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Character diversity means better games, says Microsoft Studios writer

Creating stories with a range of characters spanning different ethnicities, sexual orientations and genders will help developers make more satisfying, richer game experiences, according to Microsoft Studios narrative designer Tom Abernathy.

Speaking in a panel at the 2013 Game Developers Conference today, Abernathy, who has written for titles including Halo: Reach and Destroy All Humans, said the market for video games is changing faster than developers and creators can keep up.

"Our audience is leaving us behind," Abernathy said. "The world is changing, it has already changed, and we have not been doing a very good job of keeping up with it."

Abernathy gave three reasons why character diversity is good for developers. Morally it's "the right thing to do," said Abernathy, and there is no good justification for not featuring more nonwhite or female protagonists. From a creative standpoint, more diversity in casting opens up the possibility for more rich and complex narratives and "makes your narrative juicy," he said.

Finally, Abernathy said it's "smart business," and that more diversity will attract more players, which means companies will sell more games and make more money.

"But you need to persuade people that it's OK, and won't hurt sales but might help them," he said. "The data does exist if you dig a little.

"Nobody in the room admits to being against making characters female or nonwhite," he added. "But they're scared because they don't know how to defend that choice to their bosses."

Abernathy concluded that he believes people get more enjoyment out of seeing characters who look like them in their entertainment.

"I don't think that's a radical notion," he said, citing his daughter's preference of female singers and movies with female protagonists as an example. "The key here is to not prevent consumers from unlocking and enjoying the fantasy we provide them," he added. "This provides more satisfying entertainment experiences."