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GCDC Panel Tackles Women In Games

At the 2007 GCDC, the "Women in Games" panel featured Avaloop (Papermint) lead artist Dr. Barbara Lippe, Pixeltamer portal co-founder Jasmin Kassner, Comcast Games VP and GM Jennifer MacLean, and Her Interactive (Nancy Drew) President and CE

August 22, 2007

7 Min Read

Author: by Rene Sickel, Leigh Alexander

A "Women in Games" panel at the 2007 GCDC featured high-profile female game executives discussing how to meet the needs of female gamers and deliver unique experiences for all. Kohnke Communications' Eddiemae Jukes moderated, and Avaloop (Papermint) lead artist Dr. Barbara Lippe, Pixeltamer portal co-founder Jasmin Kassner, Comcast Games VP and GM Jennifer MacLean, and Her Interactive (Nancy Drew) President and CEO Megan Gaiser participated. The panel opened with a discussion on the evolution of games for girls and women. "When we started, there was nothing but Barbie games, but our games were refused by every publisher, because they said girls are computer-phobic," Gaiser recalled. "So we decided to self-publish on Amazon, and luckily the sales were good. The New York Times called us the 'Un-Barbie' of the games industry and then the publishers came back, because money talks." "I never worked on a game that was only for girls, but Civilization was very popular with women," MacLean said. "Games like The Sims or GTA, where you can experiment and have this sandbox character, are good, [and] don't try to dictate how you play." "Often, with games that are colorful and cute, people assume that they must be for women," Lippe added. "A diverse game produced by a diverse team can appeal to a much broader audience. It doesn't depend on your gender, but on things like experience and how you are brought up." "Why is there a female league in CounterStrike?" Kassner wondered. "All this segregation in games, I think a game should not be targeted based on gender." "When we started in 1970 everybody said, make it in pink, then all the girls will come," agreed Gaiser. "But in any medium, we have to satisfy every taste and yet there is a reluctance to take risk -- which we have to shatter to create genres which aren't even there yet." "Pink is more a marketing instrument," theorized Lippe. "In a toy store, a girl would immediately find 'their' stuff and stay away from all the blue GI Joe stuff." "The marketing is really key," agreed MacLean, discussing female archetypes in games. "You see barely clothed women, but if [you've ever worn] high-heels, you know you can't fight some guy that way. That turns girls off." What do women find appealing in games? "I did research with 50 women and 90 percent responded: 'What we want is more attractive guys in games,'" explains Lippe. "In Japan, there is a special market segment with merchandise and stuff." "We do have the hearty guys in Nancy Drew," Gaiser says, adding: "The freedom to freely explore, a strong storyline and the solving of conflict in a non-aggressive way is important." Discussing less-threatening elements of games and how to make them more accessible to women, Lippe explained: "Marketing is very very important. Girls don't know about Katamari Damacy, because it's not in their kind of magazine." What role does age play in games? "Girls of the age 10-12 like horses, but later on they start liking boys," Lippe said. "So at that age it's difficult to target them, because it's difficult to put romance in games. That's when they stop playing with computers." "I think its more the brand than the age," suggested Gaiser. "Nancy Drew is really an icon for American women, so they started buying it for their children. I think it's a good thing to have a women panel, because it's obvious that there should be more women in games." "There was never a question of gender for me growing up," Kassner says. "I didn't look at the marketing but at the content. Marketing really has to see that not every person is brought up in the same way. My worry is that with women in games, aren't we segregating? By even having this panel, we say this is a 'woman panel', and then there is a 'Black panel', and the Jewish panel..." "If somebody sees me in game development, people will recognize that I'm a woman, [and] make judgments about my skills and abilities," MacLean agrees. "And just overlooking the difference is making it too simple, because the fact is, we are different." The panel was asked how games might be different if more women were in game development teams. "For a long time, I've been seeing women try [to] fit in with boys, but now they are much more comfortable in the culture," Gaiser opined. "But unless there comes a message from the top, it's not going to change the culture." "The diversity and difference of a product really inspires the team," Lippe said. "We have many female leads, but programmers are mostly male. And they really blossom, they come to us and ask us to put another rainbow in the game, and sometimes they have tears in their eyes." "Our experience was that efficiency drops when we have women in the team," commented an audience member. Gaiser disagreed. "We don't find these problems with efficiency," she said. "My boss actually told me after hiring me that he thought they should have at least one woman on the team to make the others behave," Kassner added. So how to attract more women to the games industry? "I really think that great games are the thing that inspires people to be creative and make girls want to shape worlds," Lippe said. "It's really important that women already in the industry reach out," agreed MacLean. The moderator asked what can be learned from Nintendo's inclusive marketing strategies. "We found that we were wrong with our target audience," Gaiser said. "We wanted girls as players, but now we have women from 10-80, and 50 percent male players. So we put 'for mystery fans', not 'for girls,' on the box." MacLean added, "If you've see the commercial with Nicole Kidman playing Brain Age, that was very smart and doesn't necessarily turn off men." And what mistakes were made in marketing? "The marketing should not be targeted especially towards girls or housewives or women," Kasner suggested. When she was asked what her biggest problem as a hardcore gamer in the gaming community was, she continued: "We differ ourselves from other players by saying we are special, we are women. Why is it such a big deal? I think women in games industry is a natural digression. There will be more and more women. Just because it started with men doesn't mean it's going to stay that way." On the ways quality of life influences the attraction of the games industry for women, Gaiser said: "We realized after our first games that we are going to lose people." "That is not really a female issue but everyone's," agreed MacLean. "Crunch time is bad for your company, bad for your people. [Avoiding] crunch time is good for your company, good for your people and ultimately, good for the gamers." The women also shared their tips for women who want to get into the game industry. "Know what you want," said Kassner. "Just believe, and be self-assured that you can get the job as much as the guy who applies with you." "Keep your sense of humor!" Gaiser suggested, while MacLean added, "People of any gender will recognize and respect your passion, so be passionate." The session closed with an audience question-and-answer session, where a member asked what the biggest pro for being a woman in industry was. "We will see much more gender balance in computer games, and that makes me proud," Gaiser replied. Added Lippe: "It's sometimes a bit positive, because you get a lot of attention, but on the other side you are often not taken seriously and you have to maybe work harder than men." Asked if more political and educational support was needed, Gaiser said, "One way we can speed it up is in games schools. At Digipen we have an advisory board of 70 girls who have become hardcore gamers overnight. So that had a huge effect."

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