Siliconera Speaks Up: How Can We Get More Women to Game?

By Louise Yang . January 25, 2009 . 8:15am

In addition to a new question this week, we’d like to welcome Ishaan to the Siliconera family. He’ll be adding a new voice to our Siliconera Speaks Up weekly column.

The game industry has seen an influx of women getting into casual games. Do you think that the industry needs to change for women to be interested in more serious console and PC games?

 

Jenni: I think that a change may be necessary, but that it should be gradual. Perhaps start creating some casual games that have more standard action or RPG elements (like Puzzle Quest), to help ease new gamers into different genres. That way, the women who have only just started gaming, or perhaps are focused on only playing casual games, can be exposed to other kinds of games.

 

Then, after they’ve tried those combo/genre-bending titles, they’ll be able to see whether or not other genres of games would appeal to them. Plus, it could help veteran gamers who don’t often play casual games start to see and appreciate their merits.

 

Louise: It’s not the industry that needs to change, but the attitude people have toward gamers. As long they keep thinking that gamers are overweight man-boys who play in a dark room shielded by sunlight, women won’t feel comfortable playing more ‘hardcore’ games. Kind of like how looking nerdy started to look cool years ago, when gaming becomes more accepted by the public, more women will come.

 

Rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are great for introducing women who usually don’t play games to what was previously thought of as a hardcore genre. What they do right is include a social aspect to gaming. There’s a sense of camaraderie when everyone is trying out a new game makes the game less intimidating. In a sense, it’s like co-op, but without any in-game life and death situations.

 

Ishaan: Two things. The first is the development of more games that a female audience would be interested in. Not a strictly female audience, but a healthy split between the sexes. If I were to cite an example, Final Fantasy would be it. I know a lot of women who usually don’t play many games outside of the occasional round of Solitaire or Yahoo! Pool, but make an exception for Final Fantasy and other related Square Enix affairs. Whether this is because of the bishies or because turn-based RPGs are less intimidating to non-gamers (an interesting subject in its own right), clearly Square is on to something.

 

The second is with regard to actual game development. Quality of life. Game development is demanding, stressful, involves painfully long working hours and often requires you to sacrifice large chunks of your social life if you’re working on the “hardcore” side of things (casual is a different story). Some call it dedication…some might call it torture. However, it is unfair for the industry to expect such selfless dedication from everyone looking to break in, and doing so has probably cost us more talent than people are willing to admit. Such a high entry barrier certainly isn’t helping us bring more women in on the development side.

 

Spencer: There are more core female gamers than people realize. Some of them spend their time with MMOs like World of Warcraft, some play RPGs, and others play FPSes. However, I think on services like Xbox Live women may be hesitant to reveal their gender since random players may bother them about it.

 

The other side of the question is are “serious games” where the industry is going? From the looks of US sales charts the answer would be no. Hardcore games are becoming a niche. Genres of games continue to increase complexity and for new gamers – male and female new gamers – plunging into a strategy RPG with pages of stats to keep track of or a fighting game where you need to understand the term “just frame” is intimidating. Take the shooter genre as an example. When Space Invaders came out anyone could jump in and play it. Afterwards each new shooter added new elements to be aware of and some players gave up learning them. Now we’re at a point where only a niche that kept up with all of the evolutions can enjoy a game made by Cave. Dialing games back and making them easier to get into levels the playing ground. Eventually, some of those players again, male and female gamers, will seek new challenges and take steps towards more serious games.


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  • Doctor

    What might help is more women in the game industry. As far as I know, there are women in the industry, but not that many at the higher level, where decisions are made about what projects should be pursued. Women should have a better idea of what would appeal to women gamers.

  • lostinblue

    how to get more women to game? by making games that don’t make them feel like aliens, in short… games that take them into account.

