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The PA Report - Gendered marketing, and the myth of disinterested female gamers

DogDog Registered User, Administrator, Vanilla Staff admin

imageThe PA Report - Gendered marketing, and the myth of disinterested female gamers

This is an absolutely killer story that looks at the issue of gendered marketing and the exclusion of girls and women from the world of video games from a number of angles.

Read the full story here

Unknown User on


  • AnxaAnxa Registered User regular
    I find the new Pokemon games to be a really good example of 'for everyone' games that are made for everyone. Play a girl, play a boy, some skin tone and hair options to get a closer approximation of a real 'avatar'... Thanksgiving it was so great to see my younger cousins playing X and Y, showing up to battle one of them on my 3DS, and seeing my cousin's avatar with her own outfit picked out pop up on my screen and send out a Ninetails (how did she get that?!).

    Young male gamers will always have developers tripping over themselves to make them games, but I hope more devs broaden their horizons a bit and make blockbuster games that don't cater exclusively to that demographic.

  • LGscoundrelLGscoundrel Registered User regular
    Man I really wanted to read this, but I can't be arsed to pull the actual text out of that psychedelic animated nightmare.

  • BrinkmanBrinkman Registered User regular
    Mary Kay starts their new line of Men's Makeup...

    It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. -Thomas Jefferson
  • JackdawGinJackdawGin Engineer New YorkRegistered User regular
    edited December 2013
    Excellent read, and great added art to boot.

    @Anxa - this is true, and to quote Homer Simpson - "I'm a white male, ages 18 to 49, everyone listens to me no matter how dumb my suggestions are." (Nuts and Gum, together at last)

    JackdawGin on
  • deteugmadeteugma Registered User regular
    UNinterested, not disinterested. Uninterested.

  • regtocommentregtocomment Registered User regular
    @LGScoundrel I thought the article formatting was absolutely awesome. The (also awesome) images don't interrupt the flow of the text, and they stick around while you're reading the story instead of appearing on the page for a second and then leaping up and away. Whoever designed that page deserves an award.

    The article was fun to read, but I was distressed by the lack of sourcing for most of the factual statements.

  • mrthewhitemrthewhite Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    It's an interesting story but you can't "start over" as you say. Once an idea is set in motion you can never get it back. The only way forward is to steer it in a preferred direction. Unfortunately that takes time and it takes people stepping outside the norm but we've seen that happen numerous times in the past 20-30 years. If you look back at the trend the boat is moving towards neutral ground, it's just a slow process.

    That's not to say people need to stop trying to steer it faster, just don't be surprised that it isn't happening over night. It'll get there.

    mrthewhite on
  • chispitochispito Registered User regular
    Good article, but I feel like it stops at 2005. Digital distribution is far more democratic, and for most of us, the most enjoyable games are coming out of Indy teams that aren't driven by the monolithic marketing of the 80s and 90s.

  • mrthewhitemrthewhite Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    @CHISPITO I think you're over reaching by saying most of us find the most enjoyable games to be Indy games. Sales figures still show that AAA titles are still blowing the doors off Indy games, sales wise. GTA5 is the best most recent example.

    Also Digital distribution doesn't solve the problem of marketing, it just eliminates one potential pain point that could be a source of the improvement we're looking for. I know my local game store, for example, has probably 40% female staff which could be a source of encouragement for people who are unsure if a particular game is "for girls".

    mrthewhite on
  • chispitochispito Registered User regular
    @MRTHEWHITE You're right, AAA titles sell way more. I was, as you're saying, over reaching.

    But digital distribution _is_ more democratic, because it doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all like the magazines and TV spots of yore. You liked Diner Dash? Who cares if you're a dude, here's an ad for Cooking Mama.

  • TyrusPeaceTyrusPeace Registered User regular
    @chispito agreed. I also think that the "generic AAA game" stereotype is pretty tired for a lot of folks out there, regardless of gender. We're seeing AAA games get a _little_ more inventive in general, and indie games get a lot more popular. I feel like there are a lot of great options out there now, and it's a bit silly to act like the top-selling "pop" games are the end of the story.

