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Google Play: Gender bias in mobile gaming needs to change

"Change the Game" initiative launched as survey finds 47% of most active male gamers would prefer not to play with women

Google Play today launched a new initiative, Change the Game, to celebrate and promote women in games with the release of an interactive experience and short film about the subject, as well as results of a survey about women in mobile games commissioned from Newzoo.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Google Play product marketing manager Mathilde Cohen Solal said the survey came about after the company realized more women were playing mobile games than they had expected. Upon trying to dig deeper into the numbers, they quickly realized there wasn't enough research to answer their questions, so they teamed with Newzoo to survey more than 3,330 respondents in the US between the ages of 10 and 65.

Some of the results were surprising to them. For one thing, women mobile gamers were more likely to be heavily engaged than men. 43% of women gamers played five or more times a week, compared to 38% of male gamers.

Despite that, women were less likely to play games from a variety of genres. Most women played games in one or two genres, while most men played three or more. Women were also less likely to talk about mobile games with friends than men, 27% to 44%. And they were far less likely to self-identify as a gamer, with just 29% of women adopting the term, compared to 57% of men. Finally, 60% of women think that less than a third of mobile games are made for women.

When asked what was driving some of those numbers, Solal said, "There's no easy answer. The one thing we realized working on this for months is it's a very complex landscape."

However, they have identified some factors that might contribute to those responses. First, the industry seems to be putting men front and center more, right down to how much more common it is to find male characters in icons on the storefront than female characters.

The survey also pointed to male gamers as a contributing factor. 25% of men surveyed agreed with the statement, "I would spend more time playing mobile games if I knew I was playing with or against players of my own gender," compared to just 10% of women. And while that 10% figure for women was roughly unchanged regardless of how much they played, among the most dedicated male mobile gamers (those who play 10 hours or more a week), 47% preferred to play exclusively with other men. Those preferences naturally produce an exclusionary atmosphere that makes women feel less welcome in the community, they said.

"The last part of our hypothesis is there's underrepresentation within the industry," Solal said. "It's not a surprise today that 27.8% of the games industry is either female or transgender. A minority of the industry is female, and we do believe that has an impact on the content and the storylines created."

Change the Game is looking to address these issues by focusing on three "commitment pillars": promoting diversity in and of games, celebrating female players and experiences in all their forms, and empowering the next generation of game-makers.

As for parts of the initiative that are already active, Google Play is promoting a collection of games with strong female characters in its Indie Corner. It has also created a website taking users through some of the results of the survey in a slightly gamified interactive experience, as well as a commercial celebrating the diversity of women players (embedded above). The Change the Game campaign is also expected to add further programs next year.

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