How Electronic Arts is trying to create diverse video games

Tolay McNally, Director From the overall design at Electronic Arts, she chooses her words carefully as we chat about creating various video game characters. Born in Germany, McNally is no stranger to the international video game industry. She worked at Square Enix, Sega, and Bioware before joining EA. The McNally team at EA helps develop characters from underrepresented groups and in public communication.

Her caution is justified — Activision Blizzard was torn to shreds a month before our interview for its reductive approach to video game diversity, one that assigned numerical scores to marginalization, turning identity into a kind of scorecard that developers could use to decide who to include (or exclude) from character rosters. . McNally remains excited to talk about EA’s overall design framework, though she is quick to stress that the company doesn’t take a canonical approach to diversity.

“It’s really a loose framework of guidelines and design philosophies that we tailor to our engagements with each game team,” McNally says. She points to Maxis Studios, the team behind The Sims 4 (which recently added the ability for players to customize their Sims pronouns), as part of a company that is already seeing success creating content with a diverse player base in mind that doesn’t need the same amount of help. “Some of the other game teams may be more at first. They may need more support, education and hand holding,” she says.

Released in 2018, EA’s Battlefield V Received a backlash for putting women in combat of World War II. Despite this, a foundation for the company’s approach to holistic design was laid at scale through collaboration between the Pacific Expansion Development Team and the company’s Asia Pacific Personnel Resource Group. Extensive review process for this Battlefield V The downloadable content covered everything from initial trailers and comics to small arms charms and player skins. In addition to its Personnel Resource Group, EA reached out to geopolitical consultants to ensure the correctness of the context.

After helping to lead the volunteer initiative on Battlefield VMcNally drafted a business case to continue using a comprehensive design framework and submitted it to Laura Milley, EA’s chief operating officer. The company created a new position for McNally as a result of that meeting: Director of Overall Design. Speaking of her current team of four at EA, she said, “Two of them focus on accessibility of games. The other two focus more on cultural sensitivity and the representation aspect, as well as working with game teams.”

Volunteer staff and a new internal team complement the work of external professional advisors. “We know we need that guidance,” McNally says. It’s a fight against arrogance, not a trade-off.

Although some conservative consumers may react negatively to the prospect of the overall design of the character, the argument for dealing with video game storytelling from multiple perspectives is not. Just concerned with fairness. Inclusion is also good for business. One of the goals of EA’s overall design framework is to spark discussions with developers throughout the game creation process. It makes no sense from a financial point of view to wait until later stages of development to start asking questions that may require repairs that require a lot of time and resources.

How Electronic Arts is trying to create diverse video games

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