Vancouver’s Marija Radulovic-Nastic is leading EA Games’ push for diversity in its characters
The veteran exec is working to create gaming communities free from harassment, and design a welcoming workplace for all.
Most conversations about structure at video game studios in the last decade have rightfully revolved around inclusivity, and what the future of this industry should look like. For Vancouver-based Marija Radulovic-Nastic, senior vice president of development technologies and solutions, and her global family at EA Games, that future is now.
For more than 18 years, Radulovic-Nastic has been bolstering both her own team within the studio – including quality verification, standardization, testing, and certification, just to name a small portion of the department’s portfolio – and the overall health of diversity and inclusion across all of EA Games.
This effort is a product of passion and position. Radulovic-Nastic is one of many standard-defining women holding major leadership positions within the company, and her adoration for gaming is evident. “Technology and gaming is a vehicle for delivering beautiful art,” she waxed while we spoke on the phone.
Radulovic-Nastic expresses immense enthusiasm for EA Games, and what the company is doing to adapt their internal and external core beliefs and conduct.
Much of the studio’s foundational change for their players is built on what EA Games calls their Positive Play Charter – an external guideline for inclusivity and safe play-spaces for all gamers – that it published in 2020. “We built an entire department responsible for upholding this charter,” said Radulovic-Nastic.
Spearheaded by Rachel Rubin Franklin – who left EA to head up Social VR at Facebook, before returning to take charge of the newly minted group of safe-space guardians in the fall of 2020 – the Positive Play department handles all things charter-enforcement. Designed to improve the experience for players, the charter represents the company’s goal to cultivate the most welcoming and harassment-free gaming communities on Earth.
The development of this branch, and the guidelines it works from, are fantastic for gamers on the outside of the company. But what about for those with employee badges? Radulovic-Nastic said that particular responsibility is shared by every person on every team. “Gaming is perceived as a difficult environment for any underrepresented groups,” said Radulovic-Nastic. “So we have a lot of discussions around navigating toxic online and gaming environments. It’s built into everything we do.”
In order to obtain as diverse a swathe of voices in the room where their games are developed, EA Games set their sights on inspiration and commitment. “You want role models, on every level,” said Radulovic-Nastic about having female and marginalized representation on leadership teams and in management positions. This uphill battle to normalize equality and inclusion hasn’t happened overnight at EA, but Radulovic-Nastic is keen to applaud where this group is now, compared to where it was nearly 20 years ago when she first arrived as a senior development director in 2004.
Currently, a quarter of global executives at EA are women. According to the studio’s 2021 Impact Report, 25 percent of internal employees identify as women, and 22 percent of the company’s leadership roles are held by women. “Creating amazing games and services starts with a workplace that is as diverse as the communities we serve,” reads the report. These numbers aren’t too far from the current standard in game development – a 2022 Zippia survey of game developers in the US states that 24 percent of devs identify as female – but Radulovic-Nastic and EA is attempting to change that by continuously promoting an inviting environment where diverse identities and backgrounds are welcome.
“EA is committed to ensuring that we provide a working environment that is safe for everybody,” she says. “These conversations [about perceived barriers to entry] are easier to have today.” Notably, while internal diversity numbers are climbing, EA has a long way to go before they mirror the market in which they serve: the demographic of video game consumers. The Entertainment Software Association’s 2022 report found that almost 50 percent of gamers identify as women, and 62 percent of all women in the US play video games.
This idea of diversity and inclusion isn’t just a standard held up solely by the developers of their games, or even the players of their games. EA has redeveloped its internal thought process to ensure that the games themselves meet better standards for acceptance.
“When we created games, we started asking, ‘How often do we seek to tell the stories of underrepresented people?’ Are we representing people with diverse backgrounds authentically? Are we weeding out unconscious biases?” The list went on. According to Radulovic-Nastic, EA slowly put together a fundamental framework that every team needed to include as part of their development process, and it comes into account at every stage of creation.
It’s all one big trickle-down, infinite loop. The practice of developing games with conscious diversity goals ensures that EA’s hiring practices are as inclusive as possible to best genuinely make said creation authentic. It's a mentality that the company hopes will trickle down to consumers, who will in turn want to work for EA and create games with diversity in mind. Then it all circles back to the start.
“It’s an effort. It has to be intentional. I love this industry, but there is still a lot of change that needs to happen” said Radulovic-Nastic in the wind-down of our conversation. “It starts at the unwavering commitment from the top.”
With banded-together voices from underrepresented and marginalized groups making major waves in the news, are we finally reaching the breaking point? That moment in history when pushing for change becomes celebrating a new reality?
At the very least, we’re making progress. This conversation is no longer happening behind closed doors. A handful of significant lawsuits with spotlights on major leadership in globally impactful studios such as Activision Blizzard and Riot Games has forced the hand of the “boys club” to restructure its membership criteria. To purposefully include all people.
And there is hardly a better cheerleader for female voices in game development than Radulovic-Nastic, who continues to shout invites to other women from the rooftops.
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