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Last Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Changing gaming's masculine image
BBC's Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
BBC Click Online North America technology correspondent

The computer games industry has been traditionally dominated by men and produced games more appealing to male, rather than female players. However, with more women entering the industry, game developers are now realising there is a potentially huge market in games which have a more universal appeal.

A woman playing a computer game
Men and women often have different ideas about great games
Pong, Pacman and Space Invaders were all very straightforward games.

They were not aimed at any one particular gender, they were just fun to play for everybody. Then came increased graphics capabilities and with that increased blood, guts and gore.

Mortal Kombat was one of the first games to be criticised for its shock value, but there have been plenty of others, like Postal and Carmageddon, the hit and run game.

Of course there are women who enjoy such titles, but industry research and a quick home-grown survey suggests that most females, who make up 39% of the total gaming population, have a different viewpoint about what makes a great game.

Women say the games they enjoy playing are not always the most publicised.

Marketing managers in the industry, seem to aim their message at the male audience most of the time. So it is no wonder that websites like Womengamers.com have sprung up over the years, offering reviews and articles for females.

The co-founder of Womengamers.com, Phaedra Boinodiris, says: "Back in the 1990s we opened most gaming magazines and looked at most gaming websites and they were catering to the young male.

"We felt women who liked to play computer and console games, were completely ignored and an untapped market segment."

Interaction

Walk into a typical video game development company and you will see that it is mostly men sitting at the computers.

Shiny Entertainment's Kari Birkland
If it becomes a social thing as well just sitting at home at your computer playing, it becomes more broadly appealing
Kari Birkland, Shiny Entertainment
Perhaps this is not surprising, since most of the job applications come from men.

In creative areas, women can be easier to spot.

Shiny Entertainment's Kari Birkland is a digital artist who has worked on the "Matrix" games, among others, and believes video games have to possess certain qualities to attract women.

Kari Birkland says: "If you have fantastic looking art, if the gameplay is fun, if there's more interaction with other people, if it becomes a social thing as well just sitting at home at your computer playing, it becomes more broadly appealing."

The Sims franchise is the perfect example of that. With 50 million units sold so far globally, the gender ratio of players is about 50/50.

A large proportion of the staff working in the development and marketing of the game is female.

Producer of The Sims 2, Virginia McArthur, says: "Being on the development team is important, because we can totally push back when somebody wants to start adding guns into our game. It's not about guns, it's about humour, it's about fun, it's about being creative.

"Yes, we are a T-rated game, and we do have a little mischief, but it's not about shooting people, it's about creating a really unique life. So I think what women do is they bring a really soft sensitivity to that.

"But we can also be a little devious as well, so as far as the social game goes I think we add a lot to that as well."

'Entertaining' games

But The Sims is one of only a handful of crossover success stories.

The overwhelming majority of women gamers frequent mobile games and so-called casual games online
For the most part, big games companies act like Hollywood studios and they rarely gamble.

There are more female-friendly games coming to the marketplace, but smaller software companies designing games for women say they still face an uphill struggle.

President of Womenwise.com Anne-Marie Hurre says: "The problem is trying to get published, because publishers would like sequels.

"They like the big title licenses, they would like whatever's really popular, the Star Wars, the Spider-Man, and girls don't play games like that.

"They look at games as entertainment, they do things like chatting, and they want to communicate. They look at games to incorporate some of that."

Aleks Krotoski
Women really enjoy playing with a story, playing with a depth of character...
Aleks Krotoski, Steering group, Women in Games Conference

The most recent figures suggest that the overwhelming majority of women gamers frequent mobile games and so-called casual games online.

That may change with the arrival of the next generation consoles.

Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have all made it clear they are going after the potentially vast untapped market of females, with games and hardware that are capable of producing immersive, high-definition fantasy lands with levels of communication and socializing not previously seen.

With any luck the video game evolution might have come full circle to once again include both sexes.


Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.




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