Girls and Gaming: Who is the Average Gamer?

It may be shock to fans of stereotypes around the world, but a recent study has revealed that the average gamer is within a demographic segment that no one would have guessed.  The results of the study came from a sample size of 2,000 respondents and it demonstrated that, rather than the average gamer being a 12-year-old kid, locked in to their bedroom gaming setup, the most common type of gamer is actually a 35-year-old with a family and a job.  It was also found that the average players as a tendency to take just four weeks to complete a title.

The results of this study may be surprising to most, but should not appear particularly extraordinary to gamers and those familiar with the gaming community.  One of the reasons for this result is that gaming has become a costly hobby to maintain.  That is, to remain up-to-date with the latest consoles, equipment, games and download packs requires quite a cash outlay.  Whereas a game used to cost about £15/£20, it is not uncommon to pay £45 for a game and then another £45 on downloadable content over the course of one year.

The study, commissioned by Pixwoo, also found another interesting statistic. Perhaps one of the most essential facts about the computer and video game industrymoving forward is that women are just as likely to play computer games as men.  If this is the case, there is a huge market just waiting to be tapped into.

There were also some other, possible insignificant details found from the study.  Apparently, the average game stays awake until 10.58pm playing games, except for those ‘special circumstances’, there the game requires you to stay awake until 1.12pm.

Another angle the study took was regarding social functionality.  It was found that gaming was attributed to being the source of two quarrels with a partner per week, 15% of which have been the direct consequence of something gaming related.  Gaming was seen to be a better influence on online friendships, with a gamer’s social groups including around five online gaming friends.  Interestingly, 29% of these online friendships led to real-life meetings.

It has to be noted that it is obvious that the purpose of the poll was as a promotional tool for a social network.  However, it is nice to see a study which shows games to be social and integrated members of society.

One of the main reasons why people generally have an incorrect (male-focussed) stereotype of gamers is due to the success of various male-oriented games.  If you think Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto and Fifa, you will get the idea.  These games, although not designed specifically for male players, tend to be more appealing to the male population.  Think about Fifa; males are more interested in football, in general, and this is consequently lead to a much higher interest in football-based games from males than from females.  Similarly, ‘first-person shooters’ such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are also more sought after by male players due to the violent and war/gang-themed nature of the games. There are many other games which ‘happen’ to be particularly attractive to males.  Guitar Hero is an interesting one to think about.  Music obviously appeals to males and females alike and in this way, it should be of equal interest between the sexes.  However, the fact that most of the songs featured in the game are from rock-based genres means that the game is far more popular amongst male gamers.

The first game made which was equally popular among females as it was amongst males is The Sims, and this was the game that started to counter the girl gaming stereotypes. This game has proved to be extremely popular for the 13 years of its existence.  Games in the series are still being released, with the latest addition being launched in June 2013.  In these games, players must establish a virtual life, including work, sleep, eating, relationships and other lifestyle factors.  These are all areas of life which appeal to everyone, regardless of their gender, and this is the reason why the Sims has been such a huge success over the years.  It has been a strong force in increasing the amount of online gaming among tween girls.

Another game which has bucked the trend of gamers being male only is the launch of various fitness-based games.  One of these which launched on Nintendo’s latest platform is Wii Fit, an interactive fitness game which makes players work out and complete various aerobic and cardiovascular activities along with the game.  These games are very popular as they provide an incentive for people to exercise and get fitter at home.  Given females’ interest in health and fitness, these games have been found to be far more popular amongst girl gamers, and this has contributed significantly to the increasing in the overall portion of females in the gaming population.

Girls and Games

The complex relationship between video games and women is one which has been the focus of much academic, social and corporate attention.  And as previously mentioned, female gamers are by no means an insignificant segment of the overall market.  In 2012, a study on sales, demographic and usage data found that 47% of all gamers were female.  This is contrasting to the traditional image of girl gamers, which have been seen to make up a distinct minority of the gaming population.  The reality is that the proportion of female gamers is increasing every day and this is mainly attributable to social gaming.

There are many advocates who stress the importance of increasing the number of girl gamers, outlining the issues linked to the disenfranchisement of females from a rapidly-growing cultural sector.  There is also the issue of the largely-untapped female gaming market.  Efforts to push larger female participation in gaming have looked at the problems associated with gendered marketing, social stereotypes and the lack of female software developers.  There has been some debate regarding whether female-targeted games should be launched in parallel with male-targeted games, or whether we should go for the ultimate goal of having only gender-neutral games.