    A lot of devs are doing great work that's quite gender-inclusive. The AAA game development/marketing machine described here is something that's just indecipherable and weird. The whole doritos and mountain dew thing always just seemed like a joke to me.

  • TyrusPeaceTyrusPeace Registered User regular
    ("The whole doritos and mountain dew thing always just seemed like a joke to me." - not that it IS a joke... as the article says, it's a very real marketing approach that targets a specific demographic and generates quite a bit of money. It just seems to actively call its customers manchildren and has zero appeal to me or my same-aged acquaintances.)

  • MatthiasMatthias Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    @CHISPHITO If you look over the list of the 27 video games that have sold over 15 million copies, only 5 of them: CODBLOPS, GTAIV, GTAV, GTV:SA, and Skyrim are your traditional AAA dudebro games. (And Skyrim theoretically has plenty of cross-gender appeal.) The rest are a mismash of Mario games, Pokemon, Wii Sports (the best selling game of all time), and a couple puzzle games like Tetris.

    Matthias on
  • mrthewhitemrthewhite Registered User regular
    @CHISPITO Ah i see what you're saying. Yes I guess from that perspective the definition of video game has expanded in recent years to include a wider range of tastes and they have made it easier to get at.

  • marsiliesmarsilies Registered User regular
    @LGScoundrel I found a site that was able to convert the article into a PDF you might consider readable (by removing background and images):

    I tried a few other sites too, but they didn't get the full article.

    When did sites do away with the "print this page" link? That usually used to open a version of the page that was just text sans any fancy graphics.

  • psycokingpsycoking Registered User regular
    The article was an interesting read. It kinda hints at some of the other issues in the game industry: Games focus tested to blandness, and the inability to diversify due to marketing pressure. Ever wonder why so many games have eerily similar protagonist. It's because marketing thinks any game not starring a male white bald space marine won't sell.

    @regtocomment I've always liked the way polygon formats their featured articles, but all those floating divs and the scripts used to support/move them around can cause havoc on certain browsers. This is especially true on mobile browsers, and I'm sure they don't work well with some security plugins (like script managers) either. So, I can understand why someone would want a version of the page without all the graphical goodness.

  • 0xFADE0xFADE Registered User regular
    It is a lot easier to focus money onto one spot then make something bland that no one will like.

  • RapzidRapzid Registered User regular
    Half-Life just turned 15; so did this story. Dead horse, meet video games journalism. Nobody believes video games are for boys any more. Only games journalism is perpetuating that myth.

  • jumpingdingosjumpingdingos Registered User new member
    Read the whole article. What a joke. The entire article is undermined by the existence of this one part:

    "The industry did the math. Companies like Nintendo aggressively sought out people who played their games. It began publishing its own video game magazine, Nintendo Power, which had enormous outreach and allowed the company to communicate with its customers. Publishers traveled to cities, held tournaments and got to see firsthand who was playing their games. "That was probably the first age of game demographic enlightenment," says Mika. The numbers were in: More boys were playing video games than girls."

    The entire article is an attempt to completely and spectacularly ignore this one portion of it. Unbelievable.

  • OhoniOhoni Registered User regular
    I just don't get the toystore aisle argument. There is nothing about those aisles that say "boys only" or "girls only." Yes, the pink aisle contains "girls toys", because those are toys that girls are more likely to be attracted to than boys, and the same is true of the "boys aisle," but there's absolutely nothing stopping a boy who likes Barbies from shopping in the pink aisle, or a girl who likes GI Joes from shopping in the blue one. There are absolutely no barriers beyond the interest of the consumer. if a little girl is throwing a fit because the pink aisle does not have the toy she is looking for, the solution to her problems is only a few feet away, no outside intervention necessary.

  • zegotazegota Registered User regular
    Ohoni, if you don't think kids are manipulated by marketing even more than adults are, you're deluded. How many commercials, for instance, do you see featuring girls playing with things that are in the "boys aisles." And vice versa?

    Oh, and if you want specific gender labeling because you're a hard-headed pedant that can't see sexism unless someone rubs your nose in it, go to McDonalds and ask for a "boy toy" with your happy meal and see how many times you get a Barbie.

