Women in games take centre stage at press conferences

E3 2015: Diversity the big winner at E3

Sony and Microsoft dropped some massive announcements during E3 in the last 24 hours. Xbox One / Xbox 360 backwards-compatibility, Xbox Game Previews, The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue III – it was a great time to be a fan of games.

But while you can argue about who had the better show, one of last night’s real winners was diversity in games.

Developers, publishers and platform holders have pro-actively made a real effort to improve the visibility of women and minorities in game development, as well as promote a diverse range of characters in the games themselves.

Bethesda kicked of proceedings by revealing Emily Kaldwin as the female lead for Dishonored 2. Though players are expected to also be able to play as Corvo, Kaldwin was the star of the trailer. The publisher also showed off the power of Fallout 4’s new character creator by presenting a woman and black male, before heading into a gameplay demo with a white man.

Kicking off Microsoft’s E3 conference was 343 Industries head and founder Bonnie Ross, presenting the latest trailer to Halo 5: Guardians. The game also stars a diverse range of characters. Other notable women in games who deserved their place on stage were Mojang brand director Lydia Winters and indie developer Sherida Halatoe for her game Beyond Eyes.

Numerous games starring women in lead roles included Crystal Dynamics’ Rise of the Tomb Raider, Armature Studios’ Recore and The Fullbright Company’s Tacoma. Characters from mixed backgrounds and gender were also shown as playable in Rare’s Sea of Thieves and The Coalition’s Gears of War 4.

EA and Ubisoft are also championing a new push for diversity. The trailer for Rainbow Six: Siege starred actress Angela Bassett, while Mirror’s Edge returned with Catalyst, again led by protagonist Faith. There was no shortage of a diverse range of developers out on stage either.

The debut trailer for Sony and Guerrilla Games’ major new in-house IP Horizon: Zero Dawn meanwhile starred yet another female lead in its gameplay demo.

The E3 showing from all involved was a progressive move from the controversy over issues surrounding diversity and the depiction of women in games that have intensified over the last couple of years. Ubisoft itself was at the brunt of criticism last year over the lack of playable female characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity, and its subsequent explanation for the omission of women.

The debate has rumbled on, and this year Dontnod claimed that Square Enix was the only company that would agree to publish Life is Strange with its female lead character unchanged. Allegedly, other publishers had demanded a lead male character.

But the fresh focus on diversity at this year’s E3 is a sign that publishers like Ubisoft are listening. And so they should, because female leads are big business.

Of course, as far as these new games go, it’s all technically superficial at the moment. True diversity will come from the stories these games and characters tell. But it’s an important step for the game industry.

People always jump on the industry when it gets it wrong. So here’s some praise for the industry getting it right at E3.

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