Friday, April 18, 2008

Gamer Girls, Next Gen?

A couple of articles on girls and gaming have come out recently, providing some new stats/info into the mysterious worlds of girl (and woman) gamers. The first is an interview (conducted by Diego Vasquez for MediaLife Magazine) with Donna Hall, senior director of Solutions Research Group, a Toronto-based market research firm that recently published a study on Women and Digital Lifestyles. In addition to providing a lot of interesting information about women's use of DVRs, the study yields some juicy info about women and gaming. According to Hall (as cited in the MediaLife article),
Seventy percent of all women played a PC game in the last month. Consistent with the reasons for the appeal of PC gaming is the fact that handheld game units (e.g., Nintendo DS, Sony PSP) are very popular with women. Many take it with them for a commute or definitely when traveling.

I should point out that women are playing more console games also: 38 percent play console games, up from 35 percent one year ago. Among teen girls and young adults 12-24, 69 percent play console games. Gaming is a growing form of entertainment to be sure.

Overall, the most popular PC games with women are various versions of Solitaire, The Sims (which just hit the 100 million mark in units sold), Bejeweled, Mahjong and Pogo. But you do see some differences in the rankings based on demographic segment.

I make a lot of comments about gamer demographics being slanted somewhat by the inclusion of games like Solitaire and Mahjong, which we don't always think of as "digital games" and which tends to give people a bit of a warped perception about the state of the industry, etc. But it's definitely important to remember that although they don't get the same type of hype, coverage and analysis as best-selling (and male-oriented) console games like Grand Theft Auto IV, playing computer Solitaire is still engaging in a form of digital gaming, one that we should perhaps begin to consider a little more in our discussions...especially if we're trying to find out "where the girls are" in this expansive medium.

The second item of interest is an article by Gieson Cacho that recently appeared in the Contra Costa Times about the "games girls play". The article includes snippets of interviews with female gamers and a number of game industry types, and provides an informal overview some "girl games" that are both currently available and apparently selling quite well among a female gamer demographic. Cacho's list breaks down into two main genres:

- Games based on popular movies and TV shows, such as Disney's High School Musical and Hanna Montana games.

- "Simulator" games such as Ubisoft's Petz and Imagine game series.

According to the industry reps and market researchers cited in the article, this "new" generation of girl games are also making a dent in the marketplace. For example:
"Games in the Imagine lineup were hot sellers during the holiday season and continue to perform well beyond the holiday window," said Shara Hashemi, associate brand manager on Imagine, in an e-mail. According to the NPD Group, a company that tracks game sales, "In December 2007, the Imagine games became the fastest-growing new video game franchise on the Nintendo DS."

Meanwhile,
"High School Musical: Sing It" [has] shipped 3.8 million units worldwide and "Hannah Montana: Music Jam" cracked the top 20 in DS 2007 sales...

Just like Hall (above), Cacho links the emerging (at least in fiscal terms) girls' game market to recent innovations in gaming technology - more specifically to the Nintendo DS and Wii. For example, the tween and teen girls quoted in the article express high praise for games like Guitar Hero, which incorporate movement and multiplayer collaboration. And the industry has certainly noticed that a more intuitive interface is bringing in a broader segment of female players:
"The Wii and DS are a great fit for the demographic," [Jessica Oifer, director of marketing for Disney Interactive Studios] said. "The Wii is family-based and broader. The DS is biggest with the tween audience. If you talk to tweens, the Wii and DS are on top of tweens' interest list. You're seeing that more and more, more than you (saw)a few years ago."

The article ends with a comment that the "My Little Pony syndrome" suffered by previous attempts to create a girls game market won't fly with this new breed of girl gamers....who prefer games with "crossover appeal". Hmmmm...do Hanna Montana and Imagine: Figure Skater really have crossover appeal? I don't really see much of a difference between these games and the Mary-Kate and Ashley games of yesteryear. And it sounds like girl gamers today don't like games that stereotype them anymore than they did back in the 90s. The more things change, I suppose...

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