The Rise of the Female Gamer

One half of all gamers are women

Gaming is fast becoming as much a female hobby as a male one.

Once upon a time we used to think of gamers, almost exclusively, as young, heterosexual, white, and male.  That is no longer the case.  Gaming is now a popular pastime and today’s “gamers” are a more diverse community than ever before.

These days, around half of all gamers are women – a fact confirmed by more than one 2020 survey reported on UKIE’s ukiepedia site.  Despite this, many women who play games (two-thirds) do not regard “gaming” as one of their hobbies. 

Why don’t women see themselves as gamers?

So why is this?

Perhaps some mostly only play casual games on mobile devices and are less inclined to regard this as “proper” gaming.  Or perhaps some have come to the hobby so recently that they don’t yet see themselves as gamers. Or perhaps the traditional image of the gaming community as a male dominated sphere makes some women reluctant to overtly identify with it.

Anecdotally, women are still a lot less likely to buy from sites such as Steam and, although accurate figures on such sites are hard to come by, there is some evidence to support this.  One 2015 analysis estimated that only between 4% and 18% of visitors to the Steam homepage were actually women.  Now this may well have changed but it does suggest that there are certain gaming environments where you are less likely to find a female gamer. 

Whether or not women as yet represent half of the gaming market in value terms is an open question.  However, they clearly now represent one half of all gamers.  And, no one would argue that, if provided with the right products, women will not spend as much as men.

But if this potential is to be fully realised, we first need to consider what factors, if any, might be holding things back.

What’s putting women off?

One factor that we certainly can’t afford to ignore is that some (possibly many) female gamers have been put off by the toxic misogyny that has been present in certain sections of the gaming community.  This came to an unpleasant head in 2014 with the gamergate controversy.  Attitudes and incidents of this sort will no doubt discourage at least some women from identifying too closely with the gaming community.  It is particularly likely put off others from engaging in some multiplayer games, where they are more likely to encounter such unpleasant behaviour.

Qualitative research has suggested that the online multi-player environment can be particularly problematic for women gamers.  This study suggested that female gamers did, for example, seek to “…mitigate online harassment, including actively hiding their identity and avoiding all forms of verbal communication with other players.”   This may explain, at least partly, why only 33% of women who play games are happy to self-identify as gamers.

When the hobby gets things right

All that said, some studies suggest the hobby is catering more for female gamers than used to be the case.  A 2016 study by Indiana University analysed 571 gaming titles over a 31 year period and claimed that there had been a decline, since 2005, in the level of sexualisation of female characters. 

It is also the case that there will also be certain spaces where you’d be a lot more likely to find female gamers.  Many would argue that female gamers become a lot more significant when it comes to mobile and casual gaming.  For certain games, the female audience can approach 80% but for others it can be as low as 8% and for others closer to 50/50. 

Clearly some games have done a great job of attracting a significant female following, for instance, by offering strong and interesting female character choices.  Games like Horizon Zero Dawn may be an example of this.   As Malindy Hetfield wrote on Polygon: The complex representation of women in different social spheres throughout Horizon Zero Dawn is one of its best features.

Game developers who make the effort to understand and cater for the female audience can potentially unlock a significant future market. All it requires is a good understanding of what that market wants and the ability to develop and market it in an authentic and appealing way.

One potential issue here is the fact that women still represent a minority of people working in the games industry.  UKIE’s 2020 game industry census reported that women make up only 28% of the workforce.  Getting women more involved in the creative process of games development can surely only enrich the end result.

Tapping into the female gamer audience

However, one size is unlikely to fit all and, with so many women now playing games, it would be wrong to think of them as a single homogenous audience.  Some women may prefer casual tile matching games and puzzles but others like enthralling RPGs, or racing games.  The future is likely to see a variety of different female audiences emerge within different gaming genres. 

Tastes are evolving and changing over time and if game developers can find creative ways to tap into the female gaming market, the potential opportunities are clearly significant.  The challenge is to find the right audience and understand how best to reach them with the right products and messages.

We can help in this process by providing audience profiling and segmentation market research services.  If you’d like to find out more about these services, please contact us for more information.

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