Latest News & Updates

How Esports Has Leveled Up Customer Advocacy to Support Gaming 

By wpengine on November 1, 2019 in Articles

Author: Elliott Kaplan, General Manager of Customer Advocacy

We talk a lot at Skillz about how our monetization model exponentially uplevels the experience for mobile gamers. Many popular games drive players to pay by disrupting the user experience with ads or gated content. Conversely, Skillz players opt into our monetization loop when they want the thrill of live competition. That’s a better approach for the consumer, which we see directly translate to a Net Promoter Score that’s consistently above 40 for our pro players.

One topic we don’t often cover but will dive into here is how esports have fundamentally shifted the way industry professionals approach customer service. As the world’s leading mobile esports company, Skillz is pioneering that change. To understand where we’re headed, we first have to look at the industry itself. The video game industry can largely be broken into three waves: boxed games, live services, and esports. Each of these revenue models is living and continuing to evolve today, but each can only exist because of the advances made by its predecessor:

  1.     Boxed – Originally, the only way to access your favorite game was to physically obtain a disc or cartridge. Stemming from self-contained entertainment like film, the game shipped complete and had an “end.” Developers hoped they had found any bugs in the title and taken feedback into account, because in a pre-internet era, developers didn’t have the chance to patch in any improvements once the product shipped. Revenue came from boxed sales, largely driven by marketing and PR.
  1.     Live Service – The move from boxed titles to live service gaming followed a similar trend to cloud computing. With the advent of performant online distribution, developers realized they could continue to engage with (and monetize) their users by delivering digital content piecemeal for as long as players would continue to pay for it. Games no longer had to end and could instead continue to iterate and evolve, with microtransactions (including pay-to-win mechanics) and ads emerging as the  key to funding those updates.
  1.     Esport – With live service games on the rise, it quickly became apparent that some had more longevity than others. Echoing the history of offline games, players began to organize on both the player and viewer sides, with the developers moving away from short-term pay-to-win monetization strategies in favor of emphasizing a healthy sport with decades-long retention. Microtransactions continue to exist in this model, but only as part of it. The broad appeal of a sport lies with its accessibility for everyone and an easy-to-understand sense of fairness, giving developers an entirely new path to sustained revenue.

Customer service for boxed titles was extremely straightforward and worked like any other physical consumer good — you set quality expectations for the product, policies around returns, and then retailers largely handled it from there. The challenge for customer service professionals centered around enforcing policies that would drive consumer loyalty without hurting the bottom line, along with the logistics that come with shipping and storing physical items. There was no expectation or need for developers to maintain large customer service teams in the boxed game era.

This shifted with the move to live service gaming, as consumers need an escalation path in case they encounter an error with a virtual purchase. Physical retailers may still sell your base title, but neither the retailer nor the player would expect to return to a brick-and-mortar store for assistance with the add-on they purchased online. Developers maintaining live service games suddenly needed robust customer service teams tasked with a variety of new responsibilities, including answering extremely in-depth questions around how a purchase would impact the game mechanics, deciding if a bug had truly cost someone money, and maintaining extensive policies to prevent digital fraud.

Customer service in the live service age was certainly more interesting than when titles were shipped fully self-contained, but it was still considered a cost center that handled reactive inbound requests. The expectation was that gamers would eventually churn out of a title and customer service was there to delay that as long as possible, at the lowest cost possible.

Then esports arrived. I first realized the paradigm had shifted while working for a live service developer. I was at a customer experience conference chatting with the head of support for a well-known pioneer in the esports space, asking about how they budget a per-ticket cost. The response: “I don’t have a budget. If I can improve customer satisfaction or retention, it’s approved.” Gaming customer service had made the transition from cost center to a true value-add. 

In this new wave of gaming, players are expected to stick around for years and when they’re not playing, they’re watching pros play. Developers are free to focus on the long-term — they don’t have to constantly maximize revenue in the next 30 to 90 days, so their customer service is no longer a balancing act of operating as cheaply as possible. 

Instead, we are the de facto experts on player behavior and act as the voice of the players throughout the end-to-end development process. The stakes are too high to act otherwise; if you’ve invented the next baseball, you’re not thinking about how to maximize quarterly profits before you release a sequel. You’re thinking through how to create a cultural phenomenon and ensuring the next generation will continue to be just as passionate about the game as this one is.

