In case there was any doubt about it, a new poll from the Entertainment Software Association shows that computer gaming is not just for the boy next store anymore. In fact, the survey reveals that computer game players are becoming increasingly diverse, thanks large to women, who now make up a larger percentage of gamers than boys 6 to 17 years of age.
ESA's research indicates that more than half of the US population plays computer games. And while men over 18 still represent the largest segment (38 percent), women 18 and older now account for 26 percent of the audience, whereas boys 6 to 17 represent just 21 percent. Add the fact that girls 6 to 17 comprise another 12 percent, and we find that female players of all ages total as large a portion of the gaming audience as men.
What has led to a wider audience and, in particular, the greater participation in gaming by women? According to ESA president Douglas Lowenstein, "This diversity is being driven by advancing technology and the introduction of more titles in more genres, which provide more entertainment choices for all players, regardless of age or gender." He also notes that the top three factors players cited when making game purchasing decisions are quality of the graphics, price, and 3D graphics content.
So how can game publishers reach this wider audience? Should they ride the graphics curve while developing more titles that appeal to women? On one hand, there's little doubt that males and females have dramatically different tastes in games. For example, ESA's survey shows that the vast majority of boys and men play sports and action games, while girls and women overwhelmingly prefer card games, puzzles, and board games.
Moreover, there's growing evidence that males and females are dramatically different, in general. The latest research indicates that even our DNA is far more different than previously thought. Indeed, based on newly discovered differences between human male and female chromosomes, geneticists say that the genomes of men and women differ by as much as 2 percent. What's astounding about this finding is that men may be more similar to male chimpanzees than they are to women (although this would not shock women who know me), and women may be more similar to female chimpanzees than they are to men.
On the other hand, despite such obvious differences, there's more diversity within gender groups than between them, at least in terms of gaming preferences. In fact, the ESA poll reveals that 30 percent of all gamers play at least three genres of computer games. What's more, even though players say they choose games on the basis of genre and technology, they will "cross over" to play any type of game, if they can relate to it on some level. "The most important aspect of a game is its ability to connect with the player," Lowenstein contends. "While there may be games with great graphics and sound, if the player isn't drawn in by some aspect of the game, he or she won't play."
One sure way to connect with players would be to develop more interesting characters and story lines. In fact, the ESA poll shows that this aspect of gaming was the fourth most cited reason for buying games, after graphics, price, and 3D content. Of course, an ideal way to achieve that would be to expand the types of game narratives and include more contributions from women, who now make up only about 10 percent of the game development community, according to the International Game Developers Association (www.igda.org).
Perhaps the best strategy for further expanding this $16 billion market is simply to get more people involved in creating games that everyone can enjoy. After all, while men and women may differ genetically by 2 percent, we're still 98 percent alike.