Leroy Jones was no stranger to prejudice when he began seeking work in the video game industry, but he says the racism he experienced when applying to work at game studios was “on another level.”
So, he decided to start a game development company of his own: 3D Dojo Studios.
The small, Asheville, North Carolina-based company was founded in 2020, with Jones recruiting from pools of game enthusiasts in his network and through online forums.
From there, he started hosting workshops and art challenges to attract diverse creators who could be a part of the studio’s debut title.
Soon enough, he was at the helm of a free online community on Discord — the 3D Dojo — composed of over 500 game developers and enthusiasts across the world, connecting to build their careers.
“I wanted to show there’s a better way to build games while creating opportunity for all of the people being unfairly overlooked,” Jones told Good Good Good in an email.
And now, 3D Dojo Studios has announced its very first original title: “DA PAPER BOY.” The game is one of less than 5% of video games even worked on by a Black developer, let alone developed by a Black-owned studio.
“DA PAPER BOY,” which will be released for purchase on Steam on October 20, follows three teen pranksters through a richly detailed paper delivery route.
The visuals, character development, and narrative of the game center the experiences and culture of Black and Brown youth. Along with the meaningful development, the game is simply a fun outlet, as characters are tasked with dodging obstacles and engaging in stunts in a manner similar to “Crazy Taxi” gameplay.
Members of the studio’s online community designed and developed the game with zero budget.
“The team involved in the development of the game are exclusively members of the 3D Dojo online community,” Jones said. “There are a total of 10 members that make up the team, which is 50% people of color, 20% female, and 30% disabled. All team members have donated their time to create this game pro bono.”
This collective approach aims to help diverse game developers build the skills they need to succeed in a major industry.
3D Dojo Studios also offers a mentoring program and virtual summer camp that offers classes in 3D and character art that is applicable to games, film, CAD, architecture, construction, interior design, and more. Participants work to build a portfolio and receive live critique to improve their skills every week.
“We created a space for them to learn with peers while expanding their worldview to explore opportunities that align with interests they and their parents may have never considered before,” Jones said.
And there is no better time than now to get in on the action of the gaming industry, which is valued at over $380 billion. According to Statista, the industry is expected to reach 3.1 billion users worldwide by 2027.
That said, surveys from the International Game Developers Association suggest that discriminatory practices have left Black game developers out of the sector, despite nearly half of all Black consumers in America identifying as “gamers.”
Similar trends persist for Latino and disabled developers, too.
“Talent is needed,” Jones said. “Across one of the most influential industries in the world, misrepresentation of minority stories persists.”
It’s not just mentoring that matters.
Jones says the main steps that need to be taken by the industry to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for Black and Brown creators includes commiting to pay transparency, investing in recruitment efforts of diverse creatives on all levels, and investing in resources to evaluate promotion practices across the industry.
Young developers also need the physical resources to build their portfolios.
“In addition to being a ‘who you know’ industry, it’s a ‘what technical resources you have’ industry,” Jones said. “Diverse up-and-coming creatives need to be supported with investment in physical hardware strong enough to build games.”
This is one of his own goals for the next year: using the revenue gained through “DA PAPER BOY” to fund the launch of a gaming lounge for members to access hardware for both building and playing games.
Jones hopes that as 3D Dojo Studios grows, so too will the amount of diverse programmers in the space.
“There are no reports that currently measure the diversity in ownership within the industry, but it’s easy to see that a studio both 100% Black-owned and determined to break barriers for diverse talent in the industry is not just rare, but sorely needed,” Jones said.
“Unlike our closest peers, we have built in diversity-centered outreach into our business model, so that as we scale our staff continues to reflect the makeup of the tens of millions of people who play games everyday.”