With the rise of esports, the relationship between developers and consumers has never been closer — and customer service is the glue for that bond. The industry is on track for 3.8 billion smartphone users worldwide by 2021 and the esports market is expected generate $1.8 billion in 2022, making it more important than ever for customer service to ensure the voices of players are being heard.

Skillz is the platform building communities of people who find daily entertainment in social competition. With over four million tournaments hosted daily and a total addressable market of 2.6 billion smartphone users, we’re working to add every kind of game to the platform so every kind of player can find something they love to play. 

We’re building a truly groundbreaking company that’s pioneering an entirely new industry, and we’re searching for top-notch people to join us in that mission. If you’re up for the challenge, check out our careers page and apply.

Skillz Named to Entrepreneur360 for the Second Consecutive Year

By Jason Allen on October 25, 2019 in Articles

Skillz is honored to claim its spot on the prestigious, fifth-annual Entrepreneur360 list by Entrepreneur, proving itself as the best privately held gaming and esports company in the nation based on impact, innovation, growth, leadership, and value. This is the second consecutive year Skillz has been named to the Entrepreneur360 list as the No. 1 gaming company featured, and is in the top three of companies headquartered in San Francisco.

“Skillz is dedicated to empowering game makers to build sustainable businesses doing what they love, helping them monetize their content and connect with the world’s 2.6 billion mobile gamers through fair competition,” said Andrew Paradise, Skillz CEO and co-founder. “We are proud to be included on the prestigious Entrepreneur360 list two years in a row as the top marketplace company working to make gaming better with fair competition for everyone.” 

Each company considered for the Entrepreneur 360 list is evaluated based on four metrics: impact, innovation, growth, and leadership. The selection committee judges companies based on not only quantitative data, like revenue, headcount, and income, but also on qualitative metrics. 

“Every entrepreneur knows that a healthy business isn’t just about growth. It’s about being well-rounded—growing your culture and your systems as strongly as you grow your revenue,” says Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine. “That’s why we’re excited to celebrate these companies with our fifth annual Entrepreneur 360. The companies that make the ranking have pushed boundaries with their innovative ideas, fostered strong company cultures, impacted their communities for the better, strengthened their brand, and grown impressively as a result.” 

Mobile gaming represents 45 percent ($68 billion) of the $150 billion gaming market, outpacing last year’s record-breaking worldwide box office revenue by $22 billion. Mobile gaming is projected to double by 2025, driven by the billions of people currently playing mobile games around the world, including 67 percent of American adults who play video games. 

In the past year, Skillz nearly doubled its player base. The platform now hosts over 4 million esports tournament entries daily and distributes $60 million in prizes each month. To learn more about how Skillz is accelerating the convergence of esports, entertainment and media, head to skillz.com

Product Design in a Startup World: Opportunities and Solution

By wpengine on October 23, 2019 in Articles

Author: Matt Grunwald, Principal Designer at Skillz

Picture this — you recently graduated college and joined the hottest startup company in the Bay Area. It has an amazing product concept with the potential to redefine an entire industry. As one of the few designers on a small, passionate team, you’re ready to help lead the product vision from whiteboard to reality. 

You kick off into the discovery phase of the design process and interview your biggest stakeholder to understand the business goals. A few minutes into the discussion, they say, “We need a minimum viable product (MVP) by the end of this month.” 

In the high-growth technology landscape, entrepreneurs and professionals often pursue ambitious goals to set their organizations apart. Determining what priorities will provide the best return on investment (ROI) within those specifications is an exciting challenge. A few key considerations will help you get started in designing a viable product and rallying a small team to achieve outsized success. Below is a collection of common design challenges and suggestions for how to uncover solutions that have a tangible impact on your business.

What’s the most important success metric for the company’s future?

A primary objective in modern design is to, above all else, deeply understand the thoughts, problems and desires of your end-user. Asking yourself questions like, “Why is there a need for this product?” and “How can it help quality of life?” will aid you in understanding the product’s main goal, as well as the best solution for your users. 

However, when designing at a startup that’s pioneering an entirely new industry with a novel product concept and undefined user base, first consider imperative business needs, such as driving revenue, installs, and retention. In this case, think of your team as your end-users and build the foundation of the MVP together. Then, you can begin establishing an internal exploratory user base through research, iterations, and testing, with the goal of a unified mission.

