February 21, 2020
Brothers Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah of Decoy Games know they're the exception rather than the rule. Even as indie developers have taken the video game industry by storm, there is still a lack of diversity among the new faces making their name in game development.
Right now, just 1 percent of professionals in the gaming industry are Black, African American, or African, according to the International Game Developers Association.
As the creators behind Swimsanity! — due out this month on PC and all three major consoles — the Abdullahs are stepping up to help other game developers of color get their footing in the industry.
"I think we need to do a few things. One we need to spotlight the people who are currently doing great stuff there," Ahmed told Cheddar. "Then we need to connect back to people who are inspired by them and give them a better avenue in order to get into game development."
In celebration of Black History Month, the pair is hosting an event in New York City on February 21 to celebrate "Black excellence in gaming." The event will feature a lineup of video game luminaries who will talk about how to build community in the industry and highlight diverse voices.
"Gaming is our culture. Black culture is also being put into a lot of games too. So it's a really easy segue way," Ahmed said. "Historically people of color have been able to break through and really revolutionize like the music industry, and we're seeing that now with the movie industry. I think gaming is that next one."
For their part, the Abdullah brothers offer a perfect case study in how to overcome the industry's often overwhelming barriers to entry.
They started development on their first game back in 2008 with the help of their best friend and visual artist Chris Venne. Back then it was a simple flash game that Ahmed developed in college, but the basic idea was the same: a side-scrolling, multiplayer shooter that took place underwater.
During the 10-year development process, they quit their jobs and committed full-time to building an independent video game company, a decision they said felt completely natural.
"We're self-taught developers," Khalil said. "We went to college and got computer science degrees, but we really just wanted to get into gaming. It was something we did our entire lives. We felt like if we can just develop games on consoles that would be really cool."
At one point, in 2016, they essentially had to rebuild the game from scratch after switching to a different engine that would allow the game to play on PC. For the next two years, the company stayed mostly quiet, as they knuckled down to complete the final product.
Swimsanity! is just the beginning for Decoy Games, but the developers are keeping what's next on ice until their debut makes its mark.
"We have about three games in prototype right now. We're really excited about them. We can't say a lot about them today, but we can tell you that we plan to be around for a while," Khalil said.