Animosity towards Beamdog for including a transgender character in Baldur’s Gate.
Hate campaign against former Nintendo employee Alison Rapp.
Overwatch’s Tracer butt pose.
Valve being sued over alleged transgender discrimination.
Tensions over gay and black characters at defunct Lionhead.
Paradox having to take down a mod that removed Stellaris’ racial diversity.
All these incidents, which happened in the last two months alone, highlight one thing: the games industry, its IPs and its community of players still have a problem with diversity.
Of course, things are getting better and we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go as the lack of diversity is particularly striking in the workforce.
UKIE’s CEO Dr Jo Twist has some data: Stats from Creative Skillset in 2016 suggested women make up 19 per cent of the UK games industry workforce and only four per cent of people working in games are from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, both of which are low and the whole industry should be working together to resolve these examples of underrepresentation.”
As a comparison, 45 per cent of the UK workforce are women and 10 per cent are from BAME backgrounds.
But Twist points out that the industry’s numbers are up compared to previous years. Gamers are also much more diverse, she says: With 21 million people playing games, depending on what source you refer to, around half are female players. This has exploded recently because of the app stores and the appeal of mobile and tablet games.
The workforce numbers are still far too low though,” she argues. We have challenges in telling young people that the games industry exists as a career, and what you need to do to get into a job in games. But we have even more challenges in encouraging people from all backgrounds to take up the subjects that might lead them into making games. Diversity is a complex set of issues and cuts across age, economics, gender, sexuality, disability, and ethnicity.”
Education is a great part of the issue: making young people – and more importantly girls who might consider that gaming is a boys club – aware of the opportunities offered by the industry.
The key to bringing more diversity to the UK games industry is in our schools, WIGJ CEO Jenny Richards-Stewart also believes.
It’s all down to the point of educating,” she tells MCV. It’s reaching out to people to show the possibilities.
I think there’s a lot of work to be done at an educational level. Trade associations like UKIE and WIGJ are working to put that message up there. But it’s a long process. I’ve talked to a lot of girls in school and there is still a strong belief that jobs in the games industry are for boys. But once you suggest them there’s a possibility, they get enlightened to it. There are more girls taking tech subjects now than ever before.”
Twist agrees: More needs to be done right from the outset in schools at a young age to ensure that science, technology and computer science subjects aren’t seen as narrow subjects leading to narrow career paths. The more diverse the people we can get studying the subjects that lead to careers in games, the more diverse the workforce will be.
"We need to be able to attract talent from outside the UK to work here, too. We need all different kinds of role models in schools, inspiring and educating young people and parents about careers.”
But having games actually showing multiculturalism, depicting gender and racial diversity, or simply telling the story of a character who is not a white man in his thirties would also be a tremendous help.
Pauline Jacquey, Ubisoft Reflections’ MD, puts it in a nutshell: Triple-A game content should be more diverse across the board. I’m a female, I’m 42, I’m gay and I’m a mother, so I’m not the classic gamer the industry is looking for and very few games appeal to me on the mass market today. Whereas when I’m on Netflix, or when I go to the movies or buy books, I don’t feel like I’m excluded from those types of products.
I don’t think we’re sexist as an industry or that racism is an issue, but we have so many unconscious biases and bad habits that we don’t work hard enough to make it more diverse.”
For Jacquey, this all leads to a vicious circle: if the games content is not diverse, then the workforce is not either, leading to games feeling and looking the same”.
This is true whether it’s diversity of social backgrounds, gender, ethnicities or countries and regions. All of this is creating a lack of opportunities to create games that are richer, deeper and more thought-provoking,” she asserts.
"The more diverse the content and the worlds we create, the more chances we have to appeal to more people. Diversity is a fuel to grow our market."
Pauline Jacquey, Ubisoft Reflections
We must develop games that appeal to different audiences. We need to welcome diversity in how we create games. Diversity of genres, formats, themes, heroes, triple-A games alongside tiny indie-like titles – all those speak to different people, and can potentially attract them to become part of our industry. The more diverse the content and the worlds we create, the more chances we have to appeal to more people. Diversity is a fuel to grow our market.”
But for Twist, the answer to our diversity problem doesn’t necessarily lie in the games themselves but on the amount of hype surrounding those titles.
The UK is brilliant at making a huge variety of content, and there are many examples of games that have diverse characters and stories – they just don’t get the mainstream attention they deserve,” she says.
I really think that we’re moving away from the only females we’re seeing in games being overly sexualised or secondary characters. Look at Her Story, Life is Strange, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Monument Valley and the female football teams in FIFA. Female protagonists in games are becoming increasingly complex and interesting – look what [scriptwriter] Rhianna Pratchett has done with Lara Croft. The solution for even more diverse games is to have people with diverse ideas making them, telling their stories, representing their takes on the world, and having the ability to take the creative risk to do so. But let’s also celebrate the diversity we already have.”
Team17’s MD Debbie Bestwick also agrees that things could be worse: We are not in a bad position at all, things can get better of course but we are going in the right direction.
Our industry is well known for being very dynamic and adaptive, not only on market changes but also on cultural changes. When I started back in 1987 the whole industry was pretty much male only. Now, 29 years later, there are amazing examples of inspirational women who are running businesses, making games and contributing to the industry at all levels.