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SXSW08: The Female Takedown of Casual Gaming


A panel of game publishers, analysts, and investors met at this SXSW presentation to discuss the numbers and trends involving the female audience for casual games. For this talk, "casual games" comprises mostly web games and downloadable shareware games, and not, say, Wii party games or console downloads.

Parks Associates' Michael Cai began with some charts. According to the data, female gamers heavily prefer computers to consoles: female gamers spend an average of 70% of their gaming time on computers, versus male gamers' 56%. Female gamers make up 62% of the casual game audience, and this group, especially those age 13-17, play more sessions per month. There is less diversity among genres for female gamers as well: across age groups, puzzle and card games are the most popular casual games.

Sharon Wienbar from investing firm Scale Venture Partners led the discussion. John Welch, CEO of PlayFirst, revealed that 90% of the purchasers for his company's Diner Dash are female. Jane Pinckard, business development analyst for Foundation 9 Entertainment, categorized her company as mostly male-targeted, but with an eye toward developing more casual, female-focused games. The final panelist, Kongregate's CEO Jim Greer, said that his site is populated by about 85% male users.

The panelists then discussed the proportion of women in their companies: PlayFirst's 26% female design team (including designers and producers) is "probably 3 times" the norm, while on the other end Foundation 9 is about "90% male" with some women in things like art and UI design, according to Pinckard. An attendee asked if the lack of women in programming positions created a disconnect with the game design. Pinckard didn't see a problem for people on teams, but offered that independent designers with no programming experience may have difficulty due to the lack of simple game-design engines.

The panel then moved on to the issue of differences in play style. Welch said that part of what drives the different game interests is that women tend to want "everyday types of themes." If his wife tried World of Warcraft, he said, she "wouldn't even have a chance to assess the gameplay" before being turned off by the setting.

Collaborative goals are generally preferred over competitive ones. Greer related an anecdote about the audience of a bingo game, who began waiting until everyone in the room qualified before they all declared "bingo" simultaneously and shared the points. Welch described a Pictionary-style game called Inklink at his previous company, Shockwave, in which the players formed such strong relationships that they asked the company to make extra sure not to have any outages on New Years' Eve -- because they were planning to celebrate the New Year together in the game.

The casual game market was expected to continue to grow monetarily, the panel agreed, due to a move toward the in-game item pay model and advertising (instead of actually charging money for the game).

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