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Essay

Why Games With Female Protagonists Don’t Sell, and What It Says About The Industry


So, here’s a question: why are female video game protagonists so rare? Their absence is palpable, and we talk often of how we want to see more of them, but the why of it is typically addressed with generalizations about target audiences and a lack of women in game development. Penny Arcade Report senior editor Ben Kuchera wanted better answers than that, so he did what any red-blooded gamer would do — he found some numbers to crunch.

As detailed in an editorial earlier this week, Kuchera contacted Geoffrey Zatkin, Chief Operating Officer of EEDAR, essentially the market research firm for the gaming industry. They looked at a sample of 669 action games, shooters, and RPGs, all taken from the seventh-generation console cycle (that’s Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii — in other words, everything in the last seven years). Less than 300 games in their sample had the option of a female lead. As for female only leads…a whopping 24.

I highly recommend giving the entire article a read, but here are the highlights (emphasis added):

In terms of pure sales numbers, in the first three months of availability, games with only a male hero sold around 25 percent better than games with an optional female hero. Games with exclusively male heroes sold around 75 percent better than games with only female heroes.

By looking at these trends two things become clear: games that give you a choice of gender are, on average, reviewed slightly better than games with male-only heroes, but the games that sell very well are almost all led by male heroes. If you’re funding a large-budget game and you see these numbers, you see that you lose sales by adding the capability to choose a female hero, and you lose significant sales by releasing a game with a female hero.

But don’t blame gamers for this one just yet. Though 24 games is an awfully small sample, there’s something telling about those games’ marketing budgets. Zatkin found that female-led games received roughly 40 percent of the marketing budget as male-led games. And the reason for that, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is a story we all know by heart.

There is a sense in the industry that games with female heroes won’t sell. “I think that there is general feeling from marketing that it’s hard to sell a mass-market game that’s a female-only protagonist,” Zatkin agreed. “This may be changing greatly with mobile and social, where you’re expanding the audience, but in core console land, there’s a lot of marketing thought that it’s hard to sell a game with a female-only protagonist in a core genre. The question is, is this something that really doesn’t happen, or do marketing budgets get gimped?”

As Kuchera wisely points out, that’s a hard call to make, given the lack of data.

Female-led games do find an easier path to get covered, simply due to their novelty in the market, and reviews tend to almost as strong as male-only games. You can find games with female heroes, such as the Tomb Raider or Portal series, but there simply aren’t enough female-led games with strong marketing budgets to see if gamers are willing to pay attention to games that tell stories with women at the center.

Where do I even start? What is there to say? I could talk about how I want to smash my head against the wall when I think of how Portal managed to surprise us with a female protagonist twenty years after Metroid came out. I could talk about how this article made me think of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, a game with an intriguing, awesome-sounding woman of color at the helm, whose exclusive release on a poorly-selling handheld console I completely forgot about thanks to a lack of marketing fanfare. I could talk about circular logic and player statistics and gender portrayals and all the other arguments that have been made a million times before. But while I find the things described in that article frustrating for a plethora of reasons, if I step back, I know that this problem wasn’t born in a vacuum. This isn’t something I can argue from a standpoint of gender equity or good storytelling, because at its core, it’s not about that. It’s about money, and it’s about everything that’s wrong with how the gaming industry works.

What it comes down to is that the big publishers are scared. They’re successful, but they’re young, and everyone involved is afraid of losing their piece of the pie. The reason that marketing departments won’t give female protagonists a fair shot is the same reason that more and more of the games that do get the spotlight are based around Captain White Guy McStubbleson, defender of microtransactions and champion of forgettable stories on rails. The AAA studios have found their formula for creating mountains of cash, and like everyone else in the history of corporate entertainment, they see no reason to deviate from it. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of big-name games in my library, and I love a blockbuster spectacle when it’s done well. Big doesn’t mean bad, and there are plenty of games from those studios that I’d rank among my favorites. But while the AAA industry isn’t slowing down, they are beginning to play things too safe. When I think back on E3, all I can remember is lying slumped on my friend’s couch, as far from the edge of my seat as possible, my eyes glazing over as I watched the endless trudge of gimmicky party games and military shooters that all looked the same.

And yet, I have a lot of hope for the future of video games. How often does a new artistic medium come around, and how lucky are we to be right here in the thick of it? The reason I remain excited is because while the big dogs are saying, “Nope, can’t be done,” the smaller studios come back with, “Wait, why not?” I’m not just talking about scrappy indie teams fueled on ramen and love. I’m thinking of Double Fine, who asked for $400,000 in development funds on Kickstarter after publishers told them that adventure games don’t sell. They raked in $3.3 million. I’m thinking of Star Citizen, whose crowdfunding campaign page stated “traditional publishers don’t believe in PC [games] or space sims.” The campaign closed this week with $6.5 million. I’m thinking of indie darlings like Super Meat Boy and Minecraft, successes that never could’ve been predicted by looking solely at last year’s bottom line. Yes, there are plenty of indie games that suck, and yes, for every Star Citizen, there are a hundred more crowdfunding campaigns that fail. That’s exactly why the big publishers are afraid to take risks (though one could argue that indie devs have more to lose). On some level, you can’t debate that point with them. I could walk into their offices and spend hours talking about why diversity in storytelling is a good thing for gaming and art and humanity as a whole, but at the end, they’d just point to their quarterly sales report and say, “But will it make this number get bigger?”

