World gaming leader EA Games releases its first-ever Māori character

One of the world's biggest video game makers has just released its first Māori character.

There are big bucks in gaming, with the global gaming industry worth $250 billion annually, but there's now a major push for diversity.

Bruno Mars is the latest celebrity to join the gaming universe. 

But while famous faces are nothing new, indigenous faces have - until now - been rare.

Change is afoot, with EA Games introducing its first Māori character in its latest version of Apex Legends.

Margaret Kōhere AKA 'Mad Maggie' was developed by American studio Respawn Entertainment which just happen to have a Kiwi on their payroll.

"If to me it means a lot and as a Pākehā boy, I can only imagine what it means for Māori to have them represented on screen," EA Respawn Entertainment writer Sam Gill says.

And helping to make sure that representation was done correctly was Christchurch company Māui Studios.

"It's been a real community involvement with some of the decisions that we've kind of worked alongside Sam to make," Māui Studio's CEO Vincent Egan says.

"Because it's really cool to see that these guys are keen and we've approached the right ways."

Gaming companies have been accused of cultural misappropriation in the past, an earlier Apex character Makoa Gibraltar drew criticism for mixing Polynesian cultural elements.

But Mad Maggie's looks, moves and voice are completely authentic. 

"I used my own dialect in Taranaki where we drop the 'h' and soften it to wakapapa or wakarongo when we have got those words which really came in handy so now she has to be from Ngā Ruahine or Ngāti Ruanui," Mad Maggie voice actor Nicola Kawana says.

And that approach is winning praise from indigenous and minority groups.

"Businesses always took imagery and artifacts and manipulated them and changed to what they thought was appropriate and there was never really any consultation or recognition of Māori cultural intellectual property rights," IP cultural advisor Karaitiana Taiuru says.

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association report showed that 3.7 million New Zealanders play video games and 75 percent of those surveyed wanted more diversity in video games.

But that's not being reflected by those making them. According to the NZ Game Developers Association, 51 percent of developers are Pākehā, 13 percent Asian, and only 3 percent were Māori, with 60 percent of the workforce being male.

"The tech divide is huge for whānau, we can't afford a $3000 PC to start creating in this space," Centre of Digital Excellence Māori lead Taikawa Tamati-Elliffe says.

"As long as we are co-designing with the developers, this is a positive step forward. 

This is an opportunity to increase the Māori digital economy," Dr Taiuru says.

A new target to aim for.