Creating equitable community through video game developmentSep 26, 2023 09:04AM ● By Randee Brown
For 3D Dojo Studios Owner Leroy Jones, entrepreneurship and community have always been a prevailing mindset.
On his own since the age of 13, Jones said he had a challenge claiming his independence. Working to procure financial aid for a college education, he was finally able to attend Miami-Dade Community College starting at age 23, though without proper books and materials, he failed his first semester. A random stranger, through an overwhelming act of kindness, took an interest in Jones and paid for a semester’s tuition and his necessary materials. Jones said all he asked in repayment was to pass his classes, so he did.
Originally working toward a degree in mortuary science, Jones said one day he was looking at a body and thought “this can’t be it.” He dropped out in his last semester, then spent six months studying to be a graphic designer through Lynda.com, now LinkedIn Learning.
Knowing Jones’s love for games, his wife suggested he consider game design as a career. She helped him find Full Sail University, and after falling in love with it, the school wouldn’t accept his high school diploma and would only admit him if he acquired a GED.
“I clearly didn’t want to pursue a GED after having graduated high school and already being enrolled in a community college,” Jones said. He stumbled across an ad for a digital animation school, and that school accepted his diploma and jump-started his career in the game industry.
“My passion at the time was creating environmental art to help set the scene and the mood in games,” Jones said. “I could help guide the player through props and storytelling. Ironically, I hated doing characters the most at first and had zero interest in that. Now I create characters often and it comes so naturally.”
Upon his graduation from digital animation school, Jones said he took his wife on a vacation to Asheville. He said they have a love for nature and wildlife, and they had never been to a place like this. “The experience was amazing,” Jones said. “It wasn’t just the nature; it was the people. It was such a diverse community.”
When Jones heard his wife say the city felt like home, he began researching the city, finding that Asheville was in a ‘big bang phase’ with a lust for technology. He also discovered the city has a very big love for Black entrepreneurship.
Building a business and a community took off much faster than expected, according to Jones. He began onboarding members in phases — brand development, team building, preparation for work in a studio setting, and game development. He kept a focus on maintaining a diverse community as it grew.
“It’s multinational and multicultural,” Jones said. “There are plenty of differences existing with no issues among people from all over the world including Mexico, Singapore, Germany, as well as both Ukraine and Russia.”
Not only has Jones created a studio with seven members of gamers and game developers, Jones has also created his own video game called Da Paper Boy. He said it’s a survival game of sorts, where the paper boy must accurately hit the mailboxes. If there is property damage, characters will chase the paper boy.
Jones said he created this game and his studio with a “zero-dollar budget.” He said there were lots of trials and errors, but like business in general, he was able to teach himself and others to watch their toes and figure it out, breaking into a technical, digital industry and building a community that allows diversity, inclusion, and opportunities.
“It’s becoming unrealistic to even get into this industry,” Jones said. “Many companies require a shipped title — a game that has actually reached the market — plus three to five years of experience. I made this game to see who the key players in the studio are so I can help people who are generally discriminated against get credit on their resumes. I want to break down barriers in the gaming world and in the world in general because I believe in true diversity.
3D Dojo Studios also offers online courses and workshops teaching people about character design and 3D modeling using a variety of advanced industry software programs. Jones offers these courses for only $150 per month and has worked with students from seven to 62 years old.
“A standard school tuition can cost more than $70,000 a year,” Jones said. “How is that supposed to work for the middle class, even with financial aid? I want to help set people in motion so they can rise with their success.”
Leroy Jones is the owner of 3D Dojo Studios and developer of the video game Da Paper Boy. Learn more at 3dDojoStudios.com.