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"The needle is moving. I don't know if it's moving forward" | Black Voices Progress Report

This interview is part of’s Black Voices Progress Report, offering insight into the different experiences Black professionals have in the games sector. You can read more about the project and check out the other entries on this page.

Throughout this month, our Black Voices Progress Report interviews have aimed to both shine the spotlight on Black professionals in the games industry and their accomplishments, as well as exploring whether the needle is moving in terms of the industry diversifying and becoming more supportive for them.

On the latter point, marketing expert Akua Harris is very clear.

“I believe the needle is moving, I don’t know if it’s moving forward,” she tells “I think it did, but with all the layoffs for the past year, those tend to affect Black and Brown people more than everyone else, and I think that’s what’s happening too.

“During lockdown and COVID, the needle started to move in a progressive direction but I think now it feels like it’s going backwards. It feels like two steps forward and three steps back, like we’re just going back and forth for now. But I do think the pendulum will swing back to people being able to rediversify the industry, and I think that’s going to come from a lot of the people who decided they’re going to create something for themselves, or the amount of people who are freelancing.

“A lot of us are freelancing or starting our own small businesses, the game dev who are starting new studios instead of going somewhere else – people creating more things of their own is going to shift the landscape in general and make it more of an even playing field. If there’s less competition for being at the big AAA brands vs building something communal for ourselves – that’s what excites me for the next few years, seeing what people create coming out of this.”

Harris’ career began in advertising, having worked at a range of agencies such as R/GA, Wieden + Kennedy, and Essence Media. A self-described lifelong geek and gamer, she was delighted her career gave her the chance to work with multiple gaming brands, as well as non-gaming brands that wanted to target the gaming community. The more she was able to do, the more she pushed herself in that direction.

“Because I was considered the gaming expert of the agency, I was usually on any of those pitches,” she explained.

“I actually started off in fashion, and I was like, ‘This is terrible, I don’t want to be in this industry any more.’ I’d been trying to insert my passions [into my job] since I left fashion. Once I was working on Syfy at Essence and starting to get a feel of working on [geekdom and] that side of the industry, I wanted to just keep going further essentially.”

Her past projects include the marketing campaign for PUBG Mobile: Season Eight, various projects with Electronic Arts, and a Verizon promotion that saw the telecomms firm recreating the Super Bowl stadium within Epic’s Battle Royal game. She even spent months working on a pitch for PlayStation – her agency didn’t win, but it a “great learning moment,” she says.

“Just being on those kinds of projects and being able to insert my gaming knowledge to the people that I was working with, that was the interesting thing for me,” she explains. “The projects we were on and the teams we had, both internally and on the client side, a lot of them didn’t know gaming very well or were new to it. It was always like a learning curve that I was giving people.

“That’s the place I wanted to be in, and I always tried to consciously continue down that path.”

While at R/GA, Harris and her friend Karon Cannon even started a gaming newsletter to educate their peers on the biggest news from the industry and other things that were happening in this sector that would affect how to market to an audience of gamers. Cannon (now at Hi5 Agency) left R/GA in 2020, Harris in 2021, but the pair reunited last year to form Ready Player Two, a new marketing consultancy that draws on their skills.

Harris is also marketing manager for online community Black Girl Gamers, which has put her on the opposite side of the table – reaching out to work with other brands and indie studios to spread the word of what this organisation is trying to accomplish.

One area Black Girl Gamers is particularly active in is helping to inspire and educate its community about careers in the games industry. A recent survey told the group that as many as 70% of its followers were interested in working in games in some way, so the team has been hosting workshops, planning a short course on games development, and arranging days of panels that explore other areas of the industry, including voice acting, music, narrative design, content creation and more.

“A lot of the education around getting into gaming [as a career] is usually focused on game dev and esports,” Harris observes. “But there are so many other avenues that you can touch gaming from.

“Equity comes from us being in every room, and not just from one side of it, one angle for this space. We want inspire people to think about all the ways you can get into gaming and then share how you do that.”

Black Girl Gamers’ educational initiatives brings up an interesting question: do established professionals from underrepresented groups have a responsibility to help fans from a similar background find their own path into the industry?

“I wouldn’t call it a responsibility… It is in some ways, but it’s not your job to,” Harris offers. “It’s something we should all be keeping in our minds: how do you reach back and pull the next person up?

“It also works with people who have already navigated this space, who have created studios or climbed up the ladder on a particular side. It’s about listening to them and what they did to get there. How did they navigate the red tape in different rooms to get to where they are? It’s all about soft skills, and the conversations and spaces you aren’t taught how to navigate or how to be in. How to advocate for yourself, or negotiate salaries, or saying ‘No, I do deserve that promotion’ and learning how to fight for that. People that have done that work already… I would love for them to reach back and show how other people who look like them or have the same experience can do that and be able to learn from that. Even if they don’t do exactly what you did, just hearing that perspective is helpful for people, just to know that it has been done and to give that visibility.”

Harris notes this is especially important in games, as – aside from a few directors and creative leaders being put in front of press – you don’t often see the faces of the people behind each title.

When asked about the realities of being a Black games professional in 2024, Harris acknowledges that her experience is “slightly skewed” by her work with Black Girl Gamers, as the initiatives it runs and the brands it works with are specifically looking at diversifying the industry. But when it comes back to her work as an advertiser, this was “a little more open for microaggressions and other experiences that you would [expect] in any professional space working as a Black person.”

“That’s one of the things I appreciate about working with Black Girl Gamers and the way we’ve very purposefully crafted our team,” she says. “When we have a new position open, we look within the community first and if there’s no one there, we can ask the community for help in referring someone else.

“All of our management team are other Black women within the community, so we all have this understanding of what we’re here for and what we’re working towards as a community, but also the dynamic of the way we work together is very different than what I’ve experience in any other space as being the only Black person in the room, or one of two Black people in the room.”

It’s addressing the number of people in the room that Harris asserts is key to moving that needle. When asked what the industry could do to support more Black professionals, her answer is simple: making the criteria for career progression clearer.

“I would like more transparency across the board for what you need to be promoted, to be hired. That’s always smoke and mirrors for a lot of places, and it makes it feel like you’re talking to a wall. You’ve done all these things but you still don’t get that promotion? Having that transparency would help, and a lot of the reason people leave their roles or find something different is because they don’t feel that support or don’t understand what’s going on in the business and where they fit in. It just makes it feel like there’s no reason to be there if you’re not going to be learning from it, progressing, and getting better at your craft from it.”

She points to her time at Wieden + Kennedy, where she was co-founder of a Black employee resource group. Harris says she and her colleagues were largely given free rein to run the group as they needed to, and that alone can be a big help.

“Having ownership of this really went a long way to helping the people who were in it to feel like it was for them,” she explains. “Giving us that space to be able to develop and create what we want to, and what we know is going to resonate with other people who look like us… I’ve seen so many times where an idea won’t get chosen or a game might not get made, because we understand it or feel like it’s culturally relevant to us but everyone else in the room doesn’t get it. They might think this is not a marketable game – that’s another reason to just have us in every room and every department. It’s really important.”

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