3 Ways to Help Your Mobile Game Appeal to Its Largest Audience: Women

Insights & Best Practices

October 12, 2015


min read

The stereotype of a typical gamer ? a twenty-something male living in his parents' basement ? is changing, especially in the age of mobile.Consider match-3's Candy Crush Saga: The game's player base is 69 percent female and it made more than $1.5 billion last year. It's not just puzzle games, though; other genres like simulation and slots retain female players for longer than males and Vegas-style poker game Big Fish Casino sees 65 percent of its revenue coming from women. Top-grossing games on iPhone are dominated by genres that, according to analytics firm Flurry, have more women playing them than those that are neutral or male-skewed.


In the same study, Flurry also estimates that 58 percent of mobile gamers are women. According to their research, female gamers spend 31 percent more on in-app purchases, 35 percent more time in games and have 42 percent better 7-day retention than their male counterparts.The numbers don't lie. Mobile gaming isn't (and shouldn't be) a boy's club, and developers who overlook female players when developing and marketing their titles are missing out. So if your game development process has a gender problem, consider these steps toward making it more equitable.

1. Get input from your target audience

While women are playing and paying more when it comes to mobile games, an overwhelming majority of the developers are still men. A recent developer survey conducted by Vision Mobile saw a measly 6 percent of respondents who self-identified as women. In an ideal world, all development teams would include female developers for some much needed perspective, but if you don't fall into this category yourself and you can't find an appropriate candidate, make an extra effort to diversify other staff or consultant roles.

"Games can have violence as their main mechanic and still appeal to women..."

Kate Burgess, a long-time art lead at San Francisco-based game studio Kabam, was recently tasked with working with developers on the armor-for-action RPG Spirit Lords to be sure it appealed to a female audience. The result? "Both male and female fans [have said] that they love the character style and gear in the game," she says.[caption id="attachment_10469" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via Spirit Lords

Image via Spirit Lords[/caption]Chelsea Howe, creative director at EA mobile, says that a female perspective around storyline is equally as important. "Games can have violence as their main mechanic and still appeal to women," she says. The trick, notes Howe, is adding other compelling elements beyond the violence. That's not just appealing to women ? that's appealing to everyone.

2. Diversify your characters

If your game offers character customization, take special care to ensure that women are playable characters, too. The Washington Post found earlier this year that women weren't present in nearly half of endless runner games like Temple Run. Temple Run 2 remedied this by making a female character available for free. "For all of our good intentions, and for all of my good intentions, it's true that you start out with a male character," Natalia Luckyanova, co-founder of Imangi (the studio behind Temple Run), told NPR.Simply integrating a female storyline from the start can help your game be more relatable and appeal to a broader audience. Feminist culture critic Anita Sarkeesian recently released a video about a successful mobile game that integrates a female protagonist well. The game, action and adventure title Sword & Sworcery, makes the character, The Scythian, someone everyone can identify with.[caption id="attachment_10470" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Sword & Sworcery image via Flickr user Eli Duke

Sword & Sworcery image via Flickr user Eli Duke[/caption]"The game doesn't resort to clear gendered signifiers like a pink outfit or a pretty bow in her hair," Sarkeesian says in the video. Instead, "the Scythian is essentially a silent protagonist, a figure defined primarily by her actions, which makes her a blank slate for all players to project themselves onto."Studies show that games with a "male gaze" imply, at a subconscious level, that the viewer is a heterosexual male. According to Howe, this creates dissonance for most female players, but character and storyline development can remedy the problem.

3. Keep players accountable

Genres popular with women ? like simulation and turn-based games ? generally have a very committed audience, with players logging in between 15 to 20 times per week. These genres are, more often than not, multi-player games with a strong community. Developers need to foster a positive and open community culture to get their audience ? male and female ? to stick around, says Howe."In multiplayer games, when people are not accountable for their actions, lowest-common-denominator behaviors reign," she says. "These are often sexist, transphobic, homophobic, racist, and ultimately constitute harassment against other players."One way to move away from this, she adds, is to "make it very clear that your game is a community with certain expectations for conduct, and players are responsible for their actions. If they choose to use sexist language, they accept responsibility when other players flag their behavior."These small adjustments to game development and marketing tactics aren't just a good way to retain your female players, they're also a great way to appeal to a broader audience ? and increase revenue along the way.