studio pitfalls, and in one of the most candid segments yet, about the significant lack of diversity at the studio--a difficult problem that the pair eventually corrected head-on.

Music by Mike Meehan.

Listen now on iTunesGoogle Podcasts, and Spotify

Check out some highlights:

Setting up your small team for success

Soren: "If you're struggling for resources it is tough. We're really lucky because we made games before the market exploded, in the sense that we had a reputation that was established before that. I think nowadays it's very easy to imagine that a small team makes a game that's really good, but no one ever notices it. It's really difficult. I'd say the best advice is to pay attention to the thing that's so personal about yourself [which is] the special advantage that you may have over other people. That's hard and it takes a lot of self-awareness.

"Also be very careful about the scope that you set for the game. If you don't have a lot of resources, then you're just going to have to make a really small game, so you have to figure out what's the best way to make a really small game."

Leyla"And think ahead. We had difficulty after Offworld trying to find financing for the next thing. If you're a small studio and you're going to need the money, and there's no revenue coming from anywhere else, think ahead about what you could do. Start pitching early for your next project so by the time you wrap up or publish your game you at least have an idea of where you will be with your team, because they're going to be frustrated, they're going to be worried, and that's going to affect them personally, their families, and their results at work. They're not going to be able to give you 100%."

Recognizing and correcting the diversity issue

Leyla"When I joined Mohawk Games, Mohawk was made up of just men. Everyone was white, and everyone was a man...When I went up to Mohawk and saw that, I was surprised...Soren is a bit conflict-averse, and I was raised in a culture where you are very polite, so when you are very polite, and very conflict-averse, you're going to postpone dealing with an issue for a very long time.

"...There was a wall of negativity and non-inclusivity, and we felt it. We tried to hire a writer, a woman, and when she visited, her reaction was [that] she was very uncomfortable with that situation. And it hit us: Wow did we not notice that slowly, the hiring was just of white men? The type of conversation was inappropriate, crossed boundaries, [and] at times was xenophobic--I'm from Lebanon and someone asked me about my English and said maybe I didn't understand the word 'sexism.'

"This is just stuff you do not say anywhere, period. And that was the level of conversation...So Soren and I were just having to deal with this, bottling it in, and wondering how we were going to get out of this--this is not what we want to work with in the long run.

"...When we got the Epic deal [in which Old World was signed]...we were able to get a working space in a commercial area and reboot the whole system. It didn't come without tears, it didn't come without pain, but I'm very glad we had the stamina, energy, and strength to regroup and reboot [to reach] where we are today."

Listen now on iTunesGoogle Podcasts, and Spotify

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