Silicon Sisters: Industry is failing female gamers

Vancouver-based developer believes most games for female audiences are "superficial"

Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, CEO of the Vancouver-based developer Silicon Sisters Interactive, believes that the games industry still doesn't know how to satisfy its female customers.

Gershkovitch co-founded the studio last year to address the gulf between the rapidly growing number of female gamers on smartphones and social networks, and the lack of products that display an understanding of their tastes.

"I think there are different levels to what you can offer," Gershkovitch said in an interview with

"What we've seen is a fairly superficial offering where, in the absence of truly understanding what women want in terms of game mechanics and connection, what we're getting is a female wrapper around a game that's really designed for men."

When you look at the visceral thrill of shooting and what it gives men, looking for the equivalent of that in women is non-obvious

Kirsten Forbes, COO, Silicon Sisters

"But while that works to some degree it's not going to, in my estimation, really build the gaming community, and really contribute to that aspirational goal of finding out what it is that women connect with when they game."

The studio only opened its doors after Gershkovitch and her business partner, Kirsten Forbes, conducted 6 months of intensive research. The product of that period is a "bible" that Forbes describes as "the DNA of the company."

"The bibliography on that is probably 20 pages long. There are an enormous number of academic studies that cover tiny slices of female play in all kinds of different ways. We compiled all of that together and saw certain trends emerge."

"It took 30 years to really perfect the three things that males seem to really love, which are shooting, and driving, and sports. And those are absolutely kick-ass games now, and you really have to sit back and go, 'What is the equivalent for girls? And please God, don't let it take us 30 years to get to as high a quality level as that.'"

Silicon Sisters' first release - the iOS game School 26 - was targeted at 12 to 16 year-old girls, and featured mechanics based on empathy, peer pressure and other aspects of the social experience of high school.

According to Forbes, the challenge that the male-dominated games industry faces in creating new forms of gameplay for its female customers shouldn't be underestimated.

"When you look at the visceral thrill of shooting and what it gives men, looking for the equivalent of that in women is non-obvious, and I believe it's going to be more subtle."

For the full interview with Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch and Kirsten Forbes, go to the features section.

More stories

Kim Kardashian game points to underserved audience

Silicon Sisters CEO says hit proves a huge market for women's games, but she might not stick around the industry to reach it

By Brendan Sinclair

The Great Divide

Silicon Sisters Interactive is making games for women and girls, but to do that properly means going back to basics

By Matthew Handrahan

Latest comments (39)

Helen Simm GUI Artist, Climax Group10 years ago
For myself I would say the important thing is a great storyline, beautiful graphics and art work as well as some monster shooting. (Bioshock and Mass Effect)
But that works only for PS3 and xBox Games, not for Facebook games.
For those my requirements are that its something I can pick up whenever and put down whenever, but gives me a sense of achievement...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Colin McBride Studying MA in 3D Design for Virtual Worlds, Glasgow Caledonian University10 years ago
Have to agree that strong writing is the key. Though there are still too many lead characters in the gruff, muscle-bound and ridiculously heavily armed mould
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jonathan O'Connor10 years ago
"When you look at the visceral thrill of shooting and what it gives men, looking for the equivalent of that in women is non-obvious"

Really? the next headline down from this offers some insight: "Zumba still holding on to UK number one"
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (39)
Helen Simm GUI Artist, Climax Group10 years ago
Zumba is not a game for female gamers: Its a workout for those who bought their Wii, to get Wii fit. Or for those who use their xbox Kinect to keep fit.

Its not a game.

And its kinda embarrassing for those of us who really are female gamers.

I do own some workout titles for the Kinect, but I no more consider them games than I do the workout DVDs I own to be films.

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Matthew Green Producer, Solar Studios Inc10 years ago
oh this just has too many angles that are so not politicly correct for me to say ;)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Matthew Green on 22nd August 2011 12:55pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Matthew Eakins Technical Lead, HB-Studios10 years ago
I god a good laugh from this being an article about the game industry not knowing what female gamers want and then later on saying "It took 30 years to really perfect the three things that males seem to really love, which are shooting, and driving, and sports.". Which happen to be the three genres that I don't like playing (I outright hate shooters). So I'll thank you to not stereotype male gamers and it would serve you well not to stereotype female gamers as well.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany10 years ago
All my female gamer friends play the same kind of games as most of my male friends (Gears, Left 4 dead, Halo, I.E.). Maybe it's just my case... or maybe the industry needs to understand that we are not that diferent when it comes to gaming.

