August 22, 2023
5 Steps To Create Inclusive Mobile Games
A Guide for Game Makers To Creating Inclusive Content And Communities
At Hyper Hippo, we are dedicated to creating games that bring joy to our players around the world and inspire positive change. While we firmly believe that the gaming industry has the power to change the world, we also know we’re facing significant challenges when it comes to inclusivity.
What do we mean by inclusivity, you might say? Well, within the realm of mobile games, inclusivity encompasses various aspects that ultimately shape the gaming experience. It includes the representation of diverse individuals and groups in characters, stories, and development teams, the implementation of inclusive design to eliminate barriers to play, and the establishment of safe and respectful gaming communities–to name a few.
As creators and players, we all share the responsibility of fostering inclusive spaces where everyone feels safe to be themselves and experience the joy of gaming. But when it comes down to it, what goes into creating an inclusive game?
In this article, we’ll explore how mobile games, with their accessibility and global reach, can serve as a catalyst for positive change in the industry. From representation to accessibility and community-building, we will provide actionable steps for game makers to help you foster inclusivity in your games. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Step 1: Showcase Diversity
Showcasing diversity means including a variety of different people, stories, and perspectives within your game. It’s about representing individuals from various backgrounds, cultures, genders, and identities to create impactful and inclusive experiences for all players, and helping people to feel a genuine sense of belonging in your community.
Here’s some actionable steps you can take to ensure that diverse representation is present in your game:
Establish a diverse development team.
Creating diverse games begins with the development team itself. Why, you ask? Well, because having a diverse group of creators is more likely to lead to a game experience that is dynamic, engaging, and resonates with a wider range of players. Additionally, teams who have a greater diversity of experience, knowledge, and lived experience among their members are statistically better at decision-making and have higher levels of trust. Those are some great benefits!
Conduct research and engage in dialogue.
Invest time and resources throughout the development process into understanding the diverse cultures, perspectives and experiences of your target audiences. As you go, make sure to seek feedback from diverse individuals and communities to ensure accurate and respectful representation. But please make sure not to ask for free labour and compensate anyone who’s input you’re asking for appropriately.
Conduct DEI reviews.
Conducting sensitivity reviews of your game’s content on a regular cadence can help you identify potential issues and ensure respectful representation. Seek guidance from cultural and diversity consultants and subject matter experts to help you (but please pay them for their consultation!). Having a diverse development team can also help you collect feedback and catch potential issues as you go. Remember what we said about diverse teams being better decision makers? Well, it turns out that having greater diversity of thought also enables teams to catch blind spots and identify innovative solutions to problems more quickly than teams made up of people who think similarly to one another. That’s a win in our books!
Avoid stereotypes and tropes.
One of the key purposes of doing regular DEI reviews is to make sure your game avoids promoting any potentially harmful tropes. How? By creating multidimensional characters with unique personalities, motivations, and backgrounds, and avoiding relying on clichés that perpetuate stereotypes. Even if your characters don’t necessarily have a complex character arc in the game itself, try out inventing unique motivations and traits for them during the development process–this might sound like an odd thought exercise, but it’s actually proven that inventing a backstory can help you create more nuanced content and avoid harmful tropes.
Provide players with character customization options.
Aim to include character customization features that allow players to create avatars that reflect their own identities, by including diverse options for race, gender, body type, mobility supports–to name a few! While character customization is sometimes criticized as posturing by game studios, this article from The Guardian points out how seemingly small details can feel “very real, very present, and utterly valid” for players who aren’t used to seeing themselves represented. And that’s always worth the investment.
Step 2: Make It Accessible
Accessibility is about removing barriers and ensuring that no one feels left out or excluded from participating in your communities–regardless of their physical, sensory, or cognitive abilities.
Here are some actionable steps you can take to ensure that a wide range of players can enjoy and engage with your game:
Conduct accessibility audits.
While this step would ideally take place during the initial development process, it’s never too late to evaluate your game’s current accessibility features and identify areas for improvement. Consider consulting with accessibility experts or organizations for guidance, or utilizing resources like the Game Accessibility Guidelines to help your team identify and prioritize different accessibility features. And, do we need to say it? Your player community is an invaluable source of feedback here–when in doubt, check in and ask them how your game could be more accessible. You’ll gain a wealth of insight into areas for your team to explore, and your players will appreciate the opportunity to shape the games they love. It’s a win-win!
Provide customizable controls.
While this suggestion might take some work to implement, it carries a high potential impact for players. By giving players the ability to customize controls based on their individual needs, you can instantly improve the game experience for your audience. This might look like allowing remapping of game controls, include colorblind modes, and provide options for closed captions or audio descriptions. Or, for players with diverse motor accessibility needs, consider implementing features like one handed controls and reduce reliance on precise timing.
Test your game with diverse user groups.
Ideally, you want to conduct user testing with individuals who have varying abilities and disabilities throughout the development process. But like we said earlier, it’s never too late to prioritize inclusion! Make testing with diverse user groups a regular part of your process when implementing new features, by seeking input from users with varying accessibility needs and wants (visual, auditory, motor, cognitive, etc.).
Provide accessibility documentation.
