Increased Representation & Diversity in the Gaming Industry: Interview with Lumikai GP Salone Sehgal
Gone are the days when gaming was considered a niche only for men. Over the last couple of years, the participation of women in the gaming industry has observed a sharp rise, be it as a gamer, streamer or developer. In the present times, women have emerged as growth drivers of the gaming industry and account for almost half of the gaming community. Furthermore, the increased role of women in the gaming industry has also resulted in some groundbreaking innovations and the elimination of social stigmas that women face while stepping into the gaming ecosystem.
To understand how women are adding value to the gaming industry, how has the attitude of the industry changed towards women and what opportunities does the online gaming ecosystem hold for women, The Gaming Reporter spoke to Salone Sehgal, Founding General Partner, Lumikai
The Gaming Industry- After witnessing an active role in the development of online games, the gaming industry has started witnessing increased participation from women as players too. What is the current state of female gamers in the industry and by what percentage the participation of women gamers has increased over the years?
Salone Sehgal– Gaming has long been perceived as a male bastion, but with changing times, it is interesting to witness how more and more women are emerging as gamers. Statistically, Asia is the fastest-growing female gaming market in the world, with an increase of 19% female gamers in 2020, and in India, women gamers account for 43%, a figure I believe will only increase to an equal 50-50% share in the next few years.
It is important to understand that the percentage of women gamers grew at a significantly higher rate as predicted and this can also be partly owed to the smartphone proliferation in the country. Although the figures are very promising, I still believe there is a lot of work that needs to be initiated at the ground level, be it in terms of representation of more female protagonists in games, higher women representation as developers, designers, founders and investors, alongside building more differentiated, diverse and inclusive gaming experiences.
The Gaming Reporter- In your opinion, what have been the major reasons for the lack of participation from women in the online gaming space?
Salone Sehgal- Video games have historically been viewed as a masculine activity. The dearth of female representation in the industry alongside findings of sexist encounters in online game spaces have traditionally meant that entertainment featuring women or rich, complex and immersive gaming experiences built for women have been scarce.
These are the primary reasons why we need more women in the ecosystem, more developers, UI/UX designers and founders to understand the root of the problem. This will further help in creating equal representation while also creating a safe environment for gamers.
The Gaming Reporter- The participation of women in the online gaming space has increased by a considerable amount, especially after the outbreak of the coronavirus. How has the attitude of the industry changed towards female gamers since the last decade?
Salone Sehgal– The emergence of Facebook games in 2008 was followed by the mobile games revolution. Games became more accessible. Audiences became more diverse. Content became geared towards a more ‘casual/women oriented audience.’
However, I believe we haven’t even begun to explore what female-oriented content in gaming looks like. While there are a number of global developers who are building for diverse audiences including Trailmix Games, Doubleloop Games, Robin Games, Papukaya Games, Superbloom etc – in India, we still have a complete absence of developers building diverse content. However, there is far wider acceptance of female gamers in 2022 than say in 2012, but there is still much to do.
The Gaming Reporter- Women are leading the gaming industry, ‘once known as a male-dominated field,’ through their path-breaking skills. What opportunities does the online gaming space hold for female gamers? How are women adding value to the gaming industry and helping in bringing a change in the outlook of gamers?
Salone Sehgal– Due to smartphone proliferation and cheap data, the Indian gaming industry is finally getting the recognition it deserves. The abundance of opportunities whether it’s platforms like Loco or Eloelo or content studios like Bombay Play and Studio Sirah are evident when we witness their growth trajectories, user metrics and immersive experiences on offer. I believe gaming will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the media industry in the Indian market.
12% of gamers are women from the age group of 25-44 and 28% are over 45 years old. Owing to this data, we can easily draw the conclusion that women are going to shape the growth of the sector in the coming years. Five years ago, it was unimaginable to predict this dramatic change in the number of female gamers in this sector, and now this growth has opened up career opportunities.
