The gaming industry and community has always been a predominantly male space. From developers to characters to players, men are at the forefront of gaming from every angle. But the reality is much more diverse than that. Women—whether they are gamers or game developers—hugely influence trends in the industry and create countless opportunities for gaming companies. And as social attitudes move beyond restrictive gender roles and stereotypes, it’s time for the gaming world to do so as well.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, we’re shining a spotlight on women in gaming—from both behind and in front of the console. We’ll explore what the future looks like for women who are gamers, streamers, and game developers alike, as well as what opportunities women present to the gaming industry as a whole.
Gaming: A Traditionally Male Activity
The history of gaming is a predominantly male one due to the masculinization of gaming as an activity or hobby. It was generally thought that only men enjoyed playing and creating games, and that they were the only ones who “should” do it, too. Because of this outdated belief, each aspect of gaming, from design to marketing, was traditionally based around men’s tastes, attitudes, and interests.
This left women out of the conversation entirely, but didn’t necessarily stop them playing and developing games. Women have always played important roles in the industry—like Jade Raymond, who helped create Assassin’s Creed, and Bonnie Ross, who was part of the team behind Halo. Women were always interested in gaming, but the gaming industry wasn’t interested in them.
The industry is one of the fastest growing in the technology space, with gaming expected to make $218 billion in 2024. Women will play a big role in this growth and represent a hugely untapped and underrepresented market.
How Have Things Changed for Women in Gaming?
There Are More Female Gamers than Ever Before
The numbers show that female engagement in gaming is a huge opportunity for game developers and marketers, with 48% of gamers thought to now be women. And the opportunities are even bigger for mobile: 63% of all mobile gamers are women.
Guo Tang, from the TransPerfect Gaming Solution (TGS) European sales team, explains that this data shows that women need to be “the target that those game companies are targeting. There are some reports in the market that show that there's still a percentage of women who haven't played games ever. But once they find games they like, they will never give them up!”
Director of Sales at TGS Europe Kayla Madsen Lopez adds, “There’s a huge opportunity for brands to be more aware of their target demographic and adjust that, too.”
Growing Support for Female Gamers
Although women still encounter harassment and stereotypes while gaming (more so for women who have further marginalized identities in regard to race and sexuality), this hasn’t stopped a new generation of female gamers following their passions and becoming huge players in the industry. Female streamers have found significant success on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube, with women being among the top earners for pro gamers.
There have been a number of organizations founded in response to the challenges that come with being a woman in the gaming industry, including I Need Diverse Games and Women in Games.
Women’s growing interest in gaming is evident. There are 1,700 searches per month for the term “Xbox games for girls” across the world—and that’s just for one of the many types of consoles out there, on top of the fact that women outnumber men when it comes to mobile gaming.
More Women Are Developing Games
Behind the controller, there have been steady improvements for women in the industry. According to Statista, 38% of game developers in 2021 were women or nonbinary, up from 27% five years earlier. Indie developers such as Team17 are led by inspiring women like Debbie Bestwick, but she is one of the few women holding a leadership position in the gaming industry.
As you go up the ranks, it’s clear that there is still a lack of female representation on boards. In 2020, research showed that 84% of board members in the top 20 gaming companies were men. Kayla reflects on how we can change this: “I think that it's something very important, to be actively thinking about how we are promoting women in our companies, how we are searching for women and finding talent in terms of gender. If you're not proactively thinking about it, it probably means that your unconscious bias is taking you down a road you might not even be aware of.”
The Impact of Women’s Perspectives and Engagement in Gaming
No matter how you look at it, women offer countless opportunities for gaming companies. Their buying power as consumers and unique insights as developers are only pushing the industry forward.
And the result? Huge growth and development potential for the entire gaming industry.
Gaming Companies Are Engaging With More Women
Having more women behind the scenes means that developers can design and create games that will not just target the exponentially growing pool of female streamers and gamers but also truly connect with them.
And while there are still significant issues regarding depictions of women in gameplay, having more female protagonists and female videogame characters will only improve the quality of games and create a more inclusive gaming community.
Kayla echoes this, saying, “If you don't see yourself in the games you play or in the movies you watch or, you know, the media that you consume, it's hard to relate. So there's a lot of importance on representation, and I think that women can influence that.
Having women behind the scenes brings in more perspective in regard to having diverse characters and making sure marketing efforts engage with the right audience.”
The Future of Women in Gaming: What it Means for the Industry
As women’s roles in gaming are more valued—behind the scenes, in gameplay, and in marketing—the industry will only improve and grow, and games will become more inclusive and engaging.
Diversity and inclusion aren’t just buzzwords to make companies look good—they have the potential to transform business performance. And the gaming industry is no exception. In fact, half of gamers want to see more diverse characters in the games they play.
Guo reflects on the growth of opportunities for the gaming world, “I think women will be the ones to bring growth to this industry because of the sheer size of the audience. There's more and more women playing games across platforms, from PC games to console games and mobile games. And especially when you consider the growth of mobile games and changes in technology, women will be more engaged in those because there’s more of us playing on mobile.”
For Kayla, she thinks that the future of gaming “looks more diverse and inclusive. I think that as more women are in leadership positions and on more boards, it’s going to boost everyone’s success. The pie will just get bigger, for everyone.”