The games industry: diversity challenges, and solutionsJames Dodd 20th July 2020
It has been a turbulent few weeks of diversity and inclusion challenges in the video games industry: Laura Bailey received death threats for playing Abby in The Last of Us Part 2; the game streaming site Twitch started banning users following protests about abuse; and Ubisoft – one of the world’s biggest and most successful games studios – saw a number of key staff and executives step down over sexual misconduct allegations.
But should we be surprised? Whilst parts of the industry are leading real, positive change around diversity, inclusion and positive culture, there is still enormous room for improvement in the culture of many parts of the games industry.
Earlier this year, interactive entertainment association Ukie published the results of its diversity census. 3,200+ games industry workers took part (which equates to roughly 20% of the overall workforce). Of those:
- Only 10% of people working in video games are black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME).
- 21% of people working in video games are LGBTQ+, while 79% are heterosexual.
- 70% of people working in the video games industry are male, compared to 28% female and 2% non-binary workers.
- Female representation in the video games workforce is significantly under the national average of those in work.
Late last year, Currys PC World also released the results of their report into diversity within the games industry. Amongst other things the report revealed “a distinct bias in favour of the young, white, straight male.” Is it any wonder, when such a high percentage of its workforce is made up of them?
So, what can be and is being done?
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has already released an internal letter to company employees, highlighting an impressive raft of changes within the business. Perhaps chief amongst these is the creation of the new position, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, reporting directly to Yves. It’s a step in the right direction, but sadly too late for those involved.
Bafta has also recently announced that BFI Diversity Standards will be piloted across the British Game category in its next games awards. This means entrants will also be asked to provide information on their companies’ production practices, as part of the pilot in an effort ‘to support the industry in its drive to create a more diverse, representative and inclusive UK games industry.’ Whilst the announcement has ruffled some feathers, Bafta has genuine influence so, at the very least, the pilot will further drive the message that the industry must do better.
And of–course, there are the video games themselves, which regularly break the mould, represent our brilliantly diverse society and reap financial and critical awards for doing so. You only have to fire up Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to be presented with a screen which reads, ‘Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.’ Once in-game, you are free to choose the look, sex, and sexual preference of your character – which makes the recent revelations at Ubisoft itself all the more depressing.
Another game-changing example is Naughty Dog’s recent release, The Last of Us Part 2. The game sold 4m copies in its opening weekend, has gone on to become PlayStation’s second biggest launch ever and, for those of you not in the know, the hugely successful series features a diverse cast of characters and an LGBTQ lead. Contrary to what society often leads us to believe, doing so has clearly not hurt sales. In fact, on an excellent recent episode of the gayming mag podcast, Robin Gray and Shay Thompson discussed at length the lessons triple-A games companies could actually learn from the enormous success of this PlayStation exclusive. Robin has now gone further by announcing the forthcoming Gayming Awards 2021, “which aim to commemorate the achievements of the wider, global gaming industry and how they have championed LGBTQ people through the creative medium of videogames.”
So, where do you start to make a change? Video Game Recruitment and hiring processes are an obvious place to begin. Ask yourself how you hire. Is it from a diverse assortment of sources, as opposed to just your usual pool of contacts and adverts? What language do you use in your copy? Are you taking into consideration cognitive diversity in addition to what many people traditionally consider diversity? If you use headhunters like us, or recruitment consultants, are they held accountable for sourcing a diverse range of candidates? There are a number of resources available to help you examine your recruitment processes.
Beyond introducing new blood into your business, you can develop programmes to provide a supportive path to development and promotion for a diverse mix of your employees. This will lead to a more diverse senior team in the longer term. Ukie’s #RaiseTheGame programme provides practical help and guidance on how you can achieve the change you want
#RaiseTheGame is a “collaborative and high-impact pledge to improve diversity and inclusion in the games industry – creating cultures where everyone belongs, and ideas can thrive.” Alongside a number of video games businesses and industry supporters, we have signed up to the pledge, which holds us all accountable for achieving a much better rate of diversification.
So it is clear that parts of this wonderful industry are genuinely leading the way on diversity, inclusion and positive cultural change, from the games themselves – which have the power to redefine views and educate in a way few other mediums can touch – to many of the brilliant people and organisations who work within the industry and support it. Building diverse teams ultimately leads to a healthier culture, a more diverse output, buy-in from a wider audience, greater innovation, and sustained, profitable business.
As the saying goes: ‘it takes a lot of different flowers to make a bouquet.’ There is undoubtedly still a lot of work to be done.
Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors including video game recruitment, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.