The game development community is full of many voices. On the independent scene, a developer advocating for better opportunities is none other than Brighton, England-based Liam Sorta. Recently, we reached out to ask him about life in game development and the industry.
Can you introduce yourself and what you’ve been working on recently?
For sure! My name is Liam Sorta (@LiamSorta) – I currently work at Unity Technologies as a Technical Evangelist, which at its core consists of helping our developers be as successful as possible, be that through giving conference talks, hosting workshops, etc. Outside of Unity, I run an online game dev community called GDN (GameDevNetwork). I also do a bunch of stuff with Alexa development and have had my own studio for a couple of years now.
What got you started in game development, and what’s your studio called?
There are a lot of factors that got me into game development really, having a deep love of video games and having played far too much World of Warcraft in high school was probably an early sign. I started by creating games in Visual Basic, using image objects, it was super hacky but it kindled my interest until I moved on to AS3 with Flash, and then eventually Unity/UE and a bit of DirectX.
My studio is called MagicVoice.io – though I’m now working on educational content under the arm of ‘voice.tv’. Very excited to help lower the barrier to entry to voice technology and see more people getting creative with virtual assistants!
What has been the most gratifying experience in your career thus far?
That’s a tough one — I organize an event here in the UK in Birmingham called HackTheMidlands, it’s a yearly hackathon for 200~ people to come together and create something cool in 24 hours. We started it out of seeing that almost all hackathons around the country were exclusive to university students (as it’s more attractive to sponsors looking to hire) – so we wanted to do our own thing!
It takes about 9 months of planning every year and a lot of time finding sponsors as we don’t have any institution behind us but seeing the incredible work people make and the connections they start at the event is a truly wondrous experience and is what makes us want to keep running it every year.
Have you faced any obstacles throughout your time in the industry? If so, which was/were the biggest?
I think one of the pitfalls many people fall into is losing motivation – while *playing* games give us a constant stream of dopamine and instant gratification, *making* games, or even learning to make games in general, is something that takes time and patience. It was the reason I didn’t even jump into Unity until I went to University. Taking the first step is always the hardest, so if I could offer any one piece of advice, it’d be to just follow a tutorial on whatever engine your heart desires and complete it.
What are some of the goals you want to achieve with and within the Game Dev Network community?
GDN is a place meant for anyone interested in game development, be that in the form of technical support, advice, recruiting members on a project or even just showing off what you’ve been working on. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of an inclusive community and making sure that members feel respected/valued. We have a strict policy of not kicking/temporarily banning members for abuse, we believe that should someone do something worthy of that, we don’t want them back. There is no room for gatekeeping, abuse or any form of harassment, nor is there an excuse for it. We just want to help people make games and have fun doing so.
I noticed through social media that changing the icon [for GDN] for Pride led to some backlash. Were you surprised by the number of people who took issue with it?
In our first year, the logo change was for just a 24 hour period, though, last year as our community grew from hundreds to thousands, there was a small yet vocal minority hurling abuse that we swiftly banned. We decided that there was a need for an extension so changed our original plan and kept the logo up for the whole month, and are doing so again this year! As a community grows, it is an inevitability that some people will disagree, and that’s fine, so long as they’re respectful. We even kicked off our first pride month event on the Official Unity Discord community that started earlier this year!
A common question is “what does supporting pride month have to do with game dev” – and my response is that we are lucky enough to be involved in an industry that thrives on creativity and freedom of expression. There are people in the world that have to censor themselves to colleagues, friends, and even family in fear of isolation, imprisonment, or in some places, execution. Supporting equality and tolerance is not a political act, it is human decency.
While we do see a fair number of members leaving when we announce the change, I’m a big believer of quality over quantity.
Do you think the game development industry is making strides to be more inclusive and offer diverse content and perspectives?
Oh absolutely! On the indie side alone, the joy of game development is being able to share your story in an interactive format with the entire world. There are a plethora of games covering topics such as sexual identity, gender dysphoria, mental health awareness, etc. Not only do these games let developers share their stories and experiences, but do so to an audience that can learn from and resonate with their own experiences.
What do you think are great examples of games featuring LGBT+ stories and topics?
I honestly wish I could showcase some of the great experiences out there, though the games I play tend to be almost exclusively competitive PVP. And while I’d love to spotlight the indie scene, I do think Blizzard deserves credit for their means of LGBT+ representation in Overwatch – subtle reveals in comics or other pieces of lore, showing their stance without it feeling too “forced,” which I think goes a long way in terms of normalizing LGBT+ representation.
Do you have advice for LGBT developers and creators working right now?
I’d say the same to any developer really, don’t feel the need to self-censor yourself. Games are about creativity and experimentation, have fun with your ideas! I’d also recommend joining a few communities (even apart from GDN!) to meet other people that will motivate and inspire you to keep creating.
Last, do you have any appearances, events, or projects coming up that you want to talk about?
I tend to cover a bunch of events throughout the year really, though, if anyone is interested in where I’m speaking/headed to, my twitter is always a good source of game dev tips, events I’m covering, or unity-related memes. I also keep my DMs open should anyone want to ask questions on anything!
Colton is a computer science student at SUNY Fredonia who hails from Buffalo, NY and would much rather be writing articles, scripts, and poems than code. Find him stressing in your nearest coffee shop. A few of his favorite games are Half Life/Half Life 2, Resident Evil 4 and Super Mario 64.