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The Impact Of Women On The Gaming Industry (And Why Developers Should Take Note)

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It is not about making games for women or for men, it is about making games that we can all embrace.

By Jeannette Weinstein (CEO, iQU)

The video game industry has transformed from a niche market into a billion dollar global power industry throughout the past 30 years, and with serious growth comes serious change.

Change is necessary, if not crucial, for an evolving industry, and this industry is particularly open to trying new tactics and strategies, which I believe explains much of the success it has achieved. More importantly, one area that has seen recent growth is women in the games and technology industry, including a shift in both the consumer and as executives across the entire gaming sector.

The Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA) 2012 report notes that 47% of all video game players are now women, and more importantly identifies women over the age of 18 as one of the fastest-growing demographics. In what many see as a truly ‘stereotype-breaking’ announcement, the research reveals that adult women now represent a greater percentage (30%) of the total game playing population when compared to boys between the age of 17 and younger (18%).

With 80% of all buying in the U.S. done by women, this means that the gaming market is a serious avenue for advertisers to reach the most engaged, technically sophisticated buyers in this country.

A driver of this trend comes from the growing power of social and mobile gaming. These types of games, such as Farmville, may be what initially peaks the interest of a new women gamer, but once they start playing the short form games they are more likely to start playing Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, such as Final Fantasy. During the 2011 SXSW Trade Show, Zynga’s director of Brand Advertising, Manny Anekal, dropped the bombshell that “More women were playing Farmville than watching soap operas.”

While I think this statement is irrelevant because soap operas are not being watched for many reasons (i.e. the boom in reality TV), he did reveal that, not only were 40+ women the largest segment playing their titles, but they were also the biggest spenders, too! It pays to note that women gamers may be responsible for much of Zynga’s success, given that Anekal notes 53% of
Zynga players are female and between the ages of 25 to 44.

On the mobile front, the impact of female players is being strongly felt, with research firm EEDAR indicating that 60% of all mobile gamers are now women. As Big Fish CEO, Paul Thelen, noted earlier this month, “If you are building for mobile and want to scale to the broadest possible audience of purchasers, you do need to absolutely focus on women,” alluding to the information that 65% of their Texas Hold ‘Em (traditionally “male heavy”) app revenue was being generated by female players.

Analytical firms like Flurry used by large mobile social networks like Mocospace are united in their emphatic message that not only are women playing more mobile and social games than their male counterparts, but the time they are spending playing is increasing too. All of this translates into a change in the assumption that gamers are generally male. Advertising associated with gamers and game design now has to look at an entirely new demographic with seriousness for survival.

The current economic climate is arguably one of the primary causes for the explosion of the “Free To Play” monetization model. This translates into fiscal frugality, not only for women and their own electronic entertainment pursuits, but for their children as well. Need more? This is backed by the ESA’s report noting 45% of parents play games with their children. In addition, the sensitive economic state makes every dollar advertisers can get very important. It is my belief that advertising for gaming enthusiasts is more compelling than ever.

Holistically, this translates into all industry stakeholders, from developers to marketers, taking note that women are now a key consumer demographic in the video game industry and must be taken more seriously as an industry catalyst than ever before. We need to continue evolving away from pink-and-shrink marketing and hyper-sexualized characterizations, and move toward game design and models that embrace gender diversity without exclusion.

It’s about the need for intelligent game design that breaks the atypical ”Dick and Jane” mentality, and rather strives toward inclusionary content creation. One way gaming companies have been smart about this is to hire more women in decision making positions. A woman’s point of view is different than their male counterparts and can be extremely important to the success of a game, keeping a gaming company alive and innovative.

It is not about making games for women or for men, it is about making games that we can all embrace. This is important only because it’s the right thing to do, but rather that it is a simple economic fact that the longevity and relevance of our multibillion dollar entertainment industry demands us to think collaboratively and embrace and emerging demographic of gaming and technology influencers.

Women 2.0 readers: What do you think about Proposition E? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Jeannette Weinstein is CEO of iQU. Prior to joining iQU, Jeannette was director of business development at CPMStar. While at CPMstar they were acquired by The Game Show Network (GSN) where she lead the integration process of the GSN/CPMStar sales team, while maintain significant business growth, and handled many of CPMStar’s largest key accounts. She specialized in advising free to play clients on how to improve their registration process to increase registrations. Follow her on Twitter at @WhiteCollarYoga.