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Female designers "rarely in decision-making roles"

Silicon Sisters believes that women only connect with social and casual games on a "superificial" level

Silicon Sisters' Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch believes that the industry is still a long way from figuring out what females want from video games.

Speaking to from the company's Vancouver studio, Gershkovitch explained that, while the higher proprotion of female gamers on platforms like the WIi and Facebook are a positive step, women and girls are still being short-changed in terms of the experience.

"There are a lot of examples of successful games in the casual and social sphere that are connecting with women," she said. "We know the numbers: over 50 percent of casual players are women, and some people are saying that on Facebook it's closer to 70 per cent so, clearly, they are connecting. But how deeply? And how much are they playing?"

"These games are superficially connecting, and they're connecting because they're smaller games that don't have a huge barrier to playing them. In that way there's some success, but in terms of real gameplay and real mechnics designed for women, I don't think we've solved that yet."

It's important to ask what those games might have looked like if there had been females in design decision-making roles

Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, Silicon Sisters

Silicon Sisters was founded with the goal of finding a solution. Gershkovitch says that in her career working for other game studuios she was often one of two or three women in a group of 40, and this imbalance between genders has been the dominant influence on the kind of games the industry produces.

Gershkovitch's comments were echoed by Clint Hocking in his recent column for Edge magazine, and Silcon Sisters' COO Kirsten Forbes said that they have been monitoring the ensuing conversation with great interest.

"We're trying to build games with a female sensibility," Gershkovicth added. "It's not impossible that men can build games for women, of course, but most men that go into video games build games that they want to play - not as much games for their sisters."

"My point of view is that most of that has been done from a male perspective, and I think it's important to ask what those games might have looked like if there had been females in design decision-making roles. That's a really crucial missing piece. You have women on teams, but rarely in decision-making roles. That's the idea we wanted to play with: what would that look like?"

The answer is far from simple, and Gershkovitch admits that "we haven't totally figured it out yet." The main problem, she suggests, is that the development process is iterative, so every new game is based to some degree on the games that came before.

"You look at the games that are being made and you made additions to that; you take a mechanic from this game or an idea from that game and add a different narrative. Everything is building on something else."

The challenge the industry must now overcome is identifying and satisfying the needs of female gamers when its history until this point has been dominated by the male point-of-view.

Gershkovitch is concerned that the majority of games currently aimed at women are too shallow to hold their interest for much longer, but the first studio to properly serve the female audience will be richly rewarded.

"We developed something we call the Girl's Gaming Bible. We were able to identify particular things that mainly girls enjoy. There are a number of them, and some are checked off in social and casual realms... [but] there's a whole bunch that aren't, and I think the games that can include those things - that can create a much deeper connection to women and girls - will be hugely successful, whether smaller games or AAA games."

"There is real science behind the reasons why women are or aren't connecting with games. We're trying to understand it all and see what applies."

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Latest comments (11)

Kaye L Elling Studying Lecturer in Computer Games, University of Bradford9 years ago
I have a research interest in this, and would kill (OK, well maybe maim, or at least mildly offend) to get my hands on a copy of the Silicon Sisters Girl's Gaming Bible! Any way that might be arranged?
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Claire Blackshaw Senior Online Consultant, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe9 years ago
I always welcome more women into the industry and often try raise gender awareness in the workplace and in the products I work on. I speak as someone in a strong decision making role.

Though I always shudder when I see gender used as a primary classification or signal in determining what a person likes or dislikes. The idea of a "Girl's Gaming Bible" worries me and on some level offends me (though I say that in a light tone as I do not know it's contents). I think most games (hell things in life) are over-gendered and can function in a gender neutral fashion. So I'm always cautious of this kind of activism.

That being said I would love to see certain gendered topics which are innately feminine getting more attention in the games sphere.
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I for one would love a senior confident female designer to contact me as I strongly believe that how can a bunch of guys design a game that women like when in the 'real world' men and women often don't understand each other. The most successful game I have been involved in aimed at the female market - the original Hannah Montana DS for Disney was hugely successful and was designed by a woman with a mainly female art team. I showed it to people and the men said 'yes its ok' and the women didn't talk for 30 mins as they were engrossed! So I'm sold and would hire the right senior female lead in a heartbeat - BUT they need to get in touch otherwise we don't know. In our social gaming division we have more women than in the other parts of the business but not enough IMO.
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Show all comments (11)
On some level, gender as a game design sends probably the wrong signals. Surely we need to develop games for gamers, regardless of gender, age or opposable thumbs. If the game is decent, it will have a good overall appeal.
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Tony Johns9 years ago
I often find that there are some girls I know who love the Zelda games as well as the Final Fantasy and Resident Evil games.

It depends on the game and the character that appeals to them.

There are some girl gamers who would love to play Visual Novels where they can date anime guys.

So I know that the market potential is there, it is just trying to sack those market researchers who always stop those games being made as they only tell the developer to make the games that are popular but not always to the female audience.