And the truth is, I don’t know. I know that most male gamers don’t have a problem with connecting to a female protagonist (just as women have managed to fall in love with games despite the dearth of heroines). I know that most gamers, regardless of gender, would like to see some new stories being told. I know that the next Call of Duty would still sell a kajillion copies even if the single-player campaign was written around a female protagonist. I know that milking popular franchises dry and delivering the same thing over and over again will eventually drive even the most loyal fans away. But these are things based in anecdotal evidence and personal impressions. They aren’t cold hard numbers, and without that, the people writing the checks won’t care. So as maddening as it is to hear the blanket statement of “women don’t sell,” nothing is going to change on that front until a big publisher takes a chance and finds the gaming equivalent of The Hunger Games. Considering how long it took the movie industry to get that far, I’m not holding my breath.

But I am putting my faith in the indies, and the crowdfunders, and the few big companies that have managed to hold onto their souls (I’m looking at you, Valve). It’s no surprise that every female-led game I’ve reviewed this year has been an indie title. That’s where new things are happening, not just with female characters, but with all characters, and with storytelling and mechanics, too. They’re not just inclined to take risks; they’re eager to. The AAA machine is losing its appeal, and an increasing number of devs are choosing to break with it entirely (Runic Games and Peter Molyneux spring to mind). Which is not to say that the big publishers should die off. They just need a reality check. My hope is that down the road, they’ll look around at all the crazy, brilliant things the smaller fry have done, and they’ll realize that you only need two things to be successful: a good game, and the willingness to support it.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. She blogs over at Other Scribbles and can always be found on Twitter.

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  • http://floatboth.com MyFreeWeb

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Mirror’s Edge. And, speaking of Kickstarter, Republique

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    Or maybe it’s because it’s the game *type* that causes issue?

    I mean let’s look at genres where female protagonists are pretty common – adventure/point & click games (like The Longest Journey, Dreamfall, Blackwell, Gray Matter, etc.) and the Hidden Object ‘casual’ genre (e.g. Veronica Rivers, Samantha Swift, Awakening, Nancy Drew). They don’t sell well because they’re niche markets – someone who typically buys Hidden Object games will perhaps only buy those kinds of games, and the adventure genre has really, really gone past its Western heyday (though thanks to Daedalic and the rise in indie games, we are seeing both European and small-team projects really take off). Heck, one of the most celebrated designers in classic/adventure gaming history is a woman (Jane Jensen).

    Sports games typically focus exclusively on males as male sports are almost consistently the most popular. It’s men’s football, American football, rugby, golf and so-on that really, really make the money. It’s really just fringe or more specialist sports games that include women (e.g. many of the skateboarding franchises allow for playable women or even include them if they’re licensed).

    I think there’s still this reluctance to portray female protagonists in shooter games, particularly first-person ones (which tend to dominate the market in terms of Day One sales), especially in the West where we’re still trying to get our governments to allow women to serve on the front lines in the same capacities as men. I’ve found it’s really only ‘alternative’ shooters (Left 4 Dead, Dead Island, etc.) that allow women (on a 1:3/4 basis, I believe, i.e. one woman for every three/four males) to be played, though some games like Rainbow Six: Vegas do allow you to play a female military character in a contemporary setting. There was no reason why Far Cry 2 couldn’t have a couple of female options (you select a pre-designed character at the start, and there are women depicted as mercenaries within the game) or why you can’t have a female model in Counter-Strike: GO.

    The excuse I often hear is money. It costs more to design models for women, to animate them, to voice them, to implement them even (‘more’ relative to just males). It’s money and time they don’t want to use, because it could possibly eat into the resources they have available. That’s their excuse. I don’t agree with it, but there it is.

    I think some of the arguments presented aren’t quite… right, though. You go on to say that Double Fine raked in a lot of money for an adventure game despite publishers saying they don’t sell. Lemme put it this way. They made the money because they’re Double Fine, not because they’re making an adventure game. Double Fine are a cult studio with loyal followers and distinctive products. They need do nothing else but slap their name on a product. It simply proves that their name makes money.

    There’s also that comment about Call of Duty selling large numbers even if it had a female protagonist. Well… again, it’s Call of Duty. It sells because the multi-player is wildly popular. It doesn’t sell anywhere near as many copies for its single-player campaign, characters or any such thing. It has a big following. That’s why it sells. Valve’s Portal and Portal 2 sell because of the humour and, well, it’s Valve. They don’t sell because Chell is the protagonist.

