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The Designer's Notebook: Triple-A Games for Women? Seriously?
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The Designer's Notebook: Triple-A Games for Women? Seriously?

June 5, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Only 10 percent of women play games for the challenge? That's an extraordinary statistic, and if true, one that requires that we re-think what "game" even means. It also suggests that the female player is far more different from the male one than I had thought.

It sounds as if you want to create dramatically different games -- partially in content, partially in tone, and in the very activity that you offer. By setting yourself so far apart from the mainstream, and branding your product "triple-A games for women," don't you risk creating a pink ghetto?

BG: The "pink ghetto" is what we're trying to stop! The "non-traditional" gaming audience bought millions of Wiis and Kinects; yet the triple-A games released for those systems still rely on mechanics targeting core gamers! Meanwhile, companies targeting this market continually release low-budget games designed with a shallow misunderstanding of their audience. These trends have left a hole in the market we're filling with high-quality triple-A console games targeted to casual, "non-core" gamers.

Now, you're right that we have to re-think our designs in order to win in this new market; but we don't have to completely reinvent the wheel or toss everything we've learned -- just subtly tweak things using a solid understanding of this audience. Our strategy is simple: combine deep, content-rich worlds with fun, casual-style mechanics and create a new kind of experience to serve a new kind of gamer.

So not only triple-A but console triple-A. There isn't a piece of conventional wisdom you're not prepared to challenge, is there? How do I think thou art asking for trouble? Let me count the ways. There's a lot of internet yak about how consoles are dead; I don't believe it myself, but it's something that you'll have to convince your funders is not true. There's also a general feeling that consoles (except the Wii, which is seen as for little kids) are a hardcore gamer's platform. The games are expensive and the hardware is a luxury. Women can justify owning a PC for other reasons, but a console?

BG: I'll count the ways: 18 million Kinects, 100 million Wiis. Women don't need to "justify" buying a game system -- they've already got them! They're just lacking good games to play on them. Besides, the "hardcore" market is increasingly dominated by family men whose console systems are set up in shared living spaces. Plus, studies show that most women play games to connect with their friends and families. A quick tour of the "mommy blogs" shows a rising demand for engaging games they can play with their kids.

Some figures:

Ubisoft's female-friendly Wii game Just Dance 2 sold 9.1 million units.
Ubisoft's highest-selling "core" game, Assassin's Creed 2, sold 9.6 million units.

On the 360: family targeted Kinect Adventures sold 16.10 million units.
On the 360: "core" targeted Modern Warfare 3 sold 13.88 million units.

Just Dance 2

I'll grant you Just Dance 2, but Kinect Adventures was a pack-in. You got it with the Kinect whether you wanted it or not. Anyway, you've convinced me that the mothers have access to consoles and want to use them. Are young single women buying them? (Your female friends in the game industry don't count!)

BG: I'd say making Kinect Adventures a pack-in just shows that Microsoft is marketing the Kinect to be a family-friendly gaming experience and still outselling their biggest hardcore games.

As for stats: Last year, 18-34 year olds made up 33 percent of the female gaming audience. I've never seen stats on relationship status, but the overall percentage of women using consoles goes up steadily each year. As for female devs -- I suspect most women driven to create games come from that 10 percent of females who belong to the "core" gamer market. Remember, women are as diverse as men. No game will ever appeal to all women, just as no game appeals to all men.

Okay -- so you yourself know you can't appeal to all women, and I agree that women are at least as diverse as men in their gaming tastes, if not more so. So let's cut to the chase. What's your launch title, and who is it for?

BG: While we're not ready to go public, I can tell you that our first title is a whole new experience for the Kinect that brings player's fantasies to life in much the same way Rock Band let players feel like rock stars. This particular title is aimed more at young women, but we have designed games targeting a variety of demographics.

For example, another of our Kinect games should really excite those mommy bloggers I mentioned. It's designed to encourage immersive whole-family play. It allows, but does not require, all players to maintain continued engagement. This is done intentionally so little kids (with their often sporadic attention-spans) can step in and out of the gameplay easily without adversely impacting other players. This kind of family engagement is difficult to achieve when each player has to have their own controllers, keyboards, mice, or smartphones.

Interesting. I have to admit I haven't heard of a lot of multiplayer local (not online) games that permit players to come and go. Generally with a board game or even something physical it calls for a sustained degree of commitment. You may well have something there, if your gameplay is appealing enough.

BG: It seems you're beginning to see the true potential in our games! If you want an idea of how latent interactions might work: imagine baking cookies. You can ask kids to sift flour, roll dough, and use cookie cutters; but it won't destroy the recipe if they don't finish because you can still do it. Our industry used to be restricted by the one-to-one relationships of players-to-input devices. As technology restrictions are continually removed; we, too, must remove unnecessary restrictions on our designs.

Can you talk about your dev team, and/or your own role?

BG: I'm the CEO and creative lead for Transform Entertainment. I've designed each of our games based on years of solid research. Companies that fail to seriously research their audience risk relying on misguided concepts. A funny example I've heard: "Women need main characters to have three-letter names." I doubt sales of Diner Dash would suffer if Flo were named Carla. Another popular one is, "Women won't play games without a real-world benefit." Millions of women play Windows Solitaire and, like most games, its benefit is simply entertainment. This idea originates from the fact that women want their actions to be meaningful; but within the context of the game, not necessarily the real world.

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