The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Entertainment Entertainment Marketing: Movies, TV, Music and Gaming Gaming

‘Pretty good for a girl’: How your brand is hindering gender equality in gaming

By Sara Heritage, Creative

Ear to the Ground


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

March 25, 2024 | 9 min read

Gamergate, now 10 years old, was no flash in the pan. For The Drum’s entertainment focus week, games journalist and marketer Sara Heritage lays out the sexism still endemic in gaming – and the role brands can play in tackling it.

A woman with her fingers in the shape of a gun infront of gaming-style neon signs

Many brands have tried to use their clout for good in gaming. Not all succeed. / Andre Hunter via Unplash

I’m a games journalist as well as Ear to the Ground’s gaming and e-sports creative. I’ve helped some of the biggest endemic and non-endemic brands in the world play authentically in gaming spaces.

I also play a lot of games in my spare time. And I’m a woman.

Which means a lot of gaming fans hate me.

Is gaming a scary space for brands and women?

Video games, once considered a niche hobby for teenage boys, now dominate your audience’s free time.

Estimates of the number of gamers worldwide go as high as 3 billion (though that number is disputed). Brands that invest in gaming can reap benefits like heightened emotional connection with a dedicated fanbase, stronger brand preference, and increased sales.

But it’s not all fun and games.

If you’re a brand manager looking to get your brand into gaming, it’s easy to feel wary about getting into this highly engaged and profitable space. Fears about wasting money and resources, as well as missing ROI, come from the fact brands don’t truly understand the gaming community, warts and all.

Some nefarious players online push misogynistic narratives to young, impressionable, and often male gamers. This manifests itself in sexist comments to girls and women on mic, targeted hate towards female streamers/pro players, and even hate directed at men who speak to women normally when playing together.

But brands have an unavoidable role to play in leaving the space a better, safer, and friendlier place to play if they want to reap those commercial benefits.

The community problem

Gaming doesn’t have a diversity problem; it has a toxicity problem.

Sexism in gaming goes deeper than ‘girls can’t play’. It fundamentally changes the experience for millions, perhaps billions, of fans across the globe.

In Ear to the Ground’s recent Toxicity Report, we leveraged 11,000 global fans in our Fan Intelligence Network to speak to female gamers about the impact sexism has on the gaming landscape, and how brands can make gaming a more inclusive and enjoyable space for all.

A recurring theme was that female gamers often feel that brands enter the scene for a quick win, perpetuating harmful stereotypes even when they aim to level the playing field.

So: what pitfalls should brands avoid? An approach that solves community and brand issues will start by understanding the dynamics of gaming, then proceed by building campaigns rooted in value and authenticity.

Pitfall 1: Failing to safeguard female talent

A common misconception in gaming is that brands can solve sexism by using female gaming talent as the face of their campaigns. While the intention (to improve diversity and representation in gaming) is noble, brands often misunderstand the danger they place these women in without appropriate safeguarding measures.

Remember the case of transgender woman Dylan Mulvaney and beer brand Bud Light, where the influencer spoke out on how the brand never reached out to do a welfare check after the backlash of transphobic hate she received. In gaming, a market so rife with hatred towards women, the message should be clear.

Fans want to see brands authentically commit to improving representation. Simply using female talent and paying lip-service to the sexism they experience by ‘moderating comments’ or ‘educating bigots’ isn’t enough.

Pitfall 2: Shying away from lived experiences

Makeup brand Maybelline New York won praise from female audiences by actively calling out sexism in its ‘Through Their Eyes’ campaign.

The brand ‘feminized’ the voices of popular (male) gaming creators Joel ‘JoelBergs’ Bergs and Drew ‘DrewD0g’ Warne. As they played online, they were shocked by the hate they received, opening the conversation for treating female gamers with respect.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

Pitfall 3: Not understanding why sexism prevails

The work we do in the gaming space can either contribute to or tackle the root causes of this sexism: boys can feel empowered to be sexist IRL because of the objectification of female characters in games.

Dove, for example, joined forces with Women in Games and the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR) to shed light on how unrealistic beauty standards in video games negatively impact young female players. The data showed that 74% of girls wish more female characters in games looked like women in real life, while 62% of women feel misrepresented in gaming. To help tackle sexism and help normalize real beauty, the beauty brand partnered with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and Women in Games to train game creators, developers and artists around the world to create a broader representation of women in gaming.

Pitfall 4: Alienating women

Another well-meaning trap is creating a ‘safe space’ for women that, while meaning to create an inclusive and respectful gaming environment, can backfire, separating women from the wider community. In some cases, this can have the unintended side effect of legitimizing the sexist belief that women ‘can’t handle banter’.

Collaborating with Xbox and Esports U, Paidia, a vibrant, women-led gaming community, made history in collegiate esports, sponsoring the first all-women’s Valorant team to compete in the Collegiate Esports Commissioner's Cup (CECC), the largest such event in North America. This collaboration fearlessly championed its real-world impact, blazing a trail for aspiring female e-sports athletes everywhere.

The ultimate win for brands

Converting gaming fans into customers requires, at the very least, acknowledgment of the real-life experiences of female audiences – and addressing those experiences. An approach that understands these community dynamics and builds campaigns rooted in solving community needs is crucial. By providing authentic solutions that tackle the root causes of issues and champion the reality of women everywhere, brands can establish trust and credibility within the gaming community.

Consistency is paramount. A single initiative simply won’t win over gamers, and can harm brand reputation. Collaborating with reputable organizations and embracing valuable partnerships can help to unlock the next level.

Love games, movies, TV, music, and podcasts? Us too. Head over to The Drum’s dedicated entertainment focus week hub.

Entertainment Entertainment Marketing: Movies, TV, Music and Gaming Gaming

Content by The Drum Network member:

Ear to the Ground

Ear to the Ground is an award-winning strategic creative agency that specialises in sports, esports and gaming. We create highly impactful and effective campaigns...

Find out more

More from Entertainment

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +