Previously, I wrote a small piece about women in video games. Not only do I think that women, in their struggles, have a lot of interesting, compelling, and important stories to tell, but they are a hugely underserved market. There is a pretty pervasive bit of conventional “wisdom” that women as a group don’t play very many video games, and/or that they are not a profitable market to target. I think this is not just wrong, but wrong-headed. Let’s take a look at a few numbers.
It turns out that in every single one of the key markets for western game developers, women outnumber men. This includes pretty much all of Europe, Japan, Australia, all of North America, and four of the largest economies in South America including the top two (Brasil and Argentina). Think about this. By excluding women from games and gaming culture, either by action or by inaction, we are in fact excluding most of everyone who could potentially be a fan. This is not only indefensible from a social equality standpoint, it is also economically untenable. With all the cutbacks and layoffs at the biggest studios, a perpetually waning print media, and the always-hard life of the average indie developer, it seems like a no-brainer to court female gamers.
Now, I’m sure that many (most?) of the sex ratios in these countries are very slim, but if the US swung female by only 0.01, that would still be 1.6 million more women than men. In fact, it’s closer to 0.03, which means that we have about 4.8 million more women than men. But let’s not forget, even if this weren’t the case, even if in every single market of interest, the ratio were tipped in men’s favor by a handful of points, women still make up nearly half the population! The growth potential among women is just bigger than with men.
But those are just raw numbers about everyone alive out there. Surely, a great number of those people aren’t avid gamers, and many may never play a video game in their lifetimes. So let’s look at the numbers for active gamers. For traditional (console and PC) games, women make up 40% of all gamers. This is huge. Imagine if McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, or Ford failed to serve and market to—or even actively excluded via messaging—half of their active customer base. Department heads, vice presidents, and other high-ranking executives would lose their jobs. Why do we see this as not only okay, but expected in the video game world?
But it gets better. Or, worse. That is, when you look at mobile and social games, women leap up to 53% of the customer base. This is obviously a space where women are better catered to, but we could always be better. I fully expect this to become very important, as more and more large AAA titles start to get ports and tie-ins on mobile platforms. If studio heads want to do well in this space, they will have to appeal to women, or else perish.
So, let me be clear here that we are not making a game for women. We are making a game that we hope will be accessible to everyone, including the half of the world that lacks a Y chromosome. We are making a game that features female characters because we think it makes the story more compelling and interesting than if they were men. We are making a game with a team that is 50% female because they have the talent we need and the perspective we want. We’re not talking about pandering to women with stereotypical “girly” themes and hyper-casual gameplay in a cynical money grab; we’re talking about a creative vision that invites everyone to invest in the drama we’re weaving. We’re not talking about making bland, politically-correct titles that neither offend nor engage; we’re talking about simply acknowledging that yes, some of the people on the other side of the joystick will also have a vagina.
Like it or not, this is the way things are starting to move, across the game industry. Deal with it.