Women, Marketing and Magazines

a speech by Suzanne Freyjadis-Chuberka, the Conference Director, at the Women’s Game Conference being held in Austin this week. In it she claims that there are plenty of games out there that women would find enjoyable if they would just sit down and play them. According to her, the issue isn’t the games and their content but in how they’re marketed and how the gaming press presents them.

Today the gaming press responded. What I found most interesting was that, to me at least, their responses did more to prove Ms. Freyjadis-Chuberka’s point than to disprove it.

An Example:

“Suzanne Freyjadis\’s argument against marketing and magazines seems to stem from her opinion that todays games have the potential to be equally appealing to women — and that marketing and press are ignoring this to push their own “boys only” agenda. That’s just not true.”Sure, the games industry is (finally) starting to broaden with some titles that aren’t focused on just the guys, but — excluding The Sims — those games represent a very small section of the market. The overwhelming majority of games sold today are still primarily built on male fantasies. While a growing female minority are also enjoying these games, their numbers aren’t yet big enough to make them a target audience.

“As Editor-In-Chief of PSM, it simply isn’t within my power to affect who plays games and who doesn’t. For a magazine to appeal to its most likely audience, it must closely reflect that audience and the subject it covers. Since a large majority of PlayStation gamers are male, that’s who we write for. Likewise, if the best-selling games are filled with half-naked girls blowing stuff up, that’s what will naturally be reflected in our magazine.

“The real issue is that game publishers still haven’t learned how to consistently appeal to the fairer sex. Obviously, they’d love to double their consumer base — they just don’t know how. In such a high-stakes industry, everyone is scared of thinking outside the box.

“Things are getting better, though — just slowly. We will get to a point where there is a much stronger balance of broadly-appealing games, and then it will fall to marketing to get the right message across. And when the gaming climate does change, gaming magazines will be smart to follow along.

“But we’re just not there yet.”

Chris Slate
Editor-in-Chief – PSM

First off what’s “just not true” – that marketing and the press are ignoring the fact that todays games can appeal to women or that todays games can actually appeal to women?

Judging by the second paragraph I’d have to say that Mr. Slate is under the impression that, except for The Sims, most of the games today would not appeal to women and those that might are such a small niche market that it’s not an effective use of his resources to cover them. To me this is exactly what Suzanne was saying and he’s just proven her point for her.

Now, I don’t have a copy of the latest issue of his magazine handy but I was able to look at the cover online. I know plenty of women that like Prince of Persia and would be interested in the new version. Does he think that women gamers are less interested in the launch of the PS3 than their male counterparts or maybe they don’t need the kind of info provided by the 2005 Fall Game Guide? However, while I do think there are a lot of women gamers that might be interested in an insightful article about what’s gone wrong with the PSP and when it will get better I don’t think many of them are going to look to an article titled “PSP: WTF?” to get that information and this is the point that Mr. Slate is missing. This is the perfect example of the press focusing on the 18 – 24 year old male as their target audience.

I also have to wonder how someone can become Editor-In-Chief of a major monthly publication with such a huge problem with reading comprehension. In her speech Suzanne states, point blank, that the issue isn’t so much that the games and their content don’t appeal to women but that the marketing and the editorial slant of the gaming magazines are targeted at the 18 – 34 year old male demographic and purposefully excluding women.

If the Editor-In-Chief of the magazine doesn’t have some say in the editorial tone of the magazine who does? Sure he may not have control over the advertising that’s run but he could ensure that the articles are written in such a way that they appeal to women – hint: PSP: WTF? is not a good start. I’ve read PSM and it reminds me of PC Gamer for consoles, not a huge surprise as they’re both published by Future Network USA, and I have long thought of PC Gamer as Maxim for Games with pictures of hardware and screenshots instead of scantily clad women. Believe it or not I don’t have a problem with this just don’t complain that it’s not your fault when someone calls you on it. Dan Hsu, from EGM, was at least up front and honest about it, if only %7 of your readers are women then you want to write to appeal to the majority of your readership to keep them coming back. I can understand and respect that. Of course, he lost all respect when he asked “Plus, what does “target female gamers” mean anyway? More coverage on Barbie games?”.

I think what a lot of these editors are missing is that if they were to change the focus of their magazines away from targeting the 18 – 34 year old male market and would focus on delivering quality insightful reviews, previews and gaming news they’d easily double their readership. Not only would more women be attracted to them but you’d also get more men in the beyond 34 segment of the market and who has more money an 18 year old or a 40 year old? Sure they’d lose some of the less mature 18 – 20 year olds but I’m betting the vast majority of the true game fans, regardless of age or sex, would flock to a magazine like that.

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