The games industry cliche is that every conference panel is full of stubble-faced white men in suit jackets and T-shirts. Is it true this year?
This article titled “E3 diversity report – so was it a white guy-fest again?” was written by Jordan Erica Webber, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th June 2016 10.10 UTC
Ask five people who follow the video games industry what to expect from an E3 press conference and they’ll all paint you a similar picture. Bright lights on a big stage, lengthy cinematic trailers for shooters starring gravelly-voiced stubble-faced white men, interspersed with awkward patter from white men in suits (or, depending on the publisher, suit jackets and T-shirts and trainers), cheered and whooped at by a largely white male audience. This industry is often unwelcoming to women and underrepresented minorities, and these widely watched events do little to counter that.
Of course, some conferences do better than others. This year, we’ve judged EA, Bethesda, Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Sony for the diversity of their speakers and of the games and characters on show. How do they compare?
Model Emily Ratajkowski plays Battlefield 1 after the Electronics Arts news conference at E3. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The event: EA is known for its shooting and its sports, which this year included Madden NFL 17 and FIFA 17 sandwiched between Titanfall 2 and the irritatingly-named Battlefield 1, with a brief mention of new Star Wars: Battlefront content for good measure.
More interesting were the brief glimpses at Mass Effect: Andromeda and Amy Hennig’s untitled Star Wars game, though both had little enough to show that any in-game footage was padded with concept art and clips of developers looking busy. The only real surprise was the first game from the new EA Originals programme, an arty indie-style game called Fe that’s so clearly meant to follow in Unravel’s footsteps that EA brought on another nervous Scandinavian man to announce it.
Player character diversity: This year EA lacked many games with identifiable protagonists, but with FIFA 17’s new story mode starring a black Manchester United hopeful called Alex Hunter and the teaser for Mass Effect: Andromeda ending with the default female version of protagonist [your chosen first name here] Ryder, there was nary an identifiable white guy to be seen.
Jade Raymond, vice president of GM Motive Studios/Visceral Games, speaks during EA’s news conference. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Of the dozen or so speakers on the stage, it was the actor playing fictional footballer Hunter who had the best stage presence. The conference may have only featured one female speaker, but EA is lucky to be able to call on former Ubisoft producer and Assassin’s Creed creator Jade Raymond.
Bechdel test: With only one woman speaking on stage, EA couldn’t hope to pass the Bechdel test. Here’s hoping next year features Jade Raymond chatting to Amy Hennig over footage from her upcoming untitled Star Wars game.
Other positives: Though their speakers were largely white and male, EA did express a commitment to diversity with its Play to Give programme, through which it will donate $1m to organisations such as HeForShe, Code.org, and SpecialEffect.
Conclusion: While even one woman on stage is more than some others manage, a company as large as EA has no excuse for being so limited. The Play to Give programme suggests an interest in diversity, but it would have been nice to see that represented on stage. Still, with a game as hotly anticipated as Mass Effect: Andromeda it was nice to meet the female Ryder first.
Diversity rating: 2/5
Attendees visit the Bethesda exhibit at E3. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA
The event: Bethesda had no hope of topping its debut conference last year, in which it announced Fallout 4 with a release date that same year, and even its new announcements this year were unsurprising. Quake Champions is a predictable follow-up to the recently released Doom, after all, though the CGI trailer suggests it hasn’t been under proper development for long.
As for the new Prey, yet another new title that seeks to partly capitalise on and partly erase a previous game of the same name (think Tomb Raider, Ratchet Clank, and Bethesda’s own Doom), Kotaku reported Arkane’s involvement in that back in 2013. Raphael Colantonio’s “sneak” slogan T-shirt may well have been a reference to the leaked email he sent to his team in which he cautioned against talking to “press sneak fucks”.
President and co-creative director of Arkane Studios, Raphael Colantonio, unveils Prey at E3. Photograph: Glenn Chapman/AFP/Getty Images
Crafting-focused DLC for Fallout 4 and an update for Fallout Shelter display an acknowledgement of activities other than killing, but most of what Bethesda had to show revelled in violence. At least players won’t have to go down that path in Dishonored 2.
Player character diversity: Bethesda is known for its RPGs that offer diversity in character creation, but as far as identifiable protagonists go, we saw a man called Morgan Yu looking in the mirror in Prey, and a grown-up Emily Kaldwin partnering with her old man Corvo in Dishonored 2.
Speaker diversity: Bethesda’s relatively short conference only had five speakers, but they were all men.
Bechdel test: You can forget women talking to each other when you don’t even allow any women on stage.
Other positives: Bethesda’s was the first conference to acknowledge, albeit silently, the recent mass shooting in a gay club in Orlando, with speakers wearing rainbow pins.
Conclusion: The only identifiable woman in Bethesda’s press conference was Emily Kaldwin, and while she made a strong showing it’s unfortunate she has to share the limelight with her ageing father.
Diversity rating: 1/5
Lydia Winters (right) and Sax Persson, of Minecraft Team, speak at Microsoft’s E3 conference. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The event: Microsoft’s press conference featured some controversial diversity as it split its current hardware into a family of three, with the announcement of the Xbox One S and Project Scorpio. PCs also joined the fray with Play Anywhere, an initiative that packages Xbox One games with a free copy for Windows 10 and lets players track achievements, and in some cases play cross-platform multiplayer, between them.
