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TMCNet:  Video games increasingly targeted at girl gamers

[September 23, 2010]

Video games increasingly targeted at girl gamers

Sep 23, 2010 (McClatchy-Tribune News Service - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- It's typical to assume that most of the people in the world who play video games are male.

However, the truth is that roughly 40 percent of video game players in the world are female. In a fast-paced changing technological environment, the market for female-oriented video games is growing.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, "women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys 17 or younger (20 percent)." That may seem startling.
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While the days of shelf after shelf of first-person shooter games, role-playing games and games where the entire purpose is to steal a car, are not by any means gone, a new era has dawned; it is one where games for popular female icons are relevant.

Nancy Drew's mystery video games that Her Interactive produces are one example of these games. Megan Gaiser, CEO of Her Interactive, said while she knew nothing about video games when she first joined the company, she learned that it was about storytelling and making it into a game. In the Nancy Drew videogame series, players can interrogate suspects, navigate environments and have interactions with characters, all of which lead to ultimately solving the mystery.

Her Interactive is a pioneer company in the female video game industry, and Gaiser said the rapid growth of a female audience for video games came about because of the changing technology to more accessible game arenas like the Wii and Facebook. Therefore, the industry has attracted a larger audience.

In addition, Gaiser said gaming has "infiltrated" society; businesses now look to incorporate game products in their products and interactivity is popular in school and government work.

"Now, everyone's playing games!" Gaiser said. "And everyone's also going after the female market." Despite this widespread popularity, Gaiser said video games are still in their early stages; companies are still segmenting the market to address different preferences. Gaiser said it was dangerous to "pigeonhole" or stereotype what kinds of games girls like to play.

"It's like saying all boys like island games," Gaiser said. "Some do, but I think that's dangerous. It's a limited way of thinking." This past June, Her Interactive released "Nancy Drew 22: Trail of the Twister" and the remastered version of the first game in the popular Nancy Drew video game series, "Secrets Can Kill." The series' games take characters to new locations around the world, seeing different cultures and mixing fact and fiction. The games have been very successful among girls ages 10 to 15.

Gaiser said she believes Her Interactive has found success because of the teamwork and quality that goes into making each game.

"Everyone feels comfortable spelling out their ideas," Gaiser said. "We really did a good job of creating both a great game and also one that preserves the integrity of the Nancy Drew brand. The combination of those two made it successful." Likewise, Her Interactive's success owes itself in part to a dedicated fan base.

"When you first say Nancy Drew to most women, they'll bow down out of respect for her," Gaiser said. "The moms start buying the games for their daughters; they got hooked, and now give them to their girls. Now we have girls from 8 to 88." This is Her Interactive's 23rd game, and Gaiser said the Nancy Drew video game series is the longest running and most popular mystery series to date.

Nancy Drew is a name familiar in most households, because as Gaiser said, "she always wins" at the end of the story. Whether she's solving mysteries or being a regular teenage girl, Gaiser said she has inspired women to pursue their dreams and be the best they can be.

Gaiser said she herself was drawn to the video game industry, in particular in the idea of creating products for a female audience, because she was struck by the obvious lack in the area, as well as the prejudice in the field.

Gaiser had a career in the film business and was editing a documentary about political correctness on university campuses when producers filmed reenactments that made the women appear like delinquents, and not as professional as the male characters in the reenactment.

"They had the women spray paint their hair purple," Gaiser said. "I had to stick to wide shots as an editor to give an objective point of view." Gaiser hoped that through a nonlinear and multimedia venue, she could "broaden people's perspectives as to what women are, as opposed to looking through a stereotypical lens," Gaiser said.

Gaiser joined Her Interactive and began work on the Nancy Drew video game series, but after failure to sell the videogame to distributors, Gaiser said they went to the "back door" and sold the videogame on Amazon. The game sold well and Her Interactive received the attention of mainstream media like the New York Times.

Another unique marketing decision was made to avoid pink packaging.

"We believe in not just the stereotype but in creating as many preferences as there are women," Gaiser said. "So we decided to make it un-pink. It's not a girly-girly game, but they still came." Barbie is another example of a female icon in the video game market; after years as a classic "girl's toy," Barbie has emerged from the pink box and gone digital. While she is still decidedly pink, her video games are popular among young girls.

Perhaps more important than the mere existence of a market for female video game players though, is the fact that girls are no longer boxed into playing only Barbie-type video games. Increasingly, girls are engaging in games that were formerly assumed to be only for boys, like car racing, music and even shooter games.

Gaiser said Her Interactive intends to continue working with young women, in the hopes that these games will instill a sense of empowerment in its audience.

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