Why We Need More Women Developers

When game developers have a conversation about women gamers, if often goes something like this:

  1. Women gamers are a vast untapped market.
  2. If we can tap into that market we can make lots of money.
  3. So we better hire some women developers.

Magical Woman Knowledge

The logical connection between the first two points is pretty clear. But where does #3 comes from?

Magical woman knowledge.

There is an unspoken assumption that women devs – and all women, in fact – have magical knowledge about women that can help us tap into the market of women gamers. (You knew about that, right? It’s a back-of-the-box bullet.)

This is very useful because as game developers we don’t have to time to think about these things, especially when we’re trying to get a game out the door. Goodness knows we don’t have time to think about non-traditional audiences while we’re designing the game.

Okay – I’m getting a little snarky now. But I’m also being serious.

A lot of developers – of all genders – seem to think that being a woman in game development is an automatic ticket to understanding what women want in a game.

Lived Experience

Women devs do bring something special to the development table: lived experience.

That sentence is a bit of a cheat, though, because all developers – all people – bring their own lived experience to their work.

Each bundle of experience is different. No one has the prototypical man gamer experience any more than the prototypical working class gamer experience or the prototypical Jewish gamer experience.

But you pile enough of those bundles of different experience up together, you have a team experience pool that can help guide your development.

Piling up enough lived experience from women gamers is especially important if you want to tap into the woman gamer market because gamer culture sits in a matrix of subtle sexism that can – and does – tend to alienate women. (Yes, even women gamers.)

Subtle sexism is subtle. Neither experiencing it nor recognizing it are limited to women. But on average, women probably have more personal lived experiences that help make them a tiny bit more cognizant of subtle sexism. Sometimes. Not always.

How to Tap Into Women Gamers

If you are serious about tapping into the market of women gamers, I have two suggestions:

  1. Hire a bunch of women developers to add their experiences to the experience pool of your team.
  2. Do some research on women gamers instead of expecting one magical hire to bring knowledge to your door, you lazy bastard.
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12 Responses to Why We Need More Women Developers

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  2. Bronte says:

    This made me laugh out loud. This isn’t the case in just game development. Any male-dominated field’s answer to tap into the female potential is by “recruiting more females”, as if there is a secret convention of women somewhere in the dark corners of the world where men are shunned and their deepest darkest secrets are discussed and viciously guarded. Idiocy.

  3. Todd Berkebile says:

    I don’t know, I think the “women are magic” theory needs more testing. ;)

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  7. No magic? Sniff :(

    Kidding aside, this makes a valid point that gets skipped to often. A game gets shaped by the sum of the experiences of its developers – and if all of those experiences are mostly the same, guess what. The game will appeal to people with a similar background.

    The bigger question is, why are there not enough women that you actually *could* hire a bunch of them? (In my entire career so far, I interviewed 100+ men. And 3 women. There is definitely a disparity)

  8. Sandra says:

    Rachel: That’s an interesting point. I’ve managed to hire a goodly number of women in my various positions, but most of them didn’t come in through the normal interview process. (Yes, there is a good ol’ girls network – it’s just very small. *grin*)

    I’ve also found some excellent people (including both women and men, but with a more equal distribution than normal) internally – who were, say, stuck in QA despite the fact that there were solid game system programmers because they lacked the right level of coder arrogance and the proper buzzwords.

    Part of the equation involves fixing the factors that keep women out of the ‘right’ prerequisites that we look for when hiring, like education, but another part is fixing what we think are the right prerequisites.

    Remind me some time to tell you about the worst job interview I ever had (as the interviewee) and why I will never, ever work with that (in)famous game developer no matter what. (And a hundred bonus points if you can identify the developer in question from that sentence. Todd, you’re not allowed to answer.)

  9. I have a good idea who you mean, but since I work in the industry, I’ll refrain from naming names ;)

  10. Reala says:

    The trap I see a lot of developers falling in to in this regard is hiring women to make ‘games for girls’ instead of games that appeal to everyone which, imo, is the way to go.

    Similarly there is sometimes a tendency for female gamers to band together and segregate themselves in ‘girls only’ clans or guilds (often acting a bit slutty about it as well, which is infuriating and hurts the cause). This is akin to foreigners to a country clustering together for familiarity and security. They may find those things but they will never integrate.

    I think for real industry evolution, men and women need to play games together and make games together. Over time there will be less and less good ‘for a girl’ players, which can be a frustrating thing to come up against in a male-dominated player base. Good players will be good players, bad players will be bad players. This isn’t something that can be achieved if people feel coerced into, for example, taking a woman on to their team.


  11. Sandra says:

    Reala: The women gamer clans are a fascinating thing to me. Unfortunately I’ve got no personal experience there (nor will I ever with the lackadaisical way I play games).

  12. Dave says:

    While it wouldn’t help with game creation, bringing together stats similar to http://blog.okcupid.com/ might be useful when creating subsequent content. OK Trends is a series of blog posts pulling data from the OK Cupid user base to find interesting trends and support/disprove various theories about online dating (one was that the developer behind it wanted to prove that the MySpace style angled photo is a bad idea. Turns out it’s actually one of the most successful at getting attention)

    If MMO developers could do something similar, maybe look for disparities between items collected by female and male game members or differences between which types of quests they run, it’s possible this could give a predominantly male developer base a baseline which they could use for developing content which will bring more female gamers to their game. Or maybe there’s particular classes which are more popular amongst female gamers, so when you’re planning to introduce some new classes you could aim to build one which would appear to this demographic. This could equally apply to age and ethnicity if you’re doing a global release (or even if you’re limited to a single country, although the impact of ethnicity will probably be reduced in that case) to appeal to demographics which are less represented in you’re game

    Basically, rather than having a token female developer, actually pull in data from the game to build a picture of what your members’ demographics enjoy doing and focus on increasing/improving that area to bring more members of that demographic in