    Mirror’s Edge, again, another great example of a female-led video game. It was a risk. It hadn’t been done before in the mainstream. No-one had done a parkour game, let alone one of the world’s best known and highest quality FPS studios (EA DICE). It had Rhianna Pratchett on the writing team, a little-known European musician on the soundtrack (Solar Fields is AWESOME, by the way). It was, really, an unknown. And it performed in terms of sales. It was a commercial success. It’s also a cult hit. It’s my favourite counter to the “Publishers don’t take risks” argument, because they do. Not always, not often, but they do take risks.

    Games with female protagonists do sell, they *are* selling. But there aren’t many of them, because publishers (or perhaps the shareholders) are stuck in this world where the average gamer is an 18-35 year old white male. It’s why we don’t have many black protagonists, Asian protagonists, gay protagonists. They don’t think they’re maximising a product’s potential if it has a “diverse” protagonist.

    So yeah. That’s what I have to say on the matter. It’s not *just* about the gender of the player character. It’s about so, so much more.

  • Anonymous

    it would be interesting to see if a major studio would be interesting in funding more “risky” games through crowdfunding some or all of the costs. Like, Hi, we’re company AB studios, and if this new idea receives 50% of its cost in this crowdfunding, than we will cover the extra a bring our resources to bear on it. here is a list of the features, if more than x get cut we will pay back the crowdfunders. Then they could test new ideas, but still in a way that keeps their stockholders chipper

  • Anonymous

    I have a few thoughts that comes to mind that don’t necessarily come into one cohesive point. But as food for discussions, here we go:

    - We all agree that there should be more female characters than there are right now, but what should the ratio be compared to male characters? I’m not sure a 1:1 ratio is realistic since action is the main genre of video game and there was quite a few periods in time where a female action hero made no sense and no period where a man hero wouldn’t make any sense. I’m pretty sure the 300 games with a choice were RPGs and choice is a staple of the genre. That leaves us with 369 games, 24 of which had female leads. If there was for example 100 of them with female leads, would that be enough?

    - I don’t know if it’s an impression I get because I started visiting this website but I feel that women geek culture has become much more prominent the last few years. It’s not rare that an industry has to catch up with social changes and jokes about sci-fi conventions only having boys in them were made only a few years ago. Hopefully, the industry will see that trend.

  • Terence Ng

    I get the argument about historical time periods, but you also have to leverage it with the fact that in these historical periods, even a male protagonist wouldn’t be casting magic at people, or running around leaping off of walls in a white hoodie assassinating people left and right. There’s a level of suspension of disbelief, and in some of those situations, I think gamers are more than equipped to suspend disbelief that a female protagonist is either 1) the pioneer in whatever she’s doing 2) part of some secret society that has long existed 3) or lives in a quasi-historical era where no one really cares that she’s female.

  • Anonymous

    You’re talking about games with a fantasy element to it. You’re right about those but games don’t necessarily have them and “realistic” games set in the past will always make the balance lean in the direction of male characters. The question is how many of those games are there and what should the final ratio be when you take that into account.

  • Elisabeth Day

    Someone needs to teach this firm that correlation and causation are not the same thing. Call of Duty does not sell better than Okami because of the genders of their leads.

  • http://twitter.com/antiavenger Mike Perry

    I was just about to post something VERY similar to this. Looking at the wikipedia page for best-selling video games by console (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_video_games), 11 of 16 on the Xbox 360 and 17 of the 25 listed have male-only protagonists. But six of those seventeen on the PS3 and ALL eleven of the Xbox 360 titles are in the first- or third-person shooter genre, bought primarily for their multiplayer. (Note: I think a main reason these games don’t have female protagonists stems from the reluctance of most real-life military forces to send women to active combat duty. Also, I didn’t include the Wii since so many of their best-sellers stem from LONG standing franchises that both genders love.) The remaining games that have male-only protagonists could easily be female with few tweaks (Rockstar games, Uncharted) or are Metal Gear (similar to above situation) or God of War games (based off standing mythos). So as far as these best-seller games go, the problem seems to stem from issues with real world gender issues that creep into what has to be the most popular genre in gaming today.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not a numbers game, at least not yet. I’ll be happy when there is a 3:1 ratio and we can debate about that, but right now, the numbers are so far apart that it’s too early to start on about “when will you women be happy!?!?!?” because we’re still too incredibly under-represented. Not just in games, but everything. Movies, TV shows, government. You name it, we don’t exist in it. Considering we’re roughly 50% of the population, you’d think there’d be more women around, doing stuff. But they’re not. That’s why you have to stop and wonder why. That’s the problem we’re addressing, not some 1:1 ratio agenda.

    Second, just because women don’t “make sense” in whatever oppressive time period you are romanticizing to painful accuracy for some reason, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a genre out there where they can. They can both be created. An historical game that embraces it’s oppressive and backwards thinking of the time doesn’t prevent a zombie game or whatever where there’s absolutely no reason why there wouldn’t be women actively participating, especially as lead. Hell, there’s probably games where it doesn’t “make sense” to have male characters. It’s going to happen. But if women were truly considered human beings with money just like anyone else, there’d be development teams making games on all sides of the court, not just one.

