Earlier this week Wingspan Designer Elizabeth Hargrave wrote a thread on Twitter outlining a burning problem facing the board game industry: namely, there simply aren’t enough award-winning and published games because design women.
It is not a difficult argument to make! The board game is a vast and social industry, played by people from all walks of life around the world, but as Hargrave singles out the contenders for the Spiel des Jahres—their biggest prize board game, selected from the biggest game creators of the year— yes overwhelm is man:
The sane response to this would be to say, yes, this is a problem! Board game design has traditionally been dominated by white men, but as the market evolves and grows, the demographic of published and award-winning designers (you need to be the forerunner before can become the latecomer) has not evolved with it. Much more needs to be done to encourage more women—and more non-white men—to participate in game design and publish their games, because as Hargrave says, we are “intellectual limitations and life experience go into the game” and “Our game selection is inferior to it.”
Ryan Dancey, COO of Alderac, takes a different approach. To avoid interpretation, I’ll just leave his direct answer to Hargraves here in full:
I’ve done over 1,000 game pitches since 2016. I would say less than 10% of them are by female designers. In fact, none of those games are games that AEG will publish. We specifically called for entries from female designers; we have a publishable design –@elizhargraveMariposas.
There were a few pitches approaching; The most common is where a woman pitches to a male designer. There was a team of two female designers who were very good but their game was too light for us. I know why we don’t continue with those pitches but at least they’re in the ballpark.
Typically when I’m thrown by a woman, the game tends to fall into one of several categories:
* This is a game about politics; In general, we do not publish games about politics
* This is a party game; In general, we do not publish party games
* It’s a designer’s pitch early on in their design journey, and the game isn’t competitive in the modern market – one game is often too much like another, or very generic or more about idea than game design
I have never been shown a war game by a woman. I’ve never been shown a 2 player fighting game by a woman. I have never been shown a giant fighting robot game by a woman. I don’t really think there’s much of a market in those categories because there’s so much competition, but I wonder if a female-designed game would be orthogonal to existing design patterns and create something. whether it’s noticeable or not.
I think there’s a significant gap between the moment someone decides to try becoming a game designer and the moment they produce their first publishable game. Life in that void includes a lot of rejection and negative criticism. I wonder if that gap makes up a good portion of the underdog group of female designers – women are socialized in the West to avoid situations where they are subject to rather harsh criticism for their ability and your creative ideas. The males are socialized to take the punches and keep moving forward. Bridging the gap is how you turn someone into a “true game designer” who gets paid for their work and who creates designs that appeal to publishers.
So far, we haven’t seen many awards considered for games that exist almost entirely as crowdfunding projects. I know a lot of women who design and produce games through crowdfunding, but they don’t connect with publishers. SdJ’s nature as a crowdfunding game is not effectively considered.
To Dancey’s credit, he has since apologized and asked people to “hold him accountable”:
Yesterday, I participated in a discussion about the lack of representation of women as designers in the gaming community. It wasn’t my best moment. I feel ashamed and angry with myself for the tone and content of my contribution to that discussion. It does not reflect my views and it certainly does not reflect the views of the company I work for.
I apologize for any harm I have caused and any offense I have caused.
This topic is extremely important to me and I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I discussed both my bad initial message and the consequences with my leadership team and with the rest of our company, and I wanted to outline some specific steps we would take. now to do better on this issue.
* We will actively connect with designers from underrepresented demographic groups, especially women, and provide mentoring and development support for their projects even when AEG does not publish games of that type.
* Several people have suggested various organizations that could benefit from our support. We will proactively contact groups we already know and actively review pitches from members of these groups.
* Our goal is to publish the best games, we will expand that goal to help and provide more support to the people we want to do business with so they are seen and publish.
Check back with me in a year and hold me accountable; I will provide updates as we progress.
But the fact that he originally thought of any of that, let alone wrote it out publicly, let’s answer directly to one of the few successful female designers in board games really says a lot about Hargraves’ original point of view, not just about women but other marginalized designers as well. Anything else The industry has struggled a lot with the past few years.