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Women players are on the rise. Can the game industry catch up?

Gamer girl in headset with microphone playing online video game

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In 2020, women made up nearly 41% of all gamers in the United States. And in Asia, which accounts for 48% of global gaming sales, women now make up 40-45% of the Asian gaming population, according to Google and Niko Partners.

Female players are on the rise, and numerous studies have attempted to understand whether female players have certain motivations and gambling behaviors. Some country-specific studies show that game motivations differ between the sexes across cultures. French players are not only looking for escape, but also for competition or to challenge themselves. while French men seek games to cope with stress and thrive through competition. A study of Taiwanese players shows that women play for performance and social reasons, while men play to pass the time. In America, female gamblers seem to gamble for performance and social reasons, to engage socially and to maintain relationships. With regard to playing games, a recent study shows that female gamers play all types of game genres (especially popular online games) on different devices and platforms.

If anything, what these studies highlight is the rich complexity of the female gaming population. The question asked by those looking for equity, treatment and conditions within gambling is whether the industry is properly structured to serve this growing consumer segment. Organizations like Women in Games are campaigning for a reinterpretation of the gaming industry that is gender-free by addressing culture from the perspective of the workforce, the product and the gaming community.

Workforce perspective

A 2020 study of the world’s fourteen leading gaming companies shows that 84% of leadership positions in the gaming industry are held by men. Outside of management positions, only 24% of those employed in the industry are women. The representation of women is still a problem. And for those already in the industry, their gender can work against them. According to a 2015 Gender Balance Workforce Survey reported by the Guardian, 45% of women working in the UK gambling industry believed that their gender was a limiting factor in their professional development. In the same survey, 33% of respondents said they had experienced direct harassment or bullying because of their gender.

Product perspective

The representation of female characters in video games is absent as only 5% of video games feature female protagonists. Various studies show that gender stereotypes continue to prevail in video games, with female characters often being objectified and hypersexualized. And when female characters are not portrayed in this way, they are often portrayed as a love interest, innocent, or in need of rescuing a male character.

The good news is that Feminist Frequency, which has tracked the number of female protagonists in video games over the past six years, saw a significant improvement in 2020. 18% of the games launched last year featured female characters. Whether 2020 was an anomaly or whether it is the beginning of a new trend to present female protagonists who are free from gender stereotypes remains to be seen.

Player community perspective

The 2014 Gamergate controversy highlighted the depth of systematic online harassment from lawyers, mostly women, who called for a more inclusive gaming culture. Has the gaming community become more inclusive since then? According to a recent survey of female gamers conducted by market research firm Bryter, abuse or online discrimination continues. Although both men and women are abused, female players are more likely to experience sexual harassment and be excluded from the game.

How does gaming become more inclusive?

Lots of people in the game industry are working on making it more inclusive. Anita Sarkeesian and Carolyn Petit, in their recent article in the New York Times, highlighted some players, designers, voice actors, and activists trying to change culture in their own way.

At the national level, the Women in Games Ambassador program has 12 corporate and 446 individual ambassadors around the world who are committed to helping women and girls understand the games industry better. The aim is to match the number of women in games over ten years.

At the industry level, initiatives like UK-based #RaisetheGame encourage companies to create a more inclusive work environment with an emphasis on creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. Over 100 companies have joined this initiative. This emerges from their recently published first annual report, which reports that hiring practices and initiatives to develop more inclusive titles have improved.

At the corporate level, several large gaming companies like Ubisoft have announced the appointment of leaders in diversity and inclusion to accelerate their culture shift.

There is still a long way to go, admits many industry experts, but developing initiatives and communities of practice is often the first step.

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