The elephant in the room at PAX East this year was the Dickwolves controversy. Whatever one’s particular opinion on the matter, there was near unanimous agreement that Penny Arcade had handled the event poorly. David Edison, of gaygamer.net, speaking at an IGDA panel on diversity said that the situation was “a potentially wonderful teachable moment that lacked a teacher.”
The incident made some uncomfortable enough to boycott PAX East, including Courtney Stanton, founder of the Boston Women in Games meetup and an advocate for diversity within the games industry.
Other groups who had already committed to attending PAX decided to incorporate a response to the controversy as part of their booths, like the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT game lab which had a video running on hate speech in online games.
The IGDA’s response was a pair of panels at the IGDA dev center on the subject of diversity in the games industry. The first,“Growing Your Market,” focused on diversity within games themselves, while the second, “One of Us” focused on diversity within the community of gamers.
“Growing Your Market” showed that diversity in the games industry isn’t just a good idea, it represents a vast, untapped market. The panel consisted of Kate Edwards, Principal Consultant & Founder of Englobe Inc, N’Gai Croal, Consultant/Writer/Columnist, currently for Hit Detection LLC, Alex Horn, Writer for Big Huge Games/38 Studios, and Tobi Saulnier, CEO & Founder of 1st Playable Productions.
Moderator Alex Horn started off with some surprising statistics detailing just how huge some of the minority markets are. The ESA currently estimates that females make up 40% of all game players, with over 130 million women estimated playing online PC games. Nintendo estimates they make up 25% of the console market.
The Hispanic market is one of the fastest growing markets, and has a purchasing power of over 12 trillion dollars, more than all other minority markets combined. The LGBT, market, on the other, has 845 billion dollars of buying power as well as extreme brand loyalty, resilience to economic situations, and tends to be early adopters and trend setters. “There’s overwhelming data out there that just suggests that there are these vast untapped markets that we are not marketing to and that we are not making games for,” said Alex Horn.
N’Gai Croal helped to explain how the risk adverse nature of the games industry makes it difficult to innovate in new directions. Particularly it’s a problem with publicly traded companies like Activision, who want to present their stockholders with a compelling portfolio.
Tobi Saulnier also mentioned that people who go into the industry want to make a game for themselves, think about the games they’ve played or the games they want to play. In order to serve under served markets, designers would have to “move away from what you want and satisfying what your own vision is, and do something because you’re imagining your younger sibling, your parent, your relative, or somebody you know who has a unique situation they have to deal with,” she said. “It’s much harder, she continued, because you can’t rely on your own intuition anymore.”
The second panel “One of Us,” had Alex Horn hosting with Mark Barlet, President & CEO of The AbleGamers Foundation, Inc., Alexandra Raymond, Writer for The Borderhouse Blog, Regina Buenaobra,Community Manager for ArenaNet and fellow Borderhouse writer and David Edison, Writer for Gaygamer.net. They responded to the Penny Arcade controversy quite directly, but they also made it clear how necessary it is for the games industry to be involved in the gamer community, beyond just the games they make.
While services like Xbox live are moderated heavily, it was very clear from the experience of the panelists that part of the reason communities like the Borderhouse and Gaygamer.net exist is because marginalized gamers don’t feel safe in other spaces. It’s a big enough problem that it costs players.
Above all else, though, the panelists agreed it was positive leadership that helped end discrimination and hate speech. Blogs, websites, communities (and webcomics) that tolerate hate speech, even with silence, tend to attract people who feel that their views are being validated. But leadership that makes clear that hate won’t be tolerated creates a community in which marginalized groups can feel safe.
Andrew Vanden Bossche is a freelance writer and columnist. His column, Design Diversions, runs on GameSetWatch and Gamasutra. His blog, Mammonmachine.blogspot.com, has occasionally been updated.