Diversity in gaming – building an equitable future for all gamers

Emmi Kuusikko, Head of Product Strategy, Insights and Growth at games developer and publisher, GameHouse, says the industry need to take a more diverse and inclusive approach to game design.

Today, according to Newzoo, women represent a vastly significant 46 per cent of the global gaming market and this figure is only set to grow. Within this, female gamers represent 48 per cent of the global mobile gaming market – which mirrors the population at large, with 21 per cent of adult mobile gamers being women aged 36 yrs+. 

These figures speak to a considerable progression in gaming culture and gaming audiences that has grown exponentially since the 2010s, particularly within mobile gaming. In fact, according to Statista, the worldwide social, casual and mobile gaming industry has been growing by leaps and bounds -it has nearly doubled over the past five years, reaching $90.65bn (£75.36bn) in 2022.

Given this, we’d expect to have witnessed a significant shift in industry perspective and vision around this exciting opportunity – not only in respect to approaches in marketing, but across all aspects of mobile game production. And yet, where female players have adapted to games, rarely has game design adapted to female player behaviours.

To capitalise on this opportunity, game developers and publishers must now embrace a player-first vision around female player habits and male player habits in equal measure. This means factoring in female player behaviours and preferences in content, influences and experiences from the very get-go of game design. But how can the industry deliver this step-change?

Reengineering design process for gender-inclusivity
There’s been lots of conversation within the gaming community about gender and inclusivity, but little discussion about how these issues relate to game development and design. Yet, for mobile gaming to be a truly welcoming space for all players, knowledge of different player segments is a foundational starting point that must inform all aspects of strategy and design from the outset, including gameplay, narrative, character and critical entertainment aspects such as connectivity and social play.

The mobile gamer archetype has indeed changed. Women aged 35 years and older are now driving growth in mobile gaming, and older female segments are also becoming more important, and as a result, the types of mobile games that are targeting women are rapidly changing. Games with a strong narrative, characters with whom they can identify and interact, whose story may be similar to their own, and which reflect common themes in life stage and experiences, are critical to female gamers of all ages today.

A great example of success is the ‘Delicious’ mobile franchise, with ‘Delicious World’ as its main F2P game and Emily and her stories as one of the main drivers, that has now reached over 100m downloads, with almost 1m active users a month and over $45m revenue to date. And many existing fans have played the game since day one of the first ‘Delicious Emily’ game launch back in 2006.

Social play and connectivity is also a strong motivator for women and those who identify as female. A community offering, where players can share progress with family and friends and invite them to participate, makes a game more fun and creates an experience that engages and retains users for the long-term.

The criticality of ‘player-first vision’
Today more than ever, with gender diversification continually growing, every game product or publisher decision must be data-driven. Part of this includes instigating ongoing dialogue with existing fan bases and communities that have grown alongside a franchise. But it also requires proper analysis of diversifying cultures, tastes and preferences in entertainment experience.

We can’t force narrative, functionality and content that works for one segment or culture upon another. So, establishing a deep knowledge around audience insights applied to game design is critical. We can see more and more evidence of insights-driven, audience-specific campaigns that speak to specific genders.

Essentially, it is only through analytics that we can deliver the depth of insights that can ensure that game design remains relevant and on point for their audiences, and that publishers and developers can create agile processes where ‘player-first vision’ is at the heart of everything they do.

Research indicates that women today yearn for ‘me time’, but often feel guilty about taking it, and that casual mobile games, with strong puzzle, narrative and storytelling content can fulfil this opportunity for down time and relaxation, delivering a vital opportunity for females to unwind, recharge their batteries and have fun. So, it is hoped that ,going into the future, women will perhaps start to align ‘me time’ with ‘game time’.

Limitations in gaming genres and platforms, and gendered social stereotyping, all played a role in disenfranchising women and those who identify as female from gaming culture in the past. But today, more and more games are exploring broader storylines and characters and delivering the kind of in-game content that caters to and welcomes diversity.

Adapting studio structures
So, what does this mean for studio structures? Siloed teams and processes, with a lack of collaboration across specialisms, simply won’t work, and, with this in mind, we must consider current studio structures and adapt these.

Having people from different disciplines around the same table as one creative team, to feed and inspire the imaginations of content creators, is critical, and will ensure that artists, engineers, product developers and data professionals are all aligned around a common mission.

Not only will this establish a long-term relationship with individual players and lengthen the lifecycle of a game; it will also create a loyal fan base, which is difficult for competitors to break, and deliver the kind of quality content that truly engages audiences enjoyably and playfully and creates longevity.

Diversity in talent and leadership within games
Additionally, to truly deliver on this opportunity, having access to gender-diverse talent and diversity of thought talent is a big win for game studios, and is key to developing content that will appeal to a broad cross-section of players.

Helsinki is a rising game hub due to its game history and a government push. Its talent pool is growing faster than other key game market and it has a distinct edge, with a much higher percentage of female developers and female commercial game talent, but we are seeing other cities in the world who are attracting diversity talent, like Barcelona, Los Angeles, Stockholm and Berlin.

Mobile gaming audiences are diversifying, and with this, publishers can capitaliser on an exciting opportunity to grow and expand the content they offer through the adoption of analytics that will enable ‘player-first vision’ through all aspects of game design, and the diversification in industry talent.

In delivering more diversity and more perspectives, we can deliver a powerful and sustainable future for both industry and players. By continuing to deliver the breadth and depth of experience that players want, gaming and mobile gaming will only grow.

The future has to be about player-first vision from the get-go in everything that we do and it is to industry leaders and publishers to lead this vision and continue to deliver on this exciting evolution.