She’s got game: how brands can tap into the growing female presence in gaming.
Written by: Melantha Tan, Nicolene Tan and Agalia Tan
The word “gaming” often conjures up an image of lanky teenage boys huddled around a table, yelling at their bros to ‘carry’ them while they replenish their ammunition and build forts. But let’s put that aside because the face of gaming is changing, literally.
With a penchant for pixel-perfect worlds and immersive video storytelling, female gamers are rewriting what it means to be a true gamer. Compared to male gamers who are mainly driven by competition (61%), challenge (58%) and learning new skills (58%), female gamers are more motivated by leisure-related reasons, such as relaxation (47%), fun and entertainment (45%) and escapism (44%) (GWI Gaming, Q2 2021).
Brands looking to tap on the rising trend of social gaming will have to rethink their approach and become more cognizant of this growing demographic segment. According to Think with Google, the year-on-year growth for female gamers (14.8%) in Asia is almost twice that for male gamers (7.8%), and they are expected to overtake the number of male gamers by 2027.
To find out more about women in gaming, we asked some of the female gamers in our WAS Singapore office to share how they first got into gaming, their motivations and how they perceive themselves in this traditionally male-dominated landscape.
Gaming began as a quest for social currency.
Every story from our female gamers began in adolescence, where they first learnt of games through their close friends and family, such as MapleStory, AuditionSEA, Habbo, and Neopets. As these games circulated and grew popular within their inner circles, the desire to build rapport pushed our female gamers to dip their toes (or fingers in this case) into these games.
“Everyone was playing MapleStory in my secondary school days so I ended up playing it as well. I guess that was my first exposure to online gaming that involved interactions with other players. Back then, the game (MapleStory) wasn’t too competitive, it was more of a way to fuel my need for social interaction, to feel like I belong rather than just purely gaming.”
“My first game was probably Neopets or Maplestory as everyone in school was playing it. After that, I spent a lot of time on these games and started enjoying “having another life” in another reality.
Gaming has since become a way for our female gamers to establish the social connection they yearn for, even up till today.
“I have played video games with the same group of friends ever since my teenage years. When we were kids, we played Habbo together. Now that we’re adults, we bought Nintendo Switches and played Animal Crossing: New Horizons together.”
With their motivations being closely tied to the desire for connection rather than competition, our female gamers often flit from one game to another, readily embracing new games that are in trend and commonly talked about within their in-groups.
GAMEPLAN FOR BRANDS & MARKETERS
Brands should take note not to tar all gamers with the same brush. There is, in fact, a broad spectrum of definitions for what constitutes a gamer, which can influence how brands can tap into gaming in the short term or long term.
Take, for example, our female gamers are what we call hyper-casual gamers, who select games that can be picked up, played, and then put down at a moment’s notice, and are highly affected by cultural trends and peer influences.
Case in point, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” became a megahit during the pandemic, with female gamers contributing to over 40% of the sales (Business Insider). Fashion brands quickly picked up on the game’s appeal for the ladies and its customization features and brought designs to the game via virtual pop-ups, runway shows, and digital product drops (@animalcrossingfashionarchive).
Gaming then becomes a gateway to feeling liberated.
So our female gamers made their first foray into gaming thanks to their peers. But they are staying for the way games offer an immersive experience.
“Good graphics definitely win me over because you can imagine yourself being in another dimension and that’s the whole reason why I game in the first place – to feel like I’m in a parallel world.”
10 out of 13 female gamers in our Singapore office view games as a form of escapist entertainment. They love a good storyline akin to interactive fiction, allowing them to indulge in an experiential narrative that’s almost as if they were in another universe, free from real-life societal pressures.
And they don’t just stop at being immersed in the game itself. Once something passes the vibe check, our female gamers will deep dive into the whole ecosystem: gaming-related content is widely popular, with several of our female gamers watching Twitch streams or gameplays on YouTube.
“YouTube is my search engine of choice for everything. I would search for the latest gaming news and announcements. I also like to find inspiration and watch videos about Game Theory where YouTubers connect and expand the storylines within certain gaming titles…I don’t just get entertained by playing the game. I’m also very much entertained by the content created around it.”
“I tuned in to this YouTube channel called RTgame. Even though I watch his videos, I don’t necessarily play the games he features. I just enjoy watching his videos because the content is quite funny and entertaining on its own.”
