Bridging the Gender Gap

Bridging the Gender Gap
Feature Posted by Tim Rattray, Yesterday

Let’s just be up front about it: When you think of the typical gamer, the image that comes to mind is probably a single male somewhere between the ages of 10 and 34. Statistical evidence has backed that up for decades. Plus, one only needs to walk through the convention halls of E3 for about 10 seconds to see that female gamers and developers are a rarity in this community.

Developer Dancy Li (left) and IUGO director of business development Sarah Thomson

Yet developers have continued in their attempts to appeal to both men and women. Recently, as videogames have lost their social stigma and gone more mainstream, platforms such as the Nintendo Wii and DS have shown some success with games like Nintendogs and Animal Crossing. Accessibility and relateabilty have been key.

So where does the iPhone fit into this new world as it relates to this gender gap? After all, it doesn’t get more mainstream than a cellphone. But why the iPhone as opposed to other portable formats?

In Dancy Li’s case, the appeal is as simple as making a splash as a young woman in a male-dominated industry.

“I have never had such a great opportunity to express my creative thoughts,” she wrote to us in an e-mail. “And as a girl, I want to show that females, in fact, belong in this industry.”

For Li, 18, who developed the recently released Hopple, the decision came down to how easy it is to use and work with the device. In the past, game controllers with tons of buttons have been unappealing for most women. With the touch and tilt controls, it is as easy as tapping and turning. Throw in an easy-to-use software developer’s kit that is available for a relatively low price, and the decision was a no-brainer for Li.

“I am aware that there are many different phones that [incorporate this technology], but I see the iPhone as the most consistent [because it has] the best controls and mechanisms,” she wrote.

But Li’s presence in the App Store and gaming community is still a bit of a rarity. With so many independent developers springing up seemingly every day, women developers still are conspicuously absent from the discussion.

“I hope more women are inspired to get into game development because of the iPhone,” IUGO director of business development Sarah Thomson wrote to us in an e-mail. “Us ladies–I think there’s five of us in total last time I counted, haha–are getting lonely! There are some great women in this space right now.” Thomson cited Aurora Feint, ngmoco and Imangi as companies with women in development roles.

The App Store’s predisposition toward games of a “pick up-and-play” nature, with sessions played in short bursts, offers a relaxed approach as something that attracts not only women, but also “non-gamers”, Thomson said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by some women, like Debbie Eidelman, 31, a customer service representative and creative writer, who prefers games that allow her to play at her own pace. For Eidelman, those games include KenKen, PathPix and Color Cross.

“I like puzzle, thinking and logic games–untimed, with lots of levels,” she wrote to us in an e-mail. “I want something hard enough that it takes me quite a bit of time but easy enough that I’ll be able to solve it eventually.”

But perhaps the most important development that has come out of the iPhone as a games platform, in Thomson’s opinion, is its use of wireless capabilities for social networking purposes. And as anyone with a Twitter or Facebook account knows, the reach and appeal of social networking is universal.

“The tie-in with Facebook and Twitter to games was a brilliant move and has helped bring more value to men and women,” Thomson wrote. “I think this is the power of convergence we’re seeing now in so many ways.”

Relatively speaking, the App Store is still in its early stages. But the success of apps directed toward women as of late show that there is a market for them, and it remains to be seen how long women will remain underserved on the consumer side or underepresented on the development side.

For Eidelmen, the App Store’s appeal for female gamers will only increase as far as women let it, and that will ultimately depend on their willingness to engage the community.

“When there are more people in the gaming community, there are more people to create games for, and a more egalitarian environment,” she wrote.

As it currently stands, Thomson she said she doesn’t mind the industry being male dominated, as it certainly gives her a unique perspective as a woman. But she still expresses some hopeful solidarity going forward.

“Us girls got to stick together!”