At Supercell TimeOut last week, an offsite for the developer and its partner studios, CEO Ilkka Paananen saw a talk that prompted him to tweet:
“I cannot remember when was the last time I learned this much from a single preso. Also so inspiring to see Trailmix leading the way on this topic that is mission critical for our industry!”
So naturally we had to find out what the presentation was. The speaker was Alice Bowman of Supercell partner studio Trailmix, maker of ‘merge, romance and renovate’ game Love & Pies.
“The topic of my talk was diversity and inclusion in the narrative,” she tells us. “Specifically, I suggest some pointers on how to make a more diverse game, and also gave some examples of how these pointers steered us in creating Love & Pies.”
You can find all of the slides below, plus commentary from Bowman.
Trailmix has diversity baked into our core values, we believe that a diverse team and a diverse game will allow us to make a positive impact on the game industry and the world.
I asked my teammates why diversity in Love & Pies matters to them. Some of the answers included: providing representation that other games don’t and setting a positive example for other games; giving people a chance to see themselves reflected in all different types of media; sending a message to underrepresented people that they are seen, valued and cherished and also challenging people’s biases and viewpoints.
I then spoke about the positive feedback we’ve had from players about our representation. It seems to be something that matters very deeply to players, and there have been many cases where players have posted unprompted on social media to talk about how much they have enjoyed the diversity in Love & Pies.
The example on the above left is from the front page of the r/Bisexual subreddit, which got 444 upvotes and presumably many many more impressions – which goes to show inclusive design can even create virality.
We think players get really excited about this because most mobile games don’t have as much diversity, so it’s something different and special, and it’s also moving to players who feel personally underrepresented to see themselves reflected in the game.
We’re so proud of the diverse story and inclusive cast of characters we have achieved in Love & Pies, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing and we are always continuing to learn and improve.
So how can teams go about making their game design and narrative more diverse?
Step 1: Care about diversity
Everyone on the team needs to care about this – not just writers, artists or any individual. Making games is interdisciplinary, and it’s very easy to erase diversity if you aren’t actively championing it.
For example, if the UA team isn’t on board with a diverse storyline, or simply isn’t aware of it, an advert might be made that misrepresents those aspects of the game to players and causes something to be lost from the experience.
We also need stakeholders, CEOs, team leads and decision-makers to care about this and be willing to invest the time and effort to be more diverse. It was really exciting to me to see at Supercell TimeOut that this is obviously a subject that Supercell and the portfolio companies really care about, and are willing to invest the time to have discussions like this.
On the simplest level, caring about diversity can be creating the world you want to live in through the worldbuilding of the game.
Step 2: Research
Do all the research required to create meaningful, accurate and sensitive representation. Include people from underrepresented groups in the design process – by having a diverse team, reviewing materials published by members of the group you’re representing, and using sensitivity readers and consults. Respect the value of lived experience.
Step 3 : Safeguard inclusive design
When making a game so many sweeping changes happen, work gets thrown away or altered and nothing is set in stone. However, when making a change take the time to consider whether it makes your game more or less diverse? If the answer is less, reconsider the motivation behind the change and why it is needed.
Value diverse design as much as any other part of the design. When using market research, consider whether the audience might be affected by unconscious bias – or perhaps players have expectations of one thing simply because they haven’t seen the alternative. Nurture healthy disagreement in the team. Challenge each other and speak up in order to champion diversity.
As an example: we have a non-binary character called Robin (they/them) who is in the character line-up for Love & Pies – they haven’t yet joined the cast, but they are referred to in dialogue using they/them pronouns.
So we reference a non-binary character – it’s just dialogue, was that a big deal? This required all three of the above steps, as creating the localisation for a non-binary character required care, research and safeguarding.
In languages with gendered grammar, it’s much harder to talk about people with gender-neutral language. So our writer Laura and QA lead Cosmin who is also the point of contact for the localisation company we use had to work together to create guides on how to localise this chat in various languages.
Did it matter to our players that we included a reference to Robin being non-binary? Yes, it did.
The slide below has a sample of the social media posts we’ve seen talking specifically about this chat where Robin is mentioned. Given that this chat happens late in the game and is therefore seen by fewer players, it’s really exciting to see players reacting to this.
I hope after reviewing the reactions from our players, and the impact this has on a team we can all agree that diverse and inclusive design is an incredibly worthwhile goal.
Even asking the question ‘how can you make your game more diverse?’ is a strong starting point, and progress can easily be achieved in a few simple steps.