Female Perspective: How to cater for the surge in female gamers?

The video game industry is dominated by male developers and games designers, but with a growing number of young female players is it doing enough for this important demographic?

It’s late in the morning and the office is still lit up. Jessie Ma, with 26-year-old, is still working alone on her articles for the recently concluded Overwatch World Cup tournament.

Jessie used to work for NetEase, a famous game company in China. She is in charge of some promotional work for NetEase games in a community app as well as reaching out to some relevant e-sports players.

“Due to the time difference, a lot of foreign games competitions are hold in the early hours of the morning within China. For timeliness, we often have to work late shifts to post relevant articles in time,” said she.

There are only two girls in her department, including her. The head of the department rarely assigns the them to evening shifts due to safety concerns, etc.

Jessie initially chose to work in the gaming industry because of her personal preference and more importantly, because she wanted to prove herself.

According to a big data report, the internet industry is the worst hit by overtime. Many people still stay at work in industrial parks late at night. (Image: Mitchell Luo from Unsplash)

“I was actually surrounded by family and friends who didn’t really advise me to work here,” said she. “At first it was because they thought gaming sounded not like a decent job, and on the other hand they didn’t think it was right for me as a girl.”

According to Jessie, it’s not just gaming-related companies, all companies seem to be reluctant to recruit female employees. “Those companies, they are worried about them getting married, having children, and taking maternity leave. Especially now with the introduction of the second and third child policy, it’s even harder for women to get a job.”

The department in which Jesse works requires candidates to have a good energy level and understanding of the game in question. The latter of which is a very important point.

“So, if I had the same excellent understanding of the game as another male candidate, I probably wouldn’t have been hired,” said Jessie.

While the gaming industry, and indeed the Chinese workplace in general, is still very harsh on female candidates, Jessie says she has noticed a turnaround in things.

“Two years ago, when I was applying for this job, the interviewer had asked my view about how their games could retain female players,” said Jessie. “I think the gaming market, or at least the big Chinese gaming companies, have noticed the importance of female gamers.”

Chundi Zhang, a video games research analyst at Ampere Analyst which is a market-leading data firm specialising in media and games etc., said: “Female-oriented games can be a gold mine that is waiting to be discovered due to the high potential of the target user groups.”

The number of female gaming consumers cannot be underestimated. According to the data from Fnatic, a professional esports organization in London, over 1.2 billion players worldwide are female which is 46% of the total.

At the same time, the spending power of female consumers is also very significant.

Love Scenario: The Producer with Evolers, released in 2017 by Paper Game Copmay, is a female-oriented handheld game in China. Within a month of the game’s launch, the number of installations reached nearly 10 million, the number of daily active users reached more than 2 million, and the highest single-day flow exceeded 20 million RMB.

According to statistics, in the first quarter of 2020, the scale of female game users increased by 17.05% year-on-year growth to 357 million RMB, and the contribution to domestic game revenue increased by 49.49% year-on-year growth to 19.24 billion RMB.

Cathy Zhou, 24 years old, is a big fan of female-oriented handheld game. “The art, plot and voice acting are all aspects I would look for when picking a game. But the most important of these is the plot,” she says.

In Cathy’s opinion, most women are actually looking for a sense of immersion when playing these games. Although there are many games developed for women nowadays, most of them have same plot with different cover.

Many female-oriented games these days are romance games, according to Cathy. “We take on the role of girls who spend time with different types of men, choose one of them as partner and go through different branching storylines.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. But a lot of the female characters aren’t likeable,” she says. “A lot of times the game gives options that simply aren’t what I personally want to pick, and that’s when the sense of gaming experience reduces, and I won’t want to continue playing the game after that happens more often.”

“I think some games plot designers are simply doesn’t understand what we need,” said she. “The more we play characters with personality traits like us, the more we will be immersed in the game and the more it will create a sticky relationship between the game and us.”

A wide variety of female-oriented games in mobile gaming are designed to attract players to download them through the design of the characters on the icons. (Image from Fangyi Liu)

Executive at Paper Games Company has said that what users want in a game after a tiring day is not something particularly deep or educational. “We just need to be attentive and serve the user well, so that she can enter from an everyday basic story and gradually get to the full picture.”

When they were making Love Scenario: The Producer with Evolers, there are 220 employees at that time, 150 of them were women, which is a bit of an anomaly compared to other game companies that have more men than women.

But this also explains why its games have captured the female psyche – after all, it is women who know women best.

The source of design is all about understanding. It is when knowing the user better than they know themselves that game makers are able to design a game that will retain the user, whether they are male or female.

“If you don’t play games growing up, you’re probably not going to think about doing it as a career. Now that more women are playing games, there are more women thinking about careers in gaming,” said Jade Raymond , the producer of Assassin’s Creed, at the San Francisco Game Developers Conference two years ago.

Jade has also said that, in general, only content produced by female developers can better understand the needs of female gamers and create titles that meet their tastes.

In recent years, a large number of female practitioners will enter the game-related field, according to Tencent Classroom, the largest online vocational education platform in China, which released its user big data report this year. It shows that there were eight times more female learners studying eSports and game operations in 2020 than in 2019.

However, there are few female employees in management. According to a survey from Fnatic, there are only 16 percent are women in the executive teams of top 14 global gaming companies in 2020.

Gamegate, the negative impact of this online harassment campaign that began in 2014 targeting women in the gaming industry is still being felt.

“We need a better understanding of the atmosphere and how these moments are created, where it’s difficult for women in meetings or standing out,” said Linda Griffin, the VP public policy of Activision Blizzard & King. “More practical discussions and we need a lot if men to be involved.”