Crispy Gamer

A Few Thoughts on a (Still Mostly) Untapped Market

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I had just finished a book on evolutionary psychology that spent most of its pages explaining that the underlying drive behind why men do everything is to gain access to more mates* when I started to wonder “why are men more likely to play video and tabletop games than women?”  Then it hit me like an incredible factory of obvious—men are inherently more competitive and violent than women. Games, even single player games, are inherently competitive and a large chunk of the mainstream video game market is not just violent but graphically violent. We are left with the stereo type that girls don’t play video games, or that they only play silly games that are obviously aimed at prepubescent girls like Nintendogs.

Except for the evil geniuses at Nintendo, most game developers do not try to make games aimed at anyone but virile males. Because of this, the fellows at Nintendo clean up with casual games that are “fun for the whole family.” This doesn’t mean the games are good or bad just that they access an untapped market. Movie studios don’t make only action movies or only romantic comedies—they make both and capitalize on gender stereotypes that happen to be true.

People that appreciate quality film tend to avoid both action flicks and rom-coms and instead see movies with a greater focus on originality and a smaller focus on special effects or movie stars. The game equivalent of this is something like The Sims—the best selling computer game of all time, complete with dozens of super profitable expansions. The Sims isn’t popular just because it’s a great game—it’s popular because it’s a game that appeals to those who main steam games usually fail to appeal to. Who doesn’t want to play God in their own Simverse? Twelve year old girls who desire more stimulation that virtual puppies play it and seventy year old men who feel Halo just moves too damn fast play it.

We need more games that don’t appeal to just men or just women or just children. We need games that most people seem to enjoy. Some suggest that we need stronger female characters or less sexism in video games but I disagree on these fronts. There are few complex, empowered women in film or on TV and the two remain popular with people of both sexes. Some argue that we need games aimed more at women’s hobbies—Diner Dash and Cooking Mama —but this doesn’t solve the problem of making games that appeal to both genders.

While I have no data to back me up, I’d bet that Rock Band is relatively popular with women. I’d also bet that N64 esque games with cuddly heroes a la Banjo Kazooie are also more popular with women (and younger children) while remaining relatively gender neutral. Simulators and puzzle games appeal well to people of both sexes while games that are slower paced appeal more to older folks than games with a confusing frenzy. My dad enjoyed playing Mario Party with me and my sister but despised playing Super Smash Brothers.

I really can’t say what games appeal best to both genders and all age groups or how to make them. I can say how not to make them—half naked female characters, only having male leads, overemphasis on guns, blood, and killing, etc. There’s no reason to stop making super male or super female games but we shouldn’t let Nintendo cash in on the game industry’s tendency to ignore anyone but 14-50 year old men.

* The book was “Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do” Alan S. Miller, Satoshi Hanazawa, just in case you don’t believe my summary.

Comments

As a girl gamer who 10 years ago was running around the web crying "GIRLS ARE GAMERS TOO", I feel like I have a bit of myself invested in this cause. I do agree that the entire Sims series is quite popular and I rather enjoyed playing SimCity and SimAnt at my local library growing up. But I was also into the Mario, Kirby, and Zelda market. I played Boogerman which I'm sure was not marketed toward girls. And I secretly played Doom when my mom wasn't looking . . . EEP!

Now I may not be the hardcore gamer that I once was with life eating up my video game time. Now I mostly play what I consider to be games marketed more toward girls (rhythm games and puzzle games and the occasional RPG).

But yeah, I do agree that Barbie or Mary-Kate and Ashley isn't a strong way to market to females. I have memories of working at GameStop and having a mom come in and ask me what games would be good for her 11 year old *girl*. She put an emphasis on girl for who knows what reason. I grasped and suggested something ridiculous. Then I thought, hey, let's see if this mom knows what her daughter plays? Turns out the girl is a platformer. Don't know why knowing that she was a girl would effect my suggestion.

Anyway, I think that the major games for girls (other than the flash games, and really who doesn't love playing defend the castle until you're so ridiculously overpowered that the game can autorun?) are the soap operas. You know what I'm talking about. The one game that immediately comes to mind is Final Fantasy 8. Talk about drama. Now, I happen to love Final Fantasy 8. I also happen to love games like Killer 7 (although I never finished it because something would always come up and I'd drop the game for a few weeks and by the time I got back to it I forgot the control system and had to relearn it all over again so I never managed to make it to the finish). I mean for real. We've all seen the pictures at the conventions. Most of the cosplay girls are Final Fantasy freaks. Sure you might find a Lara Croft somewhere in there, but I think you're going to find far more Rikkus.

But there are guys who like FFs and girls who like bloody beat-em-ups. I mean, nothing spells stress relief like jumping into a game of Dead Rising and mowing down a bunch of zombies. I don't think that we should try to appeal to men or women or boys or girls or the elderly. We should just hope that a good quality game comes out (because quite frankly, there can never be too many really GREAT games).

