Why Is Marketing To Female Gamers Considered Challenging?

The Wall Street Journal just published a re-hash of the same article I've been reading for the last few years: Gaming marketers still don't know how to appeal to women. Here's a thought: segment the fucking market!

I've written about this before, in most directly for the online magazine Cerise. My colleague Andrea also had a regular series called "Market to Me," as kind of an open letter to the marketing arms of major games makers.

I mean, the statistics are fairly clear. When I reviewed the academic work Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat, the stats revealed some interesting trends:

The book's introduction lays out some pertinent facts: about 38 percent of video game players and 42 percent of online game players are female. About seventy percent of casual gamers are women. Estimates vary, but it is clear that women have become a major subgroup in gaming. Yet the industry still ignores them. [...]

The population that does play games is frequently seen as an anomaly rather than a prime informant for understanding how play works. Researchers, and people in the gaming industry, often talk about trying to capture that demographic of nonplaying "Vogue readers" to the exclusion of looking at the group that actually seems to be succeeding in inhabiting game culture now.

Instead of paying attention to why women play certain games or speaking to women who identify as gamers, it appears that game companies prefer to work with stereotypes. This isn't something that is characteristic to the gaming industry - it plagues advertising in general, as we last discussed when talking about the Femme Den and their aversion to the "shrink it and pink it" strategy of marketers trying to reach women. This attitude runs rampant at all levels of game marketing, from the games that are even recommended to women down to store displays.

The photo illustrating this post? It was snapped at a Gamestop, and Wired blogger Eliza Gauger sums up my thoughts perfectly with her choice of title: "Games 4 Girls at Gamestop: Gagging, Weeping, Bleeding From the Eyes ."

Will someone please tell me who was in the back yelling "More pink! More sparkles!" for this display? Remove them from your marketing department immediately. Instead, have your remaining employees pay attention to some things that should be fairly obvious.

1. Women Gamers Are Not a Monolith

Let me just run down a quick list of people I know personally.

P: Some would term her "hardcore." P actually works at a gaming store, part time, to help feed her habit. She maintains all systems and normally keeps a PSP and a DSI in easy reach. She also has modded machines for import games and spends multiple hours a week in play, often using XBox Live to connect with our other friends and other players in games like Left4Dead, Gears of War, and Halo.

H1: Plays a lot, often with P. Also plays a wide variety of games, everything from Beautiful Katamari to Gears of War. She also spends multiple hours a week in play.

H2: Social gamer. She prefers to play either handheld games with friends or linking up through XBox to enjoy the Left 4 Dead insanity. She is a big fan of party games, everything from Rock Band to Mario Party.

H3: Loner. She will occasionally participate in the linked games like Left 4 Dead, but generally prefers survival horror games like the Resident Evil franchise, the Fatal Frame franchise and other high suspense games.

T: T lives for first person shooters. She's highly into competition, and prefers games that allow her to let out some aggression. However, she also has a spot for well-crafted, innovative games, which is why Okami ranks among her favorite games.

V: What many would term the casual gamer, she doesn't identify as even liking video games. Yet, her cell phone has a wide range of games downloaded, and she takes part of different games on Facebook. She will also play social games, but prefers sports games on Wii.

Me: I game a lot less than I used to, but I am a sucker for any and all RPGs and the occasional fighting franchise. I'll try playing just about anything, but tend to stay away from first person shooters.

Here are some key trends: None of us wished upon a star for something pink or sparkly. (Though we have been known to play Lego Indiana Jones.) Some of us like pink, some of us don't. Some of us have all the latest tech, some of us don't. Some of us prefer computer games, some of us don't. Getting the picture? We're all different. Stop using a marketing strategy aimed at twelve year olds for everyone, and stop assuming all women are driven solely by a desire to lose weight. Please take a lesson from the ill-fated Della.

2. Switch Up Your Advertising

Advertising through the same old outlets will get you the same old results. In order to find girls who play video games, try researching where there is over lap. For example, the now-defunct magazine Shojo Beat was a monthly magazine aimed toward 12- 17 year olds who like to read manga. There was also an interesting tidbit in the media kit - the majority of the readers of the magazine also played video games. While the editors quickly responded, providing coverage of popular video games releasing in the US and Japan, game makers were slow to advertise in the magazine. Even though Japanese clothing companies like Baby, The Stars Shine Bright found it worthwhile to purchase advertising, the gaming industry was not represented on a regular basis.

Recently, this ad aired for Rhythm Heaven:

While the ad didn't personally appeal to me, I liked quite a few things about it. Positing Beyonce as a player, using a black DSi, having a celebrity promoting a game rather than the hardware are all important steps to take that defy stereotypes. Additionally, this is just one of many spots Nintendo has used in their quest to appeal to non-traditional gamers which feature a wide range of players enjoying their content. It's really just that simple.


3. When Rethinking Marketing, Start Internally

A while back, I read an interview by Fast Company with Will Wright, the creator of mega-blockbuster The Sims. Wright made one small comment that actually illuminated a lot of key issues:

Having more women in the industry would help a lot. We've been making games that cater to ourselves, to 40-year-old men. We've noticed with Spore that women don't mind if there's violence in the game, as long as they have a path they can take that doesn't involve them having to kill everything. I think one of the reasons The Sims did so well with women is that 40% of our development team were women.

If you want to attract more women, involve more women in the process of creating games. Hire more women at your organization. Reach out to women who already identify as gamers.

However, none of this will work if people aren't willing to challenge stereotypes. The Wall Street Journal article states:

Making games for girls has "had a transformational impact on Ubisoft," Mr. Key said. The company in 2004 also began sponsoring an all-female team of game players called Frag Dolls, to help promote women in gaming.

The Frag Dolls play games like Left 4 Dead, Gears of War 2, and Heroes Over Europe. What games are mentioned in the article? Petz, Littlest Pet Shop, Charm Girls Club, and Your Shape.

Gentlemen, we still have a problem.


Videogame Firms Make a Play for Women
[WSJ]
Attention Game Designers: 5 Steps to Attract Girl Gamers [Cerise]
Market to Me [Cerise]
Gamer Girls Rising [Women's Review of Books]
Games 4 Girls at Gamestop: Gagging, Weeping, Bleeding From the Eyes[Wired]
The Simemperor [Fast Company]

Earlier: "Shrink It And Pink It" Gets Slaughtered By The Femme Den
Dell Discovers Ladies Use Computers For More Than Diet Tips