JULY 16, 2008 – LOS ANGELES – Forty percent of gamers are women according to a new survey released today by the video game industry’s trade group, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).
With this in mind, the questions seems to be: Why are games not being made for women?
Or are they?
-An Extract from Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market, Sheri Graner Ray
Unfortunately, Publishers, under the distorted view that girls don’t play games, turned them away. With the formation of Her Initiative came their first self-published game, McKenzie & Co. (96). The game is based on the every day life of a girl (McKenzie). As the player, you are required to attend school where you complete tests and socialize with friends etc (These are done by completing mini-games). You can also visit the mall and buy clothes and return home to talk to your friends over the phone. The idea is simple, but the game sold 80,000 units.
Next to hit the shelves was the Queen of play herself, Barbie Fashion Designer (Mattel, 97). Already with a reputation as being the girls toy, it was hardly surprising to see the game sell 600,000 units in its first year and become popular with young girls (including me). Again the concept of the game was simple, design outfits for Barbie and watch her show them off on the catwalk. The game even provided you with fabric to print the designs onto (though this was usually quite difficult, expensive and never looked as nice as on the computer screen). However, even with the success of Barbie Fashion Designer, any new release that attempted to follow in its footsteps would never matched the figures and eventually companies such as Purple Moon and Mattel closed their doors.
-An extract from Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market, Sheri Graner Ray
OK, so far the games mentioned have been aimed at girls. But is that what we really want? Saying that companies are missing out 40% of the market by not designing games for girls is just as bad as a company designing a game only for girls. This means they lose 60% of their market. However, the game would probably attract more non-gamers so the percentage would rise and they would continue to make more money. But what if they made a game that was both desirable for girls and boys?
When I think back to playing games as a young girl, I never questioned why I liked more games than others. As I mentioned before, one of the games I owned was Barbie Fashion Designer. Thinking back, I can remember it feeling more like a toy than an actual game. In an interview with the BBC, Nancy Smith revealed that “To some degree The Sims is more of a toy than a game. People want to create characters, tell stories and explore relationships in a way that is maybe different from their real lives.”. I totally agree with this statement, I have many friends that play The Sims but would not consider themselves a gamer. I also have friends that consider themselves a gamer, but have no interest in The Sims at all. Personally, I enjoy playing The Sims and consider myself a gamer too. I brought this up because as a child Barbie Fashion Designer felt more like a toy than a game that both I (who played other games) and my sister (who had little interest in other games) could both enjoy.
I find it interesting that even though my sister and I were brought up in the same environment, exposed to the same games, access to a computer and are both female, that we are both very different people (Like most siblings). Games we were brought up with include titles such as Barbie Magic Hair Styler, Barbie Fashion Designer, Tomb Raider, Catz, Dogz, The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Theme Park World, GTA, Tekken, Worms, Max Payne, DDR and various others. I split the games up into two categories:
Games I Like:
All of the above
Games She Likes:
Both Barbie games, Catz, Dogz, The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Theme Park World and DDR.
Most of the games listed here all lack one thing in common: A goal. The theme park games did have some goals, such as making a certain amount of money or getting a certain number of customers through the door. But we only ever played the game in Sandbox mode, which ruled out goals and let you have free reign. As for DDR, it wasn’t about competing against the other player, more like being able to master each song and enjoying the physical activity that came with it.
However, although she had no interest in the other games listed, she would happily sit and watch me play them. Another interesting point brought up by Sheri Graner Ray was an observation of a female member of staff in an arcade. Boys would often enter the arcade with their girlfriends at their side, walk over to a machine and start playing. The girl would follow and watch from behind, occasionally going over to other machines to watch but always returning to her boyfriends side. Does this mean that women get more out of the visuals of a game? So much so that they can eliminate play all together and still hold interest. I’ll save that one for another time…
In conclusion, I don’t think that all games in the past were gender exclusive. Creating a gender biased game may not be the answer to creating the perfect game for girls, but maybe there is a market (my sister for example, and others like her). However, ignoring the difference in gender altogether is just as bad, as there are obvious differernces. In Part 2 I will be looking at what it is exactly that girls want in games, and how this differs from what has been and is being marketed.