    For instance, In persona we have to go after girls in our social links (and can max them as girlfriends), girls might not be turned on by that, as I wouldn’t be turned on by going after guys (no matter what my main character is, male or female). How to solve it? dunno, I don’t exactly want to see character swaps, like… akihiko turning into akihika the boxing champ or something (and…. male mitsuru :O)

    FF… I wouldn’t say Square is on to something there, other than the nomura bishi “thing” going on. and their days of turn based combat are long gone when most of their newer games have evolved to be action RPG’s where you button mash your way through it with… 3 actions, attack, run around and… dodge. And then again, there’s lots of better games in the same genre out there; So I have to argue that the FF thing is that it has gotten obnoxiously soap opera’ish (aimed at teens but that most girls always like), bishi’ness and… well marketing, loads of marketing.

    As for “hardcore games” being a niche; they always were, we just had the oposite idea. no game that sells in the millions of millions is relying only on the core userbase, stuff like GTA SA selling 14 million last gen were due to the masses getting it; metal gear was always a more accesible game than others (might I say playable movie?), FPS’s who sell in the millions are getting easier and shorter like an afternoon film, so that “pseudo-hardcore-gamers” can enjoy it… We really have it all backwards basically. All the industry is going towards casualization even those that voice themselves against it, minus extra-niche titles (that don’t sell through the roof no matter what).

    As for RPG’s… RPG’s need a new FF7, Atlus is the closest to it now, actually, with recent P3 and P4 (IMO) who are fine as gateway drugs (perhaps only too dungeon crawly, which I don’t really want to see solved); thing is Atlus has no visibility to get away with it. But thing is, once there is a gateway drug working, at the right time in the right place, like FF7 did all these years ago, it’ll create and generate a much bigger interest around it, that will extend to more games in the genre.

    Thing is, you can’t solve the problems with the same thinking you created them, and RPG’s are kinda stuck in a rut (taking some notable exceptions aside), they rely on the same elements, introduce changes just for the sake of it (gameplay changes and systems that are not even needed to beat the game), they rely on the same argument over and over again, and… they have to feel fresh and reinvented, take chances, be fun and have good gameplay… and then appearing to the right demographic to expand the public altogether.

    I’d also say that developers trying to do that on PS3 and X360 right now are delusional, and DS is good but doesn’t sell that much software outside japan as home consoles do, so that would limit the effect where it’s most needed, western world, so basically Wii would be absolutely the way to go, now that the window of opportunity is open, let’s just hope they get there with the right product at the right time and without stupefying it, without downplaying it. FF7 was what it was because it wasn’t FF-light-edition made for all those “casuals” who had entered the console scene recently. My point being… you can make a breakthrough if you don’t give it your best effort.

    Going back to girl gaming, we also have the problem, I feel, that a lot of games that are being made with them in mind are made and greenlighted by guys, that leads to two problems; first… not liking what they’re doing, second… not understanding what they’re doing. For instance, is a game like barbie actually good? and those bratz crap? and the Imagine: babies/fashion designer and stuff like that? I doubt it.

    And… if the content isn’t quality one, why should they keep going at that? I wouldn’t have kept gaming if I wasn’t fascinated by it, and I was fascinated due to good products. Of course, there are gateways for girls into gaming, notably, puzzle games (tetris, bust a move, etc) and simulation games (the sims), but my point is… there’s so much more to be done with women in mind.

    • http://pto.yetikitn.com MelodyKitn

      Oh, on the point of Imagine games and their sort of ilk, I have to admit, I’ve tried a few (curiosity will frustrate this kitn eventually), and there are just as many (surprisingly) decent games as there are complete and utter failures.

      Mind you, they’re not anything heavy in story or mind bending puzzling such as Hotel Dusk or Professor Layton, and a few can get quite repetitive, but I’m no longer so quick to dismiss many of the ‘girl-centric’ games anymore. In fact, Imagine has been importing existing games that I’m glad are seeing some light of day in a gamer’s hands (Imagine Figure Skating is actually an import of a JP game that’s already garnered a sequel), or buying out better versions of the failures they’ve come out with (such as Fashion Style Icon from 505 Games).

      They aren’t the cream of the crop of gaming, but for the child to tween group they aim for, some of them are a good start before getting them to delve into more interesting game fair.

      (Although I will agree with the RPGs.. I’m tired of seeing the same bleach blonde cosplay victims as lead heroes/heroines and could use something less… flamboyant and more adventuresome)

    • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

      I was just thinking that Persona 4 should have included the option to play as a female protagonist. Except for the S.Links that can turn into relationships and a couple of scripted events, most of the game would play just the same.

