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Initiatives To Get More Women Into Video Games, Good Or Bad?

Back in March, we posted a really interesting recruitment video from video game developers Electronic Arts. They showed a video game marketer, developer, and publisher – all women – talking about how they got their start in the business. We thought it was a really great way to show young women some unique career opportunities. And then the video was removed. We have no idea why but apparently EA is still actively on the hunt for women to work at their company and for them to play their games. Why? They may finally be realizing the marketing potential, but the industry still has a long way to go and not everyone is sure actively seeking out women for programming jobs is the way to go.

Peninsula Press points out two recent releases from EA, Mass Effect 3 (featuring FemShep) and The Sims3 Showtime (which used Katy Perry as a spokesperson), both of which they believe made a good push at marketing to women. They spoke with Robin Yang, currently a social game producer, who used to be a producer at EA’s PopCap Games.

“Even though we’ve made strides in the last few years, it’s pretty horrifying that we’re still under 10 percent of women in the gaming workforce,” she said. “I felt that the press side was definitely more welcoming because I felt people were more interested in my opinion [as a woman]. People were looking for diversity in reporters and perspectives on the content coming out, whereas in production it’s less about what I provide as a woman and more what I can as a producer.”

Metanet’s Mare Sheppard recently held a panel on sexism in the industry at the Game Developers Conference. “The problem with Women in Games initiatives and other similar programs is that they tend to address the symptoms of inequality in our culture, but not the systemic problems beneath them,” Sheppard wrote in an editorial that accompanied her talk. “One reason for the underrepresentation of women in the games industry is that women often perceive a lack of fit when they compare themselves to the traditional computer-science major/computer programmer.”

Peninsula Press writes. “Yang agreed, saying that encouraging education at an early age, specifically driven by more math and science for girls, would alleviate the career disparities and stereotypes later in life. Though Yang said that women in the video-gaming workforce can still face discrimination, the female gamer population seems to be growing. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 42 percent of gamers are women; female gamers over the age of 18 account for 37 percent of the game-playing population, compared to only 13 percent of males age 17 or younger.”

Another game EA has made changes to in order to appeal to women? Their latest Madden NFL release. “Last September, EA received a letter from a 14-year-old girl, Lexi Peters from New York, requesting that female players be included in the company’s latest release of its NHL ’12 game after she and a teammate built a team that ‘looked like men.’ Her letter was then forwarded to David Littman, a producer of the NHL game,” writes PP, who reported that Littman saw the letter as a wakeup call. “Peters’ face is now the standard avatar for female characters in the NHL game, released this past fall.”

(via Peninsula Press)

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  • Bel

    On the one hand, I think you do need to address the barriers of access to foundational skills that get women into gaming and the boys club that often goes along with programming.  On the other hand, hiring more women who are capable is going to help change the culture and create a more inclusive climate.  I think they have to be pursued at the same time.

  • Anonymous

    I think a major reason why women don’t get into video game development is the hours. These people are working upwards of 80 hours in crunch time, and that just doesn’t make room for having a family, or even a dog for that matter.  I’m sure there are many women who would love to work in the field, but don’t want their job to stifle the rest of life’s experiences and pleasures.

  • Anonymous

    I think the question is what constitutes an initiative.  The NHL series adding female faces seems a neat idea, more a acknowledgment to the ladies already playing, rather then a play to appeal to more.  FemShep also appeared to be a response to the women already playing, rather than an active attempt to attract more.  Yes, both were an opportunity to get a bit of publicity,

    I’d say the option to make Katy Perry the star of the Sims was based on her celebrity, and not because she was a girl.  Sims, far as I know, already has a higher female percentage of players, and didn’t really need anything to attract more.  (Ten points to the house of the first person who can remember the last celebrity to appear in a Sims game!)

    You had a piece some weeks back about a company actively courting female players by offering them buffs and weapons, and to male players to play WITH girls with similar…well, bribes.  That has much more of a tang of desperation about it – if your game is good, people will want to play it, male or female.  Making the female characters more…realistic? may well make female players feel more welcome, but it’s the other players that will have to do the lion’s share of that work.

    As for getting more women into the workplace, we may not see that happen for a while, as you kind of have to start a bit further back, and get the girls into science and math in the first place, as they mention.  Indeed, you could argue there’s a whole problem in the country (to a lesser degree the rest of the world) where intelligence itself is frowned upon.  I’ve heard WAY too many politicians say that wanting people to go to school is “elitist”.  And sadly, in many demographics, a desire to go to school and better ones self is seen as a negative, and people get branded a “wannabe”  So there’s still very much a “Math is hard” mentality out there, and the real goal is to fix that.