    Gender roles create marketing and marketing creates gender roles. It's a vicious, horrible cycle, and gendered toy aisles play into that. And there's absolutely no reason for it. Would anyone be disturbed by putting Barbies next to Transformers? Of course not.

  • itchy richitchy rich Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    @jumpingdingos, so, you're trying to say that the marketing executives are justified for aiming exclusively at a male audience because of a few Nintendo tournaments in the early 90's?

    Personally, I don't think the article was saying we need to ignore the fact that boys like to play video games, but rather that we should be more open minded about the make-up of the gaming community, and more considered about the advertising we consume.

    But just to rebut what you're saying, here, check out this part (from the article):

    "But Romero points out that if we go back to fall 1993, two significant things happened in gaming. One is the release of Doom, which heralded the start of the male-dominated first-person shooter genre. The other, in the same year, is the launch of Myst, which had an overwhelmingly female player base. "Myst dominated the charts, and we don't say games are dominated by women," Romero says. "So I've never felt that way. The Sims has more female players than it has male players, but I don't use those statistics to paint all of games." "

    Games like Myst are still around today, but people refer to them as "hidden object games", they're sort of like "I spy". They are played mostly by women. The show "Extra Credits" right here on PA did a great episode on them.

    The episode is even called "overlooked", which I think speaks volumes about how us "hardcore" gamers relate to genres outside of our range of interests.

    itchy rich on
  • HazHaz Registered User regular
    No, nobody would be disturbed by Barbies being shelved next to Transformers, but it doesn't make any sense from a logistical standpoint. A consumer interested in baby dolls is likely the same consumer interested in Barbies and Polly Pockets. For this reason, it makes sense for those products to be shelved together. Likewise, the consumer interested in Transformers is likely the same consumer interested in The Avengers action figures. Once again, it makes sense to put them next to each other. Ever notice how "creative" toys such as Legos often have an aisle of their own? It's because stores like to colocate similar products. If the store is going so far as to mark one aisle as the "Girls' Toy Aisle" and the other aisle as the "Boys' Toy Aisle", then that is a different story, but simply separating disparate products is not itself indicative of sexism.

  • zegotazegota Registered User regular

    "A consumer interested in baby dolls is likely the same consumer interested in Barbies and Polly Pockets."

    The reason this is true is almost certainly entrenched gender roles enforced by marketing, which includes toy store organization. There is nothing inherent about someone who likes Bratz dolls that means they won't like Transformers dolls.

    "If the store is going so far as to mark one aisle as the "Girls' Toy Aisle" and the other aisle as the "Boys' Toy Aisle", then that is a different story"

    Many stores do exactly this, but even the ones that don't will picture exclusively girls playing with toys from the Girls Aisle, and only boys playing with toys from the Boys Aisle.

  • d.TFFoSd.TFFoS Registered User regular
    @ANXA The new Pokemon games are really interesting to think about. They went for pretty much every demographic out there, both in the advertisements and the game itself. Bringing back the Gen1 starters appealed to those of us who started with red/blue, the pokemon Amie, fairy types, and dressup (for both the avatar and fufrous) appeals to the more stereotypically girly types, and the Mega Evolutions call out to the little boy in us that wants badass over-designed death machines.

    (not to say boys and girls can't enjoy the other parts, but they seem to have all their bases covered)

  • HrugnerHrugner Registered User regular
    "The idea that the video game industry both created a perpetuated an environment that's unwelcoming to both genders is interesting, as is the thought that these moves were partially the result of the last big video game crash."

    I don't think we read the same article. The article linked here seems to discuss how marketing encouraged a higher investment in men's games a couple decades ago, and now the current voyeur media bias against games limits the image of games to only those that are marketed toward men rather than including the more popular, lucrative and non-sex specific games that are considered "casual".

    It paints a picture very similar to that created by sex centirc media's focus on super hero comics and pretending they represent most comics produced and sold in order to manufacture a story.

