Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Women Gamers

Over at Your Critic Is In Another Castle, Kate complains that game developers don't believe that she, a female gamer who has always loved gaming, including first-person shooters (FPSs), exists. I'm interested in this problem, and I have a few ideas about why there seem to be few "serious" games aimed at women (which felt a little overkill for a comment).

  • FPSs aren't the favorite genre of female gamers. In a study that looked at gamers' genre preferences split by gender, 87% of females played puzzle games, while only 17% played FPSs (compared to 74% of male gamers who play FPSs).It makes sense that, seeing these stats, developers would aim FPSs they make at a male audience (but do females not prefer them because they are so male-centric?).
  • The people who make games are mostly male. In the gaming industry in 2010, 5% of programmers, 8% of artists, 8% of game designers, 18% of producers, 12% of audio developers, and 11% of quality testers were female.2 Still, females exist in the business, and with 18% of producers being female, it seems like they'd have a say in making games that aren't ignoring or being terrible to women (sounds like that should be my next research). Gaming industry professionals make up the audience of E3, and companies want to show off, so... it's mostly guys showing off to other guys, from what I can tell.
  • There are games out there that are selling really well that are designed to be consumed by women. Last May, these were the top ten games in retail sales. Zumba Fitness: Join the Party comes in at number 7. What the heck? I've never even heard of this game. Here's the skinny: you do that dancing exercise thing called zumba while wearing a wii-belt that tracks how many calories you're burning. The female populace has spoken, and if they're not playing LA Noire or Portal 2, they are probably playing some dancing game that was designed with them in mind.

This is, as far as I can tell, the current state of games for women. The Portal games, being puzzle games and having mostly female characters, seem to be the best serious games that include a female audience. There are games out there that are aimed directly at women; they're not aimed at women who are "serious gamers" because those women will buy the games for guys. Case in point: "Girls who are frequent gamers tend to play the same games as do boys who are frequent gamers. Gender differences in genres played are found primarily in girls who game less frequently."1

Sources:
1. Pew Internet and American Life Project as cited in Magerko's "Different Strokes For Different Folks: Tapping Into the Hidden Potential of Serious Games" found in Gaming and Cognition. Because I think everyone should know this, I'm replicating the chart below (authors, if you find this and object, please contact me). A "*" indicates that males played the genre significantly more than females; "+" indicates vice-versa. % of boy gamers is listed first, then % of girl gamers (sorry! too lazy to make a table). Remember, these are preferences of teens who are already gamers from 2008, so it's not representative of everyone who plays games:

*Action games 84 48
*Strategy games 83 55 
*Sports games 80 55 
Racing games 77 71 
*Adventure games 75 57 
*Fighting games 74 17 
*First-person shooter 67 29
Rhythm games 58 64
+Puzzle games 58 87 
Simulation games 46 52 
*Role-playing games 45 26 
*Survival-horror games 45 18 
*MMOs 30 11 
 Virtual worlds 11 10  

The original article looked at extrinsic and intrinsic rewards and found that "Two of the three more intrinsic oriented genres are played significantly more by girls than boys." I believe there is a typo in the article, as their chart indicated that out of puzzle games, simulation games, and virtual worlds, only puzzle games are played significantly more by females than males. Just sayin'.

2. Gamedeveloper's 9th annual salary survey, as found in their April 2010 issue (vol. 17.4). What can I say, my husband worked in the gaming industry. 

2 comments:

  1. Are you defining "aimed at female gamers" as having a female protagonist? That would include, for example, Tomb Raider and Metroid. Also a vast swath of RPGs let you choose the sex of your avatar.

    What are you using as the criteria to determine which games are aimed at women?

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  2. Cav, I guess I'm not using a very stringent definition. A female protagonist definitely helps (although with Tomb Raider, it's doubtful that females are the primary audience). It helps if there are at least female characters who have a role beyond being in distress or being a sex object. My main criteria is: do I feel welcomed to play this game, or do I feel like I'm stepping into someone else's world?

    It's cliche that women like having something to do other than shoot things, but for me it holds true. I enjoy the conversations in Dragon Quest as much or more as the fighting. As a counter-example, I started playing inFAMOUS and I feel kind of alienated, as the male protagonist appears to be a super-powered drifter and isn't even the kind of guy I'd have as a friend. I think more games are including women in their "gamer" audience, and many of them are RPGs and some FPSs (in Borderlands, you can choose a female character).

    For casual games, women are more generally included in the target audience. A game like the zumba one or the dance game is probably aimed specifically at women, and games like Super Smash Brothers are considerate enough to include some female fighting options.

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