      Spencer you mark a strong point with your Space Invaders -> Cave analogy. My girlfriend’s favorite game ever EVER is Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. It was derided to no end by RPG fans back then and still is to this day. Understandably so in a way when you consider that this is what we got instead of the epic Final Fantasy V. So on one hand the hardcore gamers were irritated but on the other, FFMQ accomplished its mission of turning on new gamers to the genre, female in this case.

      This is why I’m a strong supporter of Nintendo’s “casual” position in this generation. Although I could use a little more hardcore action on my Wii when on my own, she has never played a console this much since said FFMQ days. She actually bought the console on her own and surprises me with her knowledge of upcoming Wii games. I’d say they’re on to something, so long as they don’t lose their original fanbase that made them so rich to this day!

      • lostinblue

        yes, this said just swapping the main character would solve nothing, if the S-links and other characters were the same, plus, there’s FMV’s for the main character once in a while and I wouldn’t like them to pull a “radiant mythology” on it (who pulled a random generic character into that), neither do I want a character creation thingy; not in my watch.

        Swapping the sex of social links is also not a option as that would add a whole extra layer of complexity over it, as well as could detract from the character identity when you’re trying to make it ambiguous between male and female.

        The solution I see in mind to solve that would be… either think of branched events to everything altogether, including males, and only make it available for males if you’re playing as a girl (in P4 the girls are branched, you can get into a romantic relationship with them, or choose to be only a friend at a certain point) that or… simply turn off all “love” social link evolving when playing as a girl (so you wouldn’t be romantically involved with them)

        This said, they blush and the like because they’re with a guy, hinting at a romantic relationship or interest before that happens so the right head-on way to go about it would be well… rewritting all of that; which, would add a lot of content for what must be a minority, and would mean a lot more text to translate.

        Also regarding RPG’s and the “female’ish” thing, in Tales games I always make the Avatar for my Party female, and go around with it in towns, I was pissed that I had to walk arround with Vaan at cities despite Ashe being my party avatar/leader outside them in FFXII and… In Radiant Mythology and Monster Hunter I always go for females in character creation thingy. I only don’t do it in Harvest Moon because I know then I’d have to go after males O_o

        Am I weird?

        • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

          would add a lot of content for what must be a minority,

          I am willing to bet that a LOT of guys would go for the female character if given the choice.

          • lostinblue

            I would go for the female character, providing I wouldn’t have to chase guys around. (and still could go after girls)

            Not that I have any lesbian fascination mind you (and I think I’m in the minority with that) but I like to play with girls as my avatar and like to pick them up in a persona’ish way, so that would create some weird blend of the girl whom I’m playing with representing the guy, who goes after girls as if nothing had changed… or something.

            The “lot of content” I was mentioning was applying to extra dialogues to “get it on” with the guys instead of girls. and since we can’t go after men in persona, neither do I have some fantasy with that, I was thinking of not being able to go after girls while playing as a girl too (not that we would be offended to be able to do so, but for a equality reason I guess)

    • http://several-hours-into-the-game.blogspot.com/ Nika

      I don’t think that the ‘going after girls’ thing like in persona has any negative effects, I for one never found it bothersome. Plus, if you would start in that direction many RPGs might become a turn off, because in most of them you play as a male hero that has some sort of emotional relationship with a girl (or is ouright trying to save her). Yet I have never found playing as a male protagonist annoying in any way, I simply see a game story as a movie or book that I am moving forward.

      I once had a very interesting lecture in which the male protagonist of any RPG was somehow overlapped with the player, generating a mutual sexual attraction to the female cast. Which I all found very amusing, especially since the whole theory doesn’t work when you have a female player. Such as myself.

      • lostinblue

        Well, girls are different all right, you’d be hard pressed to find a heterosexual guy that says going after guys in a game isn’t bothersome, or that it doesn’t turn him off instantly.

