Since the industry’s fledgling beginnings in North American and British markets with the analog computers, the “Brown Box” and the Atari, gaming has rapidly expanded into a global phenomena, with developers and studios across numerous countries and covering over 26 languages. This has been further accelerated by the growth of mobile and cloud infrastructures in regions where accessibility has played a major role in how far the gaming community has come.
This also holds true in the fast growing Latin American (LATAM) region, with Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and even Puerto Rico already becoming major markets across mobile, esports, AAA, and indie game development. Gaming revenue is already projected to reach $3.6 billion (USD)1, seeing a growth of over 1.5x the revenue from 2018.
Mexico itself saw major growth in numbers in regards to spending, fast becoming one of the world’s hottest app markets.2
This is not surprising, as for many in the Latinx community will also tell you, video games remains one of the best forms of entertainment. (Even if our parents express otherwise, chanclas in hand. #iykyk)
Although there is mass potential, gamers and developers within the Latin American community still face challenges, from lack of powerful game devices — and economic barriers — to lack of proper game representation.
The Rise of Gaming-Focused Latinx Organizations Like Latinx in Gaming
Today, organizations like California-based Latinx in Gaming are stepping in to help as they look into new ways to bridge the gaps that exist within the Latinx community.
Latinx in Gaming is a nonprofit organization in the video games industry on a mission to connect Latines across the gaming industry, promoting cultural appreciation and representation in games and content while also providing a platform for Latinx community members to elevate each other and themselves.
We had the chance to sit down and chat with Strategic Director and Co-founder Joe Tirado to learn more about Latinx in Gaming’s growing initiatives, challenges they’ve faced, and future journey as they continue to support the fast-growing Latin American community.
Transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Jai V: All right, so we’ll just do quick introductions. My name’s Jesenia. I go by Jai or Jess and I’m an Associate Writer here at Boss Rush Network. We’re super, super excited to talk to you guys about Latinx in Gaming, learn a little bit more about the initiatives you have in place and how it sort of all came about.
Joe Tirado: I’m Joe. I am one of the co-founders of Latinx in Gaming (LXIG). I’m technically the Strategic Director, but I do a bunch of stuff within the organization. I do graphic design, interviews, and also handle all the PR.
In my day job, I work for System Era Softworks as the Marketing and Communications Director. We make the game Astroneer.
It sounds like a small team.
Yeah. So the LXIG team has five founders. Including myself, there’s Cristina Amaya (President), Juan Vaca (Vice President), and Elaine Gómez-Sanchez (Developer Relations).
And then we have Fernando Reyes Medina (LATAM Director). It’s a good little group and everyone has their cool stuff that they do. Now that we’re an actual nonprofit, we also pay some contractors to work with us.
The whole point of that is to give them experience to do jobs that maybe they want to do later on. It’s been nice to actually have budgets because when we first started, it was definitely us just volunteering the entire time.
HOW LATINX IN GAMING BEGAN
So what inspired you all to put Latinx in Gaming together?
Joe: So it actually started while we were all members of the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) group. They have a special interest group called Latinx Gaming and it’s basically a group for Latinos under this larger organization that works to support people in the gaming industry. And it really did.
However for us, it felt like there wasn’t really any space where people were actually paying specific attention to Latinos.
Now I love IGDA. I am still a mentor for the association and really like them. But the reality is that they are trying to service so many different groups of people.
We felt it didn’t truly cater to what we needed. At least in our Latinx space. And so we were like, let’s just start our own little group.
So we made a Facebook page. Made a Discord. And did all the setup for the group.
The beautiful thing about IGDA is that they supported us throughout the process and even gave us space at GDC to host our own round table. Now we do one every year.
When we ran our first round table, there were a ton of people there. It was filled and the room was packed. We weren’t expecting it. In our minds we were like, “Oh, no one knows who we are. We’re kind of new to the industry. Let’s see what happens.” And then a lot of people showed up asking a lot of hard questions.
I remember us realizing what was happening and thinking “Okay, we should probably be prepared to answer some of those questions. Maybe we should make this a little more official.”
It was at that point that we decided to make Latinx in Gaming an actual organization.
CREATING SPACES TO BE AUTHENTICALLY LATINX
Do you see it being very, very important to have that dedicated space, especially for the Latino community?
Joe: It is. Even personally, I sometimes deal with this feeling that if I don’t have a space where I can relate to other people, what I end up doing is just trying to fit in with everyone else.
I start to get rid of my own culture and my own things that are important to me because I’m like, “Oh no, there’s only white people here. I guess I just need to put that face on.” And that’s a bummer.
