For all the online backlash publishers face for including inclusive features in their games, it's a relatively small portion of the audience making all the noise, according to a recent research study conducted by Electronic Arts.
In a post on EA's official Medium account this month, Jenny Shi of EA's Global Consumer Insights team wrote about the results of an online survey of 2,252 US gamers between the ages of 13 and 54 last May. She identified four main takeaways from the survey results, first and foremost being that most players want to see inclusion in their games.
As examples of what inclusion looks like, the survey suggested character customization options for a variety of skin colors and body sizes, narratives featuring culturally diverse characters, features for people with special needs, and healthy and friendly in-game chat experiences.
"While backlash against efforts to be inclusive in gaming can seem loud at times, it comes from a minority of players"
When asked how important it was to make games more inclusive, 56% said it was important, 31% were neutral on the topic, and 13% said it was not important. The numbers shifted a little when the survey asked how such features affected players' decisions, with 45% saying it made them more likely to play a game, 48% saying it had no impact, and just 7% saying it made them less likely to play a game.
"While backlash against efforts to be inclusive in gaming can seem loud at times, it comes from a minority of players," Shi said, adding, "These findings should validate and encourage game developers to incorporate inclusive content in their games."
Another big takeaway along the same lines is that representation of diversity in the industry is both important and improving. Whether respondents were men or women, white or non-white, more than 50% of each category agreed that representation was getting better in recent years, while low single digits (2% or 3%) said it was getting worse.
"Despite the notable increase in representation, many players stress that diversity and inclusion shouldn't simply be a check box for game developers and that it should come from a genuine place," Shi noted. "They don't just want to see more variety of characters. They also want those characters to seem authentic and have substantial, meaningful roles instead of falling into stereotypes."
As for how to achieve that, Shi said it helps to have a diverse group of developers making games.
"There is a big opportunity to manage disruptive behavior and toxicity, as these are the areas where players think the industry has least improved..."
"As creative professionals, game developers frequently draw from their own personal experiences when creating content," she said. "With a diverse player audience comes a need for a wide breadth of content in storytelling, character roles, and customization. To get to a wide breadth of content, it helps to have creators and developers from different backgrounds, identities, and cultures. As a hiring manager myself, I've found it beneficial to have diversity training that help each of us do our part in diversifying the gaming workforce."
Going beyond diversity, Shi also stressed the importance of tackling toxicity within the player base. 61% of respondents said they were concerned about toxicity in the games industry, more than any other potential concern except for game quality and significantly above lack of original content (56%), microtransactions and DLC (49%), representation (40%), and violence in games (36%).
"There is a big opportunity to manage disruptive behavior and toxicity, as these are the areas where players think the industry has least improved but are important to get right," Shi said. "Considering that most console and PC games have social components to them - in fact, many of these games depend on voice chat as a winning strategy - managing disruptive behavior and toxicity should be a priority focus for all game developers working on multiplayer games."
Finally, Shi underscored the effect that toxicity in the industry is having on the diversity of the playerbase. Specifically, she said that women in games face more barriers to playing online multiplayer, with many citing poor behavior and toxicity from other players as a reason to stay away.
However, it's not just women that get driven away by toxicity. EA asked those who don't play online multiplayer games what might make them give it a shot, and one-third of men and one-third of women both replied that tackling disruptive behavior and toxicity would do the trick. It was the most common response from either gender, at least 12 percentage points higher than any other option except one. (30% of women said limiting violence in games would make them reconsider online multiplayer, while just 10% of men would have given it another chance for that reason.)
"The next step of the research will focus on defining disruptive behavior, identifying what causes it, and determining what the most effective consequences should be," Shi said. "I plan on continuing to share those results with other gaming professionals in hopes of encouraging healthy and inclusive social spaces in games across the industry."