On Games and Broken Promises - Fortis Games

On Games and Broken Promises

I joined Fortis Games even though I promised my family I would never work in games again.

But first let’s talk about Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging — a terribly misunderstood concept in the workplace. Organizations tend to diagnose what they see as the problem using representation metrics — I call these glamor metrics because they are generally there for the purposes of brand building. Then they try to solve this problem by building out employee resource groups and setting representation goals in their hiring plans. But these don’t address the underlying problem: how to affect long-lasting change in an organization. DIB leaders often find themselves powerless in driving change, particularly if efforts run into conflict with business goals. And even when successful, too often the needle on representation moves at the most junior levels of companies — which is great — but it takes decades (if ever) for this representation to get to senior leadership or the C-suite.

Then the problems occur. Layoffs often adversely impact junior staff, and representation is lost. Lost alongside that representation are the DIB programs that support them — as they become harder to justify in cash-conscious companies. This is hard to prevent because, once again, diverse representation has not risen up to the decision-making level yet.

But even if layoffs don’t occur, DIB efforts face an uphill battle:

  • For office-first companies, particularly tech companies, office locations are often in high cost-of-living hubs like New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Talent searches are limited to those who are within commuting distance (or willing to move to be commuting distance), which hinders the ability to tap into wider and more diverse candidate communities. The pandemic has exacerbated things. In my research, we’ve seen that folks from underrepresented groups make up a disproportionate amount of people moving away from major city hubs
  • Even if companies move the needle on hiring, members of under-represented groups show up in meetings where nobody looks like them- but they often look like one another. This is an unnecessary barrier to truly onboarding and thriving at a company.
  • Once again, there’s a lack of representation at the leadership level. Take a look at any tech company’s leadership/ board of directors page on their website for proof. Even for those who get there, they experience a higher burnout rate because they’re doing both their day job and serving often as the sole representative for an underrepresented group. That can be exhausting.

This is why we see so many companies hide behind glamor metrics. It feels good to be able to point to some measure of progress, and say “we’re getting better!” But try pulling up any public company’s published representation data and notice how many label gender representation in “tech” vs “engineering”, where groups like product, design, and administration are lumped in. This doesn’t address the very real problem of gender representation for the engineers that actually work there.

So what does that have to do with a game company most of you have not heard of yet?

Because these other companies are solving the wrong problem. When Fortis Games’ co-founders Shawn Foust, Calvin Lau, and Steve Chiang discussed the company’s vision with me, it was both lofty and obvious.

Games where you belong. Games where anyone can belong.

The thing about any products (including games) is that they are generally representative of the people that make them. To create great games where anyone can belong, we must first create a company where everyone belongs. That– in and of itself — is so much more important than glamor metrics, because the goals around Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging drive real business impact.

Let’s hire across the globe because that’s where our players will be.

Let’s be globally remote so that nobody gets excluded because they are not close enough to a Fortis office.

Let’s make sure our leadership is globally distributed as well, so that advancement at a certain level is not tied to your proximity to existing leaders.

Let’s do the hard thing in creating a culture of open feedback at all levels so everyone has a voice regardless of where they come from.

Let’s have a leadership team invested in belonging because it’s the right thing to do for the business.

And let’s magically see how the diversity in our workforce is consistent across all levels of seniority!

I joined Fortis Games even though I promised my family I would never work in games. I love how games are made. And I love how they bring people together. I don’t love the unpredictability of a content-driven business model. And I don’t love the prevalence of groupthink that drives decision making in most game companies.

But Fortis showed me a team of seasoned, successful leaders unified on creating successful games where everyone belongs because they are made by a company where everyone belongs. It’s a dramatic change from how most companies operate, and it’s going to be really really hard to get right.

But the most important things in life are always the hardest things to get right. And there are few things in life more important than truly belonging.

Authors: Scott Lee