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Bioware: Female characters will follow commercial success

Successful female protagonists necessary to change "accepted industry wisdom"

The lead writer on Dragon Age III believes that the games industry will not embrace female protagonists in its products without clear financial incentives.

In an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun at GDC, Bioware's David Gaider outlined the paradoxical logic of what he calls, "accepted industry wisdom." An example of this is the struggle Dontnod Entertainment experienced in trying to find a publisher for Remember Me, largely due to its female lead character.

"The thing about accepted industry wisdom is that you can't question it. Everyone just agrees. It's weird," Gaider said. "The things that the industry decides are treated as incontrovertibly true until someone else comes along and proves them definitively wrong in a way that we cannot ignore. Then, of course, everyone jumps on it."

"To say that about female protagonists - that they just don't sell [is myopic]. Over the last ten years, how many titles have had female protagonists? And we're supposed to accept, from those particular titles, that a) that constitutes a pattern, and b) the only reason those games were unsuccessful is because they had female protagonists? That is a real leap of logic... There is lots of that in the industry."

According to Gaider, painting the industry as entirely populated by avaricious mercenaries would be wholly inaccurate, but he also believes that the industry at large only really starts to pay attention when money is involved.

"If you were to ask me what would make the industry change its mind about female protagonists, it would take some game coming out and being completely financially successful such that people in the industry couldn't say, 'Well, it was just because of this. Not because female protagonists are suddenly marketable,'" he said.

"It has to be something they can't ignore. The only way the industry can't ignore something is when money is involved."

Gaider's talk at GDC will explore the way the presence of romantic relationships in Bioware's games forced it to confront issues of gender and inequality, and ultimately made its games more inclusive. Diversity in games has been a common theme at this year's GDC, and the discussion has extended to the occasionally abusive reaction that greets those keen to explore the issue.

For Gaider, those opposing voices are motivated by a sense of threat to their chosen pastime, but, he says, they are missing the point.

"It's not that you have to make a game that says, 'Hey, female audience! We're here just for you!' No. It's about making a game that isn't telling the female audience, 'You're not who we want to play this game.' Just disinviting them. That's something that the industry needs to get to. Not figuring out whether they should have pink boxes and unicorns because they think that would appeal to women."

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Latest comments (5)

Paul Smith Dev 3 years ago
Devil's advocating here, why should a company/publisher take the risk of having a female protagonist? Especially for a new IP.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Smith on 28th March 2013 3:00pm

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Pier Castonguay Programmer 3 years ago
Why would you think that's a risk? Most people don't care if it's a female or a male. At best, females are more attractive to look at and bring more sales. I personally think like this. If I have to look at the back of a character for a dozen of hours in a third person game, might as well be something good looking.
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Graham Simpson Tea boy, Collins Stewart3 years ago
Enjoying playing Kerrigan in Heart of the Storm.
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Oliver Jones Software Developer 3 years ago
To me, Commander Sheppard is a woman. I played Mass Effect 1,2 & 3 as fem-shep. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. I enjoy games with strong female leads. Just like I enjoy films and TV with great female characters. The game industry needs to pull its head out of its collective ass with respect to female characters affecting sales.

Something I noticed recently is a lot of the Bioshock Infinite marketting materials do not feature Elizabeth at all just Booker Dewitt. A character you don't even SEE most of the time due to the first person nature of the game.
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Bill Garrison Studying Student, DigiPen Institute of Technology3 years ago
Part of the problem here to me is the underlying mentality. Why do we dichotomize game characters between player characters and non-player characters? There are many games with large casts of which the player controls several simultaneously. Shouldn't a "character" be something a designer comes up with, based on creative conviction?
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