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The Next Frontier - Female Gaming Demographics
by Wanda Meloni on 03/30/10 12:17:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
By Wanda Meloni

As an analyst I am drawn to trends that shift markets. I see nothing shifting the gaming market more significantly right now than the impact that girls and women are having on the industry. The growth and market dynamics related to female players are utterly fascinating.

 

As a female I am drawn to the personal impact this growth means to me. At M2 Research we have several female analysts now. So yes, it is a personal topic for us here. One of our analysts is extremely versed in MMOs, both casual and core. Her World of Warcraft rogue character made the US top 50 Guild. So besides being a hardcore gamer and an analyst for M2 Research, she is also over 35, and a mom of three small children.  The reality is games are not just for one particular type of player any more.


Steady but Slow Road for Consoles

More young girls are being exposed to console games, especially as their fathers introduce them to that world as a way to bond with them. In late November, president of Nintendo America, Reggie Fils-Aime presented several data points outlining the current gender breakdown of console play in the U.S. Reggie estimates there are 45 million people playing video games as the primary players in the U.S. Of those, Nintendo is estimating 26% are female, or roughly 11.7 million.

 

 Acquire

 

Of those, 80% are on the Wii, 11% are on the Xbox 360 and 9% are on the PS3.

  • Wii - 80% = 9.3 million
  • X360 - 11% = 1.29 million
  • PS3 - 9% = 1.05 million
  • Total = 11.7 million Females

John Koller of Sony told us, "Before the holidays we made a big push in our advertising campaign by appealing to a wider demographic. Women see the benefit of having a game console that also works as a Blu-ray player, and that has definitely boosted our sales into the dual-console households."

 

And David Dennis, Microsoft's Xbox 360 spokesperson believes that, "Certainly social networking functionality like Twitter and Facebook appeal to a female audience. Studies have found that in general, most social networks have more female users than male, including Twitter (about 59% female) and Facebook (about 57% female). In addition to Facebook and Twitter, there is a lot of functionality in Xbox LIVE that appeals to women. With Xbox LIVE parties, users can connect and share movies, music, photos and gaming experiences with friends on the same couch or across the country. Women are an important audience for us, and we're offering a variety of entertainment experiences that will appeal to them." 


Growth is in PC Online Gaming

Unlike the console market, where the gender discrepancy is still significant, the PC gaming market is pretty close to even when it comes men and women. The openness of the platform and social element of the internet remains a significant factor.

 

M2 Research estimates there are roughly 130 million women currently playing online PC games worldwide, and 140 million men. And we see that figure growing steadily over the next several years for both men and women.

M2 Research - Gender
Women playing online PC games has worked for a couple of reasons:

1.    It is a platform females already know well enough to navigate around

2.    It has the social networking components females gravitate towards

3.    MMOs, casual and social gaming are all games that appeal to women and they are all PC based

 

Look at the gender split between GTA4 and some of the other games.


Acquire

It is estimated that close to 40% of all World of Warcraft players are female, or almost 3 million players. In November, Blizzard announced its first virtual pet would go on sale. In a 2 month period the company sold over 200,000 for $10 each, equaling $2 million on one virtual pet item.

 

WoW pets



Will O'Brien, who until recently was General Manager of Social Games at TrialPay and now VP of Social Gaming at Big Fish, "Typically, women account for about 60% of all virtual goods transactions, although different game genres attract different audiences--for example, poker games might be more male-centric while games that let you care for pets might appeal more to the female demographic."

 

PopCap recently released findings from a survey they sponsored that showed:

  • The average social gamer is a 43 year old female
  • 38% say they play social games several times a day
  • Women are more inclined to play with real-life friends

The Chief Household Officer

According to research done by Mindshare/Ogilvy & Mather, women account for 85% of all consumer purchases. U.S. women spend more than $5 trillion annually on consumer goods and services:

  • Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases
  • 22% shop on line at least once a day
  • 61% influence consumer electronic purchases
  • Women account for 66% of all PC purchases

Jeremy Lewis, CEO of Big Fish Games, calls them the Chief Household Officer.  "Games are a universal pleasure. Whereas traditional gaming companies are focused on young males, at Big Fish Games, our audience is global, more than 80 percent female, and so engaged that on any given day, we distribute 1.5 million games. Our primary customers, young women and chief household officers, as we like to call them, enjoy a broad variety of games on our site, including puzzles, hidden objects and solitaire, all of which provide women with the opportunity to escape relax and have fun."

 

In our current economy, where frivolity on household spending has taken a back seat, women and moms are opting for Free-to-Play options for their kids whenever possible. Additionally, used game sales continue to increase.  GameStop's used sales were up significantly in 2009 from 2008, growing from $887 million to $1,109 billion for the six months ending August 1.

 

Mark Nebesky, Chief Marketing Officer of Goozex, an online video game trading company, explains what his company is witnessing, "There are two main purchasers, men purchasing for themselves or their children, and women purchasing for their children. In the case of the women, they control 100% of their account activity. In other words, the children requested games to Mom, who then placed the order on Goozex. And we see this group growing."  

 

Move Away from 'Pink It and Shrink It" Marketing

There are still so many stereotypes about women and girls. Many marketers believe that females will only buy something if it is pink and covered in sparkles. It is also a misconception that women are not interested in shooting and highly competitive games - this is a stereotypical opinion that try's to pigeonhole all female buyers into the same prototype. That is simply not true; to stereotype all females is the same as saying men and boys only like violent games.

 

All you have to do is look at other industries that prosper with both men and women. For example, 40% of the 6.6 million people attending Winston Cup car races each year are women. Now, personally I haven't been to the Winston Cup, but I follow Formula One racing, watch it religiously, have been to a race, bought F1 products, and know that Brits have won the championship the last two years.

 

Megan Gaiser, CEO of Her Interactive has been focused on building games for girls for over ten years. Her Interactive is the successful creator of The Nancy Drew games, which have consistently placed on NPD's top 10 best selling game month after month. Some months it's even beat out World of Warcraft, Spore and The Sims.

 

When Megan joined Her Interactive, the company was told to make the products pink and girls will come. Megan explains, "That is about as simplified an explanation as saying, make it violent and boys will come. So we decided to go strategically UNPINK, and guess what, the girls still came."

 

This is where game companies need to look to other forms of entertainment to bridge the gap. In films, the top box-office hits are films that attract men and women. Movies like Avatar and Dark Knight appeal to a wide range of people. In the music industry, men and women are equal in their purchasing of music. There is nothing wrapped in pink, except maybe Lady Gaga and Pink. 

 

Closing Thoughts (But Not the End of the Discussion)

There is no denying that core gamers have been the mainstay for the industry for the last 10 year. However the market has grown. There are now wide sweeping segments of the population that make up the patchwork of gamers.

 

When you start looking at the numbers, there is a critical mass already in play. All you have to do is look at Zynga. With $250 million in sales and 233 million users, Zynga has a $3 billion valuation right now. Compare that to EA and its current valuation of $5.6 billion. 

 

We feel this analysis is just touching the surface. There is so much more that needs to be addressed in terms of studying the demographics of these different patchworks, and this is something M2 Research is focused on.

 

Fundamentally the biggest issue is making intelligent, engaging games for whatever target market you are trying to reach. Girls on average are no more inclined to buy a portable gaming system because its pink than a boy wanting a system simply because it is blue. Consumers, no matter what the age or gender, want to be engaged and challenged.

 

The demand is there and the revenue opportunities are there.


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