Computer game industry looks to women for fresh insights

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The gaming industry is big business. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), $7.4 billion in entertainment software was sold in 2006 in the U.S. alone. With a number that high, theres no doubt that teenage boys arent the only ones playing. In fact, ESAs research shows that 38% of gamers are women, and women 18 and older represent a greater proportion of gamers (30%) than boys 17 and younger (23%).

And as the overall number of gamers grows, the need for technologists is exploding. For example, CCP Games HF in Reykjavik, Iceland, employs about 200 people but plans to hire about 100 more in the next two years, with the majority working in the companys Atlanta-area facilities, says Peter Gollan, director of marketing for North America.

Gollan says CCP wants to bring more women on board because only 16% of its staff are female. Industrywide numbers are even worse: The International Game Developers Association says women made up only 11.5% of the workforce as of 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Sheri Graner Ray

Sheri Graner Ray, Game Designer and Developer, Sirenia Consulting And if having more women designers resulted in more women players, theres no question that CCP Games could grow. The gender breakdown for those who play its Eve Online, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game, is 95% male and 5% female.

If you want to bring in content thats more engaging to women, you have to bring in more women, Gollan says.

What Women Want

Graner Ray is reluctant to say that women like one particular type of game over another. They are as broad and diverse a group as men, and individual women have their own likes and dislikes when it comes to games. But there are some factors that appear to shut women out of the game world.

Graner Ray says men tend to be more exploratory and risk-taking learners, so theyre more likely to dive into games by banging all the command buttons until they figure them out. Women tend to want to know how it all works before they put their hands on the controls.

At this point, however, most tutorials are designed for exploratory/risk-taking learners, Graner Ray says. Game makers have to structure tutorials to reach both groups if they want both to play, she suggests.

Moreover, antifemale themes and negative portrayals of women cause many women to shun otherwise popular games, says Jack Hart, CEO of ECD Systems Inc. in Marstons Mills, Mass.

Some argue that women and girls do indeed prefer different types of games than their male counterparts. Women and girls are more interested in strategy games, puzzle games, as opposed to [being] first-person shooters, says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter­Research in New York and a Computerworld columnist.

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