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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 Gamesindustry.biz 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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Matthew Handrahan avatar

Matthew Handrahan

Editor-in-Chief

Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.

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