  • Anonymous

    I think you missed the tone of my post. I asked what proportion of women we should have, not when will women be happy. I want diverse video games with all sexes and races represented and, eventually, an homosexual character being hero of its own game. I’m a white man but I find that the market’s lack of diversity makes the medium poorer, not richer.
    I asked what a good ratio should be because I believe this is the first step to making things right. It gives games makers an tangible objective they should reach instead of the more abstract “have more women”, which could mean anything.

  • http://otherscribbles.com Becky Chambers

    You both make excellent points about genre. You’re absolutely right, there’s a lot more at play here when you look at it from that perspective. Thanks for chiming in.

  • http://twitter.com/RodimusBen RodimusBen

    To the writer of this article: I hear the frustration behind your words, and your points are valid. Corporations will always play it safe, and will not change a successful formula unless they see a distinct advantage (i.e. increased profit) in doing so. The only thing gamers can do is loudly let their wishes be heard– more female protagonists, more diversity in gaming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anatasia.beaverhousen.7 Anatasia Beaverhousen

    I’ve been a gamer all my life and the only games I’ve played with female protagonists have been games like pokemon, Alone in the Dark and Voyager Elite Force, which give you a gender choice. I kinda count Buffy chaos bleed with that too, because you play through all the characters in different levels.

    I really just want one decent adventure game with a female lead character. Tell tale games, if you’re reading this, that means Monkey Island sequel starring Morgan Le Flay.

  • Terence Ng

    How many rigidly realistic, non-fantasy video games are there besides war games?

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.truxillo Laura Truxillo

    After Wreck-It-Ralph, I’d love to see a Call of Duty game with a woman as the protagonist, with zero fanfare.

  • http://twitter.com/BrianBuckler Brian Buckler

    I give it another twenty years before things roll around. We still gotta wait for this current crop of 40-year old neckbeards to die off or leave gaming.

  • Anonymous

    Why “eventually”? I think right now is as perfect a time as any.

    And if you really want my opinion on what a good ratio is, yes, 1:1 is ideal. I can’t think of any reason that isn’t misogynistic why women would have to settle for only 3:1 ratio. We aren’t 1/3 the human that men are or only 1/3 capable of having stories about us. Same goes for every color under the sun.

  • Anonymous

    This is probably a moot point, but what about fighting games? If you look at a game franchise like Street Fighter, does it fall into the male protagonist category because Ryu is the technical lead and everyone assumes everyone wants to be him (which makes me go “boo” cause Chun-Li is my automatic go-to)? Do games like Skullgirls even matter? I don’t have any stats or anything, but the average fighting game seems to be in the middle when it comes to having female characters and they don’t seem to suffer financially. At best, you get like 5-6+ options (DOA, Tekken, Pocket Fighter, Soul Calibur). At worst, you get like three (the first Mortal Kombat, Smash Bros).

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    The Longest Journey and its not-quite sequel Dreamfall, Gray Matter, Syberia 1+2, Blackwell (starts with Blackwell Legacy), Still Life, um… that’s just a few.

  • Anonymous

    Sword & Sworcery EP also has a female lead. I actually didn’t realize this until they did their fanart thingy on tumblr (http://sworcery.tumblr.com/).

  • waaminn

    lol, never thought about it like that befroe. Makes sense I gues.

    Max-Anon.tk

  • Anonymous

    That’s basically what I’m asking, lol.

  • Joey Campbell

    It’s simple: narrative-driven video games are fantasy. You imagine yourself as the player you control. There are more men gamers than women. Also, men rule the world. How many women Presidents have there been? Generals? How many central characters in myth (Star Wars, Greek myth, folklore, comic books, etc.) have been female?

    The answer to the question: Why wasn’t Hercules or Luke Skywalker or Batman a woman? Is the same answer as to why most VG protagonists are men. The Hero’s Journey is different for a man than it is a woman. Even Joseph Campbell himself wrote about it. There ARE differences between men and women. It’s not sexist to admit that.

    Video games do have the ability to be non-narrative driven, like Tetris or Forza Racing. In those games, if the player needs an avatar to track progress, he can choose male or female because it doesn’t matter for purposes of understanding the story.

    This seems like pointless inquiry.

  • Rowan

    my thoughts exactly.

  • http://edwardsung.com/ El Sabor Asiático

    I’mma let you finish, but No One Lives Forever was one of the greatest games of all time. OF ALL TIME!

  • Canisa

    I honestly don’t understand why people still bring out this utterly insipid ‘realism’ argument all the damn time. There’s absolutely no value to it whatsoever.

  • Canisa

    Um, I’d have thought it’s totally obvious that nothing other than 1:1 is even close to acceptable.

  • Canisa

    No, there aren’t differences between men and women. Yes, it is sexist to say that there are. Also, the fact you’re a majority (which you actually aren’t, the species is 50/50 split) does not entitle you to special treatment.

  • Canisa

    Alternatively we’ve just got to start recognising that they don’t deserve to be pandered to and ignore them.

