During the entire Sweden Game Conference, two themes stood out to me. Untapped markets and a sustainable way to work and create products.
The first part was particularly interesting. Women are around 50% of the audience for games now. There’s no denying it or waving it away. And women make up only 20% of the industry.
When I say women consist of 50% of the audience for game, I mean across the board. Yes, women play mobile games, but they also play console games. Dismissing the numbers with the ever recurring excuse that women only play mobile or “casual”1 games, which is not really true. Women play all kinds of games, and so do people who don’t fit the white cis-het male norm.
The problem is, as I see it, that women only make up about 20% of the workforce in game development.
I know I keep harping on about this, but in order to get games that are played and enjoyed by women, we need more women in the industry. We also need more Black, Asian, Latino, indigenous, mixed race, trans, outside the binary and non-binary people that make games.
This is especially relevant since I know that there are tons of designers out there – in particular in the triple-A space, that make games for themselves only. Because most of the designers are men, what comes out of that space are games adapted to men, made for men, and with men’s power fantasies and concerns used as base.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that mobile games had a head start when it came to attracting different audiences. They were ahead of the curve and made games for the players, not for the developers. Data assisted in defining how to develop the game, not personal taste. We are unfortunately still at the personal taste stage in triple-A development. Most of our creative directors, executive producers and even our company leaders and publishers are men. Because of this it is their tastes that determine what goes to market and how, with a few choice exceptions.
Women DO play games, of all kinds. BUt we as an industry have failed to make games that appeal to that wider audience.
Can you imagine what a massive market would open up if we did?
I’m not talking about making pink armor or pink cards or pink spaceships. I’m talking about making different games. Different types of stories. Let’s drop the “Dad of Boy” and dad games in general. Let’s make a mom game.
Let’s flip the trope. What would a game about a mom struggling to save her daughter look like? It doesn’t have to be pink or soft or weepy. I can come up with a plot straightaway.
A mom is a researcher of alien technology. This is some time in the future. Space travel exists. Sickness, disease is all but eradicated except certain forms of hereditary disease. This mom has a daughter with such a disease. Plot twist. She (the mom) is not the one carrying the genes. It is the dad. Dad left mom for a younger woman, because men are still assholes and mom is trying desperately to both care for her daughter and continue the research.
Narrative is directed. Mom does research and gameplay is mainly focused on social and research puzzles. Getting access to funding and samples from Alien worlds require playing a social game, knowing which palms to grease, who to butter and what aspects of a medical clue to follow.
Success progresses the narrative, but so does failure.
Many discussions with daughter about health, death, life, regrets. Always with a lot of love and emotions. Yes, it needs work, but you hatch a game, ready from the get go while writing a blog post and see how well you do.
My guess is that we’ll not see a game like that in my lifetime, unless I make it.
The technology we build our games on is made by men and that affects what kind of games we can build with that technology.
The publishers and investors that publish and invest in games are predominantly men.
The game teams in most studios are men.
The solution to all of this is of course to even out the playing field, not just in numbers but in positions and leadership. We need more women as creative directors, game designers and producers.
It is not just about equality and diversity. It is also about profitability, for those of you who believe that it is all about the market.
Mobile games – a.k.a. games that look at data – are growing faster than console games. On the one hand it might be about accessibility and availability of handsets to play on. On the other I’m pretty sure that the lack of ego and “my game! I want to make MY game!” also plays in.