    Will we ever get to the point of that episode of Sliders where intelligence is the subject of fan magazines and paparazzi?  Odds are no, but I’d like to see “Poindexter” buried as a pejorative, for a start.

  • Tromeritus Rex

    Patronization is unnecessary; just take women seriously as members of the player base.

    Women (and minorities) shouldn’t be afterthoughts in the design process. Try creating promotional art and story arcs that don’t relegate the female characters to cheesecake or worried GFs/relatives. Make it clear that your “default” base for your design philosophy isn’t “straight white male” and different customers will come in. For Christ’s sake, Jade, The Boss, and Alyx Vance shouldn’t STILL be the gold standards, 8 years later!

    I still shouldn’t have to be surprised that I can darken my skin in a game, much less tweak a character to resemble me (Bad times, Dragon Age: Origins. Purple-gray skin w/ugly cornrows? Really, Bioware?).

  • Joanna

    “(Ten points to the house of the first person who can remember the last celebrity to appear in a Sims game!)”

    Drew Carey =D

  • Anonymous

    That’s a notion imposed by fiction; that women live and breathe their family, and if they’re working hard, they’re bad women because they can’t care appropriately for their friends or family. Thus, the fiction goes on, the woman must choose between their career or their family, and implies that there’s only one right answer. So what I’m saying is, challenge the stereotype that women need a family more than men do, or that women can’t be good mothers/friends while having a career.

    The real major reason why more women aren’t in video game development is not this.

  • Anonymous

     I never said family is the most important thing to women. The least interesting thing a person can do in their life, in my personal opinion, is have and raise children. Zero interest from me. But I’m not so deluded by my own opinion of having a family to think that it isn’t something important, or at least pleasant sounding to many women. And I never said a woman with a career is a bad woman. Thank you for assuming so many negative things about my opinion though.

    What I AM saying is that 60+ hour workweeks mean you can’t spend any time with family, and if you’re going to have a family there’s most likely a rather high chance you’re going to want to spend some time with them. Moreover, I’m not even using having a family as an excuse for why women aren’t working on video games. I think it’s terrible that ANY person, male or female, should have to work 60+ hours a week at their job. That makes it hard for anyone to have a life outside of work, and I think it’s something that really needs to be dealt with to benefit all game developers as a whole.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but you started off your post the “major reason why WOMEN don’t …” and the topic at hand is about the lack of women in the industry. Therefore, I assumed that you were making a commentary specifically about why women would not want to be in the video game industry. You really didn’t make it clear you were talking about all genders, and even if you were, it’s still not relevant to this conversation. If it’s true that you believe that there are equal amounts of men and women who are willing to not give two squats about their social life and want to work in the game industry, what exactly does your observation contribute here?

  • Addie/Annie D

    I’m currently studying a cert II in media and while I may be the only girl in that class, there are plenty of girls who are slowly entering the industry such as EA & others.

    It just takes time before you notice changes like this happen. 

  • Brooke Stenz

    ok i have a lot to say about this, i am a 23 year old female and have been playing since i can remember, and i play EVERYTHING! I got into school for game design but the $ wasn’t there and i would’ve loved the experience because life as a female gamer itself is interesting. Now, I think it is a good idea to reach out to different age groups and the interests of some females. And an all female NHL game would be awesome! But i don’t think anyone wants to see every conversion from what would be a “boys” game to a “girls” game. I don’t think computer science classes while kids are younger would really help though. Especially if it’s required. They look at classes as if they NEED to take them and can’t enjoy them, electives on the other hand are always enjoyable. From personal experience video games have never been the cool thing expecially for a girl. I can’t turn on call of duty (or any online game that involves joining a party) without hearing ”oh shit, there’s a girl in our party. Now we’re going to lose.” or something to that extent. Ive gotten made fun of all my life for gaming..and I have two younger sisters (15 and 10) that won’t admit that they play because they don’t want to get teased. Now I think sims is so popular among girls because you can create your character, basically how you want to look. Things that young girls are thinking about, makeup, hair, etc. Where there is the handful that want to play MMOs and first person shooters. I give props to EA for wanting to expand their female workforce and female customer database because I BELIEVE STRONGLY IN GIRLS FOR GAMING!!

  • John Cover

    I’ve been studying Math and Computer Science for 5 years now in 3 different states, and I can say that while they still constitute a minority, there appears to be a steady increase in women attending my classes.

    On a side note, is anyone familiar with the methods the ESA used in their study referenced here regarding the demographics of the game industry? Those percentages are shocking to me.