  • lostedenlosteden Registered User regular
    I don't think we should be too surprised that the marketing industry is still employing rather sexist methods of advertising. Their job is to create the most effective means of selling the most products they can and experience has shown that attempting to seduce one major demographic is often much more easy and successful than catering to all potential customers.

    I mean, the industry continues to churn out some incredibly stupid ads for beer, cars, household appliances etc because they often work in spite of damningly offensive stereotyping. Of course most of the best and memorable ads are almost always far more innovative and inclusive but we can't expect all branding to be so no more than we can expect every tv show to be The Wire as opposed to Two and a Half Men.

    It's quite a circular identity problem we have here- the mainstream has its assumptions about gaming and gamers and so marketing plays on that 'brand recognition' to make [some of] their marketing messages clear and concise. We should certainly make some noise whenever we encounter particularly sexist examples but we shouldn't let ourselves or others us those to either influence the actual state of gaming itself or colour the perception of it.

  • OhoniOhoni Registered User regular
    @Zegota, I don't care if they are manipulated, so long as they have a choice. It commercials tell the little girl she should buy a Barbie, she can buy a Barbie, or not. It's no great tragedy if she does. If the commercials tell her she should buy a Barbie and she thinks "I want a Snakeyes instead!" then she can get a Snakeyes, nothing is stopping her. There's nothing wrong in making toys that appeal more to boys or girls, and nothing wrong in marketing them towards the audience most likely to be receptive to that marketing, so long as people are allowed to choose to agree with that marketing or contradict is, there's absolutely no harm in it.

    As for your McDonalds example, why would you get the Barbie if you asked for a boy toy? That's a girl toy. Now if you just asked for a toy, without specifying a gender, you might get a Barbie, you might get a car. It was you who chose to apply a gender to your request, not McDonalds or the employee. If you came in with a little boy and asked for the Barbie figure, they would give it to you, but they aren't going to assume that your little boy likes a toy that few little boys do.

    As for why not put them both together, why not put bread next to soup cans and cereal boxes and cat food at the grocery store? You group items together to make finding the items you want easier. So they group the action figures together, because someone shopping for a GI Joe is likely to also be interested in Transformers, TMNT, etc. You group the Barbies and other fashion toys together because someone looking for one is likelier to look for the others. every shelf has a fixed surface area, you can place ever single item next to every single item, so if you place the Barbies next to the Transformers then that means putting the GI Joes half the store away from the Transformers. There may be some kids that come in looking to buy a Skipper doll and a Starscream, but they will be far more rare than the ones looking for a Bumblebee and a Leonardo. It's just bad design to throw everything around without any sort of order to them.

    There is nothing that would say that someone who likes Bratz dolls won't like Transformers too, but statistically, it is less likely that they will like both than that they will prefer similar toys. It's like how at a movie store, there's no reason why someone who enjoys action movies couldn't also like comedies, but they don't shuffle action movies and comedies up at random, they give each their own section, because it's MORE likely that someone buying one comedy will by interested in another, than that they will be interested in an action movie.

  • Casey ReeceCasey Reece Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    This stereotype's main perpetrator is the modern-day media.

    No, it's not because the media hates gaming. It's because it doesn't know how to do it's job. I can sit and listen to a news anchor go on and on about stuff I don't know - and I just buy whatever he's telling me. The minute he talks about gaming though - you can just tell - buddy has no clue. Yet that's true of everything that anchor says/does. Including all the stuff I'm listening and likewise buying into. And the only reason I'm buying it is because I have next to no idea what he's talking about. Knowing this, the media organizations touch upon all subjects super briefly - hoping if they give me an entire serving of appetizers, I might not actually want a full meal anywhere.

    So, what are the "video-gaming" appetizers the media loves to bring up? It can essentially distilled into three categories:

    a) Psycho kills people - played first person shooter video games,
    b) Latest Modern Warfare game breaks all previous sales records - shows line-ups of people waiting outside stores.
    c) The latest -insert new video game console- sold -insert number of units.-

    Notice how easily all these bite-sized appetizers go with one another? No conflicting data? No "facts" or "knowledge" or "we actually have something to say." Just reminders that, yes, video games exist, but no, unlike movies which have adopted a more "mainstream" role in media, allowing gossip, trailers, and interviews during even the most serious of broadcasts, video-games are seen as that "other thing" that "people do" and there's "nothing really to report here."