It’s one of the big things that we do when creating our LXIG platforms, with all these social networks and places where people can connect with each other. We really want to make sure people feel comfortable and feel that they can just be exactly who they are in this space. They don’t need to change themselves to fit in.
That if teams are not supporting that, that’s their problem. That’s not a you problem.
Do you notice that being a roadblock for individuals within the community? Amongst other things.
Yeah. It’s also about people’s perception of what Latinos can offer. It’s a point I always try to make with people.
I’ve shared that at various times in my life, I have looked at my own Latino background and been like, “Oh, this is a hindrance.” And then I have had people look at me and say, “Oh, you’re different” or “Whatever.”
I recognize I may have less of a hindrance problem than others. And I’ve been in lots of spaces that are primarily white.
After all, I don’t deal with what Afro-Latinos deal with. I don’t deal with the same challenges as someone with English as their second language. I don’t have those kinds of problems.
But even then, I still feel weird in certain situations.
So we do want to put people in a position where they not only feel they can be themselves, but that they know they do have something to offer. That being a Latino is actually very valuable and that they can use that to market themselves.
They can say, “Hey, I have a different perspective than everyone else on your team. I have cultural references that you’ll never even understand, and I can help bring that spirit.”
We are trying to change people’s mentality. Being Latino is not a bad thing. This is a great thing for you. You should be putting that out there and feel that’s actually benefiting you. Especially when it comes to being hired.
We want to put people in a position where they not only feel they can be themselves, but that they know they do have something to offer. That being a Latino is actually very valuable.” – Joe Tirado, Latinx in GamingTweet
LATINX BARRIERS WITHIN THE GAMES INDUSTRY
Breaking into this industry can be very, very difficult. I imagine that’s especially true for us as Latinos. What are some of the other challenges you’ve faced or seen?
Joe: You know. It’s very interesting. One of the tough issues that we have found ourselves dealing with internally is that there’s actually many different issues.
When it comes to the Latino community, we’re actually covering 20-something countries. On top of that, we’re covering a ton of different sub-cultures within those countries. I’m from Colombia, and can tell you there are many different types of Colombians. laugh
From there, you even have indigenous people who have their own culture and their own languages and stuff.
So I think there’s a lot of really big challenges.
One of the really big ones is us getting people from LATAM countries into jobs at bigger companies that are based in America. So immigration type stuff or visa stuff.
That’s a big one we’re trying to help with. But as a smaller organization, it’s hard to spin up a whole program to help people and straight up just face the government while also trying to figure that stuff out.
And so a lot of the time it’s dealing with challenges in access to resources and knowledge.
We launched a program last year called La Escuelita (“The Little School”) which is basically us translating English-only resources into Spanish.
If you’re studying to be a game designer, it’s highly likely you might find a textbook that’s not in Spanish. It’s literally only in the English language. Which is kind of lame.
And so the whole program is basically about translating and making content for Spanish speakers, so that they can also level up their skills if they’re interested. If you’re in Mexico and you’re trying to break into the game industry. Cool! That’s awesome.
We want to share as much of that as we can. You should be able to read resources that are important and helpful for you too.
But then there’s also the other stuff outside of just basic learning. There’s the visa stuff I mentioned, or there’s preparing people for interviews so that way they understand what it is to take an interview at a big company once we put them in front of them.
So a lot of the resources we provide right now are leveling up people’s understanding of what the industry is, so that way they’re prepared to take it on.
Otherwise it’s tough.
You get thrown in and there’s all these people who have been taking five interviews at all these big companies or whatever. Then you come in and it’s your first interview at a big company and you’re from Mexico, and you’ve never done that before.
Maybe you’ve only worked in other kinds of industries before, and the interviewer is expecting you to be every other person that they’ve interviewed 50 times that has a lot of experience.
So we try to give people the resources they need to be in a better position when they actually get that opportunity.
BUILDING RESOURCES AND GRANTS TO SUPPORT GROWTH
I noticed that you have Discord channels where you’re sharing your online resources. I believe you have networking as well, is that right?
Joe: We have networking programs and we’ve also been doing grants for the last two years. That’s another big challenge people face honestly.
I’ve talked to teams in Argentina and they straight up will make an entire game on a budget that is the one salary of one person on a big team. So funds and resources for actually creating games has been kind of a problem for people in the Latinx community.
So that’s another big part of our programming. Now that we’re officially a nonprofit, we’ve been getting funds and donations. We’ve started to have big companies give us money. Now we’re thinking, “Wait, we could use this.”
There are things that we are using the funding for that have been good for LXIG as an org, but we’d rather pass along those funds to the people in the community who could use it to make stuff.