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments10 years ago
Hmmm... there's a lot of successful genres and games outside of the three mentioned that are neither particularly "male" or "female" (platformers and puzzle games, for eg).

Current female gamers liking shooters etc is a bit chicken/egg - is that just a case of the games available selecting who is a "gamer"?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Pete Thompson Editor 10 years ago
@ Alfonso, Same here, I have quite a few female gamers on my friends list and they all love the likes of Halo, GoW MW3, Bad Company etc, Most of them play RPG's a lot, and as long as the RPG has co-op they are more than happy.. So i dont really see the need to change much at all, Except maybe the inclusion of a female playable character in all games.. That would of course add a lot of humilation when you know you just got your ass well and truly kicked by a female gamer ;-)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pete Thompson on 22nd August 2011 2:35pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Prendergast Process Specialist 10 years ago
I have to agree with Alfonso. I'm maybe not a typical "male gamer" in their eyes but it is not the shooting, the racing or the sports that i particularly like in games (if i even play those games at all.... In fact i had to roll my eyes a little in the "30 years to perfect" idea... as if Wolf and Doom and Quake didn't pretty much nail it out of the gate.... and, by my estimation that's only 20-ish years. I doubt that sports games were less fun in the 1980s than they are relatively today (obviously they're not interchangeable). To be honest, it sounds a little more sound-bitey than it needs to be.

Personally, i think there are just gamers: gamers with different preferences. There's no need to segregate by sex or age because fun games that cater to your tastes will always be fun for you no matter what.


The only thing i think that needs to be kept more in mind is the aspect of inclusion. Don't alienate parts of your potential customers by unnecessarily marginalising their sex or their religion or their race.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 22nd August 2011 2:35pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Matthew Handrahan European Deputy Editor, GamesIndustry.biz10 years ago
I'd just like to say that there are subtleties to Silicon Sisters' point-of-view that are better explained in the full interview. I never got the impression that they were stereotyping men, exactly; they just believe that the ubiquity of certain types of gameplay is a manifestation of the high proportion of males involved in production and decision making since the earliest days of the industry.

They assume that this would be different had women played a more significant role, and while it's a difficult assumption to prove one way or the other, they also acknowledge that exceptions do exist - women who play shooters, men who can't stand them, and so on.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Lawrence Makin Audio 10 years ago
Have a girl at the office who almost exclusively plays 1st- and 3rd-person shooters...lot of assumptions made about female audiences all round I think.

From my own personal experience, knowing a lot of a girls who game and don't game, those that do game play just about anything. Those that don't, just don't have the desire to play games. The exact same thing could be said about guys.

Could it be that different proportions of guys want to play games compared to girls? Could it be that for the majority, marginal or not, girls are different to guys somehow? No way, that can't be right, can it?!
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Helen Simm GUI Artist, Climax Group10 years ago
Could it be perhaps that this company isnt trying to tap into the so called hardcore female gamers (which is a silly description), so not those that play shooters etc like Halo but more into the money around the social gaming? Like housewives on Farmville?

Needs more clarity here really.

Because the so called hardcore female gamers arent really much different than most gamers in general.

There are a 1001 different types of gamers in general...and these cant really be categorized in the simplistic black and white group of male and female...

I kinda think its strange for a company to target a gender and by doing so repel the opposite.
Why not just make a good game and leave it at that?
Sure categorize your game, choose a target market, but choosing "female" as a target market is ridiculous.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jessica Kelham assistant producer, Team1710 years ago
i think the conclusions have been covered quite marvelously here so i won't go over whats been said. I do think this is a bit of a marketing strategy to get a bit of publicity. "Look we're focusing on girls, we have research!"
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Clayton Executive Editor, Side Story Games10 years ago
I think games would be more female-friendly simply by adding in a few strong female lead characters. I thought Mirror's Edge was a great female-friendly game as was Portal. Mass Effect certainly does it by allowing you to choose your gender (and changing the game subtly to reflect that choice). There aren't enough games with strong female characters.

