Women and Gaming: The Great Gender Debate

The emergence of women as a significant or even majority demographic in gaming is a topic the media covers with the fervour of scientists unravelling a new species – but is there any truth to it? The reality may be more of a resounding “don’t know” than a definite conclusion but one thing isn’t in doubt: the proportion of women to men who play games is increasing all the time.

Monument Valley

Men and women tend to like very different things when it comes to gaming. For instance, a recent infographic from casino brand bgo, on how to play online slots, intimated that women favour titles featuring animals (the second and fourth most popular slots were Fluffy Favourites and Kitty Glitter) compared to horror and adventure games (Aliens and Gonzo’s Quest, respectively) on the male side. According to the bgo infographic, women also tend to go for online slots, while men also like to partake in blackjack and roulette.

A similar study, this time by Nick Yee of video game analytics firm Quantic Foundry, identified match-three titles like Bejewelled and farm simulators (FarmVille, 8-Bit Farm) as the favourite genre of 69% of women, while 42% and 41% respectively liked casual puzzles (Threes!, Two Dots) and atmospheric exploration games like Monument Valley.

Slot machines – largely portable, casual experiences in 2017 –  fit the pattern and bgo carries some slots aimed mainly at women, such as Chippendales. Other brands sometimes go further: a brand like Pink Casino, the “leading UK mobile casino for ladies” has an overtly female-friendly image to attract women gamers while cartoon critters abound at Slot Boss a casino featuring a number of games with animals (Sushi Cat, Dragonz).

Professor Layton

Quantic Foundry’s list also identified Japanese and Western RPGs and MMOs as a preferred type of game among women. The two genres’ most significant elements tally with a Wichita State University study on what women look for in a gaming experience: storyline and social functionality. In contrast, male players prefer violent and strategic games.

Just two titles can demonstrate the above dichotomy: EVE Online, a strategic space sim, and Professor Layton, a casual puzzler. The latter title has a female audience of around 50% while EVE has a 96% male following. Given the vast differences in demographics between individual games, how does the idea that women are the main group in gaming stack up?

The numbers are a little misleading; female players are a significant and growing demographic but probably not a majority just yet. The number of women playing games falls anywhere between 44% (according to a 2016 study from the Entertainment Software Association) and 52% (2014 research from the Internet Advertising Bureau) of the market, a range that probably owes a great deal to differing sample size.

eSports

Gaming is still a male-dominated world. It took three years for a woman to break eSports, a type of competitive spectator gaming involving League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter Strike and similar titles -despite the fact that female players show similar competency to men in gaming, at least as far as online experiences are concerned.

However, women have been a part of gaming for as long as men have (Brenda Romero was lead designer on 1981’s Wizardry, while Jennell Jaquays worked for Coleco around the same time, converting Pac-Man and Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision platform) but it’s probably fair to say that female players have only recently developed more of an interest in gaming.

The smartphone might have been the catalyst for getting women involved in gaming but the hobby has always been for everybody. It will take some time for the industry to become more representative of its audience, especially with regard to marketing, but a more female-friendly gaming experience is inevitable; majority or not, it’s still hard to ignore the numbers.