How Crowdfunding Helped Overcome Racial Stereotypes For Gaming Developers

Written by Williesha Morris

Creating a game featuring brown-skinned characters turned out to be an obstacle for Whitney and Tyrell White. Crowdfunding helped them overcome some racial stereotypes.

With five kids, Whitney and Tyrell sometimes had to forgo sleep to build their gaming company, White Guardian Studios. The Trenton, NJ developer duo are learning to juggle family and work life.

“You’re coding and you have babies sitting on your lap,” Whitney said. “You need to have your hands free. The kids are occupied reading or watching something. It used to be hard. It’s easier now.”

They’ve been in the gaming industry about a decade. Their game, “Celestial Tear: Demon’s Revenge” will be demoed at the Game Devs of Color Expo in New York City on June 24.

Whitney, 28, used her lifelong love of writing to flesh out characters based on her and her family. Tyrell, 30, wore the marketing hat to crowdfund their game on Kickstarter.

“When we found out about Kickstarter, for me, a light went off,” Tyrell said. “I thought we could make this happen on a larger scale. At that point, I just jumped in. We found the information. We looked up the projects. We figured we could do this.”

Tyrell White, developer at White GuardianStudios



Of course, crowdfunding isn’t simple. With mastermind Tyrell at the wheel, they created videos, art and made changes with public input.

They reached out to bloggers and vloggers, kept making contacts and knocking on doors. They didn’t give up, even after failing.

“We failed three times before we succeeded,” Whitney said. “It felt like a big accomplishment when we actually made it.”

Tyrell knew that there was an interest in a role-playing game like theirs, so they took those failures as a learning experience.

“Although we didn’t get the initial funding, a lot of people were still encouraging us who were from the campaign,” he said. “From there, each step that we made, we learned a little bit more.”

The quality of the product and their perseverance helped them succeed.

“We do not give up. We are very persistent,” Whitney said. “We just had to get it in front of as many people’s eyes as possible.”

Creating a product that is purposefully diverse and prominently features brown-skinned characters turned out to be an obstacle. One publisher rejected the game because they wanted white characters to be the focus. Whitney and Tyrell found it difficult convincing others in the industry to give this game a shot.

Thankfully, they found their place at PAX, the largest gaming event show in North America. They were among a handful of developers of color. A connection from Rockstar Games, a video game publisher best known for the Grand Theft Auto series, brought people to their table, Tyrell said.

“We had so many people come up to us and ask us questions about the game,” Whitney said. Attendees of color could appreciate the racial issues presented.

“We don’t try and push it that way because we want it to be fun for everyone,” she added. “When you’re explaining it to people of other races, you try to make sure they understand, but at the same time, don’t try and push an agenda.

A game without a story would only “feature squares and circles,” Tyrell said. Most games that involve storytelling get into politics. Individual perspectives on what is right and wrong are vital to the story in a game.

Given the couple’s proximity to New York City, they had an opportunity to make a lot of connections. For those without funding, Whitney suggests online research using sites such as Extra Credits, Gamasutra and Codecademy and finding forums to meet like-minded people. Tyrell emphasizes marketing strategies and product testing.

Formal education is no longer a gateway to game dev success, Whitney said. She and Tyrell, who has a culinary arts background, didn’t have any marketing training. Tyrell said he felt other companies at PAX were “a million steps” ahead of them, but they pushed on.

“You don’t really need to go anywhere physically. There are plenty of resources,” Whitney said. “I can’t stress that enough. If you want to get into (gaming development), all you have to do is have the will. Learn by doing, not just reading.”