Women and mobile games: learnings for developers

The market opportunity in making mobile gaming more diverse, more inclusive, and more engaging

There are now over two billion active Android devices which means more people are playing mobile games than ever before. The growth of the mobile games audience had led to an expansion of diversity in characteristics, needs, and motivations of those playing games. In our previous post Who plays mobile games we discussed the opportunity to think of players in terms of the needs met by playing games, rather than in terms of stereotypes and demographics. At the same time, there is a lot of conversation in the gaming community about gender and inclusivity, but relatively little research or discussion about the experiences of women who play mobile games.

We wanted to understand more about this so we partnered with gaming intelligence provider Newzoo to produce a quantitative research study to understand the experiences and perceptions of women who play games in the United States. We worked with dozens of game makers, critics, players, and academics to contextualize our research. Dive deeper into the insights through this interactive experience or discover more learnings in a summary of our findings. Read on to find out how you as a developer can make your game more inclusive and appealing to all players out there.

Know your audience

There is significant market potential in women who play mobile games, both in terms of volume and preference for the platform. In our research we found a significant number of women in the US play mobile games today (65% of those aged between 10–65 years). This is a higher percentage than those who have watched a movie at a movie theater (62%), or read a book (44%), in the last year. It’s clear that women engage significantly more in mobile gaming than in other forms of entertainment, and that’s not it… Research has shown that they are just as likely to play mobile games as men — women represent half of all mobile game players! They are not only more likely to prefer mobile compared to other platforms, women also tend to play more frequently than men.

As a games developer, do you consider the opportunity presented women for your games? There may be an opportunity for you to grow your business in untapped markets by better understanding your players. As a starting point you might want to measure and evaluate the percentage of players who are women. Are women well represented in your player base? Is there a difference in their user experience compared to your male players?

The same goes for new developments: when designing your game, or thinking of future development, it can be a useful exercise to think of the range of people who may play your game, rather than gravitating to the ‘typical’ player. Could there be a difference in the user experience of some players? By thoroughly analysing and researching user audiences you can potentially make a strong business case to capture an underserved audience — such as women who play games.

Build more inclusive games

If you look at popular games on Google Play, the nature of much of the imagery and icons would imply women are a relatively niche group in the world of gaming: among the top 100 revenue generating games on Google Play, characters who are men are featured in their app icons 44% more often than characters who are women. Consequently our research found women often do not feel like they belong to this community although they are playing games very actively. Using alternative, or less alienating, iconography, characters, and imagery when promoting your game could help differentiate it clearly from your competition, and ensure you don’t miss out on reaching potential players. Try the following quick tips:

  • Test more inclusive imagery when running store listing experiments.
  • Pay attention to your icon, screenshots, and videos, and consider testing the impact of different imagery on conversion rates.
  • Think of launching with characters who are women, or testing new ones when running LiveOps.
  • Track how people are resonating with the characters, and, invaluably, listen to the feedback of your community.

Grow a diverse team

It is very difficult to have the empathy and perspective needed to build a product that meets the needs of a wide range of potential people. It’s human nature to build games you want to play. To reduce potential bias, request feedback from a broad representation of your potential players at several stages throughout your game’s lifecycle.

The profile of your development team also impacts your ability to build games that appeal to a wide spectrum of players. Despite the high proportion of women playing mobile games, men are overrepresented in the gaming industry: according to the IDGA, only 27.8% of the gaming industry globally are women, transgender, or other people. This imbalanced representation is felt by players who responded to our research with only 23% of women and 40% of men believing there is equal treatment and opportunity for all in the games industry.

Diversity of perspectives from your team members will help you build truly innovative and exciting games that will appeal to a broad spectrum of potential players. Look at your team and compare it with the user composition of your game. Is your team truly representative of your audience? Is it well equipped to help you capture the maximum potential audience possible by making your game appealing to everyone?

Take advantage of this opportunity

While there is great potential in the sheer volume of women playing mobile games, it is striking from the research how less likely they are than men to truly embrace their play habits. With a few notable exceptions, there is a sense that women don’t belong in the world of gaming. They are less likely to talk about games with their friends, pay for content, or feel good when they do pay.

We believe this represents a great opportunity for the industry to truly engage with women who play games. As user acquisition costs rise, think of the potential virality of building a game that resonates with and excites all players. This can only be achieved by recognizing and addressing the barriers for women to engage with your game.

The road ahead

We believe there is a great opportunity in market growth and making mobile gaming more diverse, more inclusive, and more engaging for all players. The first steps for you in order to take advantage of this opportunity are:

  • Know your audience: current and potential
  • Consider how your games may exclude some potential players
  • Assess the range of perspectives in your team, and how this affects the games you build
  • Brainstorm how you may produce the next game that all players could embrace

Mobile games are for everyone. To celebrate and empower women who play games and creators, we’re launching CHANGE THE GAME; a new Google Play initiative to promote diversity in games, celebrate all women who play games, and empower the next generation of game-makers through ongoing research, development programs, and partnerships.

As a mobile developer, you have a major influence on how future games will look like. We hope you can join our efforts of making the gaming world a more inclusive community; if we all contribute to this, mobile games will bring us even more joy than they do today.

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts on how developers can build more inclusive games? Join the discussion in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.