For example, last year we did a thing with NZXT, who makes PCs. We purchased or they donated PCs, and then we basically gave those systems out as grants for people who were working on game development, because they needed a better machine to run their build or run a reel.
The grants that we do can be used all across the board. We had someone say, “Hey, I’m a streamer. I’ve been working on this and I want to make this a full-time thing, and I could really use some equipment to level up my streaming setup.”
And we’re like, okay, cool. We looked, and they streamed very often. They actually had a pretty decent following, but you could tell they needed some help with the quality.
It’s one of our more new things because we actually have a budget now.
So we’ve done grants for equipment. For developers to help them actually finish their games. We’ve also done learning stuff. So you could also apply for our grants because you just want to take a class.
Joe: Yeah. It’s been fun and that’s been really cool. As I said before, there’s so many different challenges.
This is one where we let people come to us and say, “Hey, here’s my challenge. Here’s what I’m working on. I need some help because I am here on a visa and I’m having some trouble with my situation.”
Ok, cool. Let’s give you a grant and figure out a way that we can make that work for you.
So I think that’s been really awesome. It’s been one of the more rewarding programs for us. It’s doing really well.
So you’ve seen a lot of results already then of people being able to do what you guys want to do, level up and reach for the stars, so to speak.
Joe: I think so. We’ve also been doing game jams where we basically encourage people to make their own games and pay them.
It’s almost like an investor pitch type thing where we’ll say, “Hey, pitch us the game that you want to make. We can give you a budget.”
We’re not a publisher, but at least we can let them know, “You have a good pitch here. Here’s a little bit of money so that way you could actually try and make that thing work.”
So we’ve been seeing a lot of really awesome results. People come back to us later and say, “Oh my God, thank you so much for the grant. We finished our game! Here it is.”
For me, the money part is cool, but I’m also excited when someone really wants to take a class because they really want to learn something.They come to us saying “I really want to level up my own knowledge”.
Sure, maybe they’re not going to come back to me and say that turned into a hundred thousand dollars. But I love the idea that someone is using the grants in order to make themselves a better creator or a better person in the industry. So that’s awesome.
LESSONS LEARNED SINCE LAUNCHING LATINX IN GAMING
Are there any major lessons that you guys have learned both as a team or as a nonprofit from individuals who participate in the opportunities you guys are providing?
Joe: Definitely. We’ve been a nonprofit for two years now, but five as an organization.
The nonprofit thing is interesting. I’ve worked in nonprofits before, so I understand how it works. It’s kind of hard sometimes because a nonprofit itself is a business too, and it needs money to run. And you have employees that you have to pay. Sometimes it’s kind of a rough feeling where you know people have donated X amount of money, but 40% of that’s going to go to us running our organization.
But at the same time as I mentioned earlier, what we are trying to do is give people the opportunities they need.
You want to be a gaming community manager? Amazing. Let’s actually pay you to be a community manager for us. Then when you go out for your first interview, you can say, “Hey, I’ve been a community manager for Latinx in Gaming, and have been a moderator for them.” The people that we’re paying at our organization are working themselves into the industry.
And that’s how we’ve gotten around the issue. We’re not paying anyone any huge salaries or doing it just because. We’re giving people an experience that they can use later.
As far as lessons go, I think the biggest one has been related to just how different the challenges are for different individuals.
For example, I’m a person born in the United States. My family’s first generation, and my challenges are way different than someone who’s in Venezuela right now trying to make their first game or get their first gaming studio interview.
I just went to the Game Developers Conference and for one single person to go there is like $10,000. The ticket itself costs $2K, and then there’s food and hotels. To be in San Francisco for the week costs a ton of money.
Then there’s your flight.
We’re looking at just access to the industry and to being in those places.
For me, it’s like, “Oh, I can take a little flight. It’s a couple hundred dollars or whatever. I’ll just stay with my friend who lives in San Francisco.” But for someone who’s really trying to break in, there’s a different set of challenges.
Some of us are from the United States, so we’re not necessarily thinking like that. And I’ll admit that comes with a bit of privilege.
But one of our founders, Fernando, he’s from Mexico City. His story’s really cool because he came from Mexico City, got a job at Microsoft working on Halo, and now he’s one of their lead game designers.
He has the perspective of both, which is, I literally was a game developer in Mexico City, and I was trying to make it, and then I finally did.
One of the other big things that we started to realize through all this is that we can’t ourselves, five of us, serve all of these countries and all of these people.
So one of the changes we’ve made is finding ways where we can pull in other organizations that are on the ground doing things, which has been really helpful.
