The making of a diverse game studio
The original name for Manveer Heir's new game studio that focused on stories of people of color was Big Mouth Games. The former BioWare and Raven Software designer embraces his loudness. For years, he has called out other studios, his own employers and attendees of the Game Developers Conference for their lack of understanding about race. Now, he's going from talking to fixing it himself. He's putting his money where his considerable mouth is. "I just felt like in the AAA industry, I couldn't be myself, and really talking to all the black and brown people I know, they can't be themselves," said Heir. "So I'm going to start my own company that focuses on our communities, make games that are centered on our stories and cultures." Heir grew up in the suburbs of Maryland and, as an Indian-American, feels he existed as a kind of racial chameleon -- neither black nor white, learning to code switch. When he was in college at Virginia Tech, he'd experience post-9/11 racism. After graduating, Heir worked on the 2009 Wolfenstein reboot at Raven as well as Mass Effect 3 at BioWare, in spaces where he was often the minority, he said. He left BioWare in 2017 and started Brass Lion shortly after. "I just got sick of waiting for everybody else to do it," he said. But it turned out Netflix was already using the name "Big Mouth" for its animated puberty comedy. So Heir called the studio Brass Lion Entertainment, and brought on co-founders Rashad Redic and Bryna Dabby Smith. The studio has an explicit focus on telling authentic underrepresented stories not just relating to race, but age, religion, sexuality, Heir said. It aims not to be another small indie outfit, but a mainstream, mid-level, million-copies-sold kind of game developer. "I don't have enough time on this earth to wait for 2,000, 5,000 copies [sold] to shift things," said Heir.