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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 07:57 GMT
Games makers miss feminine touch
By Maggie Shiels
Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California

The computer games industry is missing out on huge potential sales because it fails to produce games which appeal to the female market.

Female computer game character
Most female characters in games are regarded as 'eye candy'
That was the cry from campaigners who were seeking to change attitudes at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California, US.

The yearly pilgrimage entices some of the world's best computer artists and game developers in the field.

Although the video gaming industry is one of the few hi-tech industries still growing amid the economic downturn, it is argued that if it did more to woo the female market, growth figures would go through the roof.

Global industry

The expansion of the industry over the last 10 years has astounded investors and analysts.

Females comprise 80% of consumer dollars and very few of them are buying games on an ongoing basis
Clarrinda Merripen, CyberLore Studios
GDC Conference Director Alan Yu said this proved the value of play was not to be taken for granted.

"This is a $10bn dollar industry in America - worldwide it's $30bn," he said.

"Numbers aside, the impact of games as a cultural phenomenon is shocking.

"We are already bigger than a box office first run and as the youth get older, games will be more popular and they are certainly a driving force in pop culture today."

While sales for the industry grew by 10% in 2002, a packed forum was told by Clarrinda Merripen of CyberLore Studios that this male dominated business was losing out by not recognising the spending power that women control.

"Females comprise 80% of consumer dollars and very few of them are buying games on an ongoing basis," she said.

"I don't think they have necessarily been ignored but I think the gaming industry has grown up male and now they're looking around and trying to make that leap because they have to.

"It's a dollar issue and by not doing anything to close the gap they are shooting themselves in the foot."

Male bias

Other panellists told the audience that women are just as intrigued as men about gaming but they often feel locked out by an industry that caters largely for males.

"The people who make games are generally men," said Sheri Graner Ray of Metrowerks, which creates computer tools for games developers.

"The female characters they are putting in are 'eye candy' and they haven't been asking themselves 'what if my player is female?' because that hasn't been a considered audience."

Playstation 2 sign
All the main players are attending the conference
But times are changing says Ms Merripen who tested the game Majesty for her company and pointed out that there were no female characters in the lower levels.

The male development team assured her that there were female characters in the more difficult levels later in the game.

"There is this barrier," says Ms Merripen.

"If you look at a lot of games, women are turned off by the hyper sexual characters.

"They find it hard to figure out how to play the game because then girls hadn't been steeped in the gaming environment unlike boys.

"I look at my daughter's class now and the girls all know Pokemon. When I was growing up, I didn't know any of this stuff."

Hard sell

Thirty-something Carrie Hankins works for a San Diego-based company called E Sports Arena as a marketer whose job it is to try to lure women into become avid gamers.

I want to see games that appeal to women get the same budgets... as any potential blockbuster game
Heather Kelley, co-chair of Women in Game Development Committee
She says she applauds moves to correct the gender imbalance but admits that even though she is a game nut, getting other women interested can be a hard sell.

"I've spent the last two or three days on college campuses promoting games and almost every girl said 'no thanks they weren't interested.'"

"It takes a bit of talking to explain to them 'no look this is cool', and I think once we tap into that there will be so many women who will have a great time once they find a game they like to play."

Expanding choice

That's if they can find one out of the very few that are out there, retorted Ms Merripen.

The International Game Developers Association claims to be addressing the issue and has set up a Women in Game Development Committee to investigate gender inequality in the gaming world.

Heather Kelley, who is one of two co-chairs on the committee, works for Sapient, a business and development consultancy company.

She says her mission is clearly focused on attacking the status quo.

"I want to increase the percentage of women in the industry substantially within a given timeframe. For instance, increase the number of women developers to 40% overall by 2005.

"On a creative level, I want to see games that appeal to women get the same budgets with attendant production values, schedules and attention to game play, as would any potential blockbuster game."

Tough task

A snapshot picture of the conference showed an overwhelming amount of testosterone walking the floor.

Men hogged the Playstations that were dotted all over the McEnery Conference Centre.

They were also the ones demonstrating the latest editing and graphics tools to help the game developer.

Females were few and far between at the consoles but more ubiquitous when it came to handing out leaflets to attendees.

And when it came to lines at the toilets, rather unusually the ladies bathrooms were practically empty.

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