by Sande Chen
Hi! I'm back from GDC and I'd like to tell you about the panel session, "Profiling the Female Gamer: A Look at How She Buys and Plays." The panelists were Mia Consalvo, Sheri Graner-Ray, and Clarinda Merripen, with Sheri Pocilujko from Incredible Technologies, Inc. as the moderator. The session was very research-oriented and yielded some tidbits about male and female behavior patterns. Hopefully, this knowledge will lead to better game design.
Mia Consalvo, Assistant Professor of Telecommunications at Ohio University, began the session talking about how not to reach women. Right now, women don't tend to buy games at Electronic Boutique, but do buy games on-line or at Wal-Mart. That's because EB is what's called a "male-cultured space" and women don't feel welcome. Women are aware of publicized games but they don't pay attention to the commercials on TV because they seem to know that the ads aren't targeted to them. Often, the woman will play whatever the boyfriend bought. In general, according to Consalvo's research, young middle-class women will play any game but many are repelled by gratuitous violence.
The main issue, Consalvo found, is time. Women still do most of the housework/child-rearing tasks and they have very limited time to play games. They want control over the time they play. They have some leisure time but if they play games, then they can't do other activities that they may enjoy more. They want a game that's easy to learn without looking up cheats and guides. If it's frustrating to play the game, they'll probably quit.
Most women don't subscribe to gaming magazines or read gaming sites. They don't try games at the stores if the environment's intimidating. Sheri Graner-Ray, the second panelist, relayed a story from her days marketing girl games. Her company's best success came when it partnered with a fashion tour at malls and allowed girls to demo the game as part of the extravaganza.
Sheri Graner-Ray, a consultant currently working on a book on gender-inclusive game design, talked about gender differences in learning styles. Males learn by doing and the industry with its hidden content caters to this type of learning style. Females, on the other hand, want to know exactly how a game works before they play. They're the people reading the manual. Her conclusion: make smarter, more intuitive interfaces.
On the violence issue, she said that she found that female teenagers aren't grossed out by violence, but it's more that they find it boring. Girls play a lot more games than the generation ahead of them and in time, they will be informed, potential customers. Clarinda Merripen, Human Resource Manager at Cyberlore Studios, elaborated on why it's advantageous to market to female customers.
Women control 80% of every dollar spent. Women will willingly spend $100 on shoes if they feel like it's worth the money. Right now, women in general don't feel like games are worth the money. But if there's a game that women like, they are very loyal to the brand and will give referrals to everybody. The shelf life for games that females play is much longer. Nancy Drew titles from six years ago are still in stores.
Merripen also states that it's good to have women on the design side too. It's not for the affirmative action sort of thing, but mostly because it brings more ideas to the table and also can show the team what's not going to appeal to a woman. I know when I was dealing with different projects, women observers would ask, "Why isn't there a female playable character?" It's something simple like that.
The room was quite packed and there were many questions. It was good to see so much interest in women gamers. There really weren't any other sessions on women's issues other than women_dev mailing list stuff. Microsoft hosted the Second Annual Women Celebrating Women in Gaming Event (i.e. party) and it was really nice.
I did play some games at GDC. I really liked Indie Fest winner, "Wild Earth" from Super X Studios. You play a wildlife photographer on safari. I asked producer (and programmer, I think) James Thrush if the animals will eat you and he said, no, but in higher levels, they might chase you around. I played some racing games and they bored me. I tried "Animal Crossing" and stopped because I felt like finding things for somebody else's collection was busywork.