Elly Vicieux (GI): When did you first get into gaming? What attracted you to it?
Andrien Gbinigie: I started gaming at the age of 6. My Dad got me a NES, and Super Mario Bros, as a reward for passing my end of term exams at the time. That’s pretty much when I got hooked. I found the Mushroom Kingdom so magical and awe inspiring. Never mind that it would take me 2 years to complete that game, I loved every minute of it. And I haven’t looked back since.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Do you still remember the first game that you ever played?
Andrien Gbinigie: I still remember Super Mario Bros as if it was yesterday (see above). I also got Duck Hunt at the time. Like most other people, that damn dog infuriated me. Even more so because you couldn’t shut him up when he did that laugh, haha.
Elly Vicieux (GI): A lot of professionals in the gaming industry have expressed that they noticed a steady progression in their interest in gaming leading up to the point where they decided that they wanted to take a more definitive role within the community. For you, what was the pivotal moment where you knew — or decided — that you wanted to establish yourself professionally in the industry?
Andrien Gbinigie: For me, it happened when I worked in a Community role for Infinity Ward. It was around the same time that I got to attend my first gaming “event” (for Modern Warfare 2). Seeing developers, press and community all in one place, and all there for the same reason made me want to pursue a career in the industry.
Elly Vicieux (GI): For our readers that aren’t quite familiar with the significant role that community developers offer within the industry, can you explain some of your responsibilities in general?
Andrien Gbinigie: A Community Developer combines the traditional roles of a Community Manager, Digital Marketing, Forum Management and communication all into one. As such, ComDevs (as we get called) work very closely with a variety of teams to ensure effective campaigns and communication, bridge the gap between community and the relevant development teams, and increase engagement and customer loyalty through a number of channels, including social media.
Elly Vicieux (GI): A point of interest that is very rarely discussed is how individuals are able to make that transition from actively gaming at home to attaining a position working within the industry. In your opinion, what is the best way for people to get involved on a more professional level? What type of education did you have to earn in order to be qualified for your current role?
Andrien Gbinigie: The beauty of the industry lies in the fact that there are numerous routes into it. In my case, I didn’t study specifically for any qualifications directly related to gaming (I got my degree in Economics). The best way for people to get more involved on a professional level is to volunteer (in order to get relevant experience). So if you want to write, then join a gaming website, or start your own blog, and practice writing. If you want to be a programmer, then get a hold of some SDKs and learn to start coding. If you want to land a Community orientated role, then become more active in the communities you are interested in.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Assuming someone has attained the proper education for a position within the gaming industry, how competitive do you consider the job market to be currently? Obviously, there are some positions that are in higher demand than others, so do you have any suggestions for ‘entry-level’ positions that would provide new professionals with the opportunity to gain experience before pursuing those higher level roles?
Andrien Gbinigie: Like most others, the gaming industry is fiercely competitive, and the job market can, and has been shown to be, quite volatile at times. When it comes to entry level positions, QA jobs and Internships can be (and usually are) very valuable. Many leading lights in the industry today got their break via QA. I think the stigma that used to hang over QA jobs has since vanished; QA is a very valuable sector of the industry, and there is almost always a need for testers. With the right attitude and work ethic, someone looking to break into the industry can learn a significant amount working in QA, along with some transferrable skills too.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Do you have any advice or wisdom for newcomers in the industry?
Andrien Gbinigie: Have fun and always take the opportunity to learn something new. The former goes without saying, but it can be easy to lose sight of that spark or passion for games once you start working in games. With regards to learning, try and take time out to read about the industry, especially the parts of it that don’t directly affect you. Learn more about the development process. Learn more about the financial side of things. Listen to keynotes and panels. Read long form editorial. Soak up as much knowledge as you can. It is always invaluable, especially in creative and management positions.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Now obviously, you’re quite well-recognized online as EscoBlades via YouTube and other social media platforms. In my opinion, you’re probably one of the most well-known and respected black gaming professionals in the industry — especially among Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed fans — because you stay so active within the community. This is incredibly crucial within the industry because it seems like the demographic of minorities within gaming are rarely acknowledged. From your experience, what is it like to be a minority in this industry?
