I've often told people that about half of gamers are women, citing an Entertainment Software Association report that puts the number at 41 per cent. The invariable response: "But what games are they playing?"
Yesterday, Nick Yee, the co-founder of game analytics company Quantic Foundry, published a report that spells out which game genres are dominated by women. He surveyed 270,000 gamers about their favourite game titles. According to his study, women make up about 70 per cent of match-3 and family/farm simulation games' audiences. About half of casual puzzle and atmospheric exploration games are played by women, too. The gender ratio plummets when we get to first-person shooters, tactical shooters and racing games. At the bottom of the chart, a mere two per cent of sports game-players are women.
This is nothing ground-breaking, but the study has some interesting surprises. "There's a lot of variation not only between genres but within genres," Yee told me. Thirty-six per cent of fantasy MMORPG players are women, but only 26 per cent of World of Warcraft players are women. On the other hand, Star Wars: The Old Republic has two times the average ratio of female gamers. Yee added in an email that "[role-playing game] Dragon Age: Inquisition has almost double the group average of Western RPGs (48% vs. 26%). This 48% is higher than the group averages of the next 5 genres in the chart."
Yee says there's a lot of opportunity to attract more female players to Western RPGs and other traditionally male-centric genres. Developers just need to figure out the secret sauce. To explain his findings, Yee cites his previous research on the difference in motivations between men and women: "Genres with more women emphasise Completion and Fantasy (the top 2 motivations for women). And genres for men emphasise Competition and Destruction (the top 2 motivations for men)."
But in an email, he noted that this interpretation could be reductive. Genre and gaming motivation don't explain gender breakdown with complete accuracy. Yee adds that games with few female players often don't offer female protagonists or involve playing online with strangers. "Low female gamer participation in certain genres may be a historical artifact of how motivations and presentation have been bundled together and marketed," he said.
It may be the case that many more women would enjoy first-person shooters or sports games if they were designed with women in mind. Just think about how many women love Overwatch, which boasts a high male/female playable character ratio, or Splatoon, a third-person shooter with customisable characters and unique gameplay. I predict that, within the next year or two, games companies that had focused exclusively on cultivating a male audience will realise that having a large female player base will make their games healthier and more dynamic.