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Lessons on inclusive gaming partnerships from Pride

Industry Commentary
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Image: Microsoft Xbox

You won’t struggle to find examples of massive corporations capitalizing on Pride celebrations out of shameless self-interest. Pride-themed product releases and promotions fall flat when there’s no credible display of diversity initiatives at other times of the year, especially when any money donated to charities pales compared to the revenues they’re generating.

LGBTQ+ representation in video games has never been great, but things are improving as diversity and inclusion becomes an increasingly important topic in the gaming industry. Microsoft, Bungie, Crystal Dynamics, Blizzard, PlayStation and a massive selection of independent video games all hosted campaigns as part of this year’s Pride, promoting inclusivity while supporting the work of LGBTQI+ charities. 

It isn’t unusual for live-service video games to release new cosmetic items alongside major calendar dates. Now, a growing number of video game companies are using Pride to release Pride-themed cosmetic items, which are typically given away for free or sold with 100% of the proceeds going to LGBTQI+ charities.

Overwatch 2, the hero-based shooter from Blizzard, received its first Pride-themed update this year, with proceeds from the sale of Pride-themed items going to the National Center for Transgender Equality. The company also released a short story confirming two of its characters are part of the LGBTQI+ community, a notable act considering most game studios avoid depicting the sexual orientation of characters if they aren’t perceived as straight. 

Bungie, the studio responsible for developing Destiny, is a proud supporter of the LGBTQI+ community through its nonprofit organization The Bungie Foundation. On its blog, it announced several initiatives for this year’s Pride and reiterated its support for the LGBTQI+ community.

Over in the world of mobile games, Subway Surfers ran its biggest activation yet for Pride, with a multi-channel campaign and long-term partnerships with organizations such as It Gets Better and Gay Gaming Pros. A new map and a non-binary character were also added to the popular mobile game. 

All of these events and campaigns have been positively received by the LGBTQI+ community, and there are lessons here to be learned from organizing inclusive events that make a genuine impact. 

First, seek to inspire notable long-term change. Adding new permanent characters and cosmetic items ensures that inclusivity remains an important topic all year round, not just for a month. The second is simply putting your money where your mouth is. Match charitable donations and give away 100% of the proceeds where the items you sell are Pride-themed.

Finally, make sure you’re actively engaging and listening to members of your gaming and IP communities that identify as LGBTQI+. It’s not unusual for fans and players to form strong connections with characters from video games and IPs they identify with, so be mindful that some characters may already have a strong reputation with certain members of LGBTQI+ communities. You’ll need to respect that in any campaigns of your own.

Make sure you test before you launch, too. Warner Bros. Games had to issue a public apology after it issued a Pride Month challenge where players had to unite and beat up Poison Ivy, a queer DC comics character. There are plenty of things that could and should have prevented that campaign from ever launching the way it did.

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