Gaming's gender gap

A look at how the world of gaming can create more women-friendly environments that better reflect the gaming community's diversity

By: Anna Marie Pabellon

LAST week, a Scotland-based game development studio won the Bafta Games Awards' British Game category for a "mind-bending" single-player puzzle game that creatively uses photography to allow gamers to explore and reshape a mysterious world. Considering how male-dominated gaming continues to be, it's interesting to note that the studio's co-founder is a woman, and a Filipina at that.

As a further point of Pinoy pride, other folks behind that award-winning game — including the producer, two artists and the musician who wrote the music for the trailer — are also Filipinos, but let's get back to gaming's gender gap. It might surprise you to know that women represent half of all gamers globally. In Southeast Asia, they even outnumber men slightly (at 53 percent), but in the Philippines, they outright dominate: 63 percent of gamers in this country are women, according to the estimates of one video game market research firm.

And yet according to Deloitte's latest Digital Media Trends study, there remains a perception that game experiences and imagery skew toward the interests of men, leaving women still trying to look for their place in the video game community. In the industry, for example, so much money is spent on developing game experiences in live service games (LSGs). But Deloitte's survey finds that while nearly half of gamers who are men spend most of their gaming time playing one or two LSGs, just 29 percent of women gamers do so.

Twenty-five percent of women gamers started playing video games in the past four years, compared to just 16 percent of men gamers, and they tend to be more casual players. When it comes to the kinds of games they prefer, 69 percent of women prefer simple mobile games over multiplayer games; 51 percent prefer games similar to the one that bagged the Bafta award — solo adventures in rich, story-driven worlds. It's no coincidence a woman is behind that particular winner.

As the video game industry comes under increasing pressure to control the growing costs of developing blockbuster titles and operating LSGs, it may be overlooking a valuable demographic by not investing in the specific preferences and expectations of half of the population.

Cultivating a more welcoming gaming environment for women starts with addressing issues of bullying and harassment. Deloitte's study found that almost half of both men and women gamers believe online multiplayer games have too much bullying and harassment, but 30 percent of the men consider bullying to be part of the experience. Only 19 percent of women who were surveyed feel the same way. To avoid the abuse, some 59 percent of women gamers choose to hide their gender.

More than half of both demographics said video game publishers should do more to combat bullying and harassment in their games. Many LSGs already use tools to monitor and moderate text and audio chat, but integrating generative AI into that system could make it more powerful and nuanced when moderating toxic comments or rewarding positive contributions. Boosting this capability paves the way for a more positive gaming experience for everyone, not just women.

For companies that are running LSGs, the challenge is how to engage women gamers, considering they prefer solo games over multiplayer. Bringing in more brands and franchises that lean toward women's interests is one approach. The richness of the LSG experience — opportunities to purchase costumes and weapons for your character or participate in non-gaming experiences held in LSGs — opens up so many doors for partnerships with a wide variety of brands, companies, and artists. Game companies should also work at promoting and supporting women creators to further normalize women in gaming. One estimate of the gender breakdown of game developers worldwide is 61 percent men and 30 percent women. Deliberately working at equalizing that balance, including making room for developers who identify as LGBTQ+, will only improve the diversity of game experiences.

When it comes to what already works for women gamers — solo, story-driven adventures — Deloitte's survey found that these kinds of games have the broadest appeal. Half of the male respondents also prefer playing these kinds of games, which makes them an ideal vehicle for bringing more gender diversity into the gaming world. While many of these games already feature strong women characters, there is still much room for improvement. An analysis of 13,000 video game characters showed that the fictional men in these games speak twice as much as the fictional women. Getting these games onto next-generation mobile devices will also help reach a larger audience and, along with that, attract more women to gaming.

Advances in technology are only going to enhance the richness and immersive quality of games moving forward. To continue developing and producing such experiences, industry players will have to do better at tapping the lucrative market of women gamers. They are already in these make-believe worlds — exploring, fighting, designing, interacting. Developers just have to take notice and acknowledge their value.

As published in The Manila Times on 22 April 2024. The author is the Risk Advisory Leader of Deloitte Philippines.

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