While we talk about opportunities and experience, I believe that this is the right time for more women to drive innovation in the industry. This will ensure inclusion and appropriate portrayal, thus creating more resonant and relevant characters, narrative arcs and themes. As more and more women get involved in the gaming ecosystem, they constitute a major part of not only gamers but decision-makers reshaping the gaming landscape for the better. They are now at the forefront of developing female-centric designs, art and lead characters, breaking gender stereotypes and establishing a leading presence in the industry.
This is where initiatives like Pathbreakers play a significant role. The platform encourages more women to gun for leadership roles by recognizing and lauding their efforts, thus creating a domino effect in terms of both, opportunities and participation in the dialogue centred around gaming.
The Gaming Reporter- Please shed light on some measures that can be taken to ensure a safe gameplay environment for female gamers.
Salone Sehgal– There should be strict moderation and content checks, but ultimately it comes down to providing a safe gaming experience. E.g. in Eloelo, a Lumikai portfolio company, which has 3M users and is India’s fastest growing creator led social gaming, has a 50% female audience base. Thus, there is active policing and monitoring from within the creators and gamers themselves leading to user generated moderation of content. The community ensures that standards of care and communication are maintained. Ultimately, it comes down to the platform and the choices they make to safeguard their community and audiences. The platforms that are successful realise early on that inclusive experiences are far more sustainable and long lasting.
The Gaming Reporter- What initiatives can the gaming industry take to encourage women to choose gaming as a full-time career option?
Salone Sehgal– For me, it is critical that game makers and creators work towards ensuring that game makers look more like that audience who consume that content. This makes it important to recognize those women who are already building the ecosystem and encouraging more female change makers to join the industry. Lumikai Pathbreakers became that initiative. We believe that “if you cannot see it, you cannot be it,” – so we diligently showcase role models to enable women to see those who have paved a path before them.
I strongly believe that Pathbreakers is more than an initiative that commemorates women in the gaming ecosystem. It is a platform that encourages more women to see like-minded women, it encourages companies to take diversity seriously, it enables game makers to showcase the best of their teams and provides a voice to women who have chosen a bold, non-traditional path.
The Gaming Reporter- Lumikai recently launched the third edition of Lumikai Pathbreakers, an initiative to exhibit the bold, brilliant and fierce contribution of women towards the gaming industry. Please shed light on what urged Lumikai to launch this initiative.
Salone Sehgal– The idea of Pathbreakers actually transpired from personal experience. When I started out in the field, I soon realised that there aren’t many women mentors and role models, this came as a shock to me but I later realised that it is more deep-rooted than just role models, there was a lack of female talent altogether.
60% of the mobile gamers are women, but less than 20% of games are created for them, and when you start looking at the composition, you realise that 99% of game makers are men. The audiences that consume these games look nothing like the developers of the products.
Attempting to address this and envisioning a much needed change to alter the gender skew, we came up with the idea of Pathbreakers. Now the initiative seems simple on the surface level but it actually combats and challenges a lot of issues that have been ignored previously. This made women who are already in the industry feel appreciated while acting as an avenue to invite more female collaborators, champions and change agents.
The beauty of Pathbreakers is that it is a medium or a channel through which we can see more women in the c-suite, as developers and as gamers, making it a more balanced ecosystem for all.
The Gaming Reporter- What has been the impact of Lumikai Pathbreaker on the gaming industry and how is it encouraging women to participate in gaming?
Salone Sehgal– The impact of pathbreakers has been significant. It has acted as a catalyst for women to become entrepreneurs in the industry and has also acted as a platform encouraging more women to become a part of the industry, as players as well as developers who are shaping the industry.
When we talk about Pathbreakers, it is not just yet another initiative, it is an ecosystem that is helping catalyse the Indian gaming industry by viewing it from a different lens – the lens of diversity and inclusion. Gaming is inherently a creative industry and we know diverse teams and perspectives achieve outlier success. Thus, we needed more conversation and dialogue on how to encourage more diverse talent to enter the industry, to reduce imposter syndrome when it comes to women in leadership and to provide role-models for others to look upto and be inspired by. It is about cultivating a fraternity and creating a sense of community and belongingness.
Read the full interview here.