    And why would there be? The media corporations don't own the video gaming corporations - but they do have that kind of really cozy relationship with the movie houses.

    So, you're left with a narrative that at its best pokes a light hearted Angry Birds joke in somewhere, and at its worst primes its more sinister stories with the pretence of "those boys being boys and buying their Modern Warfare."

    And honestly - many people just don't care. It's not that the world gets its mind in a twist trying to figure out how to relate gaming just to men - but in reality - the conversation of gaming just hasn't included them yet.

    Nintendo went out there and changed this narrative. Getting a whole bunch of folks to play bowling on the Wii. Tablet gaming that allowed people to play games while on the bus or train, without having a device specifically tailored towards the activity (i.e: a GameBoy). Bit by bit, the understanding and language of gaming is changing. It has to if it's to survive.

    If people in the television media are making their narrative sound like video gaming from twenty years ago - that's in no way an accident either. The greatest audience of traditional newscasts are old people. And old people aren't the forerunners for wanting new and interesting perspectives and investing in new paradigms. They want the world to be something they still recognize on their way out - and that too influences the narrative you hear.

    Regardless - the spirit of gaming speaks to the gamer. I tell you this, when i take my future daughter through a game-store, on-line or otherwise, she won't bristle at the fact that there are hundreds of games that have bald white space marines in them, or care that certain games try to market themselves in rather insulting stereotypes. No. She'll be searching the sea of titles for something as cool and awesome as Minecraft.

    And I'll be right there besides her.

    Casey Reece on
  • DulonDulon Registered User regular
    Both boys and girls are steered towards certain different kinds of merchandise. So at that point the problem is present for both genders. Unless for some reason you think toys targeted at boys are somewhat superior, boys suffer just as much as girls.

    We should just tear that barrier down.

    That aside, there are actually a lot of games heavily targeting a female demographic.
    Hidden object games, pony/barbie/dressup games, whatever genre sims is, a lot of stuff in the browsergame segment and dating sims.

    Considering the point of the article, maybe we shouldn'tsay those games cater "to men" or "to women". They main difference between those two seems to be the amount of gameplay that includes violent problem resolution.

  • mrthewhitemrthewhite Registered User regular
    @DULON I think the issue at hand is that those games you mentioned that are marketed towards girls all fall in the same basic genres and the wider gaming market is still primarily marketed towards boys and as you pointed there is bias on both sides.

    It's not socially acceptable for boys to play the pony/barbie/dressup games. That's completely separate from any argument against violence in video games as reducing the violent video games without addressing how they are marketed would in effect just reduce the number of games marketed towards boys without removing the boy/girl divide.

  • GunganGungan Registered User regular
    That was a very well written article. I particularly enjoyed the web layout.

  • FatikisFatikis Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    This entire article makes huge assumptions that it never defends.

    I'm sorry I've never seen a boy or girl aisle. I see aisles that follow themes. I never have seen bouncers protecting these gender aisles. These aisles simply do not exist. Maybe they still existed in the early 90's. It is incredibly common to see a little girl in the super hero aisle. And guess what. Not a single individual under the age of 80 cares.

    But I see you bravely thwarting the opinion of someone's 80 year old grandfather. These stereotypes simply do not exist in any dominant force in modern westernized society. Your slights are all perceived based on what you feel are gender lines you've created for yourself.

    And with video games who says which games are girl games? Are you kidding me? I was dominated by a group of girls on Call of Duty when I played it about a month ago. The stereotype girls don't play or like games has been dead for years. A few little boys crying over xbox live is not something you should feel you have to defend yourself from.

    Stop trying to be a victim. I'm not saying there are not legitimate issues of sexism that still exist in the world. There are. Video game selection is not one. The toy aisle is not one.

    Stop basing your assumptions of society off of what Fox News and your grandparents say. These stereotypes exist in a very small minority. Get over it.

