Traditionally, video games have been a man’s domain. Titles like Doom, FIFA and Call of Duty have featured only male playable characters, in a true reflection of their intended audience. But that audience is changing: 55% of those playing games are now women. And the industry is having to adapt to keep up with the demand of a new kind of gamer.
Where men have gravitated towards console and PC games, including those which can be played online like MMORPGs, women prefer to play their games on a mobile phone. And the type of games they choose are different too. While there are many games that successfully appeal to both genders – Dragon Age: Inquisition being a recent example, where the players are split almost 50/50 between men and women – a recent survey highlights the stark differences between the majority of choices.
The most appealing games for women are match-3 and simulation games, with 69% of respondents who listed this type of game as a favourite being female. And they were the only type of games with a majority female preference. By far the least favourite games amongst women are sports-related games and shooting games. This is despite a recent push for inclusion within such genres: the latest FIFA titles allow you to play in the women’s leagues, and popular shooting franchises like Borderlands and Gears of War include prominent playable female characters within their storylines.
Match-3 and casual puzzle games existed before smartphones, with classics like Bejewelled available to play in your internet browser. It is a format that has transferred well to a touchscreen, as it is easier to swipe and swap tiles with a fingertip than having to click and drag with a mouse. The biggest name in the genre is still Candy Crush. Free to download, but containing optional micro-transactions, it remains one of the most downloaded games across both iOS and Android systems, and 59% of those downloads are by women. It has also spawned a handful of spin-offs, using similar candy themes but a variety of new sweets and bonuses.
A new generation of match-3 games hoping to capture the imagination of female gamers have branched out to combine the puzzle with a story-based simulation game. Titles such as Homescapes, Gardenscapes and Matchington Mansion rewards players who complete the match-3 levels with the ability to renovate rooms and gardens in dilapidated manor houses. Cleverly blending two most popular genres with women gamers, these games have revitalised the puzzle genre and worked out exactly how to appeal to their new audience.
Another industry that has managed to successfully target the female market is the remote gambling sector. Gone are the overly masculine themes, where online casinos attempted to appeal to the wannabe James Bonds. Now the sites are leaning towards gender-neutral themes to cater to the growing audience of female gamblers. One brand which has done this successfully is Wink Bingo. Their retro, pop art graphics and bright, summery colour scheme are geared heavily towards the 60% of women who stated that online bingo was their game of choice.
The website and the app are also chock full of features that women have stated are important to them: simple navigation, making it easy to find your way around, a prize network consisting of different linked sites, so you swap your prizes around and always get the best deal, and chat rooms that mean you can have a natter with friends while waiting for your cards to be called. People who regularly gamble at the same time each day use these chatrooms to form online friendships, and in our increasingly busy and solitary world, the ability to connect with others is a vital part of having fun for many people. Wink Bingo, with their variety of bingo games and careful design, have made themselves the top destination for female bingo lovers.
But the future is not so bleak for console games. Their efforts to increase their share of the female gamer market are beginning to pay off. Games such as Just Dance, where players are required to copy dance moves on the screen, which are recorded either through a motion-sensitive controller or picked up by a camera, are really popular with women. Singing and dancing games make great party games, with many people able to join in simultaneously. Getting players active also boost endorphins, giving them a real feel-good feeling.
Games companies are also finding surprising numbers of female gamers have started to pick up recent titles in long-running franchises. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is twice as popular amongst women as other titles in the same open world genre, possibly because of the inclusion of a playable female main character. And while women have traditionally shied away from MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, they are flocking towards the genre’s new addition, Star Wars: The Old Republic. 29% of female gamers have played Star Wars at some point, more than any other MMORPG.
It seems like the revolution of female gaming is here to stay. What does that mean for the industry? If it continues to react in the same ways, then it looks like the future will bring a wider range of games and genres. While statistics have highlighted the types of games most likely to be played by either men or women, they have also showed the surprising volume of games that both sexes love to play. Rather than seeing the industry split to cater for one or the other, the future may see an explosion of titles in the middle ground. Female-centric RPGs and more story-driven MMOs with a greater range of playable characters could be immensely popular console games in the next decade. And as for the mobile and online market, there are already so many apps and pages to choose from, those that prove popular will surely spawn further generations of copycat games, designed to hook the female audience by giving them exactly what they want.