Women – the New Target Market and Influencers in the Video Game Industry

viddywoman.jpgI recently ran across an interesting article in the Sunday Herald that looked at the game industry and its impact on society. Drawing the scorn of many for its assumed links to increases in violent behavior in children, it evokes in those living a significant number of hours in this cyber reality a feverish obsession akin to a cult following. The industry has often been accused of marketing their products to children who are more susceptible to the influences of the games’ violent messages. However, I discovered two marketing trends in this controversial and very successful $7 billion industry that surprised me: 1) an increasing number of women are being drawn to computer games and 2) game creation, far from any longer relying on simple demographics, is now based on highly co-creative fan-driven content.

The game industry has experienced a significant evolution since its early days of simple, visually unappealing games. Its primary target market at that time was teenage boys. Those games ten years ago are a far cry from the mind-bogglingly sophisticated, graphically stunning, sensory-flooding ones currently on the market. And with this shift, a new target market with several different segments has emerged: “average age of gamers is 29, the core demographic is 18 to 35, and a third of game players are women”. This is a rather surprising discovery for me, a woman, who has little interest in playing video games. Therefore, it was even more interesting to read that, counter to my own perception of video games having an anti-socializing, isolating effect, traditional games appeal to women because of a “desire to socialize.” Not so surprising though was that women are primarily interested in “communication, interaction and constructively putting things together”. If that is the case then this market want coupled with the second discovery I made might actually have a positive influence on the industry in creating more constructive, rather than just destructive games.
A trend has emerged in the game industry that has players, i.e. customers, demanding to be an integral part in the development of the games they are wanting to play, creating a complex network of interaction between game players and game creators and rapid product development cycles. Being a double-edged sword, this demanding environment nevertheless gives game producers much desired direct access to its customers and an ability to custom-tailor the products to each segment.
Given that women now make up one third of the game playing market and given that game production has evolved into a highly collaborative process, women have an opportunity to influence video games content on more socially desirable aspects such as constructive, interactive tasks. And in that way the neutral tool of video games can be used to enhance society. Women gamers, I call on you to demand those types of games that will help influence the society you want just as loudly as your other fellow target market companions who love the thrill of the kill.

One response

  1. Kirsten,

    If you’ld like to know more about the differences between men and women in game play, you should look into the research Cheskin and Interval did on how girls and boys play differently. The result of this research became Purple Moon, a girls-only game company in the 1990s. While they targeted teens in the research, much of it still applies to people (of both genders) older than teens and, besides, all of these players were once teens (so much of the findings still underpin their behavior).

    Brenda Laurel, the head developer at Purple Moon, spoke about how the values at the core of the games her team developed aren’t just important to girls but they have identified another large, unserved market segment who also responded to this type of game play, but in different visual and narrative contexts: boys.

    Some comments from your original post:

    • I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize older games as “visually unappealing.” Both at the time, and even now, they have a certain asthetic that most found (and continue to find) appealing. The graphics on some games have gotten incredibly photoreal and rich but these are, generally, this isn’t the only reason they’re successful, nor are they the games that appeal mostly to women.

    • “…women have an opportunity to influence video games content on more socially desirable aspects such as constructive, interactive tasks.’

    Just like with the twitch games, you shouldn’t expect more positive (in some eyes’) values to just emerge from women entering more of the game market. These games may not be based on killing, but there are plenty of other social behaviors that they make available that aren’t mucch better (such as gossiping, back-stabing, ostracizing, etc.). Just because twitch games are predominantly male doesn’t mean that only males can exhibit questionable behavior, nor does it mean that only men and boys are attracked to these behaviors, nor that they don’t respond to other types of game play (that might otherwise be seen as more constructive).

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