        I know I would; for starters I don’t dislike Shoujo as I see it somehow as a thing made for girls in mind, and thus find it quite interesting as if it’s somehow the world seen by women eyes, well… in the same sense shounen manga is for guys, so I’m not implying that it’s reality, but kinda like the imaginary for girls and stuff (by comparison I just can’t stand Yaoi), but seeing a shoujo principle applied to games is definitely something I can’t play… because I’m obviously not reprising the girl role in my mind, I know how to distance myself on a shoujo since I’m not the one taking action, but that’s something I can’t do on a videogame when it’s me that is going up to the guy and talking to him, and picking the answers, if you get what I mean… feels like Yaoi… totally -_-’

        So… even if I’m playing as a girl, and that implies going after guys I’ll overlap the character with myself basically, and feel like I am going after guys; something that I really can’t take. (this because of you mentioning characters overlapped by the player)

  • http://pto.yetikitn.com MelodyKitn

    Spencer’s got the gist of it. There are already a good startup of girls and women who game and those who have been gaming for years now. A good chunk aren’t out there to be recognized as girls who game, they simply want to be known as gamers.

    A majority of the time, because of some childish boys/men’s behavior, there’s a big thing about hiding the female gender from our live accounts, or avatar/toon choices, and even our names. Why? Because some knuckleheads think that the moment a girl shows interest in his hobbies (i.e. video games) it’s an automatic understanding that the girl will also be interested in the guy. Even if it’s simply a female looking character or voice over xbox live, and that they know nothing about each other apart from one’s a female, the other a male.

    There’s ton of ‘Imagine’ series games that have been enticing girls lately, and it’s an all right stepping stone thus far, but there definitely has to be more gender-equal games that give choices for either to acknowledge. Games like Phoenix Wright appealed to both just as well as Halo. Also, the ability to customize is a big step for both guys and gals. It gives both the opportunity to choose how they want to show themselves without restricting narration or (some) game plots with as little as being able to choose clothes, hairstyles, as much as names.

    Remember, we’re no longer the myth, the girl who games exist, it’s more about getting the same acknowledgement and respect.

  • Pichi

    I just feel that if we can get more information and advertising out there, that would be ideal. Information for knowing the many play styles and genres out there & advertising things you might be interested in like a story in a game. Variety is key as well, young and old or simple and complex. Would help if we can ignore the stereotypes and just seek things out. With the internet, you can find this information and I wish more people in general would do this, not just for games. I feel as though there are some games that can reach many of us, but they just don’t know it and go for the causal stuff.

    • http://several-hours-into-the-game.blogspot.com/ Nika

      I think advertising is a good point. In this case I’m more thinking of ads (or even better; reviews) in magazines that are read by girls. (cosmogirl and crap like that. did I say crap out loud?). At the time a still read some of those I hardly ever saw ads or reviews, while even a review or recommendation of about 5 lines of text could probably work wonders.

      • http://www.nakedsushi.net/ Louise

        Getting advertising out to girl magazines is a good idea, but I’m not sure that the girls who read Cosmo would want to play many main stream games games GTA4 or even COD4.

        I do know of a couple of girls who got into games because of their BF and are now playing alongside them in Halo and other games, so maybe that’s a way to get them into it.

        • lostinblue

          well… I don’t disagree but for starters GTA4 and COD4 definitely weren’t thought up with girls in mind.

          It’s kinda like selling Sims in a man’s magazine ^^’

          This said there’s lots of products that could fare well being advertised there, like Loccoroco, Pikmin, and well… quirky/funny/light hearted stuff I guess.

          • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

            Don’t want to sound like a broken record, but after reading what you guys said about advertising in women’s magazines, I’d love to see Square do that with FFXIII, especially since the game has a female protagonist who doesn’t have an E-cup and actually looks quite normal aside from the usual Squeenix gorgeousness.

            Versus XIII with its seemingly more romantic setting and emphasis on the relationship between the prince and that lady from all the trailers would work well, too.

            Other games I’d like to see get advertised in women’s mags: Zelda Phantom Hourglass, My World My Way, Beyond Good & Evil 2.

