We’ve written in the past about the importance of presenting an inclusive face to your market in business. Importantly, we stress the need for businesses to focus on key employee demographics required for growth as a means of best understanding the diverse markets they serve. Some would say this also applies to video games. While that might not be the first industry to come to mind, video games are big, BIG business. In 2015, total revenue for the U.S. video game industry (which obviously doesn’t include other heavy-hitting nations like China and Japan) was 23.5 billion, a five percent increase over 2014 numbers. And that market is more diverse than common gamer stereotypes would suggest. For instance, research from Pew estimates nearly 60 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 are gamers.
But, just as in other industries, a lack of inclusion can hinder business success. In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, Chris Suellentrop argues that Nintendo and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto missed a big opportunity to engage with a broader audience of gamers by sticking to 1980s gender stereotypes in a much-anticipated release of Super Mario Run, an iPhone iteration of the classic Super Mario Bros. series.
According to Suellentrop, the game makes heavy use of the damsel-in-distress stock character in the form of Princess Peach and a second female character, Toadette, “whose job is to wave a flag before and after a race, like a character from ‘Grease’.” Suellentrop writes, “By failing to update Super Mario for a contemporary audience, Nintendo is lagging far behind the Walt Disney Co., one of its closest American analogues. Disney’s film ‘Frozen’ subverted and reinvigorated the fairy-tale princess movie; ‘The Force Awakens’ gave us a female Jedi.”
Some of the figures Suellentrop cites don’t necessarily show a real-world consequence for these biases. He cites one estimate that the game was downloaded by 37 million users in its first three days. But those numbers represent users exposing themselves to the game for the first time, and don’t reflect how potential impressions of the game’s portrayal of female characters could influence future purchasing decisions.
The author suggests that in the video game industry, it is especially important to strive for inclusiveness due to the unique nature of the media. “Representation in interactive media may be even more important than it is in linear entertainment. In video games, players describe ourselves as the digital avatars we control on a screen. We say ‘I died,’ not ‘he died.’”
The way in which consumers interact with video games may make it particularly important for that industry to connect and identify with a diverse marketplace. More broadly, that necessity to connect and identify is crucial to marketing in efforts across virtually every industry. This means more than gender; it means race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and any other category by which an audience or a market identifies itself.
To benefit the bottom line, be inclusive!