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What does it take to build an online gaming community — and why is a commitment to diversity and representation so important? It’s the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense. Diversity and representation increasingly matter to gaming audiences, and those audiences have proven to be engaged, loyal fans.

Two Facebook Gaming creators, Mikel Owens, or Thrive Gaming, and Bre Eazzy, shared the popular content creator perspective during a panel at the 2nd Annual GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming Summit. They joined Luis Renato Olivalves, director of global gaming creator partnerships at Facebook, to talk about how they started and where they are now, what resonates with followers, what it takes to reach them, and how to build more diversity in online communities online.

Both Mikel and Bre came into streaming with no expectations, and at first never considered the possibility that video games could be a full-time gig. Now both pride themselves on creating fun, positive, and welcoming environments for everyone, choosing Facebook Gaming as their platform. Creating that environment is the most important way to turn viewers into fans and friends who keep coming back to hang out.

“For me, it’s about engaging with every person that comes in there,” Mikel says. “People come to streams as a way to get away and have something they enjoy, have a place where they can be entertained. I try to come with a lot of energy, have fun with the streams and engage with them, ask questions, just try to have them all involved.”

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Bre agreed, saying, “The more meaningful interactions you have with new viewers, not only does it make them want to return and watch your streams more, but it starts to build that community, family aspect that I love most about Facebook.”

Keeping the community inclusive and welcoming is a top priority for both of them.

“For me, I have this motto, not only for my personal life but in my community and my stream,” Bre said. “It’s very easy to be kind. It takes ten times as much energy to be hateful or mean. For me, anybody that comes into the stream, I don’t think about anything besides what they can bring to the community as a whole.”

For Mikel, it’s also about about transparency.

“I’m very open with my community about myself and who I am as a person,” he said. “I’m not perfect, and I know that. I tell them all the time. No matter what you look like and where you come from, I know you’re going through your own things. It might not be the same things, but you’re going through your own things. I like to have everybody feel accepted.”

How the game industry can do better

Progress has been made in promoting the importance of diversity and inclusion in the game industry, and light shone on the darker, more dangerous areas of the gaming world. Platforms are stepping up, such as Facebook’s Black Creator program, which is launching a new initiative to support the next generation of Black creators on Facebook and Instagram. But there’s still so much further to go, both agreed. Conversations like these are a start, Mikel says, but we need more. And it will take pushing folks out of their complacency and comfort zones.

“A lot of these conversations are very uncomfortable for some people, but I think being uncomfortable is good,” Mikel said. “Being uncomfortable opens eyes, and the more eyes that are open, the more change can be made. Having more events, more things like this, can help lead us toward a better future when it comes to these types of things, when it comes to representation in the game industry.”

Bre agreed. “Whatever aspect we’re looking for improvement, having these one-to-one conversations and dialogue with these companies and platforms is massive for truly understanding what it’s like to be in the shoes of, say, me or Thrive or the other thousands of creators that are on the platform,” she said. “But I think that at the end of the day, there’s nothing better we can do but take a step forward. There’s nothing we can do but improve at this point.”

But simply put, there just needs to be more representation in the game industry. More Black gaming professionals, more POC, more women, more LGBTQ folks in the game industry, in positions to make authentic change based on lived experiences.

“Hire people that represent me in those positions, whether it’s writers, creative directors,” Mikel said. “When they’re making these games and I play it, I can understand what they’re making, that they’re passionate about it. That’s a big thing that could help the industry move forward in that aspect.”

As a women and a competitive Call of Duty player, Bre encounters a tremendous amount of negativity and harassment in the community, and too much of it comes from the fact that women players are very much outnumbered by men.

“A lot of the top earning streamers and performers are men,” she said. “That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with skill level. It just means that men are more represented than women… for me it’s important to break down that barrier, not necessarily to prove anything to other people, but to make it known that women can play just as well and perform just as well.”

“If we’re going to have a good time and you’re going to help me create good content, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, man, woman, it doesn’t matter,” she added. “We’re going to have a good time.”

Choosing the right community building platform

That’s one of the primary reasons Mikel was inspired to stream on Facebook as a platform: the community, the engagement, how personal you can be with your audience. On Facebook you can actually see the community members you’re chatting with, which helps create more of a personal relationship a stronger bond.

Compared to the other platforms Bre has streamed on, Facebook is more focused on helping partners succeed, she said.

“Personally, I feel a platform should put creators first,” Bre said. “I know that’s sometimes difficult to do, because a lot of things come into play in a successful streaming platform. My experience on Facebook, for the two years I’ve been on the platform, it’s been nothing but improvements on all aspects. Creators first, and making sure that you’re able to be found. Discoverability is also a huge thing on the platform.”

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