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Girl Gamers are on the Rise: Special iVirtua Report
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Mon May 12, 2008 10:34 am Reply and quote this post
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Girl gamers: iVirtua


Girl gamers are on the rise, so why isn't anything beingmade for them? Jason Hill reports.

Wander into any videogame store and you could be forgiven forthinking that women do not play games at all but the statisticspaint a different picture.
More than 40% of game players in Australia are female, yet mostgames on the store shelves are of little interest to them.
Despite this, the profile of the typical gamer has changeddrastically over the past decade, with middle-aged housewives nowas likely to play games as teenage boys.
The average gamer in Australia is now 28 years old, up from 24just two years ago. And despite being largely ignored by the gameindustry, 41% are female.
Women and older Australians are the fastest-growing audience forcomputer and video games and if trends continue, by 2014 theaverage age of Australian gamers will be the same as non-players -42 - with an equal number of male and female players.
Trends are similar in the US, where 38% of gamers are female,spending an average 7.4 hours a week playing, according to theEntertainment Software Association.
The popularity of video games has led to astonishing growth.
Australians spent a whopping $1.3 billion on video games andconsoles last year - a rise of 43% from 2006.
Much of the recent growth in the Australian game market and thedramatic shift in gamer demographics is due to the success of asmall number of non-traditional games such as the SingStar karaokerange (more than 520,000 sold), the Buzz trivia titles (more than280,000 sold), Wii Sports (more than 350,000 sold) and the hugelypopularly hand-held games such as Nintendogs and BrainTraining.
The Sims, the world's most popular computer game, has also beenhugely popular among women, as has the multiplayer online gameWorld of Warcraft.
Both are largely about building relationships.
Even a cursory glance at some of the many internet forums andwebsites highlights the fact that many women enjoy games from allgenres, some even forming female clans such as "Girlz", "FragDolls", "War Sisters" and "PMS" playing testosterone-fuelledshoot-'em-up titles such as Counter-Strike and UnrealTournament.
Women have no interest in the majority of commercial games thatare released, particularly when they are being marketed almostexclusively to males. Instead, studies show most women gravitate to"casual" titles such as online puzzle and card games, trivia, wordchallenges and action arcade games.

The Casual Games Association reports that 74% of payingcustomers for these games are female.
And when it comes to mobile phones, women are just as likely toplay games as men, with Forrester Research suggesting that 19% ofAustralian mobile phone users are playing games at least once aweek on their phone, while another 24% play less regularly.
It's not surprising that women tend to shy away from most of thegames on the store shelves when publishers routinely use semi-cladfemale characters to ply their wares, appealing squarely toadolescent male fantasies. And invariably the type of game thatgets most media attention are violent and aimed at young men, suchas Grand Theft Auto IV, which hit the streets last week amid theusual critical outcry.

The industry's response to luring women gamers has often beencynical and heavy-handed. Many of the games aimed at females areunimaginative, such as Ubisoft's new (paradoxically titled) Imaginerange of hand-held games that feature stereotypical "pink" subjectssuch as dressing up, cooking and nurturing babies and pets.
Many industry insiders believe the key to creating more gamesthat appeal to women is to get more women into the industry. Bydiversifying the workforce, developers hope to create products thatappeal to a wider audience.
In Australia, female game developers make up only 5% of theindustry while the International Game Developers Association putsthe worldwide figure at about 12%.
To fix the imbalance in Australia, a "Women in Games" group wasestablished to promote development as an exciting careerchoice.
Eve Penford-Dennis, an art tutor at the Academy of InteractiveEntertainment, has worked in game development for 15 years. Shesays that although most people in the industry assumed that genderinequity would eventually balance itself, "it never did".
"It became obvious that we needed to do something," shesays.



