Tulay McNally, director from inclusive design to electronic arts, chooses his words carefully as we discuss creating various characters for video games. Raised in Germany, McNally is no stranger to the international video game industry. She worked at Square Enix, Sega and Bioware before joining EA. McNally’s team at EA helps with character development from underrepresented groups and public communication.
His caution is warranted – Activision Blizzard was Shredded a month before our interview for his reductive approach to video game diversity, which assigned numerical scores to marginalization, turning identity into a kind of dashboard that developers could use to determine who they should include (or exclude) ) character lists. McNally remains happy to talk about EA’s inclusive design framework, though she’s quick to point out that the company doesn’t take a legalistic approach to diversity.
“It’s really a loose framework of guiding principles and design philosophies that we customize based on our engagements with each game team,” says McNally. She points to Maxi Studiosthe team behind The Sims 4 (which recently added the ability for players to customize their Sims’ pronouns), as part of the company that is already successful in creating content with a diverse playerbase in mind and doesn’t need as much support. “Some other play teams may be more at the start. They may need a little more support, education and empowerment,” she says.
Released in 2018, EA Battlefield V received a backlash for put women in combat in World War II. Despite this, the foundations of the company’s approach to inclusive design at scale have been laid through collaborations between Pacific expansion the company’s development team and Asian and Pacific Islander employee resource group. An intensive review process for this Battlefield V the downloadable content covered everything from initial trailers and storyboards to tiny weapon charms and player skins. In addition to its employee resource group, EA reached out to geopolitical consultants for contextual authenticity.
After helping lead the volunteer initiative on Battlefield V, McNally developed a business case for the continued use of an inclusive design framework and presented it to EA’s chief operating officer, Laura Miele. The company created a new position for McNally as a result of this meeting: Director of Inclusive Design. Speaking of her current team of four at EA, she says, “Two of them focus on making games accessible. The other two focus more on cultural sensitivity and representation, and also work with game teams.”
Voluntary collaborators and a new internal team complement the work of external professional consultants. “We know we need this guidance,” McNally says. It’s a fight against pride, not a compromise.
While some conservative consumers may react negatively to the prospect of inclusive character design, there’s no justification for approaching video game storytelling from multiple angles. only concerned with fairness. Inclusiveness is also good for business. One of the goals of EA’s Inclusive Design Framework is to spark discussions with developers throughout the creation of a game. It doesn’t make financial sense to wait for the later stages of development to begin ask questions that might require time-consuming and resource-intensive fixes.