Code of Ethics for the Game Industry

Ethical Games

Video games are the most popular form of entertainment, an art form, and a cultural artifact.

Like any product they can impact their users (players). Yet games are more than just interactive products. They are a cultural space where a relationship is formed between the game creators and the players, and between players themselves. This relationship calls for game creators and publishers to agree on a set of values.

The impact games have on players can be of different nature: overall neutral, potentially positive, or potentially negative. While the positive impacts of certain video games can be celebrated, it is important for all game industry actors to understand the potential negative impact some video games can have on some of their players. We understand that achieving profitability is extremely hard, but it should not prevent game creators, publishers, and platforms from doing so in an ethical manner focused on benefiting both players and game industry workers. The game industry can flourish, and players can have fun, while we define together an ethical framework and identify ethical lines that should not be crossed.

Our hope is to collectively define a code of ethics for the game industry, serving as a guideline that we can follow. Our ultimate goal is for actors of the industry to agree to pledge to respect this code. The first step is thus to define guidelines together, and below is a first proposed draft. We want this initiative to be scientifically driven and as evidence-based as possible, which is why we are first calling for academic researchers to lead this effort.

This is a living document, meant for dialogue and which will evolve with the feedback received and future discussions. The following guidelines are not exhaustive and we hope that we can refine them together. The idea is to give a high level guidance on the important ethical considerations we must face and the resources to dive deeper on each aspect. We also hope that this document can serve as a bridge to the many organizations focusing on specific topics, so don’t hesitate to send us the resources that you know of if you do not see them mentioned in the “Learn more” section.

The code is currently divided in two main sections: guidelines for the benefit of players and the overall game community (with community, design, and business consideration), and guidelines for the benefit of game industry workers (with company values, protection of workers, and diversity and inclusion considerations).

We encourage you to give us your feedback on this code of ethics (whether you are from the game industry or its ecosystem, a scholar, a player, a parent…), since this is meant to be a collective effort.

Our purpose:
improving
ethics in

Video Games

Communities

Workplaces

Guidelines for the benefit of players
and the overall game community

Community & Events

  • When the game studio, publisher, or platform is enabling a social space around a game, or organizing an in-person or remote event, a code of conduct should be established and enforced. It should be clearly communicated and offer an actionable ability to safely report any harassment, toxicity and misbehavior.

Player Safety in Online Multiplayer Games​

  • Players should feel protected from unwanted disruptive behaviors (i.e. harassment, discrimination, bullying, and abuse) within the game and its ecosystem. Disruptive behaviors should be addressed seriously and fair play should be encouraged.
  • Online multiplayer games should have a code of conduct. Players should be aware of it and commit to respect it before playing. This code of conduct should be strictly enforced by the publisher and/or the platform holder. A clearly communicated (not hidden in the back of a website), directly actionable ability to safely report any harassment, toxicity and misbehavior is warranted for all online multiplayer games.
  • The platform should be designed in such a way to prevent unwanted disruptive behaviors as much as possible (e.g. not allowing for voice chat by default can reduce exposure to potential harassment).

Game Design & Content

  • Game studios and publishers should strive to develop and publish games that are inclusive and accessible. They should be welcoming to players regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or gender. They should avoid unnecessary barriers to be accessible to players with disabilities.
  • Dark patterns (i.e. designs with a purposely deceptive functionality that is not in users’ best interest) cannot be considered as acceptable. At a minimum, the game and its business model should be respectful of players’ well-being, time, and money, especially minors.
  • If a game includes sensitive topics or portrays behaviors considered harmful in a culture (such as violence against women or marginalized populations), the studio and publisher should take on the work to educate themselves and consult with the relevant advocacy organizations. Players should be considered as moral agents in the game world, and the morality of their actions should be addressed in the gameplay or the narrative.
  • If the game is published across multiple territories, the cultural adaptation of content (a.k.a. culturalization) should be considered to be respectful of local expectations.

Marketing, Business Intelligence & Monetization

  • The sum of the money that players have spent in the game overall (e.g. microtransactions) should be clearly communicated to them and this information should be easily accessible from the game home screen.
  • Time is a precious resource and should be treated as such; the time that players choose to spend in a game should be clearly communicated to them and this information should be easily accessible from the game home screen.
  • Players should play a game because this is how they choose to spend their time: push notifications should be disabled by default, and players should not feel they are held “hostage” (i.e. forced to play at a very constrained time or for a very long time).
  • Unless the game is clearly communicated as being a gambling game, gambling-like mechanics (i.e. variable rewards tied to monetization, such as lootboxes) should be avoided, especially in games that are rated E (Everyone) and T (Teens). When gambling mechanics are used, the odds of winning should be clearly communicated.
  • Brain imaging techniques and brain activity metrics should not be used for marketing or business purposes, for example for maximizing retention or conversion. Those techniques should be avoided for development purposes, unless it has a clear interest for gameplay and is not detrimental to players (to the exception of therapeutic games). These techniques should not be used with minors (to the exception of therapeutic games).
  • Telemetry data collected should be respectful of players’ privacy. Studios, publishers, and platforms should know their responsibility as regards to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Protection of minors

  • If minors are playing a game (even though not initially targeted to this population specifically) or participating in an event, all of the above considerations should be strictly enforced. Protection of minors in the game social spaces should be a priority. More specifically, online harms (harassment, abuse, pedophilia, bullying, etc.) should be prevented as much as possible, or addressed in a timely and transparent manner when they could not be anticipated.

Guidelines for the benefit of game industry workers

Company values

  • Approach to studio employees should be aligned with the approach to players and based on the same ethical principles.
  • Precise values should be defined at the company level and enforced.
  • Game companies and ecosystems should work towards creating and maintaining a community where open communication, respect, and knowledge sharing is a standard, with the purpose of raising the ethical bar in the game industry.

Workers protection

  • Harassment, abuse, hateful speech and behaviors between colleagues should not be tolerated. Reports of such behaviors should be taken seriously and lead to consequences when confirmed.
  • Exploitative behaviors at the expense of workers’ physical and mental wellness (e.g. “crunch”) should not be encouraged, not even passively.
  • Company employees interacting with players on social media should be supported and protected against potential harmful behavior and speech from the public.
  • Companies should strive to ensure the work environment, policies, and structures promote well-being and respect, transparency, and open feedback culture.

Diversity & Inclusion

  • The company should be inclusive and accessible, which implies consideration of implicit biases in company policies and practices.
  • The company should define precise inclusion objectives, define resources (human, time, money) to reach them, and be transparent regarding these goals and progression towards them.
  • D&I should not be the sole responsibility of human resources departments. It should also be the responsibility of managers (i.e. being part of their objectives) and be a priority at a business and executive levels.

Environment

WhO WE ARE

Game industry

Academia

Gamers

Many people have participated in the elaboration of this first draft, and many more have given precious feedback. The objective is to ultimately provide evidence-based guidelines whenever possible, which is why academic researchers are sought to lead this initiative. We cannot acknowledge everyone who has participated so far, but if you would like to know more about the origins of this initiative, please contact us or read this Gamasutra article.

Contact us

This is a collaborative initiative. Let's improve ethics in the video game industry together. We are currently more specifically calling for academic researchers to help.

please, contribute to this code of ethics

We hope to improve this
code of ethics with your participation and feedback