IGDA report covers the essentials of inclusive game design and development


This article is part of a paid Gaming Insights series from Facebook.

“Games are immersive storytelling media and because of that they are incredible tools for empathy,” says Renee Gittins, Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). “We could all use a little more empathy right now.”

There is no doubt that games have become more important than ever to more gamers, with 3.0 billion players worldwide in 2021. And as the global audience continues to grow, so does its diversity. 54% of players in the world now come from Asia-Pacific (1.4 billion); 14% come from the Middle East and Africa (377 million); 14% come from Europe (386 million); and 8% (210 million) are from North America. As for the United States in particular, 41% of gamers are women.

The mission is clear: The design and development of games must become inclusive and accessible to people from all walks of life, including women, BIPOC, LGBTQ + and people with disabilities.

It takes a collaborative, proactive effort – and empathy – to make the industry and the content it creates more inclusive. This is why the IGDA published its 2022 article on Inclusive Game Design and Development in collaboration with Facebook Gaming. The document is a framework for game companies of all sizes, providing a series of steps and considerations for each step of the game design and development process to help create games that are more representative of the ever-growing diversity of gamers. global.

“There are a lot of considerations for developers when it comes to designing more inclusive games and gaming experiences,” says Bre Miller, director of product design for Facebook Entertainment. And the diversity landscape is constantly changing. This document provides an excellent overview of the things to consider, written in a step-by-step, easy-to-follow manner.

What is behind the lack of inclusion?

Historically, professionals in the games industry have been predominantly able-bodied cis white males. The narratives of many games, as well as the design of the games – from the portrayal of the characters to the accessibility features (or lack thereof) – have reflected the experiences, sensitivities and preferences of a homogeneous group of people.

A cascade of factors causes the lack of diverse representation from the start, says Gittins. First of all, STEM is mainly promoted to wealthy cis white males. Likewise, most of the games are sold to boys and men. And then the toxicity within gaming communities frequently drives women and marginalized people away – for example, women who try to be active in multiplayer voice chats often find themselves harassed and decide that gaming is not a space. healthy for them.

If they overcome all these hurdles and decide to enter the industry, there are hurdles there as well. First and foremost is how inaccessible the industry can be to those who need a work-life balance, whether it’s because of their mental health, family, or other career goals. life. The industry has historically taken advantage of the passion most developers have for their careers and stood up for those who work overtime at the expense of the rest of their lives.

And finally, as we’ve seen recently, there are issues of toxicity, harassment and discrimination ingrained in the business side of the gaming industry itself, with countless cases of abuse coming to light. day in recent years.

“But more and more people are feeling empowered to come forward and talk about their experiences without risking sacrificing their careers and livelihoods, and that’s a good sign of progress,” Gittins said.

IGDA’s recently released 2021 Developer Satisfaction Survey found that an overwhelming majority of developers are more concerned than ever about the importance of diversity in the workplace, game content and industry in the world. general (see table below). The number of respondents who rated diversity as “somewhat” or “very” important was at its highest level in the history of the survey.

“These changing attitudes are reflected in the number of gaming companies prioritizing diversity, representation and inclusion in the workplace, so we’re on the right track,” Gittins said. “But we are certainly not there yet.”

Inclusiveness from the ground up

Creating an inclusive game doesn’t just mean diversifying the characters in a game; it encompasses everything from team building and internal research to game mechanics, accessibility and even community and marketing considerations.

“A diverse team will naturally build more diverse games,” Miller said. “They will naturally have more diverse ideas, experiences and points of view. This translates into games that can be enjoyed by more diverse audiences and is a great motivator for the team. “

Inclusiveness in the developmental stage also means that all team members feel comfortable discussing and improving their knowledge of inclusive thinking. Miller, who leads a design team of more than 70 people across Facebook’s games, video and audio teams, says, “How could we? »Product design exercises yield a considerably stronger result when brainstorming includes a wide range of ideas from as wide a selection of backgrounds as possible, allowing for a greater diversity of thought, creativity and experiences from the start.

“When you think of a diverse team of professionals, combined with inclusive brainstorming exercises, you unlock ideas earlier and hopefully at a more profitable stage in the development process,” she adds.

Diverse teams are also essential to make proactive employee recruitment and retention measures more effective. On the recruiting side, unconscious biases need to be eliminated in everything from job advertisements to interview panels. The only way to achieve this is with the contribution of marginalized groups who are affected by these prejudices.

Examples of inclusion efforts at play

Facebook Gaming has worked on a number of initiatives in this area, Miller says. Recently, his team, driven to set their own goals, focused on training the entire entertainment design team on how to create accessibility design specifications for mobile. This meant educating the team to understand the wide range of diverse abilities including cognitive, visual, auditory, physical, vocal and knowing how to use a mobile screen reader.

Facebook Gaming is also passionate about how industry professionals from under-represented backgrounds can successfully create and build gaming-related careers. To this end, they have pledged to commit $ 10 million over two. years to support the community of black game creators. The program is designed to help video game makers grow their business, brand, and maintain themselves. It includes mentorships, exclusive events and workshops.

They have also partnered with Code Coven, an online game development accelerator for under-represented groups. It provides aspiring developers with the skills, mentorship, and networking they need to thrive in the industry. Last summer saw the company’s first summer program, 11 weeks of structured counseling for 17 students through a series of dedicated lectures, career development workshops, networking opportunities and mentorships, to pass from concept to realization.

“While Code Coven was designed with students in mind, the benefits really go both ways,” Miller says. “We saw a lot of energy and enthusiasm from our designers and product managers who were helping us with mentorship and advice. They returned to our meetings with diversity and inclusion in mind, sharing their stories about the students and their projects in our cross-functional meetings. It’s another building block. While we are helping the students, it has also helped us inside asking ourselves, how can we bring more inclusive product thinking into our work? While we were helping the students, we were also training along the way. “

“It’s also important to foster an inclusive platform, and our priority is to continually provide partners with the tools to build and maintain inclusive communities,” Miller notes. “We worked with the Fair Play Alliance, a coalition of gaming companies promoting healthy communities within online gaming, to establish rules that creators and moderators can use to set guidelines to avoid disruptive comments. . This has resulted in a toolkit that they can access and implement into their discussions through their dashboard to be prominent and visible to anyone watching and engaging.

Is the industry changing?

Improving diversity in the game is considered the number 1 factor of importance for the growth of the industry.

Unfortunately, this is not an overnight process. It can be uncomfortable for teams to examine their own biases and question their own assumptions. It takes long term dedication with setbacks and tough times.

It’s about bringing in the voices that were on the outside and learning to rely on them as a source of insight and inspiration from start to finish. During user testing, ask for feedback beyond the game mechanics; When you deliver content to your community, listen to what they think about the choices you make. The best way to make sure you’re part of the drive to create an inclusive title is, as a developer, to learn how to open up to a bigger world.

“We are at a critical time when we need to move beyond just stating the importance of representation, inclusiveness or alliance, and lead by example,” Miller said. “We have the opportunity to show our vulnerability as we learn and prioritize inclusive language in our teams and throughout the game development process. These are the building blocks that help make progress and impact. tangible. “

Gittins adds, “Most people come into the gaming industry not because they fall into careers, but because they are passionate about games. Today’s gamers are the game makers of tomorrow. It is important that the industry sees this as an unprecedented opportunity for creativity at all levels. ”

For your free copy of the IGDA White Paper on Inclusive Game Design and Development, please visit here.

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