Here are a few tips for determining how to approach a product solution with limited funding runway:

  1. Communicate with your team, department leads, and most importantly, the founder/s directly. 
  2. Understand the goals for each stakeholder and align against the company vision. 
  3. Use a mission statement as a foundation for unified direction and define the key success metric together. Whether it’s retention for an aging product or user acquisition for an MVP with only a handful of beta testers, set a target and make it your North Star, so everyone’s aim is on it. 

Success Metric Examples: A 20 percent increase in an active session time; 10,000 installs under a customer acquisition cost (CAC) of $5; a realistic fiction prototype ready with (n) days that convinces a first round of investment

Save the Cadillac for later; what does the tricycle look like?

As a designer, you’ve probably heard of the phrases “fail fast” and “take more shots on goal.” These concepts are especially applicable in a startup environment. Instead of spending cycles thinking about the ultimate product solution, focus on getting something out the door for testing. The more times you iterate, the more data you’ll obtain to improve the long-term viability of the product.  

Start by identifying the “must-haves” that will define the MVP, or in our analogy, your tricycle. One way to do this is through the MoSCoW method, which includes four prioritization categories: Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have. If you have 100 tasks to complete to create a beautiful product, determine the top 10 must-haves for the tricycle to start pedaling forward.

Always brainstorm on a writable surface, so team members have a visual way to collaborate and discuss ideas. Stack-rank your potential solutions into the four MoSCoW categories. While  determining how to categorize solutions, remind all stakeholders of the key success metric you’ve committed to together. Decide which features whole-heartedly support it and which ones are fancy features for the future Cadillac. 

Collect early qualitative and quantitative data through primary and secondary research that validates and establishes the product’s market fit. If you have the bandwidth, incorporate other steps of the design process, like in-depth surveys, mind-mapping, and a SWOT analysis. Approach these steps with clear action items, keeping velocity and shots on goal in mind. 

When it’s time to design, don’t stray too far from the whiteboard. Begin with simple drawings that portray the user journey and overall product flow. Consider the appropriate number of steps it will take for users to reach the primary goal and hit your key success metrics. Eventually you’ll have enough ramblings and scribbles to build wireframes, which then support prototyping and the starting foundation to your design.

You might say, “We only have the weeks left before our MVP goes to market. Shouldn’t we start designing the final product?” That approach works if your first shot on goal hits the back of the net. However, consider what might happen if you miss. A key stakeholder wants the features in “Screen C” to be moved to “Screen A,” and the message in your first time user experience (FTUE) tells the wrong story. Do you have the bandwidth, resources, and time to update your hi-fidelity designs by the hard deadline? Instead, iterate, review, and refine quickly until you have built confidence in the product’s direction. 

Always be aware of your constraints and weigh the effort against the return. Just because your first product release is a tricycle doesn’t mean it should be a rusty forgotten experience from a yard sale. Put some racing stripes and streamers on it, as you only get one chance to make a first impression on the world! 

Does my product look the part?

The established fundamentals of design have existed for over a century: balance, hierarchy, contrast, direction. We use these universal principles daily to create engaging stories, products and experiences. However, a relatively new concept in both design and business is the process of “design thinking.” This important method aims to fully understand a user, challenge assumptions, and continually redefine opportunities for growth spanning a small to global scale. 

Design thinking is a useful process that helps you discover the strongest product solution. However, even when you follow a recipe, your cake doesn’t always look like the one you saw on Pinterest. No matter how ideal your solution is for an end-user, don’t forget about first-read impact and impressions. We’re all curious creatures searching for stimulation, and that typically starts visually. Your product needs to “look the part” to be successful. It must inspire and influence a user within a matter of seconds. 

I’ve met a lot of brilliant designers along my journey and have relished learning from them each day. That journey has led to many realizations, one of which is that design thinking alone won’t help a product cross the finish line. My advice is to pick up a pencil, take a drawing or painting class, study typography, learn the theories of color, hierarchy and balance. The experience will help designers lay out components on the screen, determine the correct font variations, and accurately place a primary call to action.

There are elements of design that can’t be taught, and skills that are only instinctual. The fundamental principles of design are the written word of this understanding. A strong product designer is someone that never stops learning powerful processes, tools, and techniques to improve their skills. Ultimately, a successful product designer is continuously discovering their vision and storytelling as an artist

With these principles in mind, you’ll have more agency and confidence to discover solutions that can capture the ambitious dreams of your team and company.

