EA, Ubisoft, Activision On Why There are So Few Female Video Game Protagonists

EA Studios boss Patrick Soderlund says, "My thesis is that it's a male-dominated business ... boys tend to design for boys and women for women."

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More often than not, video game heroes are men. But why is that? An Associated Press story today features quotes from numerous industry executives speaking to why that might be the case. For EA Studios executive vice president Patrick Soderlund, it has something to do with the fact that video games are often designed with men in lead creative roles.

"My thesis is that it's a male-dominated business," Soderlund told the AP from E3 last week. "I'm not sure that flies, but I think it overall may have something to do with it--that boys tend to design for boys and women for women. I'm just happy that we have a game with a female heroine."

Soderlund is likely referring to the upcoming Mirror's Edge game for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, which features a woman--Faith--in the lead role. Leading development on that game at DICE is senior producer Sara Jansson.

"My thesis is that it's a male-dominated business" -- EA's Patrick Soderlund

It's unclear what percentage of the video game development workforce is female. The latest ESA data shows that 48 percent of all US gamers are female.

According to Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, as more women play games, we'll start to see more female protagonists. "The more women we have playing games, the more we will be able to have a balance between women and men in the games," he said.

The lack of leading ladies in video games is not a new point of debate, but it's come to the fore of late following Ubisoft's controversial decision not to include playable female assassins in Assassin's Creed Unity or Far Cry 4. The company says technical limitations kept a female hero from appearing in Assassin's Creed Unity, a point that not everyone agrees with.

According to Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, "Any character you create requires extra resources, gender aside. Any character that has a different look, voice, mechanics or way of moving, requires more work. … But that's not a reason not to do something. We create lots of different characters with lots of different movements."

Hirshberg pointed out that this year's Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will not only see female playable characters return from their first appearance in last year's Call of Duty: Ghosts, but also that the game's story mode will feature a "vital" female character.

Another high-profile upcoming game prominently featuring a female character is Ready at Dawn's PlayStation 4 title The Order: 1886. Creative director Ru Weerasuriya says female video game characters are often misrepresented, something he wanted to steer clear of when crafting the game's Isabeau character.

"Developers have a tendency to paint female characters in very specific, stereotypical lights," Weerasuriya said. "We wanted someone who was grounded in reality, but in actuality is sometimes a better knight than the others. There's no reason why that shouldn't be the case in games. That's the case in the real world, right?"

Female heroes weren't entirely absent from last week's E3, as Crystal Dynamics revealed a new Tomb Raider game and Sega showed off Alien: Isolation, which features Amanda Ripley in the lead role.

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