Is your gaming platform driving away players? Four steps to build an inclusive gaming community

People from all walks of life join the gaming world to have fun, escape reality, express themselves, and become part of a community with similar interests. However, these positives are not being truly realised, as just a third of gamers feel included in the gaming community. Different types of abuse, exclusionary game and character design, and industry perceptions are deterring players, hindering their enjoyment, and limiting their engagement. And this is impacting some gamers more than others.

In January 2023, we conducted a survey of a diverse group of 2,000 gamers across the UK and US to uncover their perceptions of inclusion within video games and their surrounding culture. We also identified the factors that create the biggest barriers to an inclusive gaming experience. Our sample included gamers aged 18 and over from a variety of backgrounds, representing different genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Participants also represented a mix of preferred gaming platforms, including mobile, console, and PC-gamers.

Our findings focus on four areas to help gaming companies break down barriers to make video games more inclusive, support gamers from different backgrounds, and ultimately create a more enjoyable experience for all players.

1 in 3 gamers feel there is not enough character customization in games they play

1. Revolutionise representation

To create a truly inclusive gaming experience, it's essential to embrace diverse characters and storylines. Our research shows that four in ten gamers of colour feel there is insufficient representation of different races or cultures in single player games – and some of the representation that does exist is inauthentic and causes offence. Lack of representation translates to feelings of exclusion for twice as many gamers of colour compared with white gamers.

Almost half of LGBTQ+ gamers agree that there is insufficient representation of sexualities and gender diversity in gaming. This absence of representation, along with the lack of female lead characters, LGBTQ+ characters, and limited character customisation, prevent some of the LGBTQ+ community from playing or buying a game if they cannot identify with playable characters.

1 in 3 gamers feel there is not enough representation of different races in the games they play

This amplifies the importance of developing games with diverse characters and storylines, and offering extensive customisation options that empower players to create avatars reflecting their own unique identities. Being mindful of representation and prioritising accessibility for all abilities, while giving options to cater for different needs and preferences ensures that everyone can enjoy the gaming experience.

3 in 4 female, non-white, LGBTQ+, and disabled gamers want stricter regulations for text-based and voice-based abuse, and stricter punishments for insulting/abusive behaviour

2. Create a zero-tolerance zone

To protect marginalised communities in the gaming world, stronger regulations must be enforced. Nearly half of female gamers believe sexism is an issue in the gaming community. This is partly driven by the harassment they experience online with three in five having experienced abuse relating to their gender and over two in five having experienced sexual harassment. For gamers of colour, nearly half have personally experienced racial abuse, particularly those from Black and Asian backgrounds. The abuse results in a reluctance to purchase or play games.

In response, almost three-quarters of our total respondents are demanding stricter sanctions for those engaging in insulting and abusive behaviour. To create a zero-tolerance zone, games publishers and designers need to implement and enforce stricter sanctions for abusive behaviour. They’ll also need to streamline processes to make it easier for players to report abusive behaviour. Establishing support platforms deters toxic behaviour and protects and empowers gamers to act when faced with abuse.

2 in 3 female, LGBTQ+, and disabled gamers want to see gaming companies include underrepresented communities in the game development process

3. Become inclusive inside-out

Creating inclusive games starts from within. Two-thirds of gamers of colour want gaming companies to promote and demonstrate racial diversity in the workplace, while just shy of two-thirds of female gamers expect companies to promote and demonstrate gender diversity.

By cultivating diverse work environments, gaming companies can ensure the worlds they create are authentically representative of the player base. Collaborating with underrepresented communities and employing diverse leadership within the company can help promote and influence the diversity and inclusivity of games.

Currently, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system in the US and the European video game rating system PEGI have guidelines and standards to address diversity and representation in games. However, these provide the bare minimum in terms of standards. It’s up to publishers and developers to go above and beyond to truly accommodate gamers’ wants, needs, and preferences.

Some brands are already making headway in this area, with Naughty Dog including a lead LGBTQ+ female character in The Last of Us Part II, and CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 opening the door to more customisation options than has been traditionally seen. As more brands follow suit, gamers will have a more representative gaming experience that offers a sense of the acceptance of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

3 in 4 female, LGBTQ+, and disabled gamers want to see gaming companies be more vocal on social media against toxicity in gaming

4. Amplify allyship

Nearly three-quarters of female gamers want game companies to be more vocal on social media against prejudice in gaming. Over half of LGBTQ+ members expect gaming companies to take a stand on humanitarian movements.

To truly make a difference, gaming companies should form partnerships with content creators and social media influencers to raise awareness of inclusivity and combat in-game abuse.

Demonstrating a commitment to inclusion through charity support and community engagement further strengthens the message that everyone is welcome in the gaming world.

Levelling up the gaming experience means going beyond advanced graphics and gameplay. By understanding the diverse needs of gamers, we can unlock valuable insights for a more welcoming and enjoyable environment for all.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people want more diverse, representative, and inclusive gaming experiences. However, without the data to back this up, the industry historically hasn’t seen the urgency of addressing this issue. Our recent survey adds validation to the conversation and creates more incentive for leaders to look inward at their teams, and outward at their products to create a safe, engaging community for all players.

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