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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Call for radical rethink of games
Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website, in Los Angeles

Gamers and a statue at the E3 expo
A "cultural shift" is needed so more women and girls feel welcome
Video games have to change if they are to become mainstream, a leading figure in the gaming industry has warned.

Doug Lowenstein, president of the US trade body, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), said games needed to widen their appeal.

He was speaking at the start of the world's largest video games show, the E3 expo in Los Angeles.

The video games industry is big business. US players spent more than $7bn (3.8bn) on games last year.

Luring men

According to ESA, 75% of American heads of households play computer and video games, with the average age of a player being 30.

But Mr Lowenstein urged caution over relying on statistics. In his speech he sought to dispel the myth that the games industry is bigger than Hollywood.

We need a cultural shift so that young girls and women feel that playing games is not a testosterone monopolised hobby reserved for their boyfriends and husbands
Doug Lowenstein, Entertainment Software Association

"In truth, the worldwide film industry stands at about $45 billion and the worldwide video game industry checks in at around $28 billion," he said.

And he berated game makers for failing to come up with products with truly mass market appeal, compared to film and TV producers.

A walk around the show floor at E3 illustrates the issue. There is a preponderance of action or fighting games which are aimed squarely at men in their 20s and early 30s.

There are also the obligatory "booth babes", as companies jostle for the attention of attendees.

"Our own industry, mainly through our marketing practices, reinforces the stereotype that most gamers are men," said Mr Lowenstein.

'Testosterone hobby'

It is clear that women do like to play games. ESA figures show that a third of console players are women.

But many of these women are casual gamers, who play far fewer games, far more infrequently, than their male counterparts.

Gamer at the E3 expo
Games need to change to be topics of conversation at dinner parties
"We need a cultural shift so that young girls and women feel that playing games is not a testosterone monopolised hobby reserved for their boyfriends and husbands," urged Mr Lowenstein.

For this to happen, game producers need to think radically about the sorts of games they make, said the ESA president.

As part of this, games had to become easier to play, as often people are intimidated by the technology or the complexity of a title.

"If video games aspire to movie-like status, then games need to become topics of conversation at dinner parties and happy hours.

"And they won't ever achieve that if they are mainly the province of an elite few who speak their own language, congregate in chat rooms and LAN centres, and have an endless amount of time on their hands," he said.

Violence sells

One of the obstacles in the way of games becoming mainstream is the perception that they are aggressive and violent.

Gamers at the E3 expo
Currently, gaming is still dominated and catered for by men
The success of gangster titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the top selling game in the US of 2004, reinforces this view.

But games rated "mature" made up just 16% of all the games sold last year. The majority, 53%, were suitable for all ages, and 30% were for teens.

Mr Lowenstein said the games industry needed to take concerns about violence in games seriously.

And he challenged game makers to stop relying on creating ever more violent titles in the pursuit of sales.

"If we as an industry aspire to the same cultural and artistic credibility and stature achieved by other major forms of entertainment, our creative community and our publishers will have to eschew some of the historically easy and successful formulas for commercial success," he said.

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