  • http://twitter.com/Super_Widget Joanna

    Shit yes!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jarys.maragopoulos Jarys Maragopoulos

    Ha! I get to the end of this article to discover it was written by an old friend. Best wishes .
    -Jarys

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    I think it’s explicitly stated in game but only really as “she” and so on. Can’t quite remember.

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    Actually, for a while the average female gamer was a 40-something woman.

    The average shooter gamer might be a 12 year old kid with a Napoleon complex and a foul mouth, sure, but the idea that “there are more male gamers than women” is a sweeping statement that isn’t entirely accurate. There may be a few percent more men than women playing games, but not necessarily the same *sort* of games.

  • Canisa

    I think the obvious solution to this is to place a tax on videogames with male-only protagonists that’s greater than the loss in sales they’d get from having a choice. Having a choice loses you 25% of your sales? Well then we’ll just take 75% of your revenue if your game doesn’t have a choice. It costs more money to make a female character model and get a female voice actor in addition to the male ones? Well then we’ll just fine you three or four times as much money as it would’ve cost you to add those things. Then: Bam! Egalitarianism is now economical!

    If people are doing the wrong thing because there’s money in it, all you have to do to get them to stop is take the money out of it.

  • http://twitter.com/seriouslyyouguy you guys

    For the duration of the inception and development of computer programming as a science and video games as a form of media, women were discouraged from pursuing careers, much less careers in math, science or engineering. What it really boils down to in the end is that the game industry is primarily male as a result. The developers are predominantly male, the publishing executives are predominantly male and their R&D still finds that the bulk of gamers are males, so it’s more of a feedback loop than anything else. That said, the situation is evolving and more women are playing games and entering the industry.

    Opening the article with an image of Samus is both ironic and painful after Nintendo retconned Metroid to be as sexist as possible with Other M.

  • Anonymous

    One word: testosterone. When the day comes that women like to war as much as men do, then the numbers will even out. I’m not talking about you personally, competitive woman. We’re talking percentages here. Even a non-shooter like Guitar Hero, what percentage of players are female? Why? Testosterone.

  • dumpmanagers.manager

    Final Fantasy 13 sold well, despite that fact that it was the worst FF game in history and absolutely terrible in every way. Female protagonist.

    Bayonetta did well too.

    The Sims series…

    Metroid Series….

    I can keep going..

  • http://twitter.com/untestedmethods Untested Methods

    The article comes to no such conclusion. If anything it says male led games sell more because of their marketing budget. It’s always about the money.

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    Final Fantasy sells because it’s Final Fantasy. FF X-2 (I think) also had female main characters.

    Bayonetta was something ‘different’, a bit like Mirror’s Edge. Also had good marketing.

    Sims sells because it’s the Sims, and is one of the few franchises where there is a larger women:men ratio (i.e. more women buy/play than men).

    Metroid sells because it’s Metroid, and because it’s Nintendo.

    These titles don’t sell because you can play a woman, or because it’s an option (Sims) – they sell because of their game times, their publishers, their brand names.

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    Uh, no. Just no.

  • Joey Campbell

    Canisa, you used the straw MAN fallacy and altered my argument. First off, I said there were differences between a man’s hero’s journey and a woman’s; further, I make the claim that narrative-driven video games are in fact interactive hero’s journeys and therefore follow the same patterns. To quote but a small snipped of Joesph Campbell himself:

    “A few differences: For women, the journey begins with domestic imprisonment and a release from it, called the “Fortunate Fall”. During initiation, the woman may encounter a choice between a light and a dark man. She often “discovers a mother” instead of “meeting with the goddess.” Instead of “apotheosis” she discovers some kind of female tradition or rejects her female inferiority. She realizes that she can succeed in her quest.
    In the return stage, the rescue from without often involves the heroine’s mother or mother figure. Crossing the return threshold is often a meeting with the heroine’s parents.”

    Secondly, the species is a 50/50 split anywhere in the world except for China. No offense to Chinese; your people value baby boys and kill baby girls. Deal with it.

    What *I said* was that men hold a majority IN POSITIONS OF POWER, such as government, corporate leadership, military structures, fields of scientific discovery, etc. Name me ten male US Presidents. Ten congressmen. Ten CEO’s. 10 nobel prize winning male scientists. Now do the same for women. You can’t.
    ~60 years of women’s lib in America isn’t going to balance out the 5,000+ year head start men have enjoyed in power structures. If it is indeed just a matter of having a head start; if it turns out to be something innate, i.e. what is known as a “difference”, then that unequal distribution will remain.

    You repackaged my arguments, making refutations for claims I did not make. But it’s to be expected: men are simply better at logic than women.

    Oh snap, you just got schooled by a man.

  • Joey Campbell

    Beyond just saying stuff, what is your source for these statistics?

    EA did a comprehensive survey in 2010 and concluded that males make up 60% and females 40%. The average age of a gamer was 35, gender independent.

    Isn’t “12 year old kid wiht a Napoleon complex and a foul mouth” a stereotype? On what basis would you make such a claim?

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    EA’s main footholds being casual games (The Sims), shooters (Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Dead Space) and sports games. That’s one female-dominated market and two male-dominated ones. In the middle of the Zynga craze, however, the number of women gaming increased by a massive amount (by a factor bigger than PopCap had ever achieved).