Skillz Hosts Panel in Honor of Latinx Heritage Month

By Hannah Press on October 14, 2019 in Articles, Company Culture

Last week, Skillz hosted a lunch-and-learn in celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, featuring a panel of Latinx leaders in technology. Moderated by our CTO Miriam Aguirre, the panelists reflected on their connections with their cultures, relayed their professional experiences as Latinx leaders, and shared insights on driving diversity and inclusion in organizations. Skillz employees were grateful for the opportunity to hear unique insights on cultivating diversity in the thriving technology industry and look forward to driving more initiatives in the future. Learn more about our featured speakers below. 

Luis Madrigal | Engineering Lead @ Uber 

Luis Madrigal is a Client Platform Engineering + IOT Manager at Uber. He leads teams to create an IOT Center of Excellence by merging three major focuses: Client computing and their respective management systems; Mobile OS’s (Android, iOS, ChromeOS); and Product Mobility and IOT. Madrigal has worked at Uber for nearly six years after getting his start in technology as an IT Agent at Geek Squad. He went on to be a service engineer at Canon and grew into his first managing role at Arup

A gifted problem-solver with a customer service-oriented attitude, Madrigal is able to identify opportunities and execute projects with consistent success. He is the Diversity Co-Chairman at Uber and has been instrumental in getting several key diversity and inclusion initiatives, namely Los Ubers, off the ground. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Madrigal has harnessed his Latinx background to lead these projects with a global mindset. He is passionate about mentoring his team members to grow their careers and pursue their goals. 

Reflecting on diversity and inclusion efforts at Uber, Madrigal said, “We’re creating a framework of guidance so teams know how to go about exploring ideas in diversity and inclusion in relation to design and engineering. Because if you ask two people to draw a bicycle, they’re going to draw completely different things on a white piece of paper.”

Julia Figueiredo | VP of Global Gateway LATAM @ Silicon Valley Bank

As Vice President of Global Gateway LATAM at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), Julia Figueiredo helps innovators, investors and their partners achieve their global expansion goals. Originally from Brazil, Figueiredo uses her knowledge of the market and culture to aid technology companies in growing through partnerships, business development, sales, and marketing strategies. She began her career in corporate business development at GSVlabs and moved on to Evernote before entering her current role at SVB.

Figueiredo is a cofounder and board member of Latinas in Tech (LiT), a community of women from Latin America, Brazil and Spain who are living in the Bay Area and working at technology companies in the Silicon Valley. The group aims to connect with other Latinx women and support each other’s professional careers. Figueiredo has helped grow LiT  into a community of more than 2,000 women, hailing from over 12 countries and working at more than 30 of the top tech companies.

Pia Zaragoza | VP of UX & Accessibility Research & Insights @ JPMorgan

Pia Zaragoza is a researcher specializing in various consumer, enterprise, and fintech products. She has worked at companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, striving to develop new technologies to solve some of the world’s most complex problems. Zaragoza currently works at JPMorgan Chase and Co. as the Vice President of UX and Accessibility Research.

She got her start in technology at the New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program, spending two years exploring the intersections of design, engineering, and computer science. With a research grant from UNICEF Innovation, Zaragoza explored the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for humanitarian applications. She has presented her research at The World Science Festival, The Open Source Hardware Association Summit, The New York City Girls Computer Science and Engineering Conference, and United Nations Crisis Information Management Advisory Group.

Zaragoza has a strong connection to her Latinx background, using her User Experience (UX) design skills to consult Techqueria, a nonprofit that empowers Latinx professionals in the tech industry by building networking and career advancement opportunities. In her current and future endeavors, she strives to inspire awareness and discussion surrounding diversity to help organizations scale successfully.

As we reflect on the importance of cultivating diversity and inclusion in the thriving esports industry, it’s important to recognize the impact of language, culture and traditions that have played a formative role in the lives of our leaders. Thanks for joining us this month, and every month, in celebrating the cultural and professional contributions of Latin American communities to our lives.

Latinx Leaders in Gaming: Existing Brands

By Hannah Press on October 13, 2019 in Articles

According to Newzoo, the global esports audience will reach 453.8 million by the end of this year. As the booming esports industry increasingly takes over mainstream mass media and entertainment, and especially with the rise of mobile gaming, global brands will benefit by expanding their presence in the world of competitive esports. News and broadcast leaders can positively influence the connected and interactive future of entertainment by making esports coverage more accessible across the globe.