As is expected from Microsoft, the software on show featured plenty of sequels across traditional genres, including two flavours of zombie game in Dead Rising 4 and State of Decay 2, shooting aliens in Gears of War 4, real-time strategy in Halo Wars 2, punching and kicking in Tekken 7, and racing through Australia in Forza Horizon 3.
However, Microsoft also showed off new IP like the female-led ReCore, the mysterious and atmospheric Inside, and multiplayer piracy in Sea of Thieves. Twitter was buzzing about We Happy Few, a first-person survival game set in a drug-fuelled dystopian alternate-reality 1960s England. And the list of games shown off under the ID@XBOX programme numbered nearly 20.
The trailer for ReCore showed off its cast of named robots, but the sole protagonist is a woman called Joule. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA
Player character diversity: More interesting (and far rarer) than games that let you play as a woman are those that force you to. The trailer for ReCore showed off its cast of named robots, but the sole protagonist is a woman called Joule.
Speaker diversity: With so many games on show, Microsoft had a steady stream of more than 20 different speakers on stage, including a grand total of three women. Notably, actor Laura Bailey was brought on within the first five minutes to play Gears of War 4, in which she voices Kait.
Bechdel test: Unfortunately, Microsoft’s female speakers were spread out throughout the event and had no opportunity to communicate on stage.
Other positives: Microsoft’s was the first conference to pay verbal tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting, with a message from Phil Spencer before the event. The new Clubs feature for Xbox Live seems like it could help players who want to limit who they interact with online in order to avoid abuse.
Conclusion: Microsoft gets points for featuring a game that you can only play as a female character (and her robot dog). As far as diversity on stage, it was the first conference to feature more than one female speaker, and there was an effort to include female players in demonstrations of multiplayer games, though only ever one per group.
Diversity rating: 3/5
A dancer takes a bow while promoting Just Dance 2017 by Ubisoft during E3, Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
The event: This year’s Ubisoft conference stood out from previous years because of its lack of an Assassin’s Creed game, though we did get more information about the movie. Still, those hoping to do some virtual killing will had plenty of options, from Ghost Recon Wildlands to For Honor to Watch Dogs 2.
However, Ubisoft also showed off games from some less saturated genres, including competitive virtual-reality flight in Eagle Flight VR, cooperative spaceship management in Star Trek Bridge Crew, climbing and gardening as a robot in Grow Up and open-world winter sports in Steep.
Player character diversity: Few of Ubisoft’s games had one identifiable (human) protagonist, but Watch Dogs 2 is notable for starring black protagonist Marcus Holloway. Ghost Recon Wildlands features four-player co-op but appears to limit players to male characters (update: Ubisoft has informed us that Wildlands does feature female protagonists).
Marcus Holloway in Watch Dogs 2. Photograph: Ubisoft
Speaker diversity: Ubisoft’s conference is vastly improved by the continual presence of Aisha Tyler, who makes all the white men she introduces and interviews seem more interesting by association. Particularly sweet was her chat with Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Levar Burton.
Bechdel test: Though she hugged and high-fived many of the other speakers, Tyler didn’t get to interact with the only other woman who got to speak on stage.
Other positives: It’s not strange for a Ubisoft conference to begin with a dance number, but this performance of Don’t Stop Me Now from Just Dance 2017 was particularly meaningful as Tyler followed it up with a tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting.
Conclusion: Only one of the games Ubisoft showed this year has a named protagonist, and it’s a black guy. Most of the speakers on stage were white men, but for the fifth year in a row the best person for the job of holding it all together was a black woman.
Diversity rating: 3/5
The crowd watches a trailer for the new Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens game during the Sony Corporation’s PlayStation 4 E3 2016 event. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
Sony’s conference felt very different from the rest. Slimmed down from previous years and with only three speakers in total, it focused on the games themselves and was accompanied by a live orchestra.
In contrast to Microsoft’s event, Sony’s featured relatively few sequels, though it did fall prey to the sequel/reboot given the same name as an earlier game in the series (see Prey, above) with God of War. The tone of the demonstration was unexpected, however, focused as it was on Kratos teaching a young boy (his son?) to hunt.
New IP included the long-awaited The Last Guardian, the female-led Horizon: Zero Dawn, VR space adventure Farpoint, David Cage’s next game Detroit: Become Huma and a uniquely intriguing teaser for Hideo Kojima’s new project Death Stranding.
Rey to go … Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Photograph: Warner Bros
Player character diversity: Previous trailers for Detroit: Become Human have featured a female character, but this demonstration focused on two male androids, one attempting to rescue a young girl from the other. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens will include dozens of playable characters, but it naturally focused heavily on Rey. But Horizon: Zero Dawn goes one step further in limiting players to female protagonist Aloy.
Speaker diversity: The only woman we got to hear from was a singer, but that’s perhaps more forgivable in a conference that only had three people speak on stage.
Bechdel test: Even the men didn’t really talk to each other in this one.
Other positives: Though barely any time was given to people actually speaking on stage, Shawn Layden prefaced the conference with a tribute to the victims of the recent shooting in Orlando.
Conclusion: With few speakers at all, the diversity of Sony’s conference has to be judged on the games, two of which focused on female protagonists.
Diversity rating: 3/5
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Lead Image: Ubisoft’s conference is vastly improved by the continual presence of Aisha Tyler, who makes all the white men she introduces and interviews seem more interesting by association. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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