Hehehe well no offense to you Crystal, but I don't need a degree in feminism to make basic logical assessments. And appealing to your own "authority" (or my supposed lack thereof) is no way to prove any kind of point. I could just as easily say "I don't think you, Crystal, are quite old or experienced enough to know what you are talking about." Even if I think that's true, I'm not going to bring it up in a debate because it doesn't prove or disprove anything, other than that I don't have a substantive counter argument. So please, let's dispense with the feeble personal swipes and superiority attitudes. I'm debating the ideas you bring up, you should stick to doing the same. Don't make it personal.

That being said, I agree with you that game should not "aim" at any group. It's like saying "we need more games aimed at Hispanics". It's pretty preposterous when you think of it like that, not to mention degrading and pandering to the group in question. I say just make a fun game and let the chips fall where they may. If a game is good, it's good regardless of which gender prefers it.

While I don't completely agree with the video, and would say it puts too much emphasis and marketing and too little emphasis on difference between men and women when it comes to video game preference, it's here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8ZVZRsy8N8

I was about to correct myself that I meant games that appealed to everyone with Mario and such, but I realized I already said they were games with no gender focus. I don't think many big titles have really gone for the female demographic while many have gone for the male demographic. Just look at "Wet"--all the posters focus a girl is sexy clothing who looks vaguely turned on and the f-ing title is Wet.

I watched an video that argued more women don't play video games for the same reason they don't go to Hooters. Games have always been seen as a boys club and women continue to feel excluded, especially when the only pictures they see of women in games are bikini wearing girls on covers, or photographs of promo models (also in bikinis) or implied nudes with women strategically covering up with controllers. That's really another issue entirely.

A few articles I read made interesting points about Lara Croft. The designer intended her to be a symbol of female power but over the years she appeared in tons of pixilated nude/implied nude pictures in magazines which gave her a sex symbol role she can't break free of. Of course, the big cans help.

I think the biggest reason why we don't have any obviously female aimed titles is that women are far more likely to play a game aimed at men than the reverse. Socialization deems that boys who are feminine are sissies while girls who are masculine are just tomboys.

Protagonists don't need to be male or female. I think a neutral male protagonist is better than a hypersexualized female protagonist when it comes to games women would like.

The point of my article is that we need more games that appeal to everyone, including women, and less games that draw gender lines.

No offense Brian, but I don't think you have a sufficient background in feminism, gender differences, or marketing to make claims about what kind of entertainment women like. 

That does bring up an interesting question that isn't often asked. What does a game designed specifically for women look like? Do we go as far as pointing out something like "Barbie Horse Adventures" because it's based on a property enjoyed by mostly young women? Or would a game like Tomb Raider be more along those lines if someone finally put that skank in some long pants and a decent shirt?

For a game to appeal to women (or be designed with them specifically in mind), what are the attributes that must appear?
-Does the protagonist have to be female? Many male oriented games have female main characters.
-Does it have to be non-violent? While generally less violent then men, women are still rather aggressive. Violence is (sadly) built into all humans.

As you mentioned, many nintendo games can fall into a friendly, neutral category here. And even though women enjoy them, so do men and children. And that's the problem with using something like Mario as an example. It's no help as it tells you less about what women like, and more about what people like.

I suppose one way would be to find out what games currently on the market have been designed either by women or by female heavy dev teams.

Right but I think the point of your article was that women need more...meaty...games made specifically for them (or at the very least, not to the exclusion of). Casual games are all well and good, but should we really limit our ambitions by saying "women have casual games...that's good enough." I would hope not.

 

I guess, in the end though, I don't care for gender divisions in my gaming. A girl that is just as comfortable playing the Sims as she is playing Splinter Cell is my kinda lady. I don't avoid games with a female protagonist or games without violence. So why should we encourage women to feel slighted by the abundance of male protagonists and violence? Let's expect a more mature response from female gamers, and maybe they will live up to it.

 

As a final random thought, I think more women like entertainment like "The 300" and the new "Spartacus" than men. And those are ultra-violent with a VERY macho sensibility. Another small example of why I don't buy into the false dichotomy.

I agree with you Chase. I think games are much more gender focused than they used to be. A lot of it is due to better graphics making graphic violence easier. There was a greater tendency for enemies to just disappear when you killed them back in the day. I can think of a ton of games that are 5 or 10 years old that were not gender focused: Spyro the dragon, Mario anything, Crash, Banjo Kazooie, DDR, Legend of Zelda, etc, but can think of very few new additions in the last few years other than music games and new installments of these older series. Of course there were graphically violent, and male skewing games back in the day but there was also less of a tendency to put scantily clad women on the covers of video games.

