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  • Examining the Pipeline: Demographics of Undergraduate Students Studying Games

    - Monica McGill
  •  [Bradley University's Monica McGill outlines the demographics of undergraduate students preparing for careers in the games industry, tracking metrics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.]

    Monica M. McGill, Bradley University
    Amber Settle, DePaul University
    Adrienne Decker, Rochester Institute of Technology

    Like it or not, diversity in the game industry is undeniably a current hot topic for a variety of reasons. Whether it's about race, gender, or something less frequently discussed like political or religious leanings, strong opinions exist on all sides. As a social issue, calls for diversity may not be as well heard in the games industry where larger profits and higher returns on investments often take priority over larger social ideals. But multiple industries have found that a key to broadening markets and market share is to include a variety of designers and developers in the process, a fact that remains irrefutable.

    The evidence for this keeps mounting. According to a 2008 Forbes Insights report, "companies with a strong commitment to diversity on average outperformed their peers with higher profit margins, and greater return on equity and assets." A 2009 study on the effects of diversity on company performance showed that "companies with greater racial and gender diversity performed better in terms of sales, revenue, number of customers, and market share." And a 2010 McKinsey report found that "companies with the highest share of women in their senior management teams outperformed those with no women by 41% in return on equity and by a 56% in operating results."

    Perhaps this is one of the reasons that, in a field where market share is becoming more and more competitive and exploring new avenues of growth is becoming increasingly important, this topic has become hot within the game industry. Even in 2005, the IGDA report on its diversity survey found that the typical game development professional is "white, male, heterosexual, not disabled, [...] and agrees that workforce diversity is important to the future success of the game industry" (pp. 9-10). The report goes on to state that "... it is reasonable to believe that diversity does have an impact on the game industry and the products we create - either via broader markets and/or a means to attract future talent" (p. 22).

    Ah, attracting future talent. That phrase certainly begs the question: what future talent are we attracting? And does the prospective talent pool differ in its composition than current game industry employees? Or are we attracting more of the same, trapped in a cycle like the one Anna Anthropy describes as "straight white developers [who] make games that straight white reviewers market to straight white players, who may eventually be recruited to become the new straight white developers and reviewers" (Anthropy 2012)?

    Game degree programs at colleges and universities in the United States continue to grow and evolve. As competition and quality improves, these programs have started to become a viable pipeline for recruiting future industry talent. If the game industry as a whole becomes convinced that, like other companies across the world have recognized, that diversity matters and has an impact on market share, it's important, then, to look at the composition of aspiring game developers at universities and colleges.

    In 2012, we conducted a study to do just that-to find the characteristics of undergraduate students currently studying games. We looked at gender, race, disabilities, sexual orientation, and political and religious leanings and learned that, while some areas show marked improvement, other areas remain woefully lacking.

    The Game Industry Employee Pipeline Survey

    We created the Game Industry Employee Pipeline Survey in which many of the questions were taken directly from the 2005 IGDA survey "Game Developer Demographics: An Exploration of Workforce Diversity" and the 2011 IGDA Industry Survey with permission. The survey consisted of demographic questions, religious preferences, sexual preferences, political views, and disabilities. The survey also elicited information about student perceptions of diversity in the game industry.

    Complete details about the methods used in this study are provided in our journal article,Demographics of undergraduates studying games in the United States: A comparison of Computer Science students and the General Population, recently published in the Computer Science Education journal. Data was collected from 261 students at four nationally-recognized universities in the U.S. The data was compared against the U.S. population as reported by the US Census Bureau in 2011 (United States Census Bureau, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c). When data from the U.S. population was not available from the Census Bureau, we reference data reported in peer-reviewed, published research.

    Year of study, areas of study, and career aspirations

    In the U.S., the majority of the participants (95.8%) are traditional students in the age range of 18-24, with the vast majority being full-time students (97.7%). Participants in their first year of studies made up 33.3% of the respondents, second year 26.8%, third year 19.5%, and fourth year 20.3%.

    Respondents could choose from a broad selection of areas of study: Game Design, Game Software Development, Game Production, Game Art, Game Sound, Other, or Undecided. The top three areas of study were Game Design (41.0%), Game Software Development (31.8%), and Game Production (16.2%). Seven percent chose Game Art and fewer than 3% chose Game Sound. Several participants (12.3%) stated that they were undecided.

    Sex, Race, and Ethnicity

    The results of the study showed that 87.4% of respondents were male and 12.6% were female. According to the 2010 United States Census (United States Census Bureau, 2011a), the ratio of males to females in the general population is nearly 1 to 1, with males being 49.1% of the population and females 51.9%, clearly showing a gap in the representation of women.

    Figure 1. Sex of game students in the US and the US population.

    95.8% of respondents were native English speakers. 259 respondents responded to the ethnicity question and 71.6% of participants identified as white, 10.2% as Asian, 6.5% as black, and 2.7% as Hispanic/Latino.

    With respect to ethnicity, the data indicates that ethnicity is more equitably represented compared to the U.S. Population than the ratio is for gender (United States Census Bureau, 2011b). Blacks and Hispanic/Latinos are underrepresented, while Asians are overrepresented when compared with the US Population.

    Figure 2. Ethnicity of game students, computing students, and US population.


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