Just give girls something or someone to idolize and it'd be a much more even playing field. We don't need to make games specifically for girls for that. That just separates girl gamers even further.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Helen Simm GUI Artist, Climax Group10 years ago
What he said /\
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mark Dygert Lead Character Animator, Her Interactive10 years ago
I don't know how far back they've gone in their research but there was a time not that long ago when we had games that did center around stories, character interaction and a heavy dose of art direction. I'm thinking of games like The Dig, Bio Forge, Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky, Day of the Tentacle. Awesome games that today's "BOOM HEAD SHOT" crowd wouldn't think of playing.

With those forgotten types of games, the things they focused on are ripe for the mobile platform and would draw the interest of men and women who don't drown themselves in AXE, pound a 6'er while rolling around in bacon shouting at fox sports about the Badminton championships.

Trust me there are some "guys" that don't find what passes for games these days all that filling either... The recession hasn't helped publishers feel any more adventurous so we mostly get what they always do, copy what sells and don't ever be the first to step off the path, but when someone else does, be sure to run them down as fast as humanly possible with the "genre creating machine" in high gear.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Laura Roberts Manager 10 years ago
^^ what andrew said.

I'm a hardcore female gamer but I also play a lot of casual. I actually don't have any major issues with core games when it comes to my gender. I'm seeing more women playing core every year. Casual games are bringing some converts, as bored casual gamers try out larger file adventure games, which leads to RPGs, and deeper into core gaming. The only thing keeping women out of core gaming is lack of time due to work and family. I have more of a beef with casual game design - it is so filled with stereotypes - too many are about cooking, make-up, clothes, boyfriends, cute animals or babies. I like the ones that go outside of the box (plants vs zombies, my kingdom for the princess, fix it up, etc).
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alexandra Perry currently looking 10 years ago
I totally agree that including more strong female characters is important, but I also believe that stronger characterisation and story writing in general would help. It might be considered a stereotype but generally women require a higher level of empathy to connect with a character/story- i think its telling that the games which are already doing this are the ones which are often cited as being played extensively by both genders. Having said that, I think working on this would help the industry and gamers as a whole, not just us ladies.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 10 years ago
Surely, if they're looking at psychological research into female play, then the market they're looking to tap is the large number of women who currently aren't gamers at all - the ones that nothing appeals to in the current gaming spectrum.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Guy Costantini Managing Partner 10 years ago
Everyone relaying their limited experiences of friends/colleagues is not looking at the big picture. There is a segment that does not like the available entertainment out there that is ripe for targeting. Gender here is not saying "all girls like clothes, all guys like shooting", it's more about 75% of women like X, which MOST games are currently NOT built around and 85% of men like Y, which we have in great abundance.

I think that a developer that targets the female demographic that is NOT being satisfied is taking an intelligent route towards being disruptive and successful, which is key in a startup.

A couple of examples: Why are game companies not working more with fashion designers so that women that enjoy fashionable attire can see it while they game? Why are there not more story delivery games that allow for subtle plot nudging, which statistically(note you may fall out of this category, you are unique and special and my comment does not detract from this) is an area women enjoy more than men.

Either way I wish these women luck, there is a lot of space for creativity in the area they are targetting. The one critique I would have would be that games should try to provide satisfying elements for a larger gamer group, so blending traditionally male/female wants should be the end goal, budget permitting.

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Santiago Elizalde Game Developer, Vostu10 years ago
I think the advent of multiplayer, and especially co-op games has equalized the experience for men and women. From my own experience with female gamers, they usually are kind of reluctant to playing single-player shooters or deathmatch games, but dive into 6 hour marathons of Left 4 dead 2 or Spiral Knights.

CO-OP, something to think about.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Lawrence Makin Audio 10 years ago
@Guy, in theory I agree with what you're saying, though would be interesting to see if good games could be made to fulfill X, or indeed if X needs fulfulling, and if X is fulfilled, would it be taken up? I'd like to think it would, but I guess it's something we'll have to wait and see. It could be possible X don't have the desire to play games, no matter what they are.

