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Xbox and the #RaiseTheGame Diversity Pledge

Xbox UK is a founding pledge partner of Ukie’s #RaiseTheGame Pledge, a collaborative and high-impact pledge to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the games industry – creating cultures where everyone belongs, voices are heard and ideas can thrive.

At a time where the global games industry is continually striving to centre EDI efforts, why was the pledge needed? What progress has been made to date? Why did Xbox UK sign up as a founding partner? How has Xbox been implementing change? What has been the reception around the industry?

To answer all these questions and more, I spoke to three people involved in various positions across the UK games industry about the #RaiseTheGame Pledge and Xbox’s role in it.

Dom Shaw – EDI Coordinator, Ukie

Robin: Where did the idea for the #RaiseTheGame Pledge come from?

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion have always held importance at Ukie through representation in the team to activities facilitated by the organisation, yet towards the end of 2018 it became a bigger focus when various Ukie members voiced their concerns from the lack of data around diversity in the wider games industry.

This concern was listened to, considered and turned into action over the course of 2019 and would eventually result in producing the first UK Games Industry Census in early 2020. Alongside the census, there was a lack of long-term industry-wide initiatives driving EDI forward. A gap that not only was seen by Ukie, but also by some of the most known game companies in the UK, including Xbox, so simultaneously while the census was being developed, #RaiseTheGame began being crafted.

What were your aims when setting up the pledge?

There were 2 original aims of #RaiseTheGame to begin with – the first was to have companies join the pledge and annually commit to one, if not all three of our pledge pillars:  

  1. Creating a diverse workforce by recruiting as fairly and as widely as possible.
  2. Shaping inclusive and welcoming places to work, by educating and inspiring people to take more personal responsibility for fostering and promoting diversity and inclusion.
  3. Reflecting greater diversity within games at every level from game design and development through to marketing and community engagement.

The second aim was that the pledge would engage with the industry to sign up 200 UK games businesses, covering 50% of the workforce, by the end of 2021 – a goal that was met easily!

How important was it to have Xbox as a founding pledge partner?

It is essential to have Xbox part of the #RaiseTheGame community, not only for being one of the core platforms that players engage with through video games and one of the most known game companies across the world, but more importantly having their support really allows the pledge to stand strong and strive for greater appeal to the wider games industry and those who play games.

What progress have you seen to date?

#RaiseTheGame has developed and grown beyond what anyone in Ukie could have imagined it would be. It has become a support network for the wider games industry where I provide companies with best practice, work with organisations on internal processes, and facilitate events to drive EDI forward and keep it as an embedded constant in the industry’s consciousness. It is developing into a community of peers that prioritise EDI, bringing its partners and supporters together through activities and conversations.

I am honoured to say #RaiseTheGame has been recognised for the contributions and momentum it is delivering to industry through nominations and awards, like Gayming Magazine’s own Gayming Awards in 2022 where #RaiseTheGame won the Industry Diversity Award!

Having Xbox’s support really allows the pledge to stand strong and strive for greater appeal to the wider games industry and those who play games.

Dom Shaw, Ukie

James Dodd – Chair, Out Making Games

What is the vision and mission of Out Making Games?

The mission of Out Making Games is to connect and empower the LGBTQ+ community working in the games industry across the UK and beyond and remove the barriers that exist for both current and aspiring LGBTQ+ games professionals.

Our vision – which is well under way – is to build an empowered community of LGBTQ+ games professionals across the UK, supporting one another as well as those aspiring to join the industry. We want to address and overcome the barriers that exist for LGBTQ+ professionals in the industry, both by transforming policies and institutions, and by changing hearts and minds through education. We believe that a united community is an empowered one. 

How do you deliver on your mission?

Out Making Games delivers our mission in multiple ways, via in person and online meet-ups and events, via our OMG Community Discord, through speaking at events and at studios, through our partnership with the Limit Break mentorship program and support of Ukie’s #RaiseTheGame Pledge.

We also advocate for LGBTQ+ individuals through the writing of open letters and personal approaches, to request the removal of derogatory, harmful content in titles and highlighting to organisers the dangers of holding events in regions where being LGBTQ+ is illegal.

How does Out Making Games align with the #RaiseTheGame Pledge?

Recent developments on the global stage, as well as the industry’s constant drive to better itself, mean there has never been more of a need for a not-for-profit which supports the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals, game studios and publishers. Our vision and mission align tightly with Ukie’s #RaiseTheGame Pledge and we’re always delighted to see the industry try to drive forward DEI changes to centre belonging and representation.

How do you see Xbox’s role in driving forward this change as part of the Pledge?

Over the years, members of OMG’s leadership team have observed Xbox’s ongoing support for the LGBTQ+ community of gamers, such as the long-term partnership with GLAAD. Whilst Pride is a hugely important month, Xbox continues to highlight LGBTQ+ inclusive titles on the Xbox home screen, beyond Pride.

