In 2014, the gaming industry missed an opportunity.
Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, had recently called out Big Tech, and the companies were feeling the pressure to release diversity numbers. In 2014, Facebook and Google responded to the demands for greater transparency by publicly publishing diversity reports — no matter how ugly they were at the time.
The same year, #Gamergate started. If there was going to be a wake-up call to sexism and the lack of diversity, a systemic harassment campaign targeting women in the gaming industry could've been a starting point.
But unlike the tech companies, which responded to the demands for greater transparency by releasing diversity reports in droves since 2014, the major players in gaming like Riot Games, Unity and Activision Blizzard didn’t release theirs until the last two years.
The Protocol Diversity Tracker is our ongoing project to collect and analyze employee diversity data from the most powerful companies in tech. We’ve just added data from Activision Blizzard, EA, Unity and Riot Games to the mix.
Electronic Arts' broader impact report, launched in November 2020, was one of the most comprehensive looks into the gaming workplace culture.
“We’re proud to have been the first in the video game industry to share such a comprehensive report, especially as we look to drive positive change in our industry and beyond,” EA’s chief people officer Mala Singh said in an email to Protocol. “Our first report was the culmination of years of effort at EA which have produced positive results in representation and the experience of our people at EA. We are proud of the progress we have made, and with yet more work to do, we share our progress to hold ourselves accountable and set an example for others in our industry.”
It’s a step forward for an industry that has not only lagged in tracking, but also in making progress on diversity, according to the numbers. At Activision Blizzard, Unity and Electronic Arts, the percentage of women globally at each company was around 24% in 2020 and 2021. Most Big Tech companies, including Facebook and Google, are above 30%. Some, like Pinterest and Netflix, are majority women. Across the board, the percentage of Black and Hispanic employees is in the single digits for each group.
Unlike in 2014, there’s a focused and growing pressure for more reporting and responsibility across the industry. Last year, Activision Blizzard was sued by the state of California after an investigation found widespread sexual harassment and discrimination. The company’s employees have called for more accountability, including numerous walkouts in the last year and a labor organizing campaign that resulted in the first-ever union at a major game developer.
“As the war for talent intensifies and as customers, employees and potential candidates across industries increasingly expect the organizations they support or work for to take diversity and inclusion seriously, the pressure to track and report progress has intensified,” said Tai Wingfield, Unity’s senior director of diversity and inclusion. “People expect more transparency and accountability.”
‘A ways to go’
While game developers largely want their workplace to become more diverse, they’re not necessarily seeing it in practice.
In the latest Developer Satisfaction Survey from the International Game Developers Association, 87% of respondents said that diversity in the workplace was important, but only 49% said they thought the industry had gotten more diverse. When asked what programs companies had to encourage diversity, a quarter didn’t know if there were any and a third of developers said their companies didn’t have any in place.
So far, major companies like Epic, Ubisoft, Zynga and Niantic do not report diversity numbers. Take-Two Interactive released a diversity statement and told Protocol it plans to publish a report later this year. Other companies like Valve and Roblox did not respond to a request for comment. Some of the gaming companies owned by Microsoft, like Xbox and Mojang, do not break out their own data from overall diversity numbers.
“Reasons for the lag could vary from concerns about public perception to a general lack of internal tracking if the company had not previously been required to track diversity,” Dr. Jakin Vela, executive director of the IGDA, said in an email to Protocol. “However, public calls for accountability of studios and gaming companies — not only from their workers but from their diverse consumer base — likely shaped the emergence of more public diversity reports within the games industry.”
Activision Blizzard’s report is much more sparse compared to other gaming companies. Activision only releases what percentage of its global workforce is women (24% in 2020 and 2021). On race, it reports “underrepresented ethnic groups” as a catch-all to include Asian, Black, Hispanic, multiracial and any other non-white category.
Other companies included much more detailed breakdowns, including leadership totals. At Unity, for example, the percentage of women in leadership grew from about 29% in 2020 to almost 31% in 2021. Meanwhile, the number of Black employees at Unity has grown at a slightly slower rate, rising to 4.2% in 2021 from 3.1% the year prior.
“The findings underscore the need for us to get more women into leadership roles and to increase representation of our underrepresented talent in the U.S. across all levels,” Wingfield said. “It also stresses the need to evaluate the lived experiences of our employees to ensure the initiatives we put into place address the specific challenges our underrepresented talent face that impacts advancement, retention and recruitment.”
To attract more underrepresented employees to the company, Unity is broadening the scope of its recruiting to build stronger connections with HBCUs and students of color. The company is also implementing new technology and processes to mitigate bias during the recruiting process — that means reviewing everything from the way its job descriptions are written to how many diverse candidates it has for an open position.
EA has gone a step further and released pay equity studies so that its employees are not only accounted for, but paid equitably across gender globally and across racial/ethnic groups in the U.S.
“We recognize that we, and the interactive entertainment industry, still have a ways to go,” said EA’s Singh. “While we’re proud of the progress being made, there is always more to do in building a truly inclusive and respectful workplace that spurs creativity and innovation.”
Charting a path forward as an industry, not just a company
While individual company progress is good, the Black In Gaming Foundation’s Carl Varnado worries that the work can’t be siloed on the company or individual level. A lot of the progress made is frequently lost when the leaders or employees advocating for change move on to another job, he said. Even at the company level, it’s a challenge if there’s only one or two leaders in the field.
“When you're focused on [diversity] only at your company, you may even solve it at your company, but it doesn't solve it for everybody else's company,” he said.
His group is working on more industry-wide solutions to increase the representation and inclusion of Black employees in gaming. Companies like EA and Unity have existing programs with HBCUs to help recruit talent, but he argues companies should also donate money and resources to the nonprofit organizations closest to the issues, as their members have often experienced the inherent representation issues firsthand.
The Black in Gaming Foundation is currently working on a longer-term initiative, creating an incubator program to help Black companies get started in the industry. It is also working on an education portal, launching later this year, that will connect industry veterans to newbies in the gaming sector to help them find mentorship, jobs and information about industry happenings like the Black in Gaming Awards.
The goal, Varnado shared, is to display the gaming companies that are already making a difference so others can follow suit.
“There has to be a central agreement that we're going to work on systemic problems in the industry and make them better outside of our own company,” Varnado said. “And that, I think, is the most critical part.”