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CGC 2011: Game Developers Discuss Creating Game Diversity

Speaking at the recent Canadian Games Conference, Women in Games Vancouver’s Bryna Dabby and Relic Entertainment’s Mitchell Lagran shared their ideas for creating and catering to a more diverse audience.

Mathew Kumar, Blogger

May 24, 2011

5 Min Read

The closing session for last week's Gamasutra-attended Canadian Games Conference was a "Pecha Kucha," featuring speakers giving presentations featuring 20 slides, with 20 seconds for each slide. Speakers included Women in Games Vancouver's Bryna Dabby and Relic Entertainment's Mitchell Lagran, who both broached the topic of creating a more diverse audience and games for that audience. "I've worked in the games industry for the past 12 years," Dabby said. "When people find that out, they usually ask, 'Do you actually play games?'" She saw this as a symptom of the fact that most games were made for the "magical 18-34 year-old male." "We've been making games for him for a long time, and I don't think we should stop any time soon," she said, but she offered that current developers had to consider the growing diversity of the industry, and go further than just aiming titles at categories as broad as "female gamers." "Female gamers are a very diverse group," she argued. "They range from my mother, who plays Sudoku on her iPhone, to my friends, who play Call of Duty and World of Warcraft on a regular basis." She recognizes one interesting group that developers may not have considered, which she dubbed "second timers": women who had played games at some point in the past and were susceptible to rediscovering them. She considered herself a case study for this group. "Around 1986 my life changed forever," she explained. "I fell in love, and his name was Mario. I begged for an NES for Christmas, and when I got one, games were more than a hobby for me, they were an obsession. For about three solid years my life was spent with a controller in my hand." However, by the time of the release of the SNES in 1991, Dabby admitted she had "discovered boys and makeup" and "didn't ask for one for Christmas." Although she wanted games that she could "pick up and play without time investment", she found few titles to support a more balanced attitude towards gaming than obsession, although she did admit to "playing Doom on the LAN most lunchtimes" while working at an office. She did rediscover games, but she wanted more people to have the feeling of discovery she first felt. She saw the current crop of social games as analogous to the growth of radio content for women in the 1930s. "It was really easy for radio stations to get advertising for the evening timeslots when the entire family would be listening, but it was hard to get them to spend money during the day because they believed that women were simply too busy to listen to the radio. That changed when they invented the soap opera." Dabby considers social games to be "the soap opera of video games" and while she said she felt this was "no bad thing" because getting women of any type to play games is a good step, she felt the industry was relying too heavily on these methods. "There are a ton of new gamers, and we are rushing to meet their needs," she said, adding that by focusing on "female gamers," we are missing more subtle diversity, and that (perhaps surprisingly) the solution was not even more granularity. "If I go to the movies, sure I can pick an action film, or a chick flick, or a horror film, but there are also a lot of films that are not geared towards such specific demographic," she said. "I would like to challenge you as developers to create games that are approachable and accessible but offer a compelling and deep experience that speak to more than just one group." Relic Entertainment's Mitchell Lagran offered his own take on how to make this possible in his own presentation, asking developers to consider making a game not as the goal, but as the means towards a goal. "We've been making the same types of games over and over, and we need to understand our place in culture and diversify what we are doing; I think we need to start creating games for everyone, as right now they are still an exclusive club," he said. However, Lagran said he did not see the limited scope of current games as a symptom of their intended market (the 18-34 year-old male) but instead of developers only aiming to "make a game." "If you only aim to make a game that is 'awesome' then you can end up making something that may be fun, but is otherwise very bland and generic, and we need to have more creative goals to be more diverse." "When I say goals," he explained, "I don't mean technical things. Having, say, the best procedural storytelling in the world is not a goal, that's actually a tool to get to a goal; we have to make sure our goals are based on what we intend the user to experience." He saw a great example of having loftier goals for your game in Thatgamecompany's output, giving an anecdote that he felt made clear his point. "My girlfriend's mother has never understood video games, but somehow [my girlfriend] managed to convince her to play Flower," he said. "She ended up beating the game in less than three afternoons; she was basically hooked on it. Afterwards, she said she didn't realize games could make her feel so many things, or be a vehicle that could help her understand her own life." "We need a shift in the industry to get there," he concluded. "It won't come from new technology, it'll come from changing how we actually think about games; by trying to make them meaningful to the users."

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About the Author(s)

Mathew Kumar


Mathew Kumar is a graduate of Computer Games Technology at the University of Paisley, Scotland, and is now a freelance journalist in Toronto, Canada.

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