There’s a Games Developer Association in Puerto Rico that’s really awesome. They do really cool work. And rather than us try to do what they’re doing in their own country — Let’s partner.
Let’s work together with you. You know the challenges of your own groups. So let’s just figure out ways to support you. Whether that’s money. That’s access to resources.
We have a job fair that’s coming up in May, and so we’ll partner with them to give dedicated time during the fair where we’re only focusing on the game developers from Puerto Rico and making sure that those devs get access to some of the bigger companies out there.
Yeah. If we’re going to represent Latinos, there’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of countries — and there’s a lot of people.
So how can we make sure that we’re doing that? We make sure we’re supporting people who are doing that work in smaller areas.
THE WIDE RANGE OF DIVERSITY WITHIN LATINX IDENTITIES
Do you think a lot of other companies sometimes lose sight of that broadness and that depth when talking about Latinos, Latinx, Latines, the entire spectrum and swatch.
Joe: 100%. I just did a talk at GDC and it was focused on Latino characters in video games.
Honestly, the talk could have been really short because there’s only a dozen or so main characters that are Latinos. And most of those are caricatures. They’re the amalgamation of what white people think of as a Latino.
Now there’s some good ones and they’re getting better. Think of the Marvel superhero Miles Morales, whose whole story was really cool.
But generally, they don’t understand how deep it goes. And I think that’s one of the big things that we have to talk about.
If your character in your game is from Argentina, that’s actually a much different Latino than it would be someplace else. It’s not that those two aren’t interlinked, but they have their own unique things.
The example I use is if you’re putting empanadas in your game, empanadas from Argentina might have raisins and olives in them. And then in Colombia, the empanadas are way different.
People are going to call you out on it. People are going to see that stuff and go, wait a second, this isn’t actually accurate. You didn’t do your research. You didn’t spend the time to actually make this real.
And so I think that’s been kind of an interesting thing to try and let people know that you can’t just make a “Latino” with these very uniform characteristics that are just straight up what everyone thinks a Latino is.
There’s so many different kinds of Latinos, and there’s so many different kinds of culture that you can infuse into there to make them unique. Which many generally don’t understand.
We’re trying our best to try to push back on that. You can make that unique, you can make that fun.
You can hire people that are from those places and enable them to make your stuff more real and more representative. You’ll have a great time, and it won’t cost you that much.
I think the bigger companies are starting to realize that number one, having people on their teams that are diverse is actually a valuable asset.
And number two, what they can actually do to try and appeal to those audiences.
I pulled some numbers recently, I think 300 million people in Latino countries play video games — every day basically.
That makes sense. And it’s growing too. It’s actually one of the rising markets when it comes to the gaming community, if you look at those numbers.
If you’re not paying attention to that as a business person, you’re missing out on this huge opportunity. Think about that. Think about what ways you can appeal to those people.
Then you’re going to hire some Latinos, and then you’re going to elevate some Latinos at your company, and then maybe you’ll have a Latino division at your company that’s actually marketing directly to those people.
It’s been interesting because to me it seems like a no-brainer. Like, hey, there’s millions of people over here that you’re not talking to. Why?
They are some of the biggest buyers. But the tough part remains that on the flip side you can’t treat all Latinos as general. You can’t just say, “My messaging caters to all Latinos everywhere,” because we’re talking about a bunch of different countries along with all the other challenges.
It still seems like a no-brainer. I think that’s been a big lesson for many businesses. To be like, wait a second, I’m even thinking about this?
LOOKING AHEAD AND CREATING NEW AVENUES AS A NONPROFIT
What do you see the future holding for LXIG as a group and for the community?
Joe: I think one of the things we really want to get into is advocating for legislation that actually benefits the people that we work with. We come across individuals who are super talented people, but they live in Mexico City. It’s harder for them to get here or trying to figure out ways to actually influence legislation.
That’s something that we’re kind of interested in because we can only do so much with the systems that are in place. Nonprofits can’t be political but we’re able to get involved when it comes to legislation that falls under our area of work.
So immigration reform is a big thing for us. There’s plenty of DREAMers in our group that are in programs, and they just want to be citizens. They’ve been here forever and they’ve been contributing. So why is it that they’re still in this bad situation?
We have a lot of work to do that we’re still working on every year. We do our programming. Our career fair. We show up at events and are present there. But I do think that some of the big dreams that we have for the future of LXIG is definitely to start figuring out ways where we can be more activists in spaces we can actually advocate for.
Why are we as an industry not creating channels where we can actually bring more people in order to work from different countries? Technology is actually really good for connecting all of these countries, and in turn their experiences are good for us.
We’re not necessarily there yet, so that’s a little dream.
