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Why gaming still hasn’t got identity right, and what advertisers can do to help
September 3, 2021
There has been a lot of talk recently around the lack of diverse representation within the games industry. As it matures and continues to attract billions of players from across the globe, conversations around this will only grow. Games publishers and advertisers who are increasingly turning to gaming for its diverse audience will need to ensure the spaces they are creating and appearing in are diverse, inclusive, and represent the world around them.
In 2020, women accounted for nearly 41% of all gamers in the United States. And in Asia, which accounts for 48% of the world’s total gaming revenue, women now make up 40-45% of the Asian gaming population, according to Google and Niko Partners. What’s more, a survey from last year by Nielsen Games 360 found that 10% of all gamers over the age of 18 identify as LGBTQ+.
If this is the case, then why are we still struggling to create games with diverse representation?
The image that many people still have of a typical gamer being a teenage boy playing video games in the darkness of his bedroom is extremely damaging. It lets game developers get away with underrepresentation within their games. If all gamers are teenage boys, what’s wrong with the majority of game protagonists being male? Once the world finally accepts that this view is as outdated as women not being able to enjoy action films or sports games, perhaps we will finally be able to start making games for everyone and not just a select few.
Another issue discussed a lot recently is how people are treated within the games industry, especially in larger corporations. If most senior and decision-making roles within gaming are held by people who look, sound and act the same, then it’s no wonder that we aren’t seeing fair representation within the games that these studios are pushing out. A recent diversity study on the state of gaming found that nearly 80% of video game characters are male.
There are of course many exceptions, and there have been several games with interesting and profound characters that have pushed past the stereotypes to create some amazing playable characters. SteamWorld Heist, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action, A Hat In TIme, and Night in the Woods are just a few great examples of titles where players can take on the roles of protagonists who are very different from the Mario, Sonic, and Master Chief characters that have become so synonymous with gaming.
There is an argument that games studios based in countries where equal rights do not exist cannot create games with fair representation as they risk being shut down or never published. Surely this means that studios located in places with fair representation and equal rights should be doing all they can to make their games more diverse and inclusive. This will ensure they correctly represent their society and allow players within regions where equal rights don’t exist to experience these games and learn for themselves how important it is to represent everyone. Just as the music, film, and TV industries have created content that’s influenced social movements and helped people to understand others and spur people on to fight for what they believe in, the games industry, which is now bigger than all of these industries combined, has a chance to do the same.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, we’ve seen some great AAA games with diverse representation released over the past few years. This includes Naughty dog’s The Last Of Us Part II, whose main characters are female and in a same-sex relationship, Insomniac’s latest addition to the long-standing Ratchet and Clank franchise where players take control of a female character for the first time, and upcoming game Hogwarts Legacy which recently announced that it will include transgender characters when it comes out next year.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart’s new female lead - Rivet. Credit: Sony
However, there is an argument that although many games try to include diverse characters, they end up leaning on unhelpful and often harmful stereotypes because the developers are creating characters from their own biases. Voice artist Ryan Laughton who has voiced characters in hit games including Warframe, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, and Hitman 2, said: “As an industry, we are slowly moving in the right direction when it comes to diversity in games. However, it is vital that game developers are focusing on authentic representation. Surrounding yourself with a diverse team of talent will help avoid any disrespectful stereotypes that so regularly come attached to minority characters.”
Many of the games we have referenced so far include predetermined playable characters; however, large online multiplayer games like Fortnite and Roblox that give you the freedom to create an avatar are becoming increasingly popular, especially with younger players, and give gamers the freedom to choose how they represent themselves within the virtual world. These platforms where players are coming together to not only play but consume content, socialize and create are quickly becoming metaverses which is where many people believe the internet as we know it today is headed.
Ensuring diverse representation exists within these spaces and giving users the tools to express themselves will be extremely important going forward. Today many people choose to express themselves by how their social media profiles look but in the future, this will be done via virtual avatars, which will be used to navigate shared experiences within online platforms. Facebook has realized that this is where things are headed and has announced that it is working on building out its own corner of the metaverse where users will be able to hang out, play, work, and create together in virtual spaces hosted by the social media giant.
Inside Gucci experience. Credit: Roblox
Many brands, including Gucci, Nike, and Disney, already offer branded outfits and items within Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft. As these platforms continue to grow, many more opportunities will open up for brands to get involved, helping players express themselves in new and exciting ways.
When it comes to story-led games where the characters are predetermined, advertisers have a duty to ensure that they correctly represent their audience if they choose to advertise within these games. At Anzu, the world’s leading in-game advertising company, we work hard to match advertisers with the right games to ensure they are reaching the right audience and appearing within games that correctly represent the people they are trying to reach. As in-game advertising continues to build momentum and becomes a reliable and sustainable source of revenue for games publishers, it’s going to become increasingly important for them to ensure their games meet a certain standard to attract brands and agencies who will be increasingly wary of what games their ads are appearing in.
To hear more on how gaming has become an outlet and an encouragement for many to be who they want to be and what advertisers can learn from the gaming industry, check out Anzu’s latest webinar on demand here.
This article is the second in a series from Anzu, launched to help people understand just how diverse the gaming audience is. You can check out the first in the series, focused on the age of gamers, here.