Market to Women, Already!

I almost missed a great letter to the editor that appeared in Gamasutra two weeks ago. The writer takes Kristen McDonnell to task for perpetuating the stereotype that “typically, women in general like puzzle, card, and word games. Some quotes from the rebuttal:

News flash: a lot of women enjoy the hell out of Stephen King, Joss Whedon, Saturday Night Live and MXC (which, due to its puzzle-related content, should be removed immediately from Spike TV and be re-broadcast fulltime on WE and Oxygen). And: Men don’t all flock instantly to the same games or get the same experience out of a game, so why should women? Finally: Please, please, please call off your quest to develop the single game genre to lure in some marketing department’s perceived ideal, a perpetual girl-woman that has never matured beyond a morbid, society-pressured fascination with pink nailpolish, Barbie, and shoes.

I couldn’t agree more. As Alice (of Wonderland) once pointed out, games have been marketed almost exclusively towards men for 25 years. You think that might have some long-term consequences?

I don’t buy the notion that women can’t become avid consumers of AAA titles. Women just need to be enticed into console games in general. At least one study has found that once women get into AAA games via any given genre, they become likely to branch out into other genres, including competitive genres.

I’m not suggesting that marketing is solely to blame for the state of things. There is, for example, the issue of female character hyper-sexualization in many games. Some argue that male game characters are equally extreme in their comeliness, so why should it matter? I think there’s one key distinction. Try the following thought experiment. Imagine a game in which all the female characters are very attractive, but not in a hyper-fictional manner. Now imagine the male characters — equally attractive, but with one notable “feature” — a huge bulge in their pants. The very thought makes me laugh, but I suspect that many men would be slightly repelled by such a game. Who knows how many women fail to become hardcore gamers because, consciously or subconsciously, they dislike staring at giant tits for hours on end? (BTW, I recognize that there are exceptions. Lara Croft was appreciated by many women, despite her “endowment”. But Lara Croft also represented strength and independence.)

Anyway, I’m not unique in calling for a concerted, long-term effort by console makers, publishers, and developers to market more towards women. But I think the call is worth repeating. This isn’t a charity case or a politically-correct social cause. We’re talking about billions of dollars in potential industry revenue being squandered. The Tycoon in me just can’t stand that.  😉

PS. Before someone tries to play gotcha: yes, I know that women do indeed represent the majority of puzzle game players. This doesn’t change the fact that they could be enticed to play other games…

5 responses to “Market to Women, Already!

  1. “Now imagine the male characters — equally attractive, but with one notable “feature” — a huge bulge in their pants.”

    Katamari Damacy. The King really packs a lot of sandwiches in his basket, if you know what I mean.

  2. Yeah, the King’s… endowment… was pretty unsettling. Shades of Cho Aniki, much?

    Anyway, to address the point of the post, a surprising number of the most rabid AAA game players I know are women. They got hooked early, and have been playing RPGs and action games ever since. They even played 2D fighting games back in college. It’s worth noting that having a social group that supports this kind of behavior helps quite a bit, though.

  3. Yup… one need only look so far as the PMSClan to know that women can, in fact, enjoy (and kick ass in) hardcore AAA games.

  4. Women don’t play “hardcore games”? I lost one girlfriend to a MUD. I’d spend more time in Guild Wars than in “real life” with another one, and we actually lived together. And it’s not like we met in game clubs or conventions, either.

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