Moran Paldi, a designer at local game studio Tantalus, sayswomen tend to be better at communication and conflict management -crucial in the studio environment. Most games are built by teams of30 to 100 people, including programmers, artists and designers.
One of the big problems with games often cited by women is thelack of characters with which they can identify.
While action heroines such as Lara Croft may inspire debateamong girl gamers for having a bit each way - showing somehick-kicking girl power while at the same time displaying plenty ofcheesecake sex appeal - many female game characters are merelyornamental and inevitably scantily clad.
Ms Paldi argues that "until we (women) start making gamesourselves there is no way we will be able to see representations onscreen that we can recognise and identify with. We need to startmaking a generation of games that women want to play and get themexcited about creating their own content," she says.
But there is hope that change will come. More than 100 milliongames in the enormously successful Sims franchise have sold sinceits launch in 2000. Its astonishing success is due in no small partto the fact that it appeals strongly to both sexes.
Publisher Electronic Arts says more than 60% of Sims players arefemale.
Sims designer Will Wright says his team deliberately tried tomake the game appeal to women. "I think the main reason we wereable to do that successfully was that about 40% of our developmentteam, and my two other designers, were women," he says.
One of the members of EA's Sims division, passionate gamedesigner Robin Hunicke, recently completed work on MySims and isworking on a game with Steven Spielberg for EA. She believes thereare many ways the industry can attract more women intodevelopment.
  
Quote:
"You can market more games to women,"
Ms Hunicke says. "You canhave more women being shown in game commercials. You can havearticles in women's magazines that talk about women who aresuccessful in the field. You can showcase women in the advisoryboards for conferences.
Quote:
"You can feature recent work of prominent women developers, evenwhen they're not in lead roles on projects, so that up-and-comingyoung women can be shown a little bit of attention and have achance to (have a) dialogue with people about the process ofevolving as developers themselves."

Although game development has never managed to shake its geekyboys-coding-in-the-garage image, many behind the scenes roles arehighly creative - something the industry is keen to emphasise inits attempt to lure more young women.
Game developer Ms Paldi agrees: "It's not just jobs for codegeeks any more. There are all sorts of jobs available, fromproduction and design, to art and animation."
She says another major hurdle is stereotypes: "There is an awfullot of negative press surrounding the type of games being made. Butnot all games are about shooting people in the head."
Like many of her female colleagues, Ms Paldi believes thestereotypes are damaging because they affect the number of femalegame players, what publishers invest in and female interest in gamedevelopment.
Quote:
"Many women react to this tired old stereotype by thinking 'thisgame doesn't interest me' and so never explore the excitingopportunities the industry offers,"
she says.

Quote:
"At Tantalus we make positive, kid-friendly games. I am excitedby the work I do as a designer and feel I am making a positiveimpact on people's lives by encouraging them to engage inthought-provoking game play."

One strategy the game industry could learn from is a free bookbeing distributed to high schools around the country by the ITindustry called Tech Girls are Chic, not Just Geek. It features 16of the IT industry's hottest young female professionals who are ona mission to change their industry's image in the minds of teenagegirls.
The book follows an even more controversial approach in 2006 -the racy Screen Goddess IT Calendar - that featured young womenfrom the IT industry in sexy poses based on popular Hollywoodfilms. The calendar sold well but hit criticism for objectifyingwomen.
The woman behind both projects, Sonja Bernhardt, says thetechnology industry's "nerd image" is a problem that must betackled.
While the academy's Ms Penford-Dennis acknowledges that genderimbalance is not unique to the game industry, she's not sure her ITcolleagues have the solution.
  
Quote:
"This is a huge problem across IT in general - and IT has a waybigger budget to look at this problem - and still there isn't amagic answer that we've found,"
she says.
Quote:
"It's also difficult for individual developers to put forwardinitiatives to solve the problem themselves. There needs to be thatpush from the industry as a whole to encourage more women intodevelopment."

Ms Paldi says awareness about the roles in the game industryshould start in schools.
Quote:
"We need to let young girls know that theyare not strange or alone, and that they don't have to emulate mento succeed," she says. "It is an awesome industry to work in andit's still small enough for people to be able to make globalimpacts with the work they do."

She says some benefits are high wages and work in cities such asTokyo, London and San Francisco (instead of just the mainAustralian game development hubs of Melbourne and Brisbane).
One local developer having success in creating games justexclusively for females is the new Adelaide studio Champagne forthe Ladies.
Its new mobile-phone game, Coolest Girl in School, was nominatedfor four awards in the recent Game Developers Association ofAustralia awards.

Quote:
"Coolest Girl in School is the world's first mobile role-playinggame made specifically for girls and the potential audience ishuge,"
says Holly Owen, who co-produced, wrote and directed thegame.
Quote:
"Well over half (60%) of casual mobile gamers are women but veryfew games are made specifically for female audiences. Giving girlsa different gaming option made specifically for them is whatCoolest Girl in School is all about."


Contributed by Editorial Team, Executive Management Team
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