In addition to my role as an executive search head-hunter for the games and entertainment industries as a Partner at Martin Tripp Associates, I sit alongside Rosemary Buahin, Xbox’s Channel & Partner Marketing Lead (Xbox UK/Ireland), on Ukie’s EDI Working Group, so I am also privy to some of the awesome work which goes on behind the scenes.

Over the years, members of OMG’s leadership team have observed Xbox’s ongoing support for the LGBTQ+ community of gamers, such as the long-term partnership with GLAAD.

James Dodd, OMG

Charleyy Hodson – UK Ireland Social Media Manager and Events Lead, Xbox

Xbox is a founding pledge partner for the #RaiseTheGame Pledge. What inspired Xbox to sign on as a founder?

It goes without saying, but being a founding pledge partner is HUGELY important to us. As diversity and inclusion are so essential to us at Xbox, we are fully committed to striving for increased representation in games across all identities. You’ve heard me say it before, but there’s a reason our ethos is “when everyone plays, we all win” – and that goes not just for the players, but for the gaming industry as a whole to grow and thrive together.

Why is having an initiative such as the pledge so important?

#RaiseTheGame Pledge has significantly helped anchor some of our existing D&I initiatives, providing us with guidance and structure. It has helped us to align with one unified voice and shared commitment to improve D&I across the entirety of Xbox UK. We do this by keeping the pledge at top of mind.

An example, as we’ve seen over the past few years in the industry, is that more diversity in our workplace means more diversity in our games and storytelling. And through those games, we not only have the ability to tell stories representative of our players, but also to provide space where players can experience and explore identities in an affirming and supportive environment.

As we’ve seen over the past few years in the industry, more diversity in our workplace means more diversity in our games and storytelling.

Charleyy Hodson, Xbox
How is Xbox leading the way on the three pledge pillars?

The 3 #RaiseTheGame Pledge pillars have created a space to act and think consciously across everything we do to ensure bias does not impact our work – meaning we strive everyday to do better, as seen with these internal Xbox initiatives:

For “Pillar 1: Recruitment”, managers at Microsoft are encouraged to build a pipeline of diverse candidates to interview to make the most inclusive hiring decisions. Microsoft is a “Disability Confident Leader,” where our inclusive approach to hiring people ensures those with disabilities are not only hired but can then go on to learn and pick up new skills.

For “Pillar 2: Work Culture, Retention, Training + Overall Inclusivity”, we have LOADS of cultural schemes and training programs available at Microsoft. Take for example our employee community group, Team Xbox LGBTQIA+, which provides a space for members to connect and grow, and also  supports retention and advancement. These commitments to providing a safe and inclusive space where communities can be their authentic selves within the workplace are vital for a sense of self within a team.

And for “Pillar 3: Diverse and Inclusive Representation in Games, Events and Other Activities”, a conscious effort is being made in all facets of D&I such as spotlighting LGBTQIA+ creators, characters and games with inclusive gender and relationship options during Pride month.

What progress is left to make?

While I feel D&I representation has improved not only in our games, but in the industry as well, there’s still plenty of room to grow and expand to ensure that all players see themselves as the hero when they play with Xbox. We 100% understand that there is more work to do in order to fulfil that vision, so we continue our progress and reach for new goals constantly.

How is Xbox going above and beyond the pledge?

I believe gaming can help normalise underrepresented experiences in a way that we’re starting to see other entertainment mediums explore, and showing these communities within our titles matters not only for players but for the world at large.

One way we reflect this is with our Xbox Game Studios Publishing and their recent announcement of a long-term partnership with GLAAD – the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy group – to support our LGBTQIA+ team members, our partner studios, and further game devs in our community to increase their representation across Xbox titles. Through this partnership, led by LGBTQIA+ team members at XGS Publishing, we’re hoping to bring more voices, stories, characters and lived experiences to Xbox in ways that will resonate with players around the world.

Throughout this partnership, XGS Publishing will continue to collaborate and iterate on processes with GLAAD via workshops and consulting, as well as utilizing existing resources to bring genuine, heartfelt and aspirational LGBTQIA+ representation to the future of Xbox’s gaming ecosystem.

While the RTG pledge is UK-focused, are any learnings/actions being cascaded out into the wider international Xbox business?

It goes without saying, but Microsoft is a HIGHLY matrixed organisation with multiple teams around the world already doing good – albeit separate – work within the D&I space. Unifying these efforts is a challenge to overcome, certainly, but it offers us the opportunity to consolidate multiple streams of activity, knowledge and resources to enact meaningful and ongoing change to create more inclusive products, services and activities across the gaming industry. It’s a goal we’re all striving for, and I firmly believe we’ll exceed our expectations one day!

Through this partnership [with GLAAD], led by LGBTQIA+ team members at XGS Publishing, we’re hoping to bring more voices, stories, characters and lived experiences to Xbox in ways that will resonate with players around the world.

Charleyy Hodson, Xbox

Find out more about the #RaiseTheGame Pledge at raisethegame.com

[Disclaimer: This editorial is a paid piece as part of Xbox UK’s sponsorship of DIGIPRIDE 2023.]

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