Marketing to Women Gamers

            “There is no definition of a female gamer, and trying to tack a label to them does a disservice. The female gamer is simply a female who plays games. She’s just as diverse as any other market out there.”—Sheri Graner Ray

    Recently a GameStop training video made it to YouTube. It apparently isn’t a joke or hoax, although after the first minute one couldn’t help but hope. It seems strange that the demographic responsible for making 85% of all consumer buying decisions should be considered a “new breed of consumer” that remains a mystery to “over 50% of the population”. According to U.S. censuses women outnumber men, so I can only guess that those statements are meant to be hyperbolic.

    What is truly bizarre is that most of the marketing and handling points made in the video are not gender specific. Up-selling applies to both sexes. Consumer buying behavior such as the “hunter” versus “grazer” oversimplification applies to every purchaser for every kind of product. There are marketing and selling techniques that work more effectively on women than men, but GameStop didn’t really nail any of them. In fact they missed two of the major points by assuming that most women aren’t really interested in game products and generally insulting the intelligence of most female purchasers (not to mention their employees).

    Most industries, particularly media industries, are familiar with marketing towards women. The games industry is certainly getting better at it. According to the ESA, women represent approximately 40% of the gaming population. Most of those women are over 18. Other studies suggest that the numbers are even higher. Women also account for almost 45% of all consumer electronic purchases in the U.S. So how are games being marketed to women? What techniques are proving most effective? A December 2006 study conducted in Madrid in sheds substantial light on the topic and is worth reading if you plan on appealing to the female market. 1,788 surveys were used in that study.

  • Keep it casual. There is some evidence that most female gamers are attracted to casual games. According to a September 2006 study by Parks Associates, 59% of American consumers who play on mobile phones are women. Simple, casual puzzle games are frequently cited by studies and analysts as being less threatening and/or more attractive to women. Independent developers are already well-positioned for exploiting this market. It’s also worth noting here that according to the Madrid study, 72% of female gamers play on PCs. Other studies, including national statistical leisure studies for the UK, contend that women have less leisure time than men. Games that offer greater rewards for less commitment may therefore be more attractive to women.
  • Coop is a good idea. When women aren’t playing against the machine, they prefer to play with friends or family both online and off. 38% of the respondents to the Madrid study play with friends and family. Furthermore, studies show that women prefer to engage in social activities during their free time. Co-op games allows for players to use games as a fun and social event.
  • Get a female opinion (preferably several). Every marketing plan requires analysis. That means evaluating your product’s strengths, weaknesses, competition, and audience. Test and market pools are therefore a necessary evil when selling a product. One of the key factors to marketing to women is determining what women look for in game titles. If you want to make a shooter but you still want it to appeal to women, determine what other game elements women consider. Preferences cited by the Madrid study include problem-solving, strategy and puzzles, cooperative and interactive games, female lead characters and elaborate plots.
  • Emphasize the preferred elements in marketing materials and in the course of sale. If you are designing marketing materials for women or if you are a retailer selling to a woman, do not over-emphasize features that lack any kind of appeal to women. The purchaser needs to know why the game is valuable to her. Listing the standard game features without highlighting the features attractive to her won’t help you make the sale.
  • Don’t assume that women won’t like your game. Never assume that girls will not play your game. Women play Gears of War, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Call of Duty, GTA, and every other shooter and sandbox game out there. Women belong to clans, guilds, and other online teams. Women compete in Professional Gaming events. There is a very good chance that if your game achieves any level of success, some girl out there will play it. There is always the potential for a female audience and it is folly to completely ignore that audience. Knowing your female audience is more important than merely acknowledging that a general female audience exists.
  • Employ women to sell your product. Women are generally less threatening to other women and are better able to communicate with other women. Purchasers, in turn, are more likely to buy from someone who speaks their language and understands their needs.

    I’ve included the video for a laugh but it’s ineffective, embarrassing, and unprofessional. Calling women a “new breed of consumer” is patently ironic. Women aren’t new to the game market and they certainly aren’t new to consumerism.