    Fatikis on
  • mrthewhitemrthewhite Registered User regular
    @FATIKIS You've obviously never been to a Toys r Us. I challenge anyone to enter that store and not be able to pick which section is designed to sell to girls and which is designed to sell to boys.

    And please don't be so thick as to believe a giant "GIRLS" sign is needed to designate the section as being marketed to girls.

    Also no where does anyone say there are literal boundaries preventing girls from buying certain items but psychological boundaries are far more effective and subtle than physical ones and that's primarily what's being discussed here.

    Do girls play COD? Of course they do. Are the Dew and Doritos campaigns targeted at girls? Of course they're not.

    Go to YouTube and watch the COD:Ghost ads and tell me what part of them is saying "This is a game for anyone, girls or boys, old or young". I can save you the time by telling you none of it and for anyone who wants to claim other wise first consider: The placing of Megan Fox in the ad was clearly done for sex appeal in order to attract guys not girls.

  • GunganGungan Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    I don't think sections in toy stores are gendered.

    If you go to buy a doll, you expect the entire doll selection to be in a single aisle, not strewn about the store mixed in with the Tonka trucks and Lego. Is it uncommon to see Transformers and other "action figures" in the doll aisle... yeah usually, but not because of gender; it's because there are so many kinds of Barbies they could fill their own store, and thematically similar toys are displayed together.

    While I believe Lego is the furthest thing from a gender specific toy, they are perpetrators of gendering because they do in fact have a special line of play sets aimed at girls that feature pastel colors and generally "playing house".

    On a more subjective note, I think it's more pleasing to the eye to keep pink things with other pink things, rather than inserting them into clashing displays.

    Gungan on
  • FatikisFatikis Registered User regular
    edited December 2013
    @MRTHEWHITE tell me what defines a girl aisle and boy aisle? Stereotypes that exist in your own head maybe? Your predefined notion of what is for girls and boys, OR are the aisles configured intelligently based on the type of toy they contain.

    You mistake separating dolls from action figures as a slight against genders! Instead it is merely putting a toy in a logistically intelligent area.

    What in your opinion is needed for an aisle to be gender specific? What defines a gender specific aisle?

    Why are the ads against females? How is sex appeal gender directed? First you are assuming females cannot be attracted to other females. I know quite a few bi women that would be quite upset with you. Second this is a game containing mostly attractive male characters. How is that not also sex appeal?

    The facts are games stating they are gender specific is a barbaric system of an old age. Games don't need to specify genders because for the most part they are for anyone. Stating that they are for boys AND girls is not only ridiculous but also sexist.

    Fatikis on
  • Mr. MaskMr. Mask Registered User regular
    This was a pretty good article. Too bad about the ending.

    "There are a lot of female gamers--they play games like Candy Crush, Farmville, Angry Birds, and Adventure Games."

    Somehow, they got the idea that this means we need to forcibly market Action titles at them?

  • GunganGungan Registered User regular
    There are a lot of female gamers--they play games like Candy Crush, Farmville, Angry Birds, and Adventure Games.

    So the exploitative, impulse buy, free to play games are targeted towards the demographic that does the most shopping... if that's not sexist marketing I don't know what is.

  • Mr. MaskMr. Mask Registered User regular
    @Gungan: Blame the article, not me :).

  • mrthewhitemrthewhite Registered User regular
    @FATIKIS LOL go down the pink aisles of any department store and count how many images of boys playing with those toys there are on the packages and then count how many girls images are on those packages. Watch any ad for those toys and tell me how many feature boys.

    THAT is what tells me they're marketed to girls not some bias you're trying to make up so you don't have to consider the way the world ACTUALLY works.

    Also pointing out the minority groups that MAY be attracted by the ad doesn't detract from the majority groups it's aimed at. Contrary to what you're trying to imply I never suggested that the ad couldn't attract women regardless of their sexual orientation but I understand marketing and this ad has all the "male" triggers to show it's primarily trying to bring in men.

    Stop trying to imply I'm the one imposing the gender rules and open your eyes to the way the world works and you'll understand much better. Just because it's not a belief you (or I) hold doesn't mean it's not active in the greater society.

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