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Dontnod: Publishers said you can't have a female character

Creative director Jean-Maxime Moris on an unexpected hurdle for Remember Me

Dontnod Entertainment has revealed that while trying to secure a publisher for its cyberpunk title Remember Me, its lead character Nilin faced some serious sexual discrimination.

"We had some [companies] that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that,'" creative director Jean-Maxime Moris told Penny Arcade.

"We had people tell us, 'You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward'"

The discomfort on behalf of some publishers, publishers apparently unaware of Lara Croft or Samus Aran, extended to Nilin's actions too, or at least the romantic ones.

"We had people tell us, 'You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward.'"

Moris said that during development Nilin was female because that was just what felt right, and by the time they started coming up against sexist publishers it was too late to be persuaded to give her a sex change.

"I'm like, 'If you think like that, there's no way the medium's going to mature.' There's a level of immersion that you need to be at, but it's not like your sexual orientation is being questioned by playing a game. I don't know, that's extremely weird to me," said Moris.

"You can identify with people of the other gender in movies, why could you not in games? The fact that our core target is males 15-25 is not an excuse. We need to be able to create, and respect the audience enough to believe that they can be smart enough to identify with that type of character."

The game is currently being published by Capcom, a company that was clearly OK with both Nilin's gender and her personal life. It's due for release on June 4 in the US.

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Latest comments (16)

Adam Campbell Producer, Hopster3 years ago
I find it ridiculous and laughable this still goes on in a modern games industry, but not at all not surprising.
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Kirill Kozyrev 2D/3D Artist 3 years ago
I really, really interested, what publishers said that? That situation would be expected 10-15 years ago, but not now. Unawarness of modern trends and success of games with female protagonists just surprises me. Then again - it's not about main hero gender, it's about overall game quality. I'm waiting for this game, and I hope it'll be good firstly because it's a good game. And if main heroine will be well written - that would be great.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 3 years ago
Reminds me of what "publishers" have said about Joe Danger.

Can we have it with monkeys?
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Show all comments (16)
Graeme Foote Programmer / Game Designer, Sakevisual3 years ago
Speaking as someone who has programmed mostly for games with female protagonists, it is particularly unedifying to see things have not changed at all.

Just when you thought publishers couldn't get more out of touch. I know you hear (sometimes apocryphal) stories about such mad requests from those who hold the purse strings, but the idea that games are so uncomfortable with their own sexual orientation that they would get upset by playing a female who likes men is hilarious. I can't say it has ever bothered me. So long as the character is well-written I could not care less about their gender or their sexual proclivities.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Graeme Foote on 19th March 2013 3:44pm

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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters3 years ago
The problem I have with stories like this is: Who said that? There's a lot of people saying "publishers" this and "publishers" that, but never say who they're talking about. I'm not sure if this is for legal reasons, but I'd like to know who these mysterious figures are or whether there's actually any truth behind it. Not that I think they're lying, but I find it a bit useless to rant about nameless bad guys. How can anyone expect these people to change their ways if they never get called out in public?
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Pablo Santos Developer 3 years ago
@Dave: If you want people to change their view, naming them publicly in these situations will not accomplish anything good for anyone. If you want to prove they are wrong, take your idea somewhere else and make it a success, so these people see the opportunity they lost and *hopefully* think it over.
Heh, this kinda reminds me of how even The Beatles heard "NO" from recording companies who clearly had no empathy with their audience.
Good thing they managed to find a publisher, this game seems interesting =)
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Brett Caird Production Director/Founder, 5th Cell3 years ago
Clearly this is an example of behavior that works against gender equality in our industry. I imagine however that the motivations of the "bad guys" in this story have little directly to do with gender issues.

Publishers are all about money. They are typically publicly listed and legally required to put the almighty dollar ahead of all else. As such they rely on the metrics and any research they can get their hands on to maximize shareholder value.

Because most core players are young men, and because the research says that the sense of agency a player has (identifying with the character played and the actions taken) drives engagement, and engagement drives sales volume... the logical thing for them to do is use protagonists who most closely resemble the target market, or who the target market aspires to be.

The core problem is risk aversion. That leads to symptoms like sequelitis, and poor gender representation.

Less reliance on highly risk averse funding sources is required to make headway against those undesirable symptoms.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises3 years ago
I don't know why they didn't just give the player a character editor at the start, to choose male or female, but have Nilin's default be female. That setup worked well in Mass Effect for commander Sheppard.
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Gareth Barry Student 3 years ago
Remember Me is a title that is most definitely needed but perhaps not wanted. It is very rare, especially this late in a generation cycle, for a publisher to back & promote a game with a female lead. If we look at the recent sales & success of the Tomb Raider reboot it is fair to say that games who have female leads have & can exploit a unique narrative, when compared to the rest of male dominated gaming experiences. If gaming is to outgrow these angst ridden 'terrible teens' we must embrace & cry out for more female leads.

