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International Women's Day 2023: Gender inclusivity within gaming and the rise of the female gamer

GameHouse's Emmi Kuusikko takes a gender-focused snapshot of games: Where they are, and where they need to be
International Women's Day 2023: Gender inclusivity within gaming and the rise of the female gamer
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Especially for International Womens Day we spoke with Emmi Kuusikko, the head of product strategy, insights and growth at GameHouse. GameHouse's 25 year heritage in producing games for a female audience – and their ‘Me Time-Game Time’ mobile gaming experience – means that Emmi is ideally placed to explain the state of play and the road ahead to adopting and making good on inclusivity promises all across gaming.

The female gamer segment has soared in growth over the past decade. Mirroring the population at large, today, female gamers represent 48% of the global mobile gaming market; with 21% of adult mobile gamers being women aged 36 yrs+. In fact, according to Statista, the worldwide social, casual and mobile gaming industry has been growing in leaps and bounds - it has nearly doubled over the past five years, reaching $90.65 billion in 2022.

These figures speak to a considerable opportunity within gaming - a progression in culture and audience, that points to sustainable growth and a powerful future for both industry and players. But for the industry to deliver on this growth and to maintain it, a step-change is required in our approach to making games.

For mobile gaming to be a truly welcoming space for all players, knowledge of different player segments must be a foundational starting point that informs all aspects of strategy and design from the outset, including gameplay, narrative, character development and critical entertainment aspects such as connectivity and social play.

So, a significant shift in industry perspective and vision is needed - a player-first vision that takes into account diverse audience player habits, must now be adopted from the very get-go of game design, and this should include preferences in content and the full user experience.

Adapting design processes for gender-inclusivity

Where there’s been lots of conversation within the gaming community about gender and inclusivity, there’s been little consideration about how these issues relate to game development and design. Indeed, where female players have adapted to games, rarely has game design adapted to female player behaviours.

But the mobile gamer archetype has changed forever. Today, we are seeing that it is women aged 35 years and older that are now driving growth within mobile gaming and that older female segments are also becoming more prominent.

As a result, the types of mobile games that are targeting women are rapidly changing. Games with a strong narrative, characters with whom they can identify and interact, who’s stories reflect common themes in different life stages and experiences, are critical touch points for female gamers of all ages today.

Social play and connectivity are also key motivators for women and for those who identify as female. A community offering where players can share their progress with family and friends and invite their participation makes a game more fun and creates an experience that engages and retains users for the long term.

A great example of success is the Delicious mobile franchise, with Delicious World as its main F2P game and Emily and her stories as one of the main drivers, that has now reached over 100 million downloads, with almost one million active users a month and over $45million revenue to date. And many existing fans have played the game since day one of the first Delicious Emily game launch back in 2006.


Delivering a ‘player-first vision’

Today, we see more and more evidence of insights-driven audience-specific campaigns that speak to specific genders. Taking female gamers, for example, limitations in gaming genres and platforms and gendered social stereotyping, all played a role in disenfranchising women and those who identify as female from gaming culture in the past. But today, more and more games are exploring broader storylines and characters and delivering the kind of in-game content that caters to and welcomes diversity.

Research indicates that women today yearn for ‘me time’, but often feel guilty about taking it, and that casual mobile games, with strong puzzle, narrative and storytelling content can fulfil this opportunity for down time and relaxation, delivering a vital opportunity for females to unwind, recharge their batteries and have fun. So, perhaps going into the future, women will start to align ‘game time’ as a fun, productive and useful way to spend their ‘me time’.

“Having access to a broad team with diversity of thought is a big win for game studios and key to developing content that will appeal to a broad cross-section of players”
Emmi Kuusikko

With gender diversification continually growing, every game product or publisher decision must now be data-informed. Part of delivering this successfully includes engendering an ongoing dialogue with existing fan bases and communities that have grown alongside a franchise. But, also, in the proper analysis and consideration of diversifying cultures and their preferences in entertainment experiences.

Narrative, functionality and content that works for one segment or culture, won’t necessarily translate to others. So, establishing a deep knowledge around audience insights applied to game design is critical.

Essentially, it is only through the combination of analytics and qualitative insights that we can deliver the depth of insights that can ensure that game design remains relevant and on point for all audiences. Backing this, publishers and developers must create agile processes where ‘player-first vision’ is at the heart of everything they do.

Diversifying Studio Structures & Teams

For studio structures, siloed teams and processes with a lack of collaboration across specialisms simply won’t work, and, with this in mind, we must consider current studio structures and adapt these.

Having people from different disciplines around the same table as one creative team, will ensure that artists, engineers, product developers and data professionals are all aligned around a common mission with a broad spectrum of ideas to feed and inspire the imaginations of content creators. Moreover, having access to a broad team with diversity of thought is a big win for game studios and key to developing content that will appeal to a broad cross-section of players.

Not only will this establish a long-term relationship with individual players and lengthen the life cycle of a game; it will also create a loyal fan base, which is difficult for competitors to break, and will deliver the kind of quality content that truly engages audiences enjoyably and playfully.

Mobile gaming audiences are diversifying, and, with this, an exciting opportunity for publishers to grow and expand the content they offer can be capitalised upon through the adoption of analytics and player insights that will enable ‘player-first vision’ through all aspects of game design from the very get-go in everything that we do, and through the diversification of studio talent.

In delivering more diversity and more perspectives, we can deliver a powerful and sustainable future for industry and players alike. And by continuing to deliver the breadth and depth of experience that players want, gaming and mobile gaming will only continue to thrive.