Driving inclusivity and belonging in gaming

Principles for developers on how to make games more relevant to more players

Zuzanna Dzieciątkowska
May 29 · 7 min read

With over 2.3 billion game-players worldwide in 2018 (Source: Newzoo 2018), more people are gaming, watching eSports and attending gaming conventions & meet-ups than ever. Gaming culture is no longer niche, and today, it sits at the heart of global popular culture. This number shows that several people — and among them many women — are bringing gaming and gaming culture into their everyday lives. Still, many women playing feel that games are lagging behind other areas of entertainment and a lot can be done to achieve greater inclusivity in gaming.

Traditionally, the attention of the industry has been focused on a smaller population of professional gamers, streamers and seasoned console purists who live and breathe established titles. However, there is a significant population of women playing who spend several hours per day or week gaming and enjoy a variety of genres & platforms, but who do not necessarily identify as ‘gamers’:

So, how can the gaming industry make games and gaming culture more relevant to more players?

To answer this question, in partnership with The Future Laboratory, we’ve conducted three months of in-depth consumer research to understand women who play games. We talked with a variety of young women, who spend several hours per day or week gaming and enjoy different genres and devices. After spending time immersed in their gaming world, the research revealed numerous insights on how & what they like to play and how they engage with the gaming community.

To take advantage of this strategic opportunity, we bring you four principles on how to drive greater inclusivity and belonging in gaming, and as a result, unlock new sources of growth for your games business with this group of players.

Principle 1. Design for diverse gaming motivations

Many of the women playing feel that the gaming industry is mainly focused on classic PC/ console titles that are played in ‘sessions’ in a fixed space and time at home. While many of them enjoy that style of play, many others prefer a more flexible approach to gaming — they prefer to game their way, across various game genres and devices at their own pace, to suit a variety of ‘moments’ or moods throughout their day.

So, think about how your title can fuel different ‘moments’ of gaming needs throughout the day: is it the perfect game to turn a boring commute into something entertaining, to help to disconnect after a busy day or give a confidence boost before a difficult meeting? By positioning your title in this functional way, you can reach a new audience and build consideration among them by presenting how it fits into the context of their daily schedule.

Each female player we talked with has a multitude of motivations to play throughout the day and has a set of games reflecting those needs. They create their own ‘game catalogues’, categorizing titles into groups depending on what they want to achieve: ‘tap-tap’ games for short bursts of downtime, ‘brain teasers’ to stimulate the mind or games best enjoyed with friends. These categories reflect not only the types of games they enjoy, but they also mirror how they search for and discover new titles.

So, think about how you as a developer can celebrate all those motivations and showcase how your titles can address all those styles of gaming. When designing a new game, instead of thinking about what genre or category does it best fit in, think about how the player will feel during or after time spent on it. Applying that emotional lens can not only enrich your creative, but unlock new marketing opportunities, help your title stand out and catch the attention of a new group of players.

Principle 2. Support diverse gaming content and personalities

As players grow more accustomed to nuanced characters and narratives in other entertainment areas, their expectations for gaming are increasing as well. Still, many of the female players feel that gaming, gaming related advertising and events have not moved on from using traditional storylines or characters based on dated gender and ethnic stereotypes.

Women who play are looking for authentic narratives and well-rounded characters that show emotions and flaws they can relate to, and as a result engage deeper with the game. When developing narratives and characters, avoid settling for ‘well known’ plots and character types: don’t be afraid to explore ways to bring and showcase different viewpoints and character flaws that are true-to-life.

At a minimum — build more options for in-game character customization which reflect greater diversity. Don’t assume giving a choice of gender is enough and ensure you provide a variety of options for physical traits (like skin tones, face shapes, hair textures or body types) and aesthetic appearance (clothes or accessories) that will give your players a fun sense of creative expression.

Think beyond the in-game experience and look into your advertising and partnerships. Female players want to see the spotlight aimed at a more diverse set of faces — and voices — across the gaming community. Leverage this need for more relatable gaming role models and consider supporting a broader range of influencers and streamers. Not only your current players will be able to better identify with them, but it can increase your reach with a wider audience.

Principle 3. Cultivate diverse and tolerant gaming communities

Few women playing feel like they belong in the gaming community. Many of them find its formalities — rules, language and customs — both obsolete and off-putting as they tend to celebrate only one, more traditional style of gaming. They prefer to stay out of the spotlight and avoid the online troll culture, instead building their own micro-communities on messaging apps and in the real world, where they share content and discuss progress in an easy-going manner.

So, think about how your game can create and facilitate more approachable places for gamers to connect: with the right tone of voice, celebrating players of all levels and with content that informs & helps them progress, but also entertains. Bring your title offline as well — to events, conventions and meet-ups — enabling players of all levels to connect and enjoy their passions together. Go beyond just large online communities and look to local gamer groups as well.

Some female players might feel discouraged to try out certain titles due to lack of familiarity with the gameplay. This is especially true for genres that traditionally attract a male audience and that have an already-established style of play, culture and shared language.

When onboarding users to your title, think not only about the seasoned players familiar with the genre gameplay, but also the newcomers. Create content that helps beginners immerse themselves into the title’s mechanics and language, and secure a safe ‘training ground’ where users of different experience can feel comfortable and engage with the game.

Principle 4. Commit to and grow diverse development teams

And finally — look at your own office and the development team. Ensure that the right talent is present at the table: with a wide spectrum of backgrounds, experiences and points of view. The more your team represents the players you’re trying to connect with, the better they can voice and express their needs.

Final thoughts

Regardless of why they play, how they play or which titles they devote themselves to, gaming is becoming an important part of many women’s daily schedule, life and even identity. This presents a major opportunity for the gaming industry to better connect with this group — to understand their needs and to design with them in mind — and as a result drive stronger engagement. To learn more about how & what women like to play and how they engage with the gaming community, check out the full research report.

To drive our commitment towards a more inclusive and open gaming culture, Google Play’s Change the Game program is on a mission to make gaming truly for everyone by celebrating and empowering women as players and creators, promote diversity in and of games, empower the next generation of game makers, and celebrate women who are changing the game. Check out what we’ve been up to and stay tuned for more initiatives to come.

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts on how developers can drive inclusivity and belonging in gaming for all players? Join the discussion in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.

Zuzanna Dzieciątkowska

Written by

Passionate about understanding trends, people’s behavior and motivations | Insights @ Google Play

Google Play Apps & Games

Tips, trends, and industry thoughts for app and game developers building businesses on Google Play.

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