I disagree that character gender choice should be an option for the gamer. If we are not prepared to fully give ourselves to a creators vision & narrative, then it is us the gamer that have failed. If a gamer is not open enough to fresh character narratives then somewhere we as a medium have failed. I look forward to Nilin & future I.P's that are prepared to drag gaming out of its pre-pubescent stage.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
If we look at the recent sales & success of the Tomb Raider reboot it is fair to say that games who have female leads have & can exploit a unique narrative, when compared to the rest of male dominated gaming experiences. If gaming is to outgrow these angst ridden 'terrible teens' we must embrace & cry out for more female leads.
I'm in no way disagreeing with this statement. I just have to say this:

2000: Perfect Dark
1996: Tomb Raider
1994: Super Metroid

The industry - and by industry I mean "publishers" - really really need to knuckle the hell down on gender equality attitudes. It's not like strong female characters haven't been around for... Oh, awhile.
I don't know why they didn't just give the player a character editor at the start, to choose male or female, but have Nilin's default be female. That setup worked well in Mass Effect for commander Sheppard.
Depending upon storyline, some games just don't have the leeway to do that. I've not read a lot about Remember Me, but it wouldn't be unheard of to have a female-gender-specific storyline in a game (Analogue: A Hate Story springs to mind, for instance).
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 3 years ago
Didn't something similiar happen with The Last of Us from Naughty Dog where they said Sony didn't want to have the female lead character on the game box or that she had to be in the background and not the forground?
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
If we look at the recent sales & success of the Tomb Raider reboot it is fair to say that games who have female leads have & can exploit a unique narrative, when compared to the rest of male dominated gaming experiences.

I think that this is a bit sexist - in an way that's not meant to be, though. I've yet to see a game or story told that couldn't be equally as effective with the protagonists as either gender. Obviously, the effectiveness of a story and the player's empathy with the character will be predicated on their world-beliefs and as such, a gay couple will not receive as much open empathy as a straight couple, unfortunately. But back to my point: Tomb Raider could be very similar if it was a young, vulnerable man in Lara's position. The mechanics and interactions would mostly be the same as long as he's not given the generic "tough guy" persona that seems to be splayed across modern culture.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters3 years ago
@Pablo
If you want people to change their view, naming them publicly in these situations will not accomplish anything good for anyone. If you want to prove they are wrong, take your idea somewhere else and make it a success, so these people see the opportunity they lost and *hopefully* think it over.
I think Brett Caird summed up pretty well why that won't happen. They're just taking what they think will sell and avoiding things they think won't. If they're wrong about one game, they'll just think "oh well, that's how it goes". If loads of games with strong female characters started doing well, then they might take notice, but I don't think any of them will lose any sleep about missing out on a single game. Every game they reject for whatever reason could turn out to be a huge hit, and they're well aware of that.
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Andrea Wästlund Student 3 years ago
Tomb Raider could be very similar if it was a young, vulnerable man in Lara's position. The mechanics and interactions would mostly be the same as long as he's not given the generic "tough guy" persona that seems to be splayed across modern culture.
Agree completely. Unfortunately the "tough manly man" stereotype it's so incredibly prevalent in entertainment media. I hope I'm wrong, but I couldn't image a publisher spending millions on, for instance, a Halo reboot that reveals the identity and struggles of an vulnerable young Master Chief. It seems like only female characters are allowed to be vulnerable, show emotion and go through a seriously difficult time, and that's a damn shame.

Having said that, I am OVERJOYED at seeing more interesting female characters in games and I'm so happy that Dontnod didn't back down on this one. When a publisher/developer says "games with female leads don't sell" they're also saying "most of our customers are misogynistic cavemen who wouldn't even consider paying for a game that tells a story from a woman's perspective". Now, I know what the Kotaku comments look like whenever there's an article about anything related to women in games, but to assume that the majority of all gamers have those opinions is just insulting.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters3 years ago
@Andrea
"most of our customers are misogynistic cavemen who wouldn't even consider paying for a game that tells a story from a woman's perspective".
I generally agree with what you're saying but it's probably not as black and white as is being made out here. I don't think it's always a conscious decision for individual customers a lot of the time. I think the stereotypical gamer that makes up the majority of sales doesn't necessarily look at a game and actually think "Ewwww, a girl, I'm not buying that!", but they just get subconsciously drawn towards things that interest them more, like big burly men with guns. And in turn the big burly men with guns game gets talked about more amongst other people. The average person doesn't do a deep analysis of why they like something. I think these "publishers" are thinking more along the lines of collective opinion rather than any one individual. At least, that sounds plausible to me, even though I wish it wasn't the case.
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Emily Rose Freelance Artist 3 years ago
I've heard that games with female leads get less advertising budget, I do wonder if this is enough to make them sell less, a sort of self fulfilling prophecy?
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