Over the past decade, women have poured into the gaming world as 45% of all gamers in the US in 2021 are female, a large uptick from the 38% observed in 2006. While women proactively navigate through a space built by and for men, the gaming industry continues to play catch-up.
Female gamers represent a diverse set of gamers, somewhat similar to male gamers. More specifically, the majority of female gamers are known to play across different gaming platforms (mobile, console, and PC). Female gamers can also be grouped into distinct gamer personas developed by Newzoo – a top source for gaming insights and analytics. These distinct personas further illustrate the depth of enthusiasm women have for gaming.
The gender makeup of these distinct personas shows that women are not only active gamers, but they are also key to the hardware optimization and video streaming aspects of gaming.
While the number of women in gaming is on the rise, the gaming industry is still struggling to embrace women gamers.
Data suggests that in 2020, only 18% of all video games worldwide featured a woman as the main character or protagonist in the game. While this is a huge leap from the 5% seen in 2019, there is still more work to be done.
Though women want to be represented in the gaming landscape, female presence alone is not enough. In developing female characters, many designers have been accused of oversexualizing the female characters, generating the perception of bad representation and reinforcing negative stereotypes around women.
A study on 206 college-aged women uncovered that playing a video game with sexualized female characters can negatively impact women’s confidence in their ability to play the game as well as their self-confidence overall.
Almost half of US gamers (47%) will avoid a game if they do not feel it represents them accurately. Therefore, ensuring female game play characters are powerful while also generating characters and imagery that make women feel welcomed and respected is crucial.
“It’s a male dominated and designed for male minds”
—when Newzoo asked women why they avoid specific games
A small shift in overall game design could easily widen the appeal of video games across genders. While a huge design shift is not needed, simply balancing the feminine and masculine aspects throughout could create an inclusive feel. Transitioning away from ultra-masculine design aspects (such as hard, sharp lines and dark, gloomy colors) to incorporate more fluid lines and energizing colors is a slight shift that could largely pay off.
For example, the game of Fortnite generates a somewhat inclusive feel with eccentric design aspects, colors, and characters throughout the game. Even though the story line of Fortnite matches the FPS genre that is typically male dominated, as of 2019, 34% of female gamers indicated they play Fortnite. The inclusive design of the game, among other aspects, could be a reason for the heightened interest among female gamers.
Another game that has successfully developed an inclusive design is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This game became widely popular across female gamers and, according to Nintendo, has achieved a somewhat equal ratio of female and male players. Additionally, in comparison to Doom: Eternal, a game that was released on the exact same day as Animal Crossing: New Horizons that displays the traditional ultra-masculine game design, Animal Crossing has made a much larger impact on the gaming industry overall.
Comparing unit sales during the launch month of both games, Animal Crossing: New Horizons achieved 5 million unit sales, while Doom: Eternal achieved 3 million. In reaching 5 million unit sales within the first month, Animal Crossing: New Horizons surpassed the first month sales of all console games previously released. This suggests that, among other aspects, creating a more inclusive design can be effective in attracting a broader audience and attaining higher unit sales.
Among the 50+ age group, women are more likely to be gamers than men. These older women are also significantly more likely to game daily in comparison to males within the same age group. This suggests that appealing to women through game design can better improve the longevity of a customer base than it would if games mainly appeal to men.
Women of all ages have been actively participating in the gaming world for a long time, but largely masculine-designed and dominated gaming environments continue to define much of the industry. Further accelerating the inclusivity of representation and game design intended to appeal to all participants can only benefit gaming companies in the long term. As of 2020, women only made up 16% of gaming executives worldwide, which could be related to the underrepresentation of women in the industry overall.
To help create equality and gender balance in the games themselves, game design companies are encouraged to first develop more gender diverse leadership teams within their companies. It is also imperative that in developing and executing user research and insights to include a wide range of genders, ages, and other identities to make sure all gamers feel heard, welcomed, and respected in gaming spaces. With this in effect, it is anticipated to improve games in accordance with principles of universal design and creating broader appeal across all audiences.