As far as women who play mostly non casual games I would guess the female-male ration is about 30/70.

As far as money goes, casual games are around 1/4 of the market, substantial enough that game developers should care about them. They don't make as much money as games like Call of Duty but they also cost substantially less to produce, so the right casual game will make as much as a popular non casual game when it comes to return on investment.

Actually, if you look at the development of games over the last couple of decades, games went from being rather gender neutral to becoming much more gender specific. And competitiveness has less to do with gender as it does with the nature of the competition, evolutionarily speaking that is. In evolutionary psychology both sexes are in competition with their peers as far as survival and mate selection are concerned. Men naturally excel at certain tasks while women excel at others. Men are better at long distance navigation then women and women are better at short range, landmark based navigation then men. These relate to those skills needed to survive. Men would travel for days following prey while women would hunt and gather near the camp. So while men needed to be able to find their way home, women needed to be able to search and map out the terrain around their home. While these traits come though even today, they can often be overcome by sociological norms.

The problem with games not directly appealing to women (or not enough games doing so) lies more in the area of marketing. Games are aimed more towards male gamers because developers know that that's what works. It requires zero creativity and little risk. Look at the recent announcement from Capcom.
http://kotaku.com/5540859/bionic-commando-dark-void-last-straws-for-capcom
They've decided that because sales for Bionic Commando and Dark Void sucked here in the states, they would no longer be trying out new franchises over here. They're blaming the changing nature of the gaming industry over here, rather then the fact that both of those games sold poorly because they were badly designed and written.

Then look at Japanese based game companies vs. western based game companies, and then look at the cultures. One culture realizes how broad and versatile video games are as a medium, while the other (us) still thinks of them as something kids play. On the other hand, one culture is heavily focused on women's rights; while the other is roughly 20 years behind the first in that regard (I'll let you guess which is which).

I'm also going to have to agree with Crystal on the female gamer thing. I've lived all over the place (though I will admit that I tend to befriend similar types of people) and I've known alot of female gamers. I don't know if the numbers are right and it's 60%, but its still a sizable portion. So why aren't there more female oriented games? Laziness. Game developers don't like risk. This is especially so, given the rising cost in production for mainstream games. However, casual games are cheaper and easier to make right? And they're growing if popularity. Well, if women are playing more casual games then maybe that's why they're selling so well. Perhaps this boom in casual gaming is female gamers making themselves heard.

As for the sex thing. Crystal's closer to being correct, but not quite. Turns out both men and women are pretty kinky. The difference is that each group thinks they're the kinkier one. It's all to do with men being more honest about sex when talking with men (because they're not having to worry about scaring off potential mates) and women doing the same thing.
The idea that women are less sexual or kinky is based on the changes that occurred during the Victorian Era. Maid Marian became a bland, sexless princess waiting for Robin Hood to rescue her, and histories were actually changed to fit the morals of the time. Before that women were actually considered the kinkier and more sexual of the genders.

Well, your female friends are not the average then, I would say. Which is to be expected since you are young and based out of New York City.

Casual games are, indeed, what most women play. And while I don't think casual games are "worse" than hardcore games, they certainly are not the big money makers. To put it another way, we have yet to find the "Modern Warfare" for women. You could make the case that the Sims is that. But since you can't really draw many conclusions from that fact, the way forward is still pretty unclear. Much as men have spent an eternity trying to "figure women out", I predict so too will the game industry.

If you are to believe many statistics, women are actually 60% of the game market, but do tend to play more "casual" games than men. Real "gamers" tend to insult casual games (and that is another issue) but they can be fun, original, and strategic, as well as very profitable for the companies who make them. You could easily call Tetris a casual game and it is (in most people's opinions) one of the greatest games of all time.

I think a lot of people have ideas on how to appeal to female gamers, as well as people outside the young adult to middle aged range. Most of these ideas are simply under-represented. And I'd also never argue against the point that the main steam in any industry lacks creativity and the desire to re-invent anything.

As far as sex goes, I have to disagree. I know more kinky ladies than fellows (though I suppose most guys wouldn't tell me about their kinks) and I am the kinkier one in my relationship.

Honestly, because "female gamers" is a relatively new phenomenon, I would say that the market is yet to be defined. Put another way, it's not about developers missing the boat, it's that the boat is still just a pile of wooden planks. Female gamers, by in large, aren't really their own identity yet. Their tastes aren't sophisticated and their experience isn't very deep. Most female gamers just end up playing whatever their boyfriends get them to play.

It's like sex. Sure there are some women that know what they like and will surprise you. But most just rely on the man to think up the kinky ideas and they are just along for the ride.

Now, this will change as time goes on (probably very quickly...in 5 years, who knows). But as of right now, I doubt anyone has a clear idea of "how to appeal to female gamers" in the future.

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