The following Latinx leaders are utilizing their skills and expertise in broadcasting and mobile to enhance the availability of esports for Latinx communities worldwide. 

Eli Velazquez, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, EVP of Sports Content

Eli Velazquez launched his career at Univision Communications, and transitioned to NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises as Senior Producer for the network’s first-ever Olympics coverage of Athens. His decorated background in journalism includes Emmy Awards™ for coverage of the Beijing and London Olympics in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Velasquez also executive produced the Rio Olympics in 2016, earning his 3rd Emmy™ for Outstanding Studio Show in Spanish. 

This year, Telemundo Deportes launched the first Spanish-language esports streaming channel in the United States, a testament to the growing popularity of organized gaming competitions. Competition coverage kicked off with the EA Sports FIFA19 FUT Champions Cup.

“The launch of Telemundo Deportes esports channel strengthens our leadership position in the esports space and gives us an opportunity to further connect with the Hispanic, multicultural gaming audience,” Velasquez said. He is excited to make a valuable impact on the connected future of entertainment by making esports coverage more accessible to the Latinx community around the world.

Javier Ferreira, Scopely Co-CEO 

Javier Ferriera is a digital media and technology professional with over 15 years of experience as a leader in the gaming industry. His gaming career began at Telefónica Mobile, after which he held executive positions at EA, Disney Interactive, and TF Artes Gráficas. Since joining Scopely in 2014, Ferriera has helped the company achieve accolades and recognition, including Fast Company’s “World’s Most Innovative Companies,” Entrepreneur’s “30 Startups to Watch,” and Inc. Magazine’s “Inc. 5000” as one of the fastest-growing companies in North America.

Ferreira loves working in mobile gaming as opposed to traditional gaming and media, because mobile businesses are data-driven and investments can be spread across multiple launches. 

“Mobile games have gone from being a smaller category in the gaming world to the dominant platform,” he remarked in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’re living in a world of mobile first, which is very different from where we were a few years ago.” 

With Ferreira at the helm, Scopely expanded into Barcelona this year, tapping into the tech hub’s high-quality technical talent pool. Mobile is the only truly connected platform in gaming and it can be harnessed to create more content across diverse categories for players around the world. Ferreira strives to use the power of mobile connectivity to empower accessibility for European markets, especially in the Latin American region.

5G’s Biggest Challenge Isn’t Speed, But Inclusivity

By wpengine on October 5, 2019 in Articles

The World’s Fastest Networks Will Fall Short Without Equal Access

 

  • Half of America will have access to 5G technology by next year, but a shocking number of communities remain locked out of the high-speed internet connection they need to bridge the digital divide
  • Getting everyone up to speed is critical to creating equitable economic opportunity in an ever-connected, increasingly tech-oriented, and mobile-first world
  • Closing the broadband gap is essential to eliminate digital inequality that deepens racial and economic disparities nationwide

 

5G is at some doorsteps, but not all

The arrival of 5G is imminent. In fact, the CEO of Verizon claims that half the United States will have access to 5G in 2020, and Statista estimates that 2 billion people will be on 5G networks by 2024. These figures aren’t surprising, as the world has grown increasingly mobile-first and data-hungry in the past decade. The number of smartphone users has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years, and mobile data traffic has grown tenfold in the past five years. By all estimates, with the arrival of 5G these figures will continue to multiply. 

However, nearly 30 million Americans still lack access to broadband internet. Specifically, 44 percent of U.S. households with an annual income under $30,000 are locked out of broadband services, shutting them out of everything from job searching and essential government services to health care and education. In this otherwise ever-connected world, the focus of U.S. telecommunications industry should be empowering the millions of underserved Americans with the digital literacy they need to secure jobs and thrive in a modern, tech-forward era. 

Connecting the world through real-time broadband

The worldwide business impact of 4G is clear, bringing new technology like smartphone video conferences and mobile file sharing to our fingertips. Broadband connections enable industries like healthcare and security to help businesses and communities save hundreds of millions of dollars by optimizing processes through high-speed mobile connections. Smartphones have empowered lower-income earners to gain dependable access to the resources they need to fight poverty and debt, including online job boards and bill payments. Mobile gaming, which both relies on and drives the future of wireless technology, is a booming $70 billion market. 

