Playstation 4 and Women – The Problem is Systemic to the Industry not the Press Release

Playstation revealed their new console, the Playstation 4, on February 20th and they revealed lots of new features.  The system looks well and good, but one of the things that was concerning for a lot of people was the fact that there were no women on stage during the entire press release.  The event was filled with tons of middle-aged men developing new software and games for the Playstation 4.  Game studios like Media Molecule (makers of Little Big Planet 1 & 2), Quantic Dream (makers of Heavy Rain), and Bungie (makers of Xbox’s famed Halo franchise) all presented what they can do with the power of the new Playstation 4.  With all of these big names presenting what we saw was a representation of the industry and a representation of who the industry focuses their marketing towards – middle aged white men.

The problem is that video game studios have neglected women in more ways than one.  Their focus in marketing has almost always been on men who play games.  Women in the industry tell stories where they are assumed to be peripheral rather than active in the game industry at conferences like GDC and E3.  Game studios also very infrequently make female protagonists for their video games.  While women make up nearly half of all gamers they are underrepresented in nearly all aspects of the video game industry.  Female gamers don’t have female role models in the gaming industry to look up to and don’t have female characters to relate to.

In an editorial by Ben Kuchera of the Penny Arcade Report, Kuchera interviews EEDAR who looked at 669 games of varying genres and found that only 24 of those games had exclusively female protagonists.  The article also notes that games with exclusively female protagonists find themselves underfunded marketing wise because they don’t sell as well as male-led video games.  It’s poor analysis on the industry’s part because if they don’t have a good marketing budget they won’t sell as well and they are underfunded because they don’t sell as well.  As Geoffrey Zatkin, from EEDAR, states in an interview with Kuchera in the article

“Games with a female only protagonist, got half the spending of female optional, and only 40 percent of the marketing budget of male-led games.  Less than that, actually,”

This problem is widely systemic in the video games industry, and other industries in America.  It plagues the industry and it does little to inspire women who might think of video games as a career path for them.  Women who want to work in gaming just aren’t inspired or given much reason to have faith that they can make it in the games industry.

The reason that many were upset with Sony was because it was their press release of the Playstation 4.  It was Sony’s event.  Having no women should fall on their heads as it was their event and they were responsible for who was there and who was presenting.  But I believe that is an unfair assessment.  As a good friend of mine pointed out the video game industry needs people who are prominent and who know the technology.  If you’re unveiling something like the Playstation 4 you need people who are intimate with the technology and to put a woman in a presentation role who is not intimately familiar with this technology for the sake of diversity just doesn’t make sense.  The problem is that women are not part of these big things that are going on, and the press release is merely indicative of that.

As well Sony has been working to encourage women to be a part of the gaming industry.  Sony’s G.I.R.L. scholarship started accepting applications – https://www.soe.com/girl/.  G.I.R.L. stands for Gamers In Real Life.  The scholarship aims to award a $10,000 scholarship to a game creator, focusing on the image of women in video games, who is working towards a career in the gaming industry.  The website describes the scholarship saying that: “’At [Sony Online Entertainment, we believe that diversity is one of our keys to success and it is truly woven into the fabric of who we are as a company’ said Laura Naviaux, Senior Vice President of Global Sales & Marketing, Sony Online Entertainment.  ‘We want to help make the games industry even that much more approachable and our goal with the G.I.R.L. Scholarship is to provide an easy way to usher even more women into the industry.’”

Sony’s G.I.R.L. Scholarship does have a few flaws – such as the fact that the scholarship doesn’t actually target women (anyone, male or female, can apply for the scholarship).  As well, the scholarship focuses on women as they are represented in video games, now as they are represented in the games industry.  While this poses issues Sony is clearly aware that there is a problem and are taking steps to rectify the underrepresentation.

Bungie and other developers are where the question then resides.  What about big name developers?

Women and Video Gaming’s Dirty Little Secrets, an Forbes article written by Gabrielle Toledano – the executive vice president and chief talent officer of Electronic Arts – claims that there are 3 dirty secrets (the title makes it sound like it was written for Cosmo) in the gaming industry with regards to women in the gaming industry.  Those three “secrets”? –

“1) Women play games – a lot of them

2) The video game industry wants to hire more women

3) There aren’t enough of them to hire… yet”

I really don’t think any of these are really secrets though.  According to the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) 47% of gamers are women.  Women are clearly interested in gaming, so the question becomes why aren’t there enough women to hire?

Toledano says that “We’d love to hire more women but we can’t find enough of them to hire, especially in engineering.  In our industry and the technology world at large, we need to support educational institutions that are working so aggressively to encourage women to pursue STEM careers.”  (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  Toledano notes the work of Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe as a person who is working to introduce and present STEM careers as viable careers for women.  According to the New York Times article referenced by Gabrielle Dr. Klawe boosted the number of women getting degrees in computer science from 22% to 40%.  While initiatives like these might provide more viable candidates the other problem is getting women interested in actually making games.

Toledano concludes her article saying that “If women don’t join this industry because they believe sexism will limit them, they’re missing out.  The sky is the limit when it comes to career opportunities for women (and men) in games.  If we want the tide to turn and the ratio of men to women to really change then we need to start making women realize that fact.”  Toledano makes a good point – women should understand that there is a place for them in the video game industry.  But it sure doesn’t seem like developers are concerned or working towards this goal nor do they make it seem like there actually is a place for women in the games industry.

If the games industry wants to hire more women they need to start highlighting more women in the industry and give women role models to look up to.  Watching events like the Playstation 4 reveal show only men in positions of power and only men as the successes.  It shows a male dominated industry and the marketing of games shows an industry that is intended for men and only sometimes for women.

The gaming industry needs to encourage and inspire through games marketed to women, not necessarily “made for women”, and by highlighting the women in the industry.  They should be showing women who are interested in games as a career what other women have done in the industry, what they could be, and what their potential is.  If we can do this perhaps we can make the gaming industry a more viable option for women and achieve a more realistic representation in the industry of who gamers are.

In the end we have to talk about a lack of women in the industry in order for game companies to see that we care and to perhaps show them that we want this to change.  Sony may have gotten the brunt of everything but it’s more than just Sony who is the problem.  We need to hold the developers who put together the presentations responsible too.  We need to make sure that the gaming industry is aware of their problems and we need to force them to answer to these problems.  Until we can do that game companies and game developers will continue to reinforce the status-quo with middle-aged white dudes who claim “We are the next generation of gaming.”

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One comment on “Playstation 4 and Women – The Problem is Systemic to the Industry not the Press Release

  1. As an major gaming fan, I just wanted to pop you a quick note
    to say thanks for placing this nice piece up.

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