Marketers and game developers are starting to wake up to the fact that the gaming market is not a monolith of young, white men, due to a combination of new players entering the space and an increased focus on gamers who have always been there.
Nearly half (46%) of gamers are women, 20% are Latinx, 15% are Black and 5% are Asian American. Sixteen percent are LGBTQIA+ and 31% have a disability, according to a study from games market data tracking website Newzoo.
But while game developers and brands seek to embrace a broader demographic, a lack of diversity within gaming companies and agencies means progress has been slow.
Today, white men make up the majority of the gaming industry’s workforce. Women accounted for about 24% of game developers in 2019. That same workforce was 81% white, according to a diversity survey conducted by the International Game Developers Association, a global network of game development professionals.
Many large game developers and publishers, including Epic, Ubisoft, Zynga and Niantic, don’t publish diversity numbers, according to Protocol.
A lack of diversity within gaming companies reinforces perceptions of old-fashioned gamer culture. Look no further back than 2021, when “frat boy” behavior at Blizzard led to sexual harassment and discrimination claims.
In Bizzard’s case, toxic workplace culture for women and people of color started from the top. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick donated $50,000 to Mike Garcia, U.S. representative for California's 25th congressional district, during the 2022 midterms. The Republican politician protested the 2020 election results and has voted against women’s reproductive rights several times.
Activision Blizzard stopped responding to requests for an interview for this piece. Riot Games and Unity also declined to speak on their internal diversity efforts, and Epic and Xbox did not respond to interview requests. Zynga and Electronic Arts did not comment in time for publication.
Lack of internal diversity impacts external perception
According to Cary Kwok, EVP, head of gaming, digital entertainment and lifestyle tech at BerlinRosen, agencies also lack enough diverse talent to staff up on their gaming accounts, which, in turn, leads to less inclusive messaging that doesn’t tap into the full potential of the gaming audience.
“From a PR perspective, we have a job to really help drive awareness to the importance of DE&I within the community,” she said. “It’s not so much that agencies are not recruiting diverse workers; the pool is not very diverse to begin with. So how can we attract the right people to get into the gaming industry?”
Getting in front of talent at a young age is one solution, such as developing programming that encourages kids in schools to embrace the gaming industry as a market full of viable career paths.
“You’re seeing a lot more universities having a gaming design major, which wasn’t a thing before,” Kwok said. “Gaming is not just for entertainment, it can be a profession.”
She suggested that as more schools embrace these programs, gaming companies and agencies may start to catch up to their increasingly diverse consumers.
But today, gaming developers aren’t staffing their agency accounts with diverse teams. In fact, gaming specialty agencies themselves are often just as monocultural as the clients they service.
A lack of internal diversity and transparency within game developers can color the ways brands approach the space — especially if they still think of it as a boys’ club.
“You’re putting together games that reflect the same level of understanding of your diverse audience,” Kwok said. “To do that, you need to have different people with different backgrounds sitting at the table. From a business perspective, looking at a consumer is definitely a driving factor to make sure there’s good enough representation internally.”
According to Sarah Iooss, Twitch’s head of sales in the Americas, it’s important that advertisers understand and embrace the diverse makeup of folks watching gaming streams as well.
“We want to make sure that we don’t repeat mistakes previous generations have made by not understanding youth and younger adults’ attitudes towards diversity and intersectionality,” she said. “This is table stakes and it should be reflected in marketing.”
Consumer brands are driving inclusive gaming marketing
Despite a lack of diversity within the walls of game developers and their agencies, many brands are recognizing the potential of an ever-expanding audience.
Often, it’s brands from outside of the gaming world looking to reach audiences on gaming platforms driving more diverse initiatives.
Pete Basgen, director of sports and live at Wavemaker, said that as more marketers realize the vast demographic reach of gamers, new sectors such as cosmetics are getting into the space with more inclusive approaches.
Dove, for instance, recently partnered with Women in Games to launch a campaign that uses Epic’s Unreal Engine to depict women more realistically, creating avatars with different races, varying body shapes and disabilities. The brand cited that 83% of teen girls say that they play video games in their spare time, but a majority of them wish women in games looked more like they do in real life.
Beauty brand Tatcha also created its own island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
“We’re finding those spaces and looking at how we can put media behind it and extend those opportunities to drive women into these experiences,” said Sarah Salter, global head of applied innovation at Wavemaker.
Diverse marketing efforts not only open up gaming to new audiences, but shift the narratives and perceptions that come out of the industry.
“If, as a studio or publisher, you believe in DE&I, your content has to reflect that,” said BerlinRosen’s Kwok. “If it doesn’t, then it’s all talk and no action. That wouldn’t last — you could do that with one round of coverage and then that’s going to backfire.”
This story first appeared on Campaign US.