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Game Over: Parting thoughts from the Game Developer team


July 4, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

New Voices for Video Games

Recently, we've seen conversations about inclusion, diversity, and the game industry pop up at trade shows and conferences, on web sites, forums, Twitter, and just about everywhere else. This is not a new conversation, though it is perhaps louder now than it has been in recent memory.

Each year, our Salary Survey pegs the gender ratio in the game industry at about 89 percent male, give or take a percentage point or two. For comparison's sake, a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce called "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation" found that women held 24 percent of STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and 27 percent of jobs specifically categorized as "computer science and math." You read that right: The game industry's gender ratio is twice as bad as the overall STEM fields' ratio.

This is a problem. There is no legitimate normative reason why creating video games should be overwhelmingly a function performed by men. Fortunately, we're beginning to see the barriers to creating, distributing, and playing games come crumbling down, which has given rise to quite a few new groups of people making and playing games. What's more, these new voices in video games are often making games for themselves and each other, which serves to expand the medium's potential both from a creative aspect (discovering new messages and mechanics) and a business aspect (popularizing video games as an entertainment form to new consumer demographics, and deepening games' reach for a higher yearly per-person spend). It's good for everyone, and it's good for games.

The barrier to entry isn't technical; it's cultural. We take it as a basic truth that people get into this business in order to make games that they themselves would like to play. When the industry is historically composed of young men making games for other young men to play, you end up creating a culture around the medium that is also by men, for men. And, at its worst, this culture can be insular, defensive, exclusionary, and downright nasty when prodded to change its ways. Thus far, games have done an excellent job of making money—as an industry, we've eclipsed both recorded music and Hollywood—but as a medium of mass communication it still isn't taken very seriously. As long as game development is primarily the domain of young men, we don't see this changing significantly.

We've framed this conversation so far strictly in terms of gender, but the same could be said for sexuality, race, economic class, and so forth. It's no coincidence, we think, that criticism of game industry's same-ness, particularly in the triple-A mainstream, has continued to grow louder as we've seen more not-white, not-male, not-straight, not-middle-class people start to make games. And when we look at the devs that are admired within the industry— the people who do the creative work that inspires us to do better—we're seeing that more of these folks are the not-white, not-male, not-straight, not-middle-class people who are gradually making games their medium, too.

As a trend, we expect this to continue in fits and spurts, and we're looking forward to that. However, it would be negligent on our part to assume that this trend will continue without asking that good people out there continue to do their hard work to make the game development community more supportive and welcoming. (Many of these people are contributors and friends of Game Developer , so if you're reading this: Thank you.)

We all owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and our community to make video games as accessible and open as possible, however we can. This could mean initiating and encouraging institutional changes and ideological shifts to further break down these walls; or, perhaps, we can just start by scrutinizing our own individual behavior and attitudes and systematically eliminating the ones which may cause ourselves or our colleagues to behave like assholes despite our best intentions.

Community Management is Important

As journalists, we understand journalism. That doesn't just mean that we understand how to write stories. It may seem like a simple job, isolated from reality, but in 2013, it sure isn't. Just like you have a big picture of your industry and your career, so must we. This is the last issue of Game Developer magazine, so this might sound especially portentous, but look, you have a choice here, too. Not only is it increasingly obvious that you have the opportunity to take control of your relationship with your players, but it has also become quite clear that the players prefer it that way.

The truth of the matter is that we expected things to be much further along this road by now. Why is Nintendo the only major platform holder that completely controls its game announcements, going straight to fans with its Nintendo Direct presentations? Many of the big developers have community strategies -- usually hiring from their player bases or recruiting ex-journalists -- but these strategies look a little myopic at times, inasmuch as they seem based around preserving the status quo of community rather than expanding its role either outward or inward. You can slap a pearlescent purple coat of paint on a 1990s Quake clan, but that's what it is, at its heart. The rest is marketing, and that's not a real connection.

This work doesn't all have to be done by the big guys, and it doesn't all have to be done in one specific way. People are now waking up to the idea of crowdfunding -- fine. But your community is a huge asset across all vectors, and you need smart people figuring out how to best harness it, not just communicate to it or manipulate it for short-term gain. You should be thinking very specifically about how your community likes to interact with you, what they like about your game ,who they are, and how to reach them. We've seen developers use community members for bug tracking, design ideas—whatever. What's more, this is particularly important for smaller devs who might not have direct access to their player communities (if you're publishing mostly on mobile app stores, for example) -- track them down and forge a strong relationship with them. It's an investment in your future (and your future games). At the same time, when the community comes running with the pitchforks, defend your creative vision; if you don't respect it, no one else will.


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