Press start: how one industry member encourages aspiring Asian game developers

Story by ALEXIS PERNO

It’s no secret that people often skip past video game credits. But for Karan Ganesh, within those names lie important reminders about representation in the world of game development.

“If you see some Indian name out there, I’m like, ‘Yeah, wow, that’s so cool that that person got to work on that, I wish I got to be there,” Ganesh said in a Zoom interview. “Just seeing a name on the credit is something really huge.”

And in an industry where nearly half of surveyed Asian-American gamers feel as if characters aren’t equally represented when it comes to race, those reminders can be critical — especially for Asians breaking into American gaming. 

“There were not many people who I could look up to and say, ‘Hey, I would like to become like this person someday,’” Ganesh said. “There was no person from my background I’d say who I could relate to.” 

Despite the global market of video games, there’s little discussion of Asian representation, and even less research to be found on Asian and Asian American game developers. In India, Ganesh wasn’t aware of the people and processes that went into creating video games. But he did know he enjoyed playing them. 

At UC Davis, Ganesh continued to explore the game development world. When he finally reached the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) program, everything “took off.” 

“The people [in Salt Lake City] were so great,” Ganesh said. “I got to learn a lot from there.” 

Utah’s EAE program came to life in 2007. Since then, both the undergraduate and graduate programs have risen to be ranked second in the world for public universities

Before earning a master’s degree at the U, Ganesh focused mainly on the building aspects of game development, such as computer science. He was encouraged during the EAE program to step into a management role as a producer — a role he hadn’t known existed, but one Ganesh says he’s glad he found. 

Game producers are tasked with overseeing various development teams, making sure that deadlines are met and roadblocks are thwarted. 

“I behave as a glue to the team,” Ganesh said. “As a person who really likes to talk and engage a lot with other people in communication, I find this to be a great role.”

Ganesh credits his diverse education — which includes studying in Chennai, India; England; California and Utah — with his success in production.

“It was one that helped me communicate better with diverse people and also understand the different cultural backgrounds,” he said.

The pandemic put those communication skills to the test during Ganesh’s final year within the EAE program. His cohort had to create a game without meeting in person. 

“It was a really difficult time,” Ganesh said. “The first time we actually got to meet everybody was after we published and launched the game, during our celebration party.” 

Ganesh worked as the producer for Abyss of Neptune, the team’s first-person underwater survival horror game. The hard work didn’t go unrewarded, though, as the project won the Utah Game Developer Choice Award for Artistic Achievement. 

“Today I can finally say, ‘Worked on an award winning title,’” Ganesh said in a tweet

Now, as an associate producer for 2K Games and a former member of Big Fish Games, Ganesh can also finally say it’s his name serving as a reminder to other Asians looking to join the industry.

“That is where I feel that representation really matters,” he said. “It’s a great thing that they feel they can pursue as well. But also it’s an encouragement for you to make sure that you can help them and support them in any way possible.”

In the case of 2K Games, employee resource groups were created to uphold the company’s “come as you are” values regarding diversity. According to Benji Han, director of global marketing strategy for NBA 2K, the Asian American group was born out of the rise of anti-Asian sentiment. Now, the group has transformed into what Han describes as a celebratory and empowering community. 

“We wanted to also elevate the conversation about unconscious biases that Asian Americans face in the workforce that lead directly and indirectly to glass ceilings — ‘bamboo ceilings,’ in the case of Asian Americans,” Han said in a statement published on 2K’s website

Alongside Akshay Bharadhwaj, Karan Ganesh hosts the Humans of gamedev podcast. The podcast was created in January 2022 and is still in production, with no episodes released yet. Photo from @humansofgamedev on Twitter.

Personally, Ganesh’s support of aspiring developers takes the form of the Humans of gamedev podcast, which he co-hosts and creates content for on LinkedIn. While still in production, the podcast and LinkedIn posts spread the origin stories of game developers to encourage others to explore. 

“People say it’s a closely knit industry, but if you’re able to connect with the right people, you could really get an opportunity that knocks the door for you,” Ganesh said. 

Ganesh advises aspiring developers not to be afraid to experiment and reach out to professionals, but make sure they understand the commitment video games require. 

“I think the first and foremost thing is having the mindset that you really want to build something,” he said. “It’s something that people find cool, but once you get into it, it’s a lot harder than people expect it to be.”

And for some in India, entering the vast world of video game development is even harder.

“There are still some traditional families who see it as not a career that you can pursue, and so I want to be able to break that barrier for them,” he said.

Ganesh says he was lucky to have his parent’s support when exploring game development, but his work isn’t done. 

“If you’re passionate about something, you should really be able to pursue it,” he said. “That’s something that I really want to try and help people out with.”

A love for video games has grown beyond what he expected. Ganesh’s name now has the chance to inspire others. 

Karan Ganesh worked both as a producer and PR and community manager for Abyss of Neptune, a free, first-person underwater horror survival game.
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