    And here’s some interesting stats and analysis from the ESA: http://www.geekquality.com/average-gamer-myth/

    As for the stereotype: Sure it is, but many stereotypes contain grains of truth. And yes, there are plenty of documented experiences of encountering the foul-mouthed, arrogant kids on 16-18+ rated shooters. I’m not even going to bother linking any because they’re just vile.

  • Sandra Bernhard

    The future of gaming is less and less about “the big publishers” of console games and more about indies that create mobile games. If you haven’t noticed, there’s been many console companies going under or laying people off in the past 2 years.

    Production costs and marketing for mobile is WAY less than console games. Console games needed very large budgets and alot more time to produce. Perhaps things will change with mobile?

  • http://twitter.com/Super_Widget Joanna

    Bayonetta sold because it had a Capcom sticker on it.

  • http://twitter.com/Loerwyn Kathryn

    Which puts it in the same box as Nintendo. It sells on brand power, not on its own merits.

    Though, of course, I think Bayonetta broke that mold a little as it did get quite well known for being a good game (I think?).

  • http://www.facebook.com/anie.witcher Anie Witcher

    The question is whether art is meant to reflect the culture we are moving out or the culture we are moving towards. A significant number of games are sci-fi and fantasy. If we are racing towards a female empowered culture then embracing the potential for powerful women by portraying them in games is certainly a step in the right direction. It is also important to note that, historically, there still were plenty of powerful women, though they may have been a minority. Sure I can’t name any female presidents, but I can name a few female heads of state from Elizabeth and Victoria, to Catherine the Great and Cleopatra. In fact, I would argue that when women manage to come to power, because of the severity of the obstacles that stand in their way, they almost always rank among the most historically significant leaders in history, but that’s an anecdotal argument.

    You are correct about the female heroic journey usually being a rebellion against domesticity. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a perfect example. However, if you set your myth with in a social framework where those standards have already been dissolved, there is no reason that a female protagonist could not fulfill the traditional heroes journey. An example would be the Irish legend of the Red Bull, which is stolen by a female protagonist. I can look up the details when I get home if you need them. Ultimately, the point is one of genre, as addressed above. The reasons you give match the arguments presented for why a woman won’t be the protagonist of a military FPS. That’s just not something we let women do in the real world, so it won’t translate to contemporary or historical fiction. However, Samus is a perfectly believable character with in the futuristic society she is placed in and other female protagonists could be as well.

    Your initial post actually wasn’t sexist. It was rooted in anthropological, historical, and psychological data. However, the closing sentences of your return post seriously damaged your credibility as they are not only sexist, but unsubstantiated and subjective.

  • Anonymous

    The author is pretending to care about this issue. If the author really cared she would learn how to write code and make her own game as so very many people have done before her. If her idea about female leads is correct she will make tons of money and if its wrong she will waste her time.

    Her inactions tell you subtly what she actually believes…

  • http://twitter.com/RodimusBen RodimusBen

    Hoping this is a joke :-)

  • http://twitter.com/RodimusBen RodimusBen

    Really? Haven’t played Other M. I’ll have to look that up… that’s unfortunate.

  • Joey Campbell

    Thanks for recognizing that my first post wasn’t, in fact, sexist.

    The last two things I said in my post were intentional rabblerousing. Canisa’s bais blinded her from seeing what I wrote. So I flipped the script: I made sense in a way that didn’t provoke emotion, then I intentionally provoked it. Hopefully to show her the folly of letting your emotion distort your capacity to reason. I’d like to think it’s meta-sarcasm. People need to keep a light perspective on all this. We’re debating on the internet. Nothing we say ultimately matters (;

    But your point about a hero’s journey taking on a different character as social conditions change is a brilliant one. I’m already thinking about how it applies to modern storytelling i.e. The new Disney Star Wars trilogy (Ep 7,8,9) will succeed if it takes into account modernity, but if they just attempt to repeat the success of Star Wars in 1977, it’ll fall flat.

  • Flaw In The System

    Im sorry, no. “Napolean Complex”? That means you know nothing about Napolean (HINT HINT, he was slight above average height for an 1800s frenchman) or short people (HINT HINT, there still fucking people, also women tend to be shorter, what are you implying?).

    Actually, Im betting your not aware of either.

  • Anonymous

    This post is unreal. Someone has too much time on her hands to sit and analyze numbers that really have no meaning whatsoever. Every time someone highlights an extremely popular game with a female lead, it is disqualified with “the brand/developer/series alone sold the game”. Well, obviously having a female lead did not harm sales for that particular series! If a game with a female lead fails to sell, I seriously doubt the female lead is the reason.

    I dare ask: whose job is it to correct this “injustice” to women? It’s certainly not mine. I am an indie developer, and I am likely going to produce games with male leads. Am I “contributing to the problem”? Sorry! DO NOT CARE. It has nothing to do with money or marketability either.