The heading says it all! By including accessibility documentation and resources within the game, you can guide players on available accessibility features and how to customize them.
Stay informed and adapt.
Finally, make sure your development team is trained on accessibility advancements and evolving inclusive design practices. You can do this by providing resources to help your team become familiar with industry standards and guidelines to ensure alignment with recognized accessibility best practices.
Step 3: Foster Positive Communities
Positive player communities have the power to make the gaming experience more enjoyable for everyone. This involves creating an environment where players treat each other with kindness and respect–regardless of whether they are interacting in your game directly or on a community forum.
Here are some actionable steps you can take to create a safe and enjoyable environment for your players:
Establish (and enforce) clear community guidelines.
Develop and communicate community guidelines that outline expected behavior, emphasizing respect, inclusivity, and zero tolerance for toxic behavior. Encourage feedback and suggestions for improvement from your player community along the way–this can help foster a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the guidelines. Be transparent with your players in communicating the consequences of toxic behavior to the community, and take immediate action to address it through warnings, temporary suspensions, or permanent bans, depending on the severity and frequency of the offense.
Enable reporting and moderation features.
Make sure to include in-game reporting mechanisms that allow players to report toxic behavior, harassment, or offensive content, and assign dedicated community moderators to review and address reported issues promptly. Communities with infrequent or ineffective moderation are likely to turn toxic quickly, and following up reporting with quick action helps build trust with your players (and keeps them coming back).
Provide moderation and mental health training.
Train your community moderators on best practices for handling toxic behavior, resolving conflicts, and fostering positive interactions. This includes understanding different perspectives, empathy, and de-escalation techniques. There’s also a mental health component here–make sure your team has access to the resources they need to preserve their own wellbeing, especially when they’re taking on the task of addressing toxic behaviours. Take This is an excellent resource for anyone working in fields where they are more likely to experience online harassment.
Step 4: Practice Inclusive Marketing
Inclusive marketing means creating advertising and promotional materials that include and represent a diverse range of people. It’s about making sure that everyone feels welcome and included in your communities, regardless of their background, identity, or abilities. However, inclusive marketing goes beyond representation–it is about genuinely engaging and respecting diverse communities, and building long-lasting relationships with players from all backgrounds.
Here are some actionable steps you can take to make sure everyone feels valued, seen, and welcomed into your player community:
Develop inclusive marketing materials.
Remember what we said about creating complex and nuanced characters? The same applies when it comes to your promotional materials, such as trailers, screenshots, and artwork. Aim to develop targeted advertising campaigns that reach specific demographics and communities, tailoring your messaging and visuals to resonate with and reflect their unique interests and experiences.
Use inclusive language and imagery.
Take care to employ inclusive language and imagery in marketing materials and social media posts to create a welcoming and inclusive tone. Try running your copy through an inclusive language checker like alex to catch any gender favoring, polarizing, or otherwise exclusionary language, and make inclusivity reviews a standard step in your campaign development process.
Localize your marketing materials.
Localization refers to the process of adapting your marketing materials, messages and campaigns for different regions and cultures, in a way that respectfully considers local norms and preferences. It involves tailoring your marketing content to resonate with diverse audiences and their unique backgrounds, ensuring that it is relevant, relatable, and inclusive.
Listen to your players.
This might seem like an obvious one, but we have to say it! Take an active role in your communities by making sure that you frequently engage your players in dialogue, responding to their feedback, and working to build meaningful connections.
Step 5: Contribute To Knowledge Building
Being a catalyst for positive change in the games industry starts with creating inclusive content–but it doesn’t end there. Meaningful participation in thought leadership – through collaboration, advocacy, and perspective sharing – can have a significant impact on knowledge building in the industry, and help to foster a sense of shared responsibility among developers to prioritize inclusivity in their products.
Here are some actionable steps you can take to position yourself as a leader and influencer when it comes to promoting inclusivity in games:
Be an advocate for inclusivity.
Lead by example and take an active role in the conversation, using your platform to highlight important issues, and amplify discussions around inclusivity. Try reaching out to organizations that are already doing this type of advocacy work and ask how you can support and amplify their message (this list from GamesIndustry.Biz is an excellent starting point to finding groups doing this important work). Other ways to further advocacy around inclusion might involve offering financial support through sponsorships, mentorship programs, and resource sharing. Or, it could be seeking opportunities to collaborate with academic and research institutions or associations on research projects related to inclusivity in gaming. The possibilities are endless!
Put yourself out there.
Sharing your own experiences can be a great way to add to the conversation and help others practice inclusivity. This might mean participating as a panelist at an industry event focused on inclusivity. Or, it could involve creating resources such as guidelines, toolkits, or design frameworks that assist developers in creating more inclusive games. If you’re able to, offering mentorship to aspiring game developers or underrepresented individuals is a great way to contribute!
And there you have it, game makers! By incorporating these five steps into your development process, you can create games that will leave a positive impact and help you become a champion of inclusivity in the gaming industry. Let’s remember that our power lies not only in the games we create but also in the influence we wield to shape a more inclusive future. So, let’s work together to build bridges that connect players from all walks of life, and make the gaming industry a more inclusive place for everyone. Are you excited about the possibilities yet? I know I am.