Emmi Kuusikko, head of product strategy, insights and growth at game developer and publisher GameHouse, says the industry needs to take a more diverse and inclusive approach to game design.
Today, according to Newzoo, women represent a sizeable 46 percent of the global gambling market and this number will only continue to grow. In it, female gamers represent 48 percent of the global mobile gaming market – reflecting the overall population, with 21 percent of adult mobile gamers being women over the age of 36.
These numbers speak to a significant advance in gaming culture and gaming audience, which has grown exponentially since the 2010s, especially in mobile gaming. In fact, according to Statista, the global social, casual and mobile gaming industry has grown by leaps and bounds – nearly doubling in size over the past five years, reaching $90.65 billion (£75.36 billion) in 2022.
Given that, we would expect the industry’s perspective and vision on this exciting opportunity to have changed significantly – not just in terms of marketing approaches, but in all aspects of mobile game production. And yet, where female gamers have adapted to games, game design has seldom adapted to female gamer behavior.
To capitalize on this opportunity, game developers and publishers alike must now adopt a player-first vision regarding female and male gaming habits. This means considering the behavior and preferences of female gamers in terms of content, influences and experiences from the very beginning of the game design. But how can the industry bring about this crucial change?
Reengineering the design process for gender inclusivity
There has been a lot of talk in the gaming community about gender and inclusivity, but little about how these issues relate to game development and design. However, for mobile gaming to be a truly welcoming place for all gamers, knowledge of different gamer segments is a fundamental starting point that must inform all aspects of strategy and design from the start, including gameplay, narrative, character, and critical entertainment aspects such as connectivity and social game.
The archetype of the mobile gamer has indeed changed. Women aged 35+ are now driving the growth of mobile gaming, and older female segments are also becoming increasingly important, and as a result, the types of mobile games targeted at women are changing rapidly. Games with a strong narrative, characters they can relate to and interact with, whose story can be similar to their own, and which reflect common themes in life stages and experiences are vital for female gamers of all ages today.
A great example of success is the mobile franchise “Delicious” with “Delicious World” as the main F2P game and Emily and her stories as one of the main drivers, which has now reached over 100 million downloads with almost 1 million active users per month and over 45 million US dollars in sales to date. And many existing fans have been playing the game since day one of the Delicious Emily game’s initial release in 2006.
Social play and connectivity is also a powerful motivator for women and those who identify as female. A community offering where players can share progress with family and friends and invite them to participate makes a game more fun and creates an experience that engages and retains users over the long term.
The Criticality of Player First Vision
Now more than ever, with ever-increasing gender diversification, every game product or publisher decision needs to be data-driven. This also includes initiating an ongoing dialogue with existing fan bases and communities that have grown alongside a franchise. But it also requires proper analysis of the diversification of cultures, tastes and preferences in the entertainment experience.
We cannot impose narratives, features, and content that works for one segment or culture on another. Therefore, it is crucial to build a deep knowledge of audience insights applied to game design. We’re seeing increasing evidence of insights-based, targeted campaigns that target specific genders.
Essentially, only through analytics can we deliver the depth of insights that can ensure game design remains relevant and on point for their audiences, and that publishers and developers can create agile processes that embrace the “player-first vision.” ‘ is at the heart of everything they do.
Research shows that women today crave “me time” but often feel guilty about taking it, and that casual mobile games with strong puzzle, storytelling, and storytelling content can use this opportunity for downtime, relaxation, and a important opportunity for women to switch off, recharge their batteries and have fun. So it’s hoped that in the future, maybe women will start balancing “me time” with “play time.”
Restrictions on gaming genres and platforms, as well as gendered social stereotypes, have all historically played a role in disenfranchising women and those who identify as female from gaming culture. But today, more and more games are exploring broader storylines and characters, and delivering the kind of in-game content that considers and embraces diversity.
Adjust studio structures
So what does this mean for studio structures? Siled teams and processes with a lack of cross-disciplinary collaboration do not work and with that in mind we need to consider and adapt current studio structures.
Having people from different disciplines around the table as one creative team is crucial to nurturing and inspiring the imagination of content creators, and ensures that artists, engineers, product developers and data experts are all aligned towards a common mission.
Not only will this build a long-term relationship with individual players and extend a game’s lifecycle; It’ll also create a loyal fan base that’s hard for competitors to break, and deliver the kind of quality content that really enjoyably and playfully engages audiences and creates longevity.
Diversity in talent and leadership within games
To really capitalize on this opportunity, access to gender talent and thinking skills is a huge asset for game studios and key to developing content that appeals to a wide cross-section of gamers.
Helsinki is an emerging gaming center due to its gaming history and a government push. Its talent pool is growing faster than other major games markets and has a distinct advantage with a much higher percentage of female developers and female commercial game talent, but we also see other cities around the world attracting diversity talent such as Barcelona, Los Angeles, and Stockholm Berlin.
With a diversifying audience for mobile games, publishers are capitalizing on an exciting opportunity to grow and expand the content they offer by introducing analytics that drive a “player-first vision” into all aspects of game design and gaming of diversification enable industry talent.
By offering more diversity and more perspectives, we can offer both industry and stakeholders a strong and sustainable future. By continuing to provide the breadth and depth of experience players desire, gaming and mobile gaming will only grow.
Going forward, everything we do must have a player-first vision from the start, and it’s up to industry leaders and publishers to lead that vision and continue to drive this exciting evolution.