GAMEPLAN FOR BRANDS & MARKETERS
Brands’ opportunities to enter gaming are not simply limited to the game itself. Instead, brands should consider a broader picture and look into social platforms on which gamers spend significant time, such as Twitch, YouTube, and Discord.
Brands should consider creating unpredictable, never-to-be-repeated experiences across the gaming ecosystem. How they can achieve that is via immersive entertainment and storytelling. After all, that’s a key motivator for female gamers to stick around. Take Pringles, for example; they broke through the walls of reality by helping the character zombie Frank escape from a video game, “West of Dead”. Pringles added an element of surprise by having Frank invade Leahviathan’s Twitch stream before winding up as an NPC in West of Dead.
But “gamer” doesn’t feel like a natural label to take on.
While women are making inroads in the world of gaming, they are hesitant to take on the label as a “gamer”. While there was a medley of reasons that hum and haw over the fact that they aren’t “as hardcore”, the consensus was that the title of a gamer is an exclusive one that comes with expectations, responsibility, and pressure to perform well.
“The word gamer is associated with hardcore players who play frequently and are professionals…It’s too intimidating because I’m sure that there are other people who take [gaming] more seriously than me.”
“Gamer is such a heavy word. It carries a very strong competitive element.”
“I wouldn’t identify myself as a gamer – it would be a disservice to do so. I’m just casual.”
Moreover, it’s not just one’s innate ability to play that categorises the label. It’s also the type of games that one plays that makes a difference. Games such as “Dota 2” and “Counter Strike” that are more competitive are deemed “gamer” worthy, while games that are more “casual” are undeserving of even being considered.
“MOBAs, FPS and RPGs are still largely dominated by the male population and these are the games that people perceive as ‘real games’ since it’s largely competitive.”
GAMEPLAN FOR BRANDS & MARKETERS
This can be attributed to how gaming has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, with all existing perceptions of gamers rooted in the ways males approach games. There lies an opportunity for brands to lead the shift in narrative on what makes a true gamer and help female gamers, an increasingly valuable demographic, feel like they are accepted and embraced in the gaming world.
Even a simple acknowledgement of support within the industry like how Bumble helped the first all-women Fortnite team can help to generate positive brand affinity and awareness in the gaming community – the success of this effort propelled them to form an all-women VALORANT team a year later.
And it is not always rainbows and butterflies.
On top of that, this exclusive “boys club” has bred other issues like toxic masculinity and sexual harassment for the female gamer community, who often face hostility while playing and are perceived as incompetent.
“It’d be nice if guys can grow up and respect all players – they still feel that female gamers suck at video games but we all know this is an outdated stereotype.”
Borne out of the need to feel safe while gaming, female gamers often veil their real-life identities behind the screen, preferring avatars that are more masculine or choosing to omit the usage of voice chat which may give away their gender.
“I play PUBG on mute now because the last time I spoke in a game, I got shot down by fellow (male) players.”
This need to hide behind an androgynous avatar may also be compounded by the fact that there is a lack of representation of female protagonists within games.
“I tried out Kena: Bridge of Spirits only because they have a female lead character.”
GAMEPLAN FOR BRANDS & MARKETERS
Brands can tailor solutions to elevate experiences for female gamers, thus creating a toxic-free virtual world for the community to experience and enjoy.
One such route could be increasing the visibility of female protagonists within games to aid in representation. Brands can either work with game developers or use in-game features to spotlight female characters – Burberry’s character skins in China’s biggest video game, “Honor of Kings” or Gillette Venus’ “Skinclusive Summer Line”, which brought diverse skin representations to life in “Animal Crossing”.
At this point, it should be clear that gaming is no longer as it was before, and neither are gamers. Brands that will pull ahead in the social gaming landscape are the ones who can recognize the different subcultures of gamers and grasp the extensive ecosystem surrounding games that they could potentially insert themselves in. By understanding gaming culture and the ecosystem, brands can lead the charge in rewriting the narrative and enhancing gaming experiences for all gamers, whether they are the lanky teenage boys yelling for additional ammunition or the girls looking for their next gamified escapade.
Keen to find out more about how your brand can tap on social gaming? Get in touch with us at [email protected].