GC '07: Gender divide carries over to gaming

Nancy Drew game company Her Interactive thinks women want different things in games--and it's not just violence they don't like.

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LEIPZIG, Germany--Her Interactive executive producer, Robert Riedl, claims to know what women want. Well, in video games at least.

Her Interactive was founded in 1995 and is based in Bellevue, Washington. The company specialises in making games for girls between the ages of 10 to 15. Her Interactive is working on a continuous series of games based on the world of fictional girl detective Nancy Drew. He said, "Our [Nancy Drew] games have a kind of a pulp fiction novel feel to them, which is what we wanted."

The character Nancy Drew has been around since the 1930s, and there have been 350 books published, which have her solving a variety of mysteries in exotic locales. The most recent game based on the character, Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, has been a solid seller in the US since it was released in June.

Riedl said that the company informally surveyed girls who didn't play games and asked why they don't play them. The company found a variety of different answers. A lack of purpose in most games on the market was high on the list, with women preferring the emotional draw of a story. A lot of women who didn't play games said that they didn't because the UI was cumbersome for a lot of titles, and they just wanted to jump straight in and play.

He said he found that women also prefer their games to be more grounded in reality. He said, "A lot of the plot and settings for games are quite fantastic, and they wanted something that could happen in real life." Another, well-documented reason is that girls were turned off by meaningless violence.

Riedl said, "I'm not saying that women are nonviolent...But I think women have a different propensity for violence. Men like big explosions and blowing things up, but women show their anger in different ways. For example, with aspects of social violence... creating and destroying relationships."

The most important aspects of gameplay for women were the story, characters, and narrative elements. What he found was not important was winning.

Riedl's final point that he found was that a lot of women gamers did not subscribe to the "Bigger Better Faster More" model of technology. Riedl also found that a lot of games had too high minimum specifications for the computers that they owned. Riedl said, "Many of our users are still using Windows 95."

When asked why male gamers should care about women-oriented games, Riedl said the female market is both a growing and lucrative market.

The executive producer drew examples from other media, all of which have popular, money-spinning women-centric genres, including romance books, soap operas, and so-called "chick flicks."

The 17th Nancy Drew game, Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull, will be out in October on the PC.

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