  • Elle

    I don’t see anything wrong with a man creating male protagonists, especially indie developers who are only trying to do what they love. No one should force any kind of creator to produce something more “inclusive” or “diverse” solely out of a social agenda. I get that.

    But your belligerent attitude about it? That is a problem. If you want to create games with male protagonists, knock yourself out! But at least acknowledge the imbalance that exists in the gaming world right now.

    I also feel it worth pointing out that it was a man with too much time on HIS hands that sat down and analyzed these “meaningless” numbers. Stop painting this as “all those women, getting hysterical about nothing.” It isn’t.

  • Anonymous

    And what does “acknowledging the imbalance” entail? Your dislike of my attitude implies that anything short of fighting for female leads in my games means I failed to “acknowledge” it. We’re talking about a creative industry, not a woman’s right to work, vote, etc. The only way change is brought about is through getting in there and doing it, not providing editorial from the sideline. I was belligerent on purpose because these kinds of requests to “acknowledge problems” feel like nothing short of intruding on my craft.

    For what it’s worth, I have nothing against female leads. Many of my favorite games have female leads. My rant spawns from this post simply radiating “conspiracy theory” against women in games.

  • Canisa

    Well how else would you solve the problem?

  • http://twitter.com/silkyd67 D-Dub

    You do realize that you have done what the publishers also do which is find an excuse for the success which then allows them to label it an anomaly. And if it’s an anomaly then that means it cannot be seen as a business strategy or course of future action. Film studios do the same thing when a female-lead film is a success – SATC because it was a tv show, Mama Mia because it was a musical, Bridesmaids because it had Judd Apatow. Success needs to be on its own merits or else we won’t be able to move ahead and just have a kick ass straight up video game (or film) hit that happens to have a female lead. (and of course as with film, they have to be good)

  • http://twitter.com/Rockybalboa211 Louis Gonzales

    I always thought that the reason for this is because there is a disconnect for male gamers playing as female protagonist. They just can’t imagine themselves as a female protagonist or they just can’t relate. That’s one of the reasons why most films don’t have female protagonists since young men are usually the ones who purchase movie tickets.

  • geminithief

    I hate, hate HATE playing as males in RPGs

    I’d rather play as a female because well let’s face it, I’m pretty damn gay and I don’t find males attractive AT ALL. In fact, they disgust me. In other genres, I tend to shy away from males. But there are some games where I have no choice but to use a male. It makes me uncomfortable, but I get over it… eventually.

  • http://www.facebook.com/courtney.odou Courtney Odou

    I cant believe no one has mentioned this but the Bioware games have had some amazing female story line options. Ignoring the ending of ME3, the female Commander Shepard is one of my favorite examples of a strong female main character in gaming.

  • Anonymous
  • Travis Fischer

    The frustrating thing is until a couple developers pony up for an actual marketing budget for female-led games, they’re going to continue with this self-fulfilling prophecy crap.

  • Travis Fischer

    It’s not really a conspiracy theory. It’s just the circular logic of business practices. It’s not anybody’s job in particular to put female leads in games, but it is important to know why there’s an imbalance. You can’t overcome an obstacle unless you know what it is.

  • Travis Fischer

    I’ve never understood why Broshep gets treated as the default. Jennifer Hale > Whoever the heck did the voice for the dude.

  • Travis Fischer

    Let’s see… Street Fighter Ryu’s always been the lead and always will be.
    Mortal Kombat, pretty much the same for Liu Kang.

    Darkstalkers, on the other hand, it’d be Morrigan.
    Soul Calibur changes its primary protagonist from game to game and is pretty balanced gender wise.
    DoA is pretty much Kasumi’s story.
    I don’t know anything about Tekken or Virtua Fighter.

  • Travis Fischer

    Beyond Good and Evil!
    Beyond Good and Evil!
    Beyond Good and Evil!
    Beyond Good and Evil!

  • Morgan

    Sometimes it is hard to keep “light perspective” when articles like this demonstrate the inequalities that women face on a daily basis. Sure, in this case it is just video games, which don’t ultimately matter too much in the real world in the long run. But the sexist stereotypes and oppressions are founded in the real world and reflect it.

  • Morgan

    If that’s the case, then it sounds to me like males just need to get over themselves. Women and girls are expected to see themselves as male protagonists and to relate to them. Why is it so hard for men and boys to do so? I think that is just a sorry excuse to continue with this ‘boys only’ attitude concerning both video games and movies.

  • Jack Baur

    What *are* the stats of whether gamers choose to play as a female if given the option? I pretty much always choose a female if given a choice because I either a) like the way they play better (Borderlands); b) am turned off by the excessive masculinity of the male options (Mass Effect); or c) really enjoy seeing women kick ass (Skyrim). Are there stats out there for how much gender-swapping there is in these games? Just curious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Todd-Jordan/1295574604 Todd Jordan

    As a 47-year old gamer who prefers frequenting alternative, enlightened sites like TheMarySue and GeekOut, it’s disappointing to see such crass prejudice (ageism, in this case) sullying the very mandate of sites such as these. Brian, I hope that one day you learn that lumping people together for ANY reason is a grave injustice to them, and a telling indictment of yourself. Individuality is the greatest freedom that we have, and to discount that ideal is shameful.