Andrien Gbinigie: Thank you, I appreciate that. Working as a minority in this industry has its ups and downs. Obviously this isn’t limited to race; the issues of gender and sexism within the industry have been very topical of late. But to focus on race, I feel that the industry has moved forward in the time since I’ve been actively involved within it. My experience as an African within the industry has been, mostly, positive.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Within the last few years, it seems that despite the fact that there has been a significant increase in minorities in gaming, there hasn’t been an equally significant increase in representation of that demographic among gamers and the countless popular games that have been released. What is your opinion about this? What do you feel needs to be done to direct a point of change? Should there be more communities and groups dedicated to black and minority gamers and industry professionals to provide them with a united voice?
Andrien Gbinigie: You are right about the significant increase. A recent study showed that Blacks and Hispanics purchase and play video games more than any other ethnic group in the US. With the ever increasing reach of the industry, this can be extended to the global video game audience. And yet, the number of video game characters that are visibly Hispanic is in the single digit percentage. African American characters made up around 10% of the total in the study (with the majority being gangsters or athletes). While there has been progress in this area, there can always be more. Let’s face it….the industry is mostly white, straight and male. This isn’t a bad thing (for the most part), but it can become very stale, very quickly in terms of diverse experiences. Some people recoil at the word “diversity” – Diversity is a good thing, especially for a medium that longs to be considered as art, and taken seriously. So how do we, as an industry, go about this?
There’s no magic bullet, and change is usually never instant. The issue is a multi-faceted one, and needs to be addressed on many fronts. From the top, having more minorities working in games is an obvious part of the solution (this isn’t a call for some type of Affirmative Action, it is just what it is.). To get there, more minority gamers need to make that transition from solely playing games, to wanting a career in games. And a lot of that requires a cultural shift. Speaking from experience, not many African parents entertain the idea of working in video games as anything more than a fantasy. They usually want their children to be doctors, bankers, scientists and engineers. This mindset usually stays with the children as they grow up, despite their interest in video games. It stays as a hobby for most, never developing beyond that.
Elly Vicieux (GI): It also seems that in a lot of games where there are characters of color, these characters aren’t given a definitive role within the storyline or their roles are written in very unrealistic, borderline stereotypical formats. Do you feel that some companies purposely shy away from creating minority characters in their games because they recognize that most of their professionals are not really qualified to define these characters based on their ethnic background? Are they just not comfortable with creating minority characters because they’re concerned it will be a repeat of those stereotypical roles?
Andrien Gbinigie: I do indeed. Professor Dmitri Williams of USC said at a DICE Summit a few years back that “you [the industry] make games that look like you.” If you consider the fact that the industry is predominantly white, and that Professor Williams’ statement holds true, then it is easy to understand why the vast majority of video game characters are white. But even more important is the fact that the few characters of colour that we do see generally aren’t protagonists or in leading roles. And are usually portrayed as conforming to stereotypes. There aren’t enough minority professionals in the industry from which to draw that valuable life experience that would (hopefully) translate into more diverse video game characters, and usher in a more progressive industry.
Elly Vicieux (GI): You work for a company that is well-known for promoting equality in their games and encouraging a more open-minded attitude towards all backgrounds and beliefs. Within just the past few games, Assassin’s Creed has featured leading characters that were Syrian, Italian, Native American, etc. Personally, I am very excited to see Aveline de Grandpré becoming a more pivotal character because she is biracial, of French and African heritage — which I thought was major because it’s very rare to see a leading female character of mixed heritage in games. Gamescom this year showed off a trailer featuring Edward Kenway’s first mate, Adewale, who is from Trinidad. Would you say that Ubisoft really works hard to make a push towards encouraging more leading and definitive roles for minorities in gaming?