For instance many millions love to watch football - that doesn't mean they all play the sport or the video games about it. There'll be a market for sure...but will it be big enough? (Yes, if football is anything to go by!)
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Dressing soldiers with pumps, adding some pink and purple to their uniforms, a few flowers here, a cute bunny there and instead of shooting with guns you throw your lip-gloss or even the whole purse... Seriously?!

I am some sort of female 'hardcore' gamer and yes, I feel often fundamentally misunderstood or ignored by the gaming industry. And it's not only because many leading characters are male, which indeed often complicates the process of identification. Mostly its just because of what I described above: They somehow try to "translate" the games or available characters into a "female universe" which, as far I can see, does not exist.

So Mr. Clayton is absolutely right! I have a younger brother and we both enjoyed almost the same games for the same reasons. Even my boyfriend has the same gaming experience as I have. And I don't think that I'm some kind of exception.

Ironically female characters that are some sort of boyish sexual fantasy are attracting me too, because they are often strong, smart and sexy women, far beyond those bunny-eared-pink-dressed girls that we are supposed to like. In fact, we often just have no choice.

I watched a video on youtube where girls were shown some images and had to decide whether they preferred playing a fat, ugly dwarf or a cute panda-bear. Of course they chose the panda. And I assume, not because cute panda-bears are something all female players are into, but because there wasn't what I consider to be a 'real or fair choice' (on purpose as you might guess).

The only difference I have ever experienced between me and any male player is my somehow deeper assimilation concerning the gaming world. This of course means that I love games with strong drama and I have to admit I spend much time in the character generation screen, too, but it also means, I sit hours in front of my ps3 till I mastered every combo of my fav. Tekken-character.

I don't want to polemize but I'm afraid games will soon become another media that shows how girls or women "have" to be like and not how they "want" to be like. So please take the chance! Just let us be strong heroines as many games are already doing so well!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Katharina Trautvetter on 22nd August 2011 10:20pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bill Garrison Studying Student, DigiPen Institute of Technology10 years ago
I'm a man and shooting in games doesn't give me a "visceral thrill."
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mary Hilton Community Manager, Reclaim Your Game10 years ago
For years the gaming industry has made games to be played using action. If the industry were to actually see what games really need to be made, I'd say 'thinking' games would possibly attract more women than any other genre.
By that description, I'd recommend Civilization, almost any of them (except V, being so damned buggy). I've always enjoyed strategy and 'thinking games'. As for the idea that all women are into fashion is not a good way to get women to play a game.
We want a good 'in depth' game-not the casual crap that passes for games on FB. Any game with some background, story telling and role playing would probably catch our eye. Right now, I'm waiting for LA Noire to come out for the PC-that's the kind of game that attracts me.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mary Hilton on 22nd August 2011 10:36pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Aurélien Dussalve10 years ago
<strong>"It took 30 years to really perfect the three things that males seem [..]'What is the equivalent for girls? [...] high a quality level as that.'"</strong>

I laughed hard on that paragraph and specially on that question, which makes believe that, either they never looked clearly to the actual gaming offer, or they just try to b***s**t us with some lame marketing strategy.
If we are talking about character identification, we have Bioware games such as ME which let you play one bad ass male/fem commander, Dragon Age and also Fallout series but let us also not forget the reboot of Tomb Raider which I believe will tend to be a female version of the Uncharted series (there is more to this game of course but you'll have to agree that the design is nearly similar) and on top of that, they went easy on Croft's titties (sad T_T but adding more realism ). Hell even in Tekken we had the Nina character kicking some serious ass in a gorgeous red dress.
On top of that, we have the soulless characters like Gordon Freeman, the first Dead Space and many more.

Sure we can use some more females in the design process but those outraged feminist have to take a chill pill and just relax a little bit ;)
Cheers all !
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
Andrew, two points.

First, computers are much more anti-human in nature than anti-female. As someone with a logical bent who has devoted a good part of his life to developing software-based systems within businesses, it's obvious to me that most men, as well as most women, do not care for and may have little capacity for logical thinking. The primary component of my job is mainly to translate wishful, ill-conceived arm-waving into something resembling a consistent specification that can be implemented on a computer.

