Here are a couple of articles to read first:
Designing and marketing games for female players
and Why is this such a challenge?
Here's an article about some titles that have been developed so far in attempt to tackle the challenge.
Quick fix: Pinkify it?
First, let's start out with some statistics. According to the interesting and oft-surprising 2010 essential facts about the computer and video game industry, 40% of video game players are female (42% for online), as well as 46% of video game BUYERS. That's a pretty huge market that supposedly most developers are currently ignoring or misjudging. Of frequent (hardcore?) gamers, males have been playing for 13 years, while females have for 10. A supplementary stat are parents: 48% of parents play video and computer games with their children at least weekly. I would be guessing that a higher percentage of this amount would be women as well.
To interpret the numbers, midway through the report is a list of the top 20 selling video (console) games of 2009. I'm seeing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 at number 1, New Super Mario Bros, Wii Sports, another Call of Duty, Halo 3, Madden NFL, Assassin's Creed, Left 4 Dead, UFC 2009, Resident Evil 5, other mario franchises, Pokemon. All of these titles, to those familiar, are obviously marketed towards males. But somehow, the number of female buyers is still 46%.
(I'm sure this isn't the whole picture. Mature rated games tend to be lower in selection, with just a few titles dominating the niche and generating large sales, while there are a wider variety of "e" rated games. And we don't know what portion of the 46% of women buyers are mothers getting games for their kids.)
Before proceeding though, what may lower the credibility of these statistics is the huge discrepancy in that data, and that provided by Nintendo here. According to these statistics, female gamers make up only 25% of the market (1:3)? And here I'd thought the wii was more popular among women than other consoles because of the exercise opportunities it offered...
A lot has been written on what video game publishers (including all whose stocks I'm following: ATVI, ERTS, and SNDA) should do to reach more women.
For kids: The setup below makes me cringe... I suspect the majority of designers/developers for these games were NOT women. (I just had to laugh at the top part.)
(Aside from trying to "separate" girls out and/or pit them against boys, what bothers me about this rack is what in my opinion is less creativity. If you look closely at the titles, they all appear to be rehashed from movies and television. I'm seeing "Raven," "Hillary duff," "the Little mermaid," the word "cooking", some other girl band, and Bratz. My problem with these types of games is that none of them really provide alternative and immersive worlds. The beauty of games in my opinion is that they allow you to often explore other planets and other realities, but these games appear to be stuck on earth, albeit a very pink and "popish" one.)
To quote one of my articles: "Don't develop a video game version of The Devil Wears Prada and then complain when it doesn't sell".
I personally think younger girls want their own strange and "exotic" worlds to explore as much as boys. Perhaps not as dirty and gritty, perhaps not even as violent, but just as CREATIVE and IMMERSIVE. I don't think rehashing the pop culture they're already bombarded with will attract any more players.
Have I overestimated the female desire for fantasy, or is the current market missing the mark?
I've heard a game concept artist Jason Chan say that creating female characters for teen/adult games is a challenging balance. They have to be strong and aggressive enough to appeal to female gamers, but have to be sexy enough to appeal to males. And clearly the latter seems to be a higher priority in many games.
And for teens/adults: Who is Lara really being marketed to?
Not to be forgotten is the percentage of female game artists and designers, which is 5%-10% (though growing), less than many better-known professions with high gender gaps. This, however, has been attributed to less interest.
So this turns into a chicken or the egg question: What's coming first: Will an increasing amount of female game designers bring new ideas and perspective to the table and make games more appealing to female players, or will growing female consumer interest drive more women to work as game designers?
I think it's obvious what the conclusion is though. Whoever gets this balance right stands to gain a LOT.