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How to avoid diversity pitfalls in your studio
This is a guest post from Mattie Brice, who is currently offering consultancy services as part of a crowdfunding campaign for games criticism platform reAction.
Right now, there is growing awareness of diversity issues in the game industry. There is no shortage of developer mishaps in the news, and more critics are pointing out the problematic aspects of games. Many of these problems arise because staff working in game development and marketing are simply not aware they are contributing to sexism and other forms of discrimination, because that’s how things were always done.
I’ve grown up with games, design games, and speak at many venues about representations of minorities in games, so I bring this unique perspective to help developers and marketers counter anything they didn’t want in their material. Having design knowledge really helps, as sometimes it’s tricky to work around what content you already have.
Pitfall 1: believing that your audience is only white, straight men
One of the biggest misconceptions in the industry is that representing more diversity in games will conflict with commercial concerns. Minorities have been gaming since gaming began, and their space on the pie chart of demographics is only getting larger. Players want more diversity in their games, and diversity helps developers. It gives them more content to explore, and can easily create strong, moving connections with players.
Pitfall 2: only telling stories about white, straight men
Over the past two decades, we’ve seen narrative take a strong place in how players enjoy games. Great narrative design can turn a typical platformer or shooter into a critical hit. And now, the industry is looking for new stories; white men saving the day is very much played out. This doesn’t men white men aren’t allowed to be heroes any more, it’s just that players want other characters to have their turn too.
Pitfall 3: only telling stories by white, straight men
On a larger scale, we see companies like BioWare really pushing to become more aware and diverse. EA overall is forward about solving LGBTQA and other issues in their workplace, and we’re going to start seeing other companies doing the same. Most of the ground work, however, is coming from independent artists like Anna Anthropy, Robert Yang, and Molleindustria. A lot of larger companies could find inspiration in these voices and try to translate into their development models.
Pitfall 4: not actively working to make your studio a safe space
Companies should be reading up on common problems in tech spaces when it comes to discrimination, because it is unfortunately a common occurrence. In particular, it is a often hostile environment for women because many companies create a culture similar to a boy’s club. This results in a revolving door of sorts for women in the industry, where companies try hiring more women but can’t seem to retain them. All companies should get an audit on their workplace environment and make sure all of their employees feel safe and valued no matter what their identity is.
Vintage magazine article on women in games circa 1983 suggests that very little has changed in 30 years.
Pitfall 5: ignoring the business risks of homogeneity
Plain and simple, more diversity means more original ideas, more perspectives, more growth. Companies known for their more inclusive policies gain more social support and a wider breadth of potential applicants. If you are working hard on your game with a woman main character, if it’s a good game, it will sell just as well if not more. Research the myths behind risk-aversion of minority characters; these games were often given less funding and less marketing than their white men counterparts, so naturally they don’t show as well. Being continually discriminatory will actually hurt your bottom line and your company’s social clout as more of the media and player-base gets savvy about these issues.