Nevertheless, 5G has the potential to blow 4G out of the water, offering real-time data transmission with speeds up to 10 to 20 gigabytes per second. To put that in perspective, upgrading to 5G makes it possible to download a three-hour movie to a smartphone in a matter of seconds. It also empowers consumers to play mobile games and esports on the go in flawless real-time speed. With 5G, hospitals will be able to perform live surgeries on patients thousands of miles away by controlling remote, robotic limbs. Skeptical about that one? It’s already happened. 

“We strongly believe 5G is a game-changing technology when fully implemented that will help us support better hospital operations as well as provide the highest quality patient and staff experience,” said Dr. Shafiq Rab, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Rush University Medical Center, one of the few hospitals in the United States to already have 5G. “The technology will help enhance access to care, even from long distances, while also helping to decrease costs and improve efficiency.”

From holographic conference calls to smart cities with inter-communicating traffic lights, 5G is set to improve not only how we communicate, but how we live. Everything from your daily commute to your healthcare will face changes once 5G fully integrates into society. 

Connectivity presents opportunity, but lack of connectivity prevents it

Despite impressive leaps in wireless capability, broadband connectivity has struggled to help those who need it most. Previous Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and his successor Ajit Pai have both pressed for improved wireless coverage in rural and underserved areas. Poor connections negatively impact critical functions like business operations, education, job creation, and emergency services. Internet access is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity. Even the United Nations concluded in 2016 that internet access is a human right. 

“In today’s digital economy, access to broadband is essential,” said U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman Roger Wicker. “To close the digital divide, we need to have accurate broadband maps that tell us where broadband is available and where it is not available at certain speeds.”

Digital literacy and broadband are essential to functioning and excelling in today’s world. Organizations like the World Economic Forum have consequently formed initiatives like the DQ Institute and the Coalition for Digital Intelligence, which promote the importance of not only IQ and EQ, but digital intelligence as well. Technological and digital skills also correlate with higher salaries and better career opportunities, driving an even more alarming digital divide for low-income communities that continues to grow. 

Americans lacking broadband are further isolated from digital entertainment industries like gaming and esports, which require connectivity to access. With gaming projected to become a $300 billion market by 2025, millions of Americans lacking internet will miss the opportunity to participate in one of the world’s fastest-growing arenas. Mobile games, responsible for half the gaming market’s total revenue and accounting for over 70% of Apple’s App Store revenue, are also largely inaccessible without broadband. 

Accessibility is vital for opportunity and equality

Inequality is a pressing issue for not only Americans, but the world. While technology enhances global productivity, growth, and innovation, those without access are being left behind. The longer the problem remains unchecked, the wider the gap grows between those fortunate enough to have access to digital intelligence and those without. A wider gap results in a less educated, less digitally capable society – critical faults in a modern, tech-oriented world. 

In many ways, broadband has become just as much of a cornerstone for society as schools, emergency services, and courtrooms – it’s what keeps people and institutions running and connected. The discussion surrounding the next evolution of broadband can’t just be about speed. It has to address the need to bring generations around the world back into modernity before the divide grows too wide to fix. 

Digital intelligence is the world’s best opportunity to bridge the inequality divide. Without properly considering accessibility in the next era of broadband, there’s a real risk of making the world a less equal place rather than a better connected one. 

Latinx Leaders in Gaming: Educators & Community Managers

By Hannah Press on October 5, 2019 in Articles

Video games have the unique power to unite people of all backgrounds in an immersive experience that can be enjoyed universally. With the rise of esports in all levels of education, from the PlayVS high school league to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), players have growing opportunities to hone their skills and develop lasting bonds in an interactive and social community. Organized esports accompany better grades and rekindled aspirations, helping students develop valuable leadership and communication skills

Outside the classroom, gaming communities can further cultivate an environment of teamwork, positive communication, and constant learning for its members. This week’s featured Latinx leaders inspire and build inclusivity in gaming through their work with educational institutions, online gaming communities, and special interest groups.

Gracie Arenas Strittmatter, BioWare Technical Art Director

Gracie Arenas Strittmatter started playing video games in 1992 when her parents brought home a Super Nintendo. She enjoyed playing Super Mario World with her brother growing up, but she never imagined video games would become the driving force for her career. Today, Strittmatter is the Technical Art Director at BioWare, a division of Electronic Arts (EA) that creates role-playing and story-based sci-fi games. Strittmatter considers herself a professional problem solver. With her art and programming background, she helps design tools and troubleshoot issues with the artist’s best interests at heart. 