Andrien Gbinigie: Ubisoft does work hard in this respect, and it is something I am personally extremely happy to see from the Assassin’s Creed teams. Ubisoft is blessed with some incredible writers and meticulous historians. This of course means that not only do the games do a great job of showcasing the particular period of history in which they are set, but they also do not shy away from the issue that would have existed in those time periods. Take Aveline in Assassin’s Creed Liberation for instance. A biracial, female protagonist, who’s mother was a slave. The game was set at a time when slavery was a major issue, and it did not shy away from that fact. I think it is a testament to the teams that worked on that title (amongst others) that Liberation was able to address the issue of slavery in a tasteful way, all the while seamlessly weaving in the narrative of the Assassin and Templar conflict.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Ubisoft recently announced that Aveline has a lot of exclusive content from Assassin’s Creed 4 coming to PS4. Previously, she also had her own PS Vita title with Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Will she be a character that we’ll be seeing more of in the future after this installment of AC4? Does she cross paths with Edward Kenway at all during this game or is her role in the storyline part of a different portion, picking up where Liberation left off?
Andrien Gbinigie: Aveline’s missions in Black Flag pick up some time after her story in Liberation ends, so she is a bit older at the time. Her missions would be like a short story, in that they are not directly related to the end of her story. The missions are made possible thanks to some Animus upgrades at Abstergo’s Entertainment Divsion. But you’ll have to play the game to find out more.
Elly Vicieux (GI): There has been some mention of a companion app previously, though it seems it’s not something that’s widely discussed among the community. What type of insight can you provide about this element of the franchise?
Andrien Gbinigie: The brilliant team at Ubisoft Quebec are working hard on the companion app for Black Flag. The companion app will give players access to a whole host of features while they are playing the game on their platforms of choice, such as the world map that updates in real time, treasure maps collected and the fleet metagame. After boarding and claiming a ship, Edward can either salvage parts to use in fixing the Jackdaw, or send the ship to be a part of the fleet within the metagame. In this instance, he’ll choose a member of his crew to captain the new vessel, which can be sent out on excursions to loot other ships via the companion app. Any money earned in the metagame will be yours to spend in your main game. Best of all, the companion app will work with both current and next gen platforms.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Something that has been truly unique to Assassin’s Creed within the past few years has been the release of the novels, as well as the comic books. Similar to previous releases, will AC4 have a novel that follows along with the storyline that we’ve seen presented in the games?
Andrien Gbinigie: Yes. Assassin’s creed IV: Black Flag will have a novel, penned by Oliver Bowden, which will follow some of Edward Kenway’s exploits during the Golden Age of Piracy. For those interested, the novel will be published in the UK on November 7th and in the US on November 26th.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Ubisoft recently announced that there will be a new comic book to be released soon under the name Assassin’s Creed: Brahman. For those who kept up with the previous comic releases of “The Fall” and “The Chain”, both of these releases provided a large amount of history about Nikolai Orelov, Daniel Cross, and their role in the AC universe. Of course, Daniel Cross made his first and last cameo appearance in AC3 — which prompts the question: will the new assassin ancestor from AC: Brahman have a modern assassin descendant that we’ll be introduced to on other platforms?
Andrien Gbinigie: Actually, Arbaaz Mir (the Assassin protagonist of the graphic novel, Brahman) has a connection with an Abstergo programmer named Jot Soora. Jot will be exploring this connection in the pages of Brahman.
Elly Vicieux (GI): Is there anything else you’d like to add? What should Assassin’s Creed fans be excited for the most in the upcoming months?
Andrien Gbinigie: The teams all over the world are working very hard to make the best Assassin’s Creed experiences yet, and are always appreciative of the amazing support from the fans. It is an amazing time to be a fan of Assassin’s Creed, especially in the lead up to the release of Black Flag. And even more so with the coming of a new generation of consoles.
Despite having an extremely busy schedule working for Ubisoft, Andrien was very generous with the time that he took to participate in this interview, which was truly appreciated!