21 March 2019 | 26 Comments
When Elizabeth Hargrave sat down with me at Gen Con 2016 to pitch Wingspan to Stonemaier Games, I was just looking for a good game, and I got one. But I also got lucky, because despite our focus on inclusivity, we weren’t doing everything in our power to attract a diversity of designers. I was lucky that Elizabeth gave us a chance anyway.
Today I’d like to explore some of the things publishers can do to prioritize diversity. I could spend a whole article talking about why I value diversity and why I think it benefits everyone in the industry, but if you’ve already made up your mind that diversity doesn’t matter, I doubt anything I say will convince you otherwise. Instead, I’ll just give 2 quick reasons/examples:
- I want to play and publish games with a variety of themes and mechanisms. While men are fully capable of creating a variety of themes and mechanisms, I think the umbrella expands even further when women design the types of games they want to play too. As a gamer, I enjoy variety, and as a publisher, I like finding new ways to invite people into the hobby. That’s exactly what has happened with Wingspan. 27% of the members of the Wingspan Facebook group are women, compared to 8.5% in the Scythe group.
- I have two amazing nieces, and I want to provide them with every opportunity possible to have happy, fulfilling lives. I believe that they should have women across every industry to look up to. As Elizabeth says, “It’s one thing to tell a kid that they can be anything they want to be. Seeing people like themselves in the world makes all the difference.”
Before I continue, I want to be clear in saying that diversity isn’t just about gender. It’s about sexuality, race, ethnicity, age, nationality, religion, and more. Some of the methods I describe below address all types of diversity and inclusivity; others focus on only a few of those categories.
Also, I want to give a big shoutout to Lila Sadkin and her eye-opening article about Wingspan and diversity. I’ve read it a number of times just in the last few days, and it’s had a profound impact on me.
How Publishers Can Prioritize Diversity
- Display the Names of Designers AND Illustrators on the Cover: I really, truly think the names on the box make a difference, both in terms of marketability and inspiration. While the number of female game designers is small but growing, there are quite a few female illustrators, so the box is a great opportunity to feature them (and any illustrator–they have a big impact on the game). In fact, seven out of the eight games published by Stonemaier have lead female artists (Charterstone isn’t shown below because it’s a husband-wife team under the name of Mr. Cuddington). As Elizabeth tweeted, “I’ve definitely gotten some notes from parents about their girls noticing my name on the box. It matters.”
- Feature a Diverse Array of People in the Art: I think we subconsciously are drawn to visuals that reflect ourselves (or who we want to be). Whenever I send instructions to an artist, I specify up front that we’re looking for a wide variety of people–I don’t assume they’re going to automatically do that. Also, we stopped offering paid customized art a long time ago because it didn’t give us control over the variety of people who paid to have their portraits in the game.
- Send Games to a Diverse Array of Reviewers: This is another way to reach a wide spectrum of people and offer potential customers a variety of perspectives. Here’s a list of 33 female-led game reviewers (some are husband-wife teams) that we support, and others are welcome to join the Stonemaier Games list reviewer list here. (Thanks to Beth Sobel for encouraging more female reviewers to add themselves to our list.)
- Examine Your Submission Process for Unintended Biases and Barriers: Part of this involves asking hard questions like, “Do you think there’s anything about our submission process that may (accidentally) discourage more female designers from submitting games?” Another part that Elizabeth mentioned to me is offering several different submission methods, as some designers might not be as comfortable at a convention or in a video playthrough. That’s why we offer a variety of options after the initial form submission (which I require all designers to fill out–there is no back-door method that could result in unconscious bias).
- Consider a Diverse Array of Applicants When Hiring: Hopefully this goes without saying, but I’m saying it just in case!
- Attract People Who Believe in Inclusivity: You have the power to set the tone for the entire culture by calling for volunteers in an inclusive way (look at the wording on our Ambassador page for an example) and by reinforcing those principles in public groups and forums via no-tolerance policies on sexism, racism, etc.
- Localize and/or Translate Your Games: There’s a vast variety of people out there in the world who can offer interesting perspectives, but many of them don’t speak English (or your primary language) fluently. By offering localized or translated versions of your games, you greatly expand the breadth of people you reach.
- Seek Diversity Among Playtesters: At Stonemaier Games, I coordinate multiple rounds of blind playtesting for each product, working with different lead playtesters each time. For each round, I try to select a mix of male and female blind playtesters so I can get an array of perspectives about the game. This is a direct impact on the final product.
- Broadcast Your Desire for a Diversity of Designers: AEG and Jellybean Games have both done this; from what I’ve heard, in a short period of time they attracted significantly more female and minority designers than they normally would have. My hope is that this article will have a similar impact for Stonemaier Games. If this resonates with you and you’ve designed an amazing game, please take a look at our submission guidelines.
In your constructive opinion, what can publishers do to better prioritize, encourage, and enable diversity and inclusivity? I’d love to hear your answers to that question in the comments.
If you ever have something specific you’d like to say about Stonemaier Games in regards to diversity and don’t want to post here, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. While that’s not your responsibility, I genuinely want to improve, and information helps. I applaud the courage of people who are willing to first go to the source to highlight concerns and solve problems.
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