An accomplished professional with over 10 years of game development experience, Strittmatter  strives to support future developers at the College of Architecture’s visualization program at Texas A&M, where she and her husband, Willem, created an endowed scholarship for aspiring professionals in the growing gaming industry.

Bolstering her support for game development students, she led a workshop on navigating tech careers from junior to senior level at the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s LOFT Coder Summit in 2017. 

“Those of us who are already in tech need to be committed to setting an example that people can look up to,” Strittmatter reflected on the experience. “We can cultivate a network that will [ensure] greater success of Hispanics and Latinos in tech in the future, for generations to come.”

Sylvia Cristina Amaya, Event Manager & International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Board Member

Sylvia Cristina Amaya, an up-and-coming leader in the gaming industry, has worked at companies including Riot Games, Twitch, Discord, and Unity Technologies. Previously, she was the community manager for League of Legends and Pokemon Go. Amaya has built communities like these from the ground up, consistently interfacing with people from all walks of life.

As a gamer growing up, she sought out Latinx women on stage at conferences, panels and speaking on behalf of gaming. As a recent addition to the IGDA board, Amaya is advancing her dreams of expanding game makers’ reach in developing nations. She is also a co-founder of the IGDA Latinx in Games special interest group dedicated to increasing Latinx representation across the industry. Amaya aims to be an inspiration for more people of color and women in gaming to foster more diversity in the industry.

Latinx Leaders in Gaming: Game Makers & Content Creators

By Hannah Press on September 30, 2019 in Articles

A key element in driving representation of all people from all walks of life in gaming is giving diverse cultures visibility on-screen. Latinx features and characters are prominent in popular games including “Red Dead Redemption,” “Tekken,” and “Overwatch.” However, the majority of games lack representation from Latinx communities. 

Video game developers and writers from diverse backgrounds can enhance the industry by creating content that resonates with players spanning a variety of demographics. Today, we’re featuring two Latinx leaders in gaming, who have created content that represents their cultures through in-depth character development, complex storylines, and accurate landscape depictions.

Augusto Quijano, Drinkbox Studios Concept Lead

Augusto “Cuxo” Quijano is the Concept Lead of DrinkBox Studios, an independent game studio based in Toronto. Quijano was born in Mexico and moved to Toronto to study animation at Seneca College. He has been instrumental in creating Mexican-themed multiplayer Metroidvania action games, including “Guacamelee!” and “Guacamelee! 2.” In these exciting games, players control the luchador, Juan, exploring a hand-crafted world inspired by Mexican culture and folklore, while collecting character upgrades and overcoming adversaries in melee-style combat. 

In conceptualizing his game design, Quijano wanted to illustrate his ancestry. The luchador seemed like the perfect character, as it embodies the vibrancy and strength of Mexico. He encourages game studios and industry leaders to flex their creativity, amplify their voices, and promote diversity in gaming by highlighting Latinx culture.

“When [all] else fails, we can always rely on empathy,” Quijano said. “If you truly see yourself in the skin of your character, if you really understand them, if you get how they see the world, then others will too.”

Edgar Serrano, Lienzo Co-Founder & Director

Edgar Serrano didn’t expect to be at the forefront of his country’s gaming industry before the age of 30. Now, he’s the co-founder and director of Lienzo, the first Mexican studio to publish a game on all three major consoles. Serrano and lead programmer Adolfo Rico kickstarted their careers through game development for museums and contracts for advergaming brands. They founded Lienzo in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the pair began developing the world that would become “Mulaka.” 

In “Mulaka,” a 3D action-adventure game based on the indigenous culture of the Tarahumara, players explore landscapes of northern Mexico, while challenging giant scorpions and solving simple puzzles. Serrano was determined to stay true to his Chihuahua, Mexico roots, but experienced challenges with fundraising for game development. 

“If something is Mexican-made, you automatically think it’s low-quality,” he explained on a PAX East panel. “So, all the creators in Mexico, based on that belief, they journey away from our roots and our surroundings. And that’s why you don’t see games from Mexico that look Mexican.” 

Today, “Mulaka” is available on the Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Creating a culture preserved through oral history, Lienzo took great care in collaborating with Tarahumara elders to bring the world to life. Serrano is committed to leading Lienzo to make more video games that showcase the rich culture of Mexico, foster diversity in the industry, and empower other developers to bring their visions to life.