One of the main contributing factors towards the shift in the male to female gamer ratio is the surge of social games.  This trend has been allowed by the development of many Facebook applications, mobile app technology and wireless internet speeds.  These three trends have allowed social games to thrive and it appears that this ‘social’ element is more appealing to the female gaming population. A recent study, commissioned by PopCap Games (developers of the well-known Bejewelled games) used a sample of 5,000 mobile gamers and found that women were more likely to play a social game multiple times per day.

Another emerging sector which has proved to be extremely popular amongst the female gamers is the online bingo market.  There were merely handfuls of bingo sites about five years ago and today, there are over 400 new bingo sites providing online bingo to UK players!  The game of bingo has always attracted a more feminine player base and this is exactly the same for the online version.  It is the social factor which appeals most to women.  Nearly all sites allow players the function of chatting with fellow players during and between games.  This creates more of a social community than in most other forms of gaming, which females love.

Another recent movement in the industry, again relating to the development of smartphones and internet technology, is the launch of mobile bingo sites.  This allows players to participate a game regardless of where they are.  As smartphones continue to increase in use and popularity over desktop computers and laptops, this sector will continue to grow to a hugely significant size.  Whether on mobile phones or other computing devices, people can play games on Facebook.  Playing bingo on Facebookallows players to communicate with and share their game results with existing friends. It also allows player to invite other friends to participate in the game.

It seems as though these more social, Facebook-linked games are the ones which appeal most to the female sector, and are a strong influence in the rise of female gamers.  The recent mobile release Candy Crush is one of the highest grossing apps of all time and is particularly popular amongst females due to its girl-orientated aesthetic and design (through the use of bright colours and bubble shapes etc.)  This app was grossing $48,000 per day at one point, which demonstrates the number of people playing the game!

How to Make Good Video Games for Girls

Brenda Laurel is one of the main advocates for gaming for girls.  The businesswomen started Purple Moon in 1996 and over the course of six years and the spending of $40 million on research, they produced eight video games.  During this process, they interviewed thousands of kids, boys and girls alike, to find out what children really want.  Prior to 1996, where pioneer extraordinaire in human-computer interaction fields, Brenda Laurel, launched her business, the true voice of the kids was not being heard.

It was not that there was a lack of study into the gaming habits and desires of children, but more that the millions of young boys were far more visible to the researchers than the female kids, which make them the primary demographic.  The studies approach the topic of girl gamers with the preconception that girls simply don’t like technology,or gaming.  However, this attitude was quickly proved wrong with the launch of games such as Barbie Fashion Designer, as well as Purple Moon’s Rockett Movado, which had a solid popularity.

Despite all this, companies such as Purple Moon disappeared and people begun to question whether games for girls should actually exist.  This is still a common topic of conversation today. 

When Brenda Laurel set out in 1995 to instigate an industry which listened to what girls had to say, she had high aspirations (according to her manual on social positive work, Utopian Entrepreneur).  Her issue when approaching the industry was that it is a product-drive market and her approach to it was more social. She did not, at any point, expect the games she was putting forward to be popular amongst a room of executives. Instead, her main aim was to make a difference. She was hoping to nurture and engage with young women in a positive way, creating a culture which helped to shape values and inform people. She found that the existing industry seemed more focussed on making digital explosions.

Laurel thought that it would be more of an inclusive industry, and would act as a way for girls to gain interest in technology fields, which is not commonly seen.  The only issue with her plan was that social responsibility is not exactly lucrative.  The protagonist tells in her book how she has lost several jobs for suggesting that games should be focussed on things other than fighting and shooting.  It was until she was given a chance by Interval Research Corporation which allowed her to get involved in establishing the feasibility of developing a non-hypermasculine game.

In the mid-nineties, the video game market was saturated.  Companies such as Sega, Nintendo and Sony had taken charge of the console market, leaving the personal computer gaming market free to enter.  The question was, how could they create something that young girls would take an interest in?  Purple Moon put together the follow research questions: Why are girls not playing games, and how can games be made for them?  In the past, most research studies about young gamers were full of presumptions about female behaviour.

Eventually, BarbieFashion Designer, which turned out to be one of the best-selling games the year it was launched.  Years down the line, with the rise of social gaming and game sites for girls, such as online bingo, the situation for Brenda Laurel and female is beginning to look a lot more promising!



Published on October 14, 2012 at 8:40 am
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