  • Anonymous
  • http://twitter.com/dragonflyautumn AKHost

    The DoubleFine kickstarter looks to have given us an adventure game with a shared male and female protagonist.

  • Anonymous
  • Natasha Tafel

    Ha! I so agree… Tried playing with Broshep one time…. Dat voice, wth :’)

  • Anonymous
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kyero-Fox/100001621959709 Kyero Fox

    Not to mention female protags are MUCH harder to write without them falling off a cliff and completely ruining the character -cough-Other M-cough-

  • http://twitter.com/MelissiaKuromoi Melissia

    I actually find women easier to write, but then again, I am one so…

    As for Other M, it was written by a misogynistic twat (Yoshio Sakamoto) from a misogynistic culture (Japanese culture, and now I await the accusations of racism so that I can properly ignore them), and it SHOWED.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ashley-Adkins/23321371 Ashley Adkins

    There is obviously a hidden market here for those with enough guts to
    pursue it. But they really need to get rid of the “sex sells” mentality
    when creating female leads. That’s what makes it awkward. Most of the
    very, very successful game franchises with female leads (or female
    options for leads) portray the character as relatively gender neutral in
    behavior and often in appearance as well. I mean if I was a guy playing
    some kind of action/fps game I’d feel alot better playing a female
    character that’s dressed/built like a hero instead of a stripper. Sex
    appeal is obviously a seller when the lead is male, but it’s a different
    story when it’s the other way around. I’m quite the tomboy myself and
    have a ton of male friends (including my fiance) who are gamers…. and
    I’ve never seen any of them refuse to play a game with a female lead.
    They do, however, almost exclusively tend to go for games with leads
    that are considered “respectable.” Mass effect 2 and 3 are a wonderful
    example of this. I won’t play a game with a poorly designed main
    character either. If
    there is an option and the female version is running around in a bra,
    chainmail underwear and hooker boots, I’m going to go with the male
    option because I think that the alternative looks retarded and I can’t
    identify with it. If they both suck, I don’t play the game (unless the
    storyline is just insignificant and the gameplay is awesome). The bottom
    line is that you’re not going to sell a crappy game, regardless of the
    gender of the main character. So don’t make it crappy. People will buy
    it if you put enough into it. These nerds at the top of the industry
    need to grow some balls. Anything less is an insult to the rest of us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/saso.gjorevski Saso Gjorevski

    Interesting article,but i don’t think so. My daughter is playing Margie at the moment,game with female protagonist and also we have tons of games at home also with females in main role.

  • http://www.facebook.com/xandermacleod Xander MacLeod

    I’m a man, and I also find it much easier to write for female characters.

    Currently making an iPad game about a woman trying to battle her way out of a fantasy world filled with giant ‘Colossus’ style monsters to metaphorically recover from being in a coma in order to to be with her son again. I can’t tell you how much easier it is to make her character interesting and compelling compared to her son, the male doctor or any of the other male roles. Too many games just make their female protagonists ‘sex symbols’, ‘pushover bland-Os’ or ‘hyper school girls’ – us GameDevs need to get on that shizzle and do something about it!

    -

    Let’s hope RememberMe gives publishers a little more confidence in female leads – and more importantly, that the main character is actually well-rounded and interesting, rather than ‘cliche’ territory … again.

    (P.S. My game is called ‘Voice of the Silent Land’ if you wanna check it out when it comes out. Probably around mid 2014.)

  • Anonymous

    I tried that. So far I’m still struggling to complete my first indie game, but I now owe my future grandchildren’s life savings to the college loan companies.

    Am I wasting my time? No, dreams don’t work that way. Would I recommend the indie route to someone who didn’t have lifelong aspirations of being techno-Shakespeare? I don’t know, maybe if they can get a supportive, talented team and a good budget.

  • Saga Meow Meow

    Game developing is an art not unlike writing, painting or any other kind of craft.

    And as with every art and craft, the developer has all the rights to make of it´s product, whatever he/she wishes for and said product needs not respect any sort pseudogauge of “equality”.

    Videogames and art are not a human right nor something everyone has an equal right to access or enjoy nor there is a need for it.

    If i want to make a game called “Mandventures In Manland who are you to tell me otherwise?

    You are no-one to tell an artist or developer what to do and much less to try and enforce it.

    Are we crazy or what?

  • Darth Artifex

    I don’t see how the “Lego” series would have an issue modelling a female character. I think they have a wonderful selection with Harry Potter, and the many women in it, though the series models movies. Perhaps that is the exception.

  • Darth Artifex

    Why is it they try to simplify it down to: A male wants to play a game as a male, and a female only wants to play as a female. As a gamer, if the story is that of a female, I would play that, if the storyline indicates a male, I would play a male. Why is it they think that females WANT to play female protagonists? Are their enough female aliens to blow up to satisfy the female component? For the most part, why is sexuality being drawn into most of these games … how do you show the homosexual aliens? The transexual aliens?