Nor is the sort of logical thinking that I need to use to create good software needed to play games. A bit of puzzle-solving in Tomb Raider is a far cry from the sort of rigor one needs to, say, figure out what one's loop invariants are and construct a proof that a function does what you want it to do.

Second: Turing completeness has nothing to do with intelliegent conversations (you are perhaps confusing that term of art with "Turing test," something entirely different and unrelated, not to mention another vague arm-waving idea as opposed to a precise mathematical concept). Whether truly intelligent conversations, or ones that would "pass the Turing test" are even necessary is an open question; a quick read of AOLiza conversations is enough to introduce plenty of doubt about that notion.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Olena Tkach Casual games producer, Hummus Interactive10 years ago
Oh, those girls are to talking so pathetic. Maybe they really made a huge work with researches and so on... But when they were doing that, Bigfishgames were selling female games by millions. Talking about totally male game industry is ridiculous since there is almost no 2D artist in Ukraine who never draw for HOGs. There are thousands games made for female audience. Actually, every day a game for females is published. The times when the industry was all male is gone. If those girls didn't notice that... How can they think they understand woman gaming?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D10 years ago
This whole angle is getting very old now. It REALLY is.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Victoria Mercer Legal Consultant, Lawyer, IP Specialist 10 years ago
I think this is one of the few instances where the comments to the article outweigh the article.. but I guess that's why it's a teaser article and meant to spark debate.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bruno Brøsted Incident Manager 10 years ago
So let me get this.

There are ever more female gamers but no games they want! That sounds like something doesn't add up because why game if you don't like the games.

To me it sounds like these three girls are over-intellectualizing and/or trying to market them self as knowing something the rest of us do not.

Claiming that girls don't like the games that boys do is silly and frankly sounding like something from the dark ages.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London10 years ago

Females are half the populations and at least 40% of gamers, not a special case in my opinion.

Something seems a little outside reality in this article to me, especially with the number of female gamers I know in industry or just day to day.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Guzmán Díaz10 years ago
"Industry is failing gamers" fixed.

I'm starting to avoid game news in order to stop getting dissappointed by nearly every big developer/publisher out there.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Leonardo Zimbres10 years ago
Silicon Sisters, that is a very cool name. Im jumping to the interview to know more.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Elina Arponen CEO, Tribe Studios10 years ago
It was in June when Interpret released their report “Games and Girls: Video Gaming’s Ignored Audience”. This is still true. The change will come gradually when more women start to make games and when new genres of gaming keep coming up. This will benefit the male gamers too. More variety in the games is good for everyone. We should not make too strong stereotypes of either of the genders and their preferences.

For me I like quality graphics and immersive gameplay, but there aren't too many of those that aren't mostly about killing stuff.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Richard Hill-Whittall Director, Icon Games10 years ago
I for one hope to see less big muscular dude type games set in ever more brown & grey landscapes. But then outside of AAA development there is a whole world of very different games with plenty of appeal for everyone.

So perhaps the article should have read "AAA" games fail female gamers?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Hunter Talbot Student, University of Texas10 years ago

I'm Male and personally despise shooters unless they have some element besides "run through level gunning stuff down" Bioshock is a good example of a shooter that does more than shoot. I personally like hardcore RPGs, you know the ones like Witcher or Baldur's Gate 2 with ridiculously long manuals and huge learning curves. I know a lot of female gamers and they all have different tastes.

Female Gamers are as diverse in their tastes as Males, and while I think its cool that there is a developer out there targeting the female gamer audience; they would be fools to make the mistake of assuming that all gals like this or all gals like that.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Helen Simm GUI Artist, Climax Group10 years ago
Guy said: A couple of examples: Why are game companies not working more with fashion designers so that women that enjoy fashionable attire can see it while they game?

Seriously Guy??? Thats the best example you can come up with to make games more female oriented? That women want our characters to look prettier and more fashionable?
I agree with your second comment of story adjustment being appealing, but come on... fashion????

A lot of games have incredible costume design these days. Well thought out and beautiful.
But we dont play games for fashion, we read magazines for that.

We play games for an immersive experience with an addictive storyline and well designed gameplay.

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.