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Dead by Daylight: the "Smash Bros of horror" committed to diversity

How the horror hub supports the LGBT+ community.

A quick check on Twitch is enough to see how popular Dead by Daylight has become online. The asymmetrical horror game first released back in 2016; now it's a horror sensation.

Its success isn't necessarily a surprise: it has gradually incorporated iconic franchises from cinema and gaming to become a hub of all things horror. "A fan told us, you know, you're like the Smash Bros. of horror," says creative director Dave Richard.

But the Smash Bros. of horror has also found surprising success with the LGBT+ community - drag queen Twitch streamers in particular. In turn, developer Behaviour Interactive has sought to support the community, ensuring a diverse and inclusive suite of characters that reflects the player base. They're even working with US non-profit organisation GaymerX to soon bring the first openly queer character to the game.

Horror was at the core of the experience right from the beginning and the team were interested in asymmetrical multiplayer, something that was alluring but not yet perfected at the time. Creating a sense of fear was key, without any HUD prompts, and the game's unpredictable nature and reliance on human players rather than AI only added to its frightening appeal.

It was always intended to be an evolving experience too, with the idea of adding new chapters of content considered early in the process. Over time, through partnerships with licence owners, the game has grown into a horror hub. Obtaining the Halloween license was the first major milestone for the team, while the Silent Hill license opened the game up to other horror games. It now boasts collaborations with the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Stranger Things, Resident Evil, and most recently Hellraiser.

"For me personally," says Richard, "a couple of years back, I was at PAX and I got a fan that came to see me and she had tattoos of all sorts of killers from franchises, Halloween, Michael Myers was there, Leatherface. You know, a lot of them. And then in the middle, there was the DBD logo."

In Dead by Daylight, licensed content is balanced with original creations by the Behaviour team. Earlier this year, a whole chapter inspired by K-pop had players thirsting over its Trickster popstar killer, alongside The Hag, The Oni and more.

"It's important for us that where we add these licences in the game, there is still a place for our original characters," says Richard. "We always make sure we reserve space for the original, no matter how many cool licences might come in."

An important factor in this continually evolving content roster is the relationship between developer and community. "I like to imagine the community as being a colleague that has many, many, many faces," says Richard, faces that frequently do cosplay or create artwork that inspires the team.

Seeing support for the game online certainly has an impact on the type of new content that's added. "We're monitoring social channels, forums, player support reports, streams, looking for what are the consistencies here, what are the things that people are really passionate about?" says Tara Brannigan, director of the player experience team.

Her team acts as a link between the community and the development team, discussing what's popular and what could potentially work as suitable content. They work alongside the Fog Whisperers: streamers who form a key part of the community.

"The Fog Whispers are champions of what we want to see in the community," says Brannigan. "First and foremost, we look for positive streamers, people who are going to represent the sorts of behaviours and engagements that we want to see out in the community."

It's fair to say that Dead by Daylight has generated a lot of thirst, memes and silliness online. But this isn't necessarily a surprise to either Richard or Brannigan.

"We're people that really like humour, and we like being silly," says Richard of the team. "But we were in a mind frame where we're selling a horror game, so it needs to be serious.

"What's amazing about the community is that we can have fun with horrible things that are happening inside the game. And so it was surprising to see the memes and the thirst, but it's actually quite refreshing. And I think it makes for a very healthy place for the community to be."

The character thirst was surprising to Brannigan, but the "strange wholesomeness" of the community wasn't. "As a general community vibe, this whole idea of let's survive together lends itself well to helping each other out being pretty positive," she says.

Why the game is so popular with the LGBT+ community is something of a perfect storm. Brannigan notes how horror has always had a strong intersection with the LGBT+ community. The game's popularity with big Twitch streamers - drag queen Deere and the Stream Queens team especially - has certainly had an impact. And there's perhaps something too in the game providing a safe space to face fears.

But now the LGBT+ community has arrived in the game, Behaviour is striving to support them. The Fog Whisperers programme played a part in that, moving from selection based on numbers to diversity. "It used to be disproportionately based around numbers... and as you might guess, that biases towards a very particular type of streamer and it meant that we didn't have a very diverse lineup," says Brannigan. "So we actually changed that criteria specifically to welcome in a more diverse group of streamers, because our streamers should represent our player base and our player base is not all the same people."

The Fog Whisperers were also part of Pride events earlier this year, which included a charity fundraiser and livestreams with key influencers, as well as in-game content like the Pride charm. "We were all hands on deck thinking we're gonna get a lot of hate and heat today. But it was really the reverse... it was disproportionately a really positive, really amazing, event," says Brannigan.

What's perhaps more important is the team's ongoing support in cultivating a supportive community, both in-game and online. "We want to make sure that our gaming community is a safe space," says Richard. That involves adding tools to ban toxic players and a chat filter to ensure the end-game chat is safe.

That spills over into social media too. "We can't always catch everything, but we want to make it clear this is a welcoming space," says Brannigan. "And that is a welcoming space for all of our players who are playing in a way that is inclusive and fun and participatory. There's no hate allowed."

Any negativity is from a small fraction of players; the community is mostly a positive place who appreciate representation. "We were a little nervous when we put the Pride charm out that this might lend itself to bad behaviour, but what we actually saw was groups and groups of people talking about how they got into a game and it was Pride charms everywhere. They spent five minutes pointing at each other's charms, it was just this really fun experience," says Brannigan.

The studio has a responsibility to its audience to have diverse representation. "Everyone should get to see themselves as the hero, everyone should get to have that experience where they see themselves and they feel empowered by it," says Brannigan. "And, you know, games are fun, they should be fun for everyone. Everybody should have that opportunity.

"It's not the overwhelming majority experience, it's each individual player's experience that matters."

She continues: "We've seen a need for LGBTQ content in the game, it's been a thing that we've wanted to do. A lot of that has come from the community feedback of 'you used to say that the characters were whatever you wanted them to be, but then you straight coded some of them where were the queer coded characters?'. So a lot of that has been a really positive push from the community, and the community team to say, this is here, people really want it, how can we best support this?"

That's why Behaviour is now working with GaymerX on bringing the first LGBT+ character to the game. "We're making efforts right now with the team to do a great representation that we are proud of in the game," says Richard, who admits that internally they don't have all the answers. It also won't be a one time thing; instead there will be representation that continues through the years.

"Our partnership with GaymerX has been amazing," says Brannigan. "They're wonderful. They've gone so far above and beyond in terms of their recommendations and their assistance."

The importance of representation and working symbiotically with the community is really the secret to the game's success, beyond its clever asymmetrical gameplay and band of horror icons.

Says Brannigan: "The stories from people are like 'I've never played a game where I got to see somebody who I felt like I related with, but I found that in DBD, and I just want you to know how much that meant to me'. And those are magic moments, those are things that we want to share and to celebrate. Because it makes such a difference and every one of our players matters."

Even if that somebody is a serial killer.

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Dead by Daylight

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Ed Nightingale avatar

Ed Nightingale

Deputy News Editor

Ed has an interest in streaming, people and communities, and giving a voice to marginalised people.