Girls and online gaming

E3 2010 has seen the big games companies focusing on introducing new people to games. New technology is being released that removes the classic controller for more ‘natural’ control schemes. Nintendo have been doing this for years with their Wii console, and Microsoft and Sony are now trying to get in on the action with their new motion control devices and family-focused marketing. With these developments, the video games audience has been increasing in size and the geeky-teenage male in a bedroom stereotype is slowly becoming outdated. The industry does still have a very male image. If you were to ask a random girl or woman if she is a gamer, the likelihood is that she will say no. She may have played a game or two once upon a time, but she’s not ‘a gamer’.

The female audience has been targeted more in recent years with the majority of the ads being for the Nintendo DS. The image of a girl playing a game about animals has become pretty familiar, as has a woman playing a fashion or brain training game. Of course, not all female casual gamers are on handheld consoles. Since the introduction of Facebook applications, many female gamers (and former non-gamers) have enjoyed games like Farmville on their web browsers. It’s unlikely that this is news to anyone who is on Facebook; it’s hard to miss when your news feed is telling you that “[Friend’s name] has grown an extra large vegetable in Farmville”. It may be surprising, however, that the Facebook games audience is 57.9% female.
Admittedly, these are very casual games. This isn’t the ‘hardcore’ audience of Modern Warfare, Gears of War and Command and Conquer. Hardcore games are often about shooting opponents, conquering territory and killing monsters – far less girl-friendly activities.

One of the most publicised online games for the online hardcore market is World of Warcraft (WoW). It is, perhaps, the best example of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). In this game, the player takes control of a character in a fantasy world that must fight monsters and enemies. Once enough of these tasks (or quests) have been completed, the player levels up and can gain new abilities and equipment to help complete more difficult quests.

WoW’s figures are impressive. Over 11.5 Million people currently subscribe to this game – more than the population of Cuba. The game also generates over $800 Million in revenue per year. Considering the game’s content, most people would assume that a WoW player would be a teenage male. It is true that the majority of players are male; however the average age is 28.5. Also, a surprising 20% of WoW players are female. It should also be noted that WoW is one game of many in a very large genre. It dominates the market with a whopping 62% share, but there are many others.

The focus of the games industry attracting new girls/women to gaming is still sensible, but so many are already playing games. So when you ask a girl/woman if she is a gamer, why is the response nearly always ‘no’? Perhaps the answer is that casual ones don’t think of themselves as gamers, and the hardcore ones don’t feel comfortable admitting it.

Alasdair Gray – Analyst

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