Just over two years ago, we dipped our toe into the expansive sea of the esports and gaming industry. Our initial foray into the relatively new space was driven by purpose. We assisted a brand on promoting equality within the gaming world and ran an event that saw 6 female sporting athletes compete against each other to raise awareness around gender, race and ability.
Today, as a team, we are still driven by purpose. Each member of staff has their own personal goals and collectively we form those into a strategy to bring purposeful change to the industries we work in, and to assist our clients where we can with building purpose into their business and marketing strategies.
Most recently three of our team ventured out to London’s EGX trade fair to widen our understanding of the current gaming trends and the industry as a whole. While they were there, all three got the chance to attend panels on accessibility, diversity and inclusion, and neurodivergence.
From these panels it was clear to see that game developers in one shape or another, are doing work in an attempt to level the playing field for all, giving access to a wider community of gamers.
During the Accessibility panel features that were brough up frequently were related to visual impairment, such as high contrast modes, menu narration and audio description for blindness. It turns out that a few titles support these features, with more work needing to be done to implement more features like these into a wider selection of games. Another feature that caught our attention is for people that suffer with tinnitus, players can reduce or even remove sound effects that can cause tinnitus such as high-pitched ringing sounds.
A simple but fundamental area for improvement is the settings menu on almost all titles. Panellists made a strong statement that all adjustable game settings are in fact accessibility settings, even if they aren’t specifically intended to be. From button mapping to volume adjustment, all can have an impact on how games are played, impacting on who has the ability to successfully play and more importantly enjoy the games. This means that all settings are important and having a difficult menu to navigate makes adjusting the game to suit the player impossible in some cases. An intuitive menu makes games playable for more people. There was even talk of standardising menus across the industry making things simpler still.
Moving onto diversity and inclusion, those of us who game regularly or follow the industry will know that there is a lack of representation both in the staffing of the industry and the characters within the playable titles. Quang Nguyen, founder of Asobi.tech said during the Why is Representation important in Video Games Panel “Think about your favourite game that has character generation now, and can you make yourself in that pool?” The answer for non-white males is quite often no. With games that enable players to create a character in their own likeness, restricting any of the options to races or genders creates barrier to entry for players, if they can’t see themselves in the game then players loose a major …. To play. Thankfully, games are becoming more diverse with some titles offering a 50/50 ratio of female to male characters to choose from.
Making the gaming industry more inclusive is a different challenge, one that requires a lot of work with future generations. SEGA have a fantastic programme where they invite an all-girls school to SEGA, to present their work and talk about what they want to do in the gaming industry. Some of the girls then get the ability to be mentored by members of the team at SEGA. Work such as this opens the doors for underrepresented groups who would not normally apply to be in the industry.
Neurodivergence also had its own panel, which has ties to accessibility and inclusion. Neurodivergent gamers have their own specific needs, from ADHD to Autism. A large portion of the audience needs additional support to complete and compete in video games. Settings were once again a hot topic within the panel. Talk of standardising all games was taken further when Autistic Consultant, Connor Ward suggested that an API for settings could be created enabling developers to easily manage their in-game settings making standardisation even easier. “It would be so easy, there are so many commonalities between each game, why aren’t we just doing it? It would take several big developers to come together and define what it would look like. It’s the only way it would work, although getting the list of requirements would be easy. It could be possible and should be.”
The major takeaway by our team that visited EGX is that the gaming industry like many other industries is beginning to build up momentum on changing the current landscape when it comes to inclusion. 20% of gamers are disabled, with a much higher percentage being from diverse backgrounds. Levelling the playing field is therefore a vital part of its continued growth. It is clear to see that a lot of the work is being done for the right reasons, however, it also makes great business sense to be more inclusive. 20% is a very large portion of the market that can easily be catered for with some clever and innovative development.