If we just try to make something different and as long as it does not go over budget then it should be ok to take a chance and make a game like that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tony Johns on 12th July 2011 4:16pm

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Dan Porter Game Designer, Gameloft Montreal9 years ago
This is a tough issue. On one hand, I'm inclined to agree with Claire that some things are just over-gendered. When a girl dislikes a stereotypically "male" game like Gears of War, does she dislike it because she is a girl or does she dislike it because girls are taught from an early age that they shouldn't like that sort of thing?

I am of the belief that social factors drive girls away from all but the most shallow social games as much if not more than the fact that many of the games are designed by men for men.

However, its always a good idea to try to understand a target market so as to better serve those customers. So from that perspective, understanding "what girls like" is important, even if those likes and dislikes are shaped by the culture rather than being inherent to the gender.

Also, I fear that this "female sensibility" mentioned by the Silicon Sisters really means "Western/European female sensibility." I would be interested to see if this "Girl's Gaming Bible" includes the interests of women in countries that are just starting to emerge in the world of video game consumption.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Dan Porter on 12th July 2011 6:06pm

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"Silicon Sisters' Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch believes that the industry is still a long way from figuring out what females want from video games."

When you take on account all the women Wii Sports, Wii Fit and New Super Mario Bros Wii pulled in, not really. :)
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 9 years ago
Well, and let's not forget Nintendogs. That's enormous, at least here in Japan.

But I wonder, what does the girl "core gamer" like? Or is there even such a thing?
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Cori Myers CEO/Owner, Gameinatrix.com9 years ago
@Curt Sampson There is a female core gamer and it's not just the industry side it's the media side as well. We've been around for 8 years (going on 9) and we still have yet to get publishers to actually support us. We've been told flat out that women don't play games. Even though we don't have the same numbers that the larger "male" sites do we still can boast almost 90% of our audience is FEMALE.

Sorry need to edit this because I was typing it during our podcast where we were actually discussing this story. A lot of the comments being made by the men here are exactly the problem. Wii sports? Wii Fit? Not all women even LIKE those games. Women not liking Gears of War? How about we don't like it because we just don't like it and it has nothing to do with being told by a societal stereotype. I personally was not a fan of Gears of War because I found it slow, clunky and too similar to Halo. I've left Halo behind because I'm no longer interested in that world, story etc.

The problem is that no one is actually "asking" women why they gravitate toward certain games and not others. The male portion of the industry walks in the door with the pre-conceived notion that women are all casual gamers or all women like are casual games and then they automatically dismiss a large portion of us who play "everything". I agree lots of research needs to be done and the notions dropped. Study women, not as a whole, but break it down into groups. Which women like which genres.

I've also been urging the industry to drop the "hard core gamer" tagline because it has become synonymous with male and FPSs. When in truth a hardcore gamer is someone who loves gaming to their core. Whether it be that they are a die hard fan of Zuma or Halo. A casual gamer "to me" is someone who only has a passing interest in games as a whole. They play if they have nothing else to do. Whereas a hardcore gamer has incorporated gaming into their everyday life. Whatever that game may be. It's time the thinking changed and sadly, not to sound sexist, I also agree that more women need to be allowed to step up. I say allowed because I am believing the few that are in the industry are being ignored. You can't get a woman's perspective from a man. And that's what has been happening for years. Men tell women what they think they play or want to play and then say they can't make games for women, saying they don't think the games they told us we play will sell. We haven't gotten to tell the industry anything, so no one knows what we want. And the industry is growing stale and stagnant, creating the same game over and over. A different perspective, perhaps a female one, is sorely needed. I'm tired of devs trying to recreate Halo. If I want to play Halo, I'll play it, not the wannabe. Getting off my soap box now.

/end rant

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Cori Myers on 13th July 2011 6:54pm

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Dan Toose Senior Designer, The Creative Assembly9 years ago
Heh - I think Cori hit the issue on the head with the comment "no one is actually "asking" women why they gravitate toward certain games and not others."

I tried posing open questions via social media to ask my female friends things that they found either attracted them to games, or put them off. There were two things that struck me as unfortunate:

1) It took about 5 minutes before I had to tell all my male friends to shut up and leave the thread entirely before the women got put off. They were all typing up subjective theories about how women think - which did more to highlight their own naivety than anything else.

2) The women stumbled over me asking them to validate / confirm some things from what they'd been telling me - It appears, not because of the question, but because they were used to having their answers taken the wrong way.
For example, women who loved management games were very cagey about saying they liked them, for fear of me taking that as "That's all you like". These were smart women, and I checked to ensure my question wasn't convoluted - All it suggested was that they were used to their responses being misinterpreted.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Toose on 15th July 2011 5:55am

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Nicholas Russell writer 9 years ago
As both a student and a games journalist I too would like to get my hands on this bible if at all possible. As games are maturing and narrative becomes less of an add-on and more of a core game mechanic it seems that the need for women designers will grow, more female gamers will join the hardcore ranks, and it will be become absolutely vital that we nurture and grow this. I'd like to help spread the word about it if that is at all possible by communicating the actual content of this work.
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