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This marketing consultant helps online game devs keep away from cultural and political gaffes


In “Stray,” the lovely cat online game that’s turn out to be a success in a quiet summer time for recreation releases, gamers management a small cat because it navigates a cyberpunk Hong Kong. You prance across the occupants of town — robots carrying stereotypical rice paddy hats — and skitter previous Japanese and Korean signage and textual content.

That cultural mishmash has prompted some criticism of “Stray’s” French developer, BlueTwelve, significantly for lifting inspiration from the Kowloon Walled Metropolis with out acknowledging and even giving a nod to a few of its troubling historical past.

Kate Edwards, 57, a Seattle-based cultural and political marketing consultant working within the online game business, makes it her enterprise to foresee these sorts of criticisms — and assist builders handle their blind spots or steer clear completely.

“Beginning with the Walled Metropolis as an inspiration can doubtlessly be a sound alternative, however how the sport distances itself from the unique context is a really mandatory thought train,” Edwards mentioned. “Why select this second and place in historical past? How does it construct or detract from the meant narrative and participant expertise?” (BlueTwelve and “Stray” writer Annapurna Interactive didn’t reply to a request for remark.)

Edwards is a longtime online game business government who has labored with corporations equivalent to BioWare, Google and Microsoft to get video video games to raised mirror worldwide cultures and geopolitics. Final yr, she was a part of Forbes’ “50 Over 50” listing and was inducted into the Girls in Video games Corridor of Fame.

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She’s suggested recreation corporations and cautioned them when their titles contained potential fodder for worldwide outrage or controversy.

“Should you’re going to be making a mainstream recreation, like ‘Cyberpunk 2077,’ you need to be conscious of the truth that there’s numerous completely different, numerous folks enjoying your recreation,” Edwards mentioned. “Your explicit viewpoint as a recreation designer or narrative designer, that viewpoint, until it has an specific narrative cause to be there and you’ll justify it inside the world constructing that you just’ve achieved, it must be mainly logically in step with the world you’ve created.

“Should you’re going to signify a particular tradition, there are many folks from these cultures who’re sensitivity readers, or they signify that tradition, who can provide you suggestions.”

Edwards bought her begin working at Microsoft in 1992 as a geopolitical specialist and helped handle an issue within the recreation “Age of Empires” in 1997, when the Korean authorities disagreed with the sport’s depiction of a Japanese invasion of Korea. So the sport could possibly be offered in South Korea — thought-about a key marketplace for Microsoft’s development technique, Edwards mentioned — the builders considerably altered the small print in a downloadable patch. Edwards known as the incident “a lightbulb second” for her to begin an inner crew that manages geopolitical threat.

In 2004′s “Halo 2,” a Covenant character had its identify modified from the non secular time period “Dervish” to “Arbiter” to scale back similarities to Islam and keep away from creating the looks that the sport was about america versus Islam, in keeping with Edwards. She mentioned she argued for the phrase change given the sport’s references to Islam, the non secular nature of the Covenant and protagonist Grasp Chief’s mission to cease them.

Katy Jo Wright, senior director at Xbox’s crew known as Gaming For Everybody, mentioned in an announcement, “We goal to create product experiences the place gamers really feel at residence. This consists of recognizing the worldwide variations in participant journeys, together with native wants, boundaries and experiences, and creating significant merchandise which have native relevance for a worldwide viewers. At occasions this implies we have to make selections guided by our values of Gaming for Everybody — a dedication to a journey, not a vacation spot. We proceed to study from these experiences and make investments assets to pretty signify the variety of our gaming group.”

After over 13 years working with Microsoft on geopolitical enterprise technique, Edwards ultimately left to begin her personal consultancy, Geogrify, the place she continued to assist purchasers like BioWare and Google adapt their merchandise for a worldwide viewers. She nonetheless works with video games in lots of circumstances.

In 2012, she took an much more concerned position within the online game business: That yr, the Worldwide Sport Builders Affiliation, or IGDA, provided Edwards the position of government director, the place she labored till 2017. She additionally served as government director of the World Sport Jam from 2019 to 2022.

Edwards mentioned when she joined the IGDA as a member, she seen localization employees complaining that they have been being ignored by the business, so she began a particular curiosity group for them in 2007 and went on to carry a localization summit on the annual Sport Developer Convention. Her work led her to being approached by the IGDA for the manager director place, she mentioned.

“I don’t like seeing folks complaining about stuff. I like options. I don’t like whining,” Edwards mentioned, reflecting on why the IGDA provided her the position. “On the time, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve by no means been in a management position like this.’ However I used to be actually passionate, although, concerning the group and about serving to builders, as a result of at that time, I’ve been working alongside recreation builders for a few years and I like these folks.”

She mentioned she felt strongly about pay fairness, range and inclusion, and inspiring higher practices round working additional time.

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In 2014, when avid gamers launched a focused on-line harassment marketing campaign, known as GamerGate, Edwards, as IGDA director, spoke out towards them and was, because of this, a recipient of dying threats and insults.

“I placed on that robust face as a result of I’m main the IGDA. I’d must be this pillar of power to different builders who’re being harassed and attacked. And I did that the perfect I might,” Edwards mentioned. “However on the similar time, there have been loads of occasions I used to be on the telephone with my dad and mom, crying, as a result of I couldn’t take the stress. However after all, everyone knows what occurred to GamerGate. They mainly developed into the alt-right, after which Trump bought elected, they usually bought distracted.”

Edwards added that she knew numerous ladies who left the online game business within the aftermath of the harassment, deciding to tackle jobs at main tech corporations the place their expertise could be relevant. She finally left the IGDA in 2017, when she felt that she was now not capable of make a distinction.

“We perceive that those that play video games are mainly at gender parity, and throughout all racial teams and cultures,” Edwards mentioned. “However the individuals who make video games nonetheless are typically skewed in a sure path, demographically, so we nonetheless actually wish to try to see that those that make video games higher signify those that play them. And we’re not there but, despite the fact that we’re seeing enhancements.”

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Over the previous a number of years, online game corporations, together with Riot Video games, Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, have confronted allegations of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, in addition to claims that their human useful resource departments have didn’t adequately handle complaints introduced earlier than them. Final July, every week after information of a California lawsuit towards the writer Activision Blizzard surfaced, workers at Ubisoft, one other main online game writer based mostly in Paris, authored an open letter in solidarity with Activision Blizzard workers, sending it to Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot. Ubisoft ousted a number of executives in 2020 following studies of office harassment and toxicity, and has vowed to reform its tradition.

“It’s been painful to work on this business over the past 5 years, the place we see some indicators of change. We see extra ladies in management roles and other people of colour in management roles,” Edwards mentioned. “However then we see the crap that went down at Ubisoft, or the crap that went down at Riot, or the stuff at Activision Blizzard. It’s very a lot two steps ahead, one step again.”

To critics who say that video video games are toys, and that asking gaming corporations to handle politics is akin to asking Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog what they consider politics, Edwards mentioned she thinks of video games as tradition.

“Video games signify the present evolution of human narrative. We’re redefining how tales get handed from one era to a different, in the identical means that artwork has achieved and written textual content has achieved, and movie and radio and all these different types of inventive media have achieved, that are all nonetheless round,” Edwards mentioned.

“Video games at the moment are taking a stab at redefining what that appears like: How can we convey story, and narrative, and emotional connection between generations? And that’s vitally vital for builders to grasp what they’re doing as a result of far too usually in our business, it’s a enterprise, it’s all about cash, it’s all about numbers.”


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