Call it what you want – casual gaming, downloadable gaming, blow off a little steam in the middle of your work day gaming. Whatever it is, however you want to describe it, this industry has a problem. We don’t know what women want. There are larger implications to that rather broad statement, as the male portion of this planet would be quick to tell you, but this is not The New Yorker, so I won’t get into my theories about how men have ruined the world and how women can save it. What I’m talking about is an industry whose customers are predominately female but whose content creators, decision-makers and purse-string holders are overwhelmingly male.
Men (for the most part) make games. Men sit in conference rooms judging treatments, pitches and design documents. Men write these documents and pitch these pitches, and men decide to fund or not fund the development of the games they describe. 90% of development teams are men. 99% of game company CEO’s are men. There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark people. I’ve been saying it for 15 years, long before there was a casual games business: We need more women at the grass roots level of game conceptualization and development.
But here’s the problem. Here’s what men say to each other when this subject comes up (and believe me, it does come up). The reason why there aren’t any more women in this business than there are right now, is because women don’t seem to gravitate toward the various disciplines that make up a typical development team. There are precious few female programmers, hardly any female producers and a paltry number of female execs in game studios. The root of this problem is that there seems to be few females who are passionate enough about gaming at a young age to enter the ranks of a studio as testers, QA people, junior programmers and interns. What a load of malarkey.
In other words, we are blaming them for their lack of representation in the industry, implying a lack of motivation or interest. But who in their right mind would want to be part of this fraternity boy’s club anyway? We don’t make any effort to recruit women. We don’t reach out to women (unless you consider our pandering slew of recent clones reaching out). We haven’t tried to figure out ways to bring them into the fold and make them part of the process and thus, we have tacitly excluded them. What we need is affirmative action.
This is going to sound crazy, but I’ve given this a lot of thought, so hear me out. Development studios, big and small, should actively recruit women game designers and producers from the swelling ranks of players and customers who buy their games. It doesn’t make a difference if they have any background in software development, game production, art or design. The only criteria we should take into consideration are their experiences playing games and their desire to be part of the process. In the late 90’s when I ran a tiny studio called Jinx, we sought out female gamers and artists, brought them in as interns and admins, got them involved in discussions, play-testing, and in the pre-production stages of development. Some of those women went on to great careers in gaming and animation production. I’m not patting myself on the back here, I could have done more, I’m merely making a case-in-point. It doesn’t take much to change the status-quo.
The best writers were avid readers before they ever took pen to paper. The best filmmakers were students of film and fell in love with movies at an early age. Great musicians listen to music long before they ever compose it. It’s not different for games and gamers. Now that we have a true critical mass of female game players, we must tap into that mysterious realm of experience and emotion that is uniquely female, and the only way to do that is to jump through hoops to include more women in this space.
I have heard many executives in this business admit that they don’t know what will work and what won’t. For many of us, myself included, it’s very difficult to assess whether or not a game will gain traction and actually sell. It’s pretty easy to get people to download and try a game, but the gulf between trying and buying is vast. The answer to this conundrum is not simple. In this writer’s opinion the one hour trial period is partly to blame. But a bigger piece of the puzzle may be the conspicuous lack of half this country’s population, and three-quarters of our paying customers’ involvement in the actual creation of the products we sell.
During the second world war, this nation called upon its women to fight on a front that was as important as any in Europe or the Pacific. America appealed to women’s patriotism with such slogans as: The more women at work, the sooner we win! There’s a place for every woman in this crisis! The touch of a woman’s hand… and it’s a woman’s war too! Remember Rosie the Rivetor? What we need is Rosie the Game Designer. Who’s with me on this one? Ladies, are you listening?
Vinny Carrella wrote and directed Bad Mojo, the 2004 Adventure Game of the Year and has writing and design credits on award-winning games such as Iron Helix and Space Bunnies Must Die! His debut novel, Serpent Box (Harper-Collins, Perennial) is due out in the Summer of 2007. He currently works at iWin.com and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org