But when I think about it holistically, the way we actually enact big change for people — for Latinos — is by creating avenues to make their lives easier. Whether that is them moving here or maybe working abroad at one of the companies within the industry.
It would be awesome to advocate on the behalf of those people. Because all of that stuff’s really, really hard right now.
It’s building bridges, essentially. You’re just trying to build those connections in the areas that people need them most.
Yeah, exactly. Right now we’re on that level of direct action, you know. We’re just trying to help people in the right now or tomorrow.
But I do think that it would be really awesome to be in a situation where we could get ourselves in front of the government and say, “Hey, listen, here’s things that need to change.” And advocate for the people who actually need larger systemic change.
It’s something that I’m super interested in. But yeah, like I said, it’s a little bit of a challenge as volunteers.
WAYS TO SUPPORT LATINX IN GAMING INITIATIVES
Are there ways other businesses and individuals can help you achieve your vision? What are some ways people can support?
Joe: On a smaller scale, we operate generally on volunteer work. And if someone works for us and does some of the stuff that I mentioned earlier, we pay them.
So if you’re a person listening to this and work in the gaming industry, you have knowledge that other Latinos actually could really use. You can donate your time and your expertise in certain areas.
Last year when we hosted our careers fair, we did a month of learning where we had a bunch of people from different companies come to us and give talks. People who were prepping for potential interviews in front of big companies could actually benefit from hearing those people and asking them questions.
Then we engage them with mentorships as well, on a case by case basis. We don’t have a full on mentorship program, but if someone says, “Hey, I’m a tech artist and I really want to work in the industry, and I’ve been trying to break in,” I’ll connect them with someone that I know and say, “Hey, talk to this person. They can at least give you a little bit of help and at least be in your corner the next time you go into an interview.”
As a nonprofit, funds support is another a really good way and has been really helpful. A lot of people don’t realize that they have donation matching at their company, or they just have straight up donation funds that they can apply for different organizations they support.
We always try to encourage people to check it out. If you work at Xbox, you should ask your boss if they have donation matching or if they have Benevity, which is a donation platform with similar benefits.
That helps us out and they don’t necessarily have to do anything. Their company kind of handles it.
Then there’s also just participating. I think our Discord is a really cool, fun place where people connect with each other.
One person will say, “Hey, I’m looking for this.” And five people will answer and go, “I know someone that can help you with that.” Building the network out and supporting that has been really good.
Final Thoughts from Joe Tirado: Invite to the CONEXION Career Fair
Is there anything else that you want to say?
Joe: Yeah. This year in May we have Conexion, which is our career fair that we do every year. It’s a really cool program.
It’s a job fair where you can bring your resume and show up and ask questions directly to the recruiters. We bring in people from huge companies like Xbox and Twitch and PlayStation, and they come in and they do actual portfolio reviews, or they look at your resume, or they actually will straight up be like, hey, I’m hiring for this.
I’m pretty stoked about it as far as our programming and it’s one of those places where we can utilize our connections in order to bring people in and connect them to each other.
We’ve seen people get jobs out of our previous career fairs.
Is that in person or virtual?
Joe: It’s virtual. We’ve thought about doing it in person, but then we realized that’s also just a huge barrier. And so that’s been the angle. Let’s do it virtually. Let’s bring these people in so that way you can show up from anywhere and ask questions. I would love to connect you to a person who is actually just in Mexico right now.
So it’s going to be a full global event. Is anybody able to join in and participate?
Joe: The issue is going to be always, some of these jobs are going to require people to have a US visa and stuff like that. But if you’re working on that or if you want to try and convince a company that you’re worth working on with something like that, that’s totally a thing that we want to offer.
Come join in.
Visit latinxingaming.com or join the Latinx in Gaming Discord channel to learn more about their Virtual Career Fair, as well as other upcoming events.
What was your favorite part of our Diversity in Gaming interview with Co-Founder Joe Tirado? Let us know in the comments or in our Discord.
About Joe Tirado
Joe Tirado is a digital storyteller and designer that currently works as the Comms Lead at indie studio System Era Softworks. He also serves as the Strategic Director of Latinx in Gaming, a non-profit working for Latinos of all kinds in the gaming industry. You can follow Joe on Twitter @staymighty or connect with him on LinkedIn .
About Latinx in Gaming
Latinx in Gaming is a nonprofit (501c3) organization connecting Latines across the gaming industry worldwide to promote cultural appreciation and representation in games and related content, providing a platform for Latinx community members to elevate each other and themselves. They are a recipient of the Global Gaming Citizen Award at The Game Awards in 2021.
Featured Image: Boss Rush Network