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Representation with intention | GDC 2024

Day one of the 2024 Game Developers Conference opened with a session about fostering inclusivity and diversity in game communities, with panellists giving a welcome reminder about why this matters and the obstacles standing in the way.

Hosted by Gamesight head of creator programs Jennifer Zall, the panel featured Capcom’s senior brand marketing manager Jaclyn Simmons and senior manager for social media and community Andy Wong, as well as Lilith Games senior brand marketing manager Kayla Mansell (formerly manager of global creator relations and marketing at 2K).

The talk emphasised how fostering inclusivity in your community can only grow your game and be good for your business, with the panellists highlighting how many issues come from the industry relying on some bad habits that die hard.

“One of the biggest obstacles that I have faced comes down to the core factor that people don’t like change,” Mansell said. “We spent so long in this industry doing everything the same way and people are like, ‘Well, we did it like this once and then it made lots of money so let’s keep doing it’. But the world is changing and we need to be able to adapt and change with it.

“Especially when we think about social media – the world is so huge but it’s really becoming so small. And in order for us to be global, we have to think global. We have to think about those cultural barriers and the access that we’re giving to these games. So I’m huge on education. There are so many free resources out there [on] how we break through these cultural biases as well, because even if you don’t realise it, we all have them. So being able to take a step back is really important.”

Wong, who works on the Capcom Creators program as part of his responsibilities, highlighted that there is also still a barrier in having executives understand that diversity does positively impact a company.

“When you want these diversity initiatives at a game company, you often need buy-in from executives and from directors and it’s up to us to decide and to build up a presentation of sorts on how these programs do positively affect overall growth and sales,” he explained. “I think that’s important to executives. And we do need to prove that and there are a lot of numbers out there. So that is a challenge but, just from doing this for so long, I think most executives that I’ve worked with have been really open to things.”

Simmons mentioned how tokenism is something she’s encountered throughout her career and encouraged companies to think with authenticity.

“To me [tokenism] means while the effort is there, if there’s no solid foundation, if there are no goals, if there’s no [good] intention behind it, or even thought leaders that can help establish those goals, then you’re kind of just building the community just to build it rather than building something [that’s] well thought out and intentioned,” she said.

“So that’s always something: what are you trying to shoot for? Is it representation? Is it trying to get feedback from different types of folks within your community? How are they able to express their voices and how can that be applied to the quality of the community within your game or even the company? And how does that reflect into visible results. Because we want to continue to be better with those programs.”

All three panellists really emphasised the importance of data, as there’s been multiple studies over the years demonstrating that diversity is beneficial from a business point of view, despite what toxic fringes of the game community think. They also shared why it obviously immensely matters from a human point of view.

“Diversity matters because it just reflects our world,” Wong said. “I’m a native San Franciscan so it’s great to see everyone from different backgrounds here. [Growing up], in games and movies, there wasn’t a lot of Asian representation. And there still isn’t. And I make an effort to always look for the Asian representation – I’ll watch these movies, I’ll play those games. And to get that spark of joy, to just see someone that looks like me out there, it’s a completely different feeling and I want that feeling for everyone else.

“So when there’s people that don’t look like me, I celebrate that because I want them to have that spark of joy. I want them to feel seen. I want everyone to feel seen. Not just someone like me. And I think that’s super important overall in any sort of gaming and entertainment because games are for literally everyone.”

Mansell added that representation matters in every aspect of a game.

“When we’re planning our marketing campaigns and for influencer marketing especially, I’m really huge about ensuring that there’s representation not only in the game, but how we market it. It’s very, very important.

“When you see people from different backgrounds and genders celebrating something that you love so much together, it really helps bring into that togetherness, and I think that is something that is so important, especially for me growing up – I came from a very diverse background in a not very diverse area. And I will admit, there have been several times where I went home and cried because I wasn’t Black enough, I wasn’t white enough, I wasn’t Asian enough.

“So being able to bring that into my marketing campaigns is so important because I never want that little girl or little boy to go home and be like, ‘I’m not good enough to be in this’.”

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