  • http://several-hours-into-the-game.blogspot.com/ Nika

    I think that there are already a decent amount of women who game, the DS and the Wii can be credited for much of that. Only a lot of them will never call themself gamers, they simply play a game every once in a while.

    I don’t think a lot of change is needed to get more women to game. As spencer already said, the market is tending towards the casual gamer, and gaming is becoming a more general hobby. If I just compare the people I saw in my local gaming shop a few years ago and now, I can already see the difference.

    • lostinblue

      “As spencer already said, the market is tending towards the casual gamer, and gaming is becoming a more general hobby”

      well, the question can be made backwards then, what can we do so women play the same games we do (and those we consider to be quality/top range) instead of those “casual” entry point stuff?

      Of course casual always existed and some of it was even originally thought up for girls in the first place (Pac Man is a fine example of that), and we have lots of people gaming but… they’re not necessarily into it, or gamers for that matter.

      My mom plays, she finished pac man in the arcade when I was a kid, only to discover that when you reach level 99 you go back to level 1; she had finished Prince of Persoia; and is still way better than me in high score kind of short games (as well as most people, I guess, I remember comparing her Mario 64 DS minigames high scores to forum posted ones and damn, she was way ahead), and has bought DS games for herself, as well as Wii Fit (and plays bomberman wiiware).

      Yet… she is unable to play Zelda because “it takes too long” and “uses too many keys” as well as Pikmin, again because of the complexity. This, even if she’s interested in them (she likes to see Zelda being played, and RE4)… But she can’t play, so I guess there’s a big barrier in there that keeps her from doing it. That’s no good, although the games are fine as they are for me, and so I don’t know if change is good as well.

  • Chris

    Have more characters that appeal to female gamers. All the female characters in RPGs tend to be designed by men and geared toward male fantasies. They turn out to be iconic standards of physical perfection in hardly any clothing who fall in love with Joe Schmoe but don’t apply any standards or expectations to the relationship. Then they crush on Joe Schmoe relentlessly but get scared and offended at any hint of actual sexuality.

    Then the other kind of female character designed by men are the tough girls who are basically men who happen to have perfect female bodies. Women are supposed to identify with these paper thin stereotypes?

    I also think that, other than ‘girl geeks’ of whom I know plenty, the ‘poor little villagers who come of age and save the world’ trope appeals more to men. Games where the premise is people killing each other are going to appeal more to the average man than average woman. To increase the appeal to women, you could put more of a social aspect into the plot like in the newer Persona games, or have more fantasy premises that aren’t just “These people want to take over the world, go out and kill them.”

  • http://twitter.com/matty_125 matty

    “As long they keep thinking that gamers are overweight man-boys who play in a dark room shielded by sunlight”
    B-b-but it’s ok if you are one, right? :(

    I keep reading that girls take up almost half of what are considered “gamers”. So, is this specifically the types of games you’d like to see more women join in on? Well, it’s up to the individual and to some extent – the community for knowledge and encouragement.

    BLOOD AND GUTS! Girls like that stuff, right? I know many women that are die-hard fans of RE, Silent Hill, Clock Tower and the like. Maybe they have that . . . “killa instinct” I don’t know about? ;)
    Agatha Christie and Emily Dickinson would have made awesome games, but like Jenni said, it’s a gradual thing. Publish it and they will come.

  • http://userrankings.com/ Jim

    I don’t see the problem? I don’t like the term “gamer” so why should we try to get more people to become “gamers”.

    What’s a gamer anyways?

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/ArcadeInfinity scott

    I’d hate to take the sexist side of things but…

    I dont see that many women taking up a fighting game, like Street fighter, as much as they do Prof Layton. I’d like to think that fighting games are gender-neutral as the next person, the devs that develop the game engine are obviously not the same as the guys making the graphics. I’ve tried to get my ex-girlfriend into fighting games, but its so frustrating to teach certain aspects of the game. Then they get pissed, and quit, because they lose too much.

    Most women aren’t aggressive enough for certain games. I’m sure Nintendo knows that with all their casual games and the HUGE DS marketing campaign for women. Even music games, which are progressively more niche, are mostly dominated by men. In california, there are only 3 or so good beatmania players that i know of.

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