Gaming is surely losing money by not employing more women, so what are the barriers to increasing gender diversity in the industry?
By Sam Wallace, Managing Director, Sheffield Haworth
More than 40% of gamers in the world today are women, yet only 24% of gaming industry employees are. Why is that? Surely, if for no other reason (despite there being many) the industry could generate even more revenues from this increasingly important demographic. This would acknowledge that more women are enjoying gaming than ever before – despite feeling that games aren’t designed for them.
The industry needs more female representation at all levels from game designer to CEO. The real question is, what’s stopping this from happening? Are women simply not interested in the industry? Do they believe it’s not accessible for them? Or are there deeper systemic reasons for this disparity?
More diversity = more business growth
You’re probably aware of the many studies that suggest a strong correlation between increased diversity and improved business performance. The argument that increasing diversity drives innovation and market growth has been in play since at least 2013, when the Harvard Business Review published this well-known article.
Since then, there has been a plethora of studies that show the link between diversity and better business results. For example, this 2017 study suggests diverse companies are 87% better at making decisions, while this 2018 study says that 43% of diverse boards noticed significantly higher profits.
Or take this McKinsey article from 2015 that states how gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to have higher performance. A simple Google research reveals dozens more studies in this same vein.
If the argument in favour of increasing diversity is so strong from a bottom-line point of view, again we need to ask: why is gaming seemingly so slow to take this on board? Is it just down to sexism?
Some say the gaming industry is sexist
The gaming industry has certainly come under fire in recent years from those who believe it is sexist. There is some evidence to support this view.
For starters, only 24% of global games developers are female, which, as this Forbes article points out, is “an unusually low figure compared to other creative and cultural sectors”. Contrast this with US stats which show that 41% of gamers were women in 2020, and we can begin to see the disparity.
What’s worse, women make up only 14% of the senior executive teams of the top 144 gaming companies in the US. The impact of this is reflected in the gender pay gap for the industry. According to this report, the global average pay gap in gaming is 26%, well above the global average of 19% for all industries.
On top of this there was the massive reputational damage to gaming from the infamous Gamergate controversy, an online anti-progressive harassment campaign which targeted prominent female games developers, as well as the feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian and others.
Fair or not, this left the industry with a reputation as a male-dominated bastion keen to resist female influence, and even outright hostile to female games professionals. It’s an impression that’s been hard to shake off.
The challenges of being a female game developer
Many female developers face challenges in the workplace, too. According to award-winning designer Kim McAuliffe: “There is a battle on two fronts: being in a minority group at work in general, which is isolating; and then fighting battles over whether or not women are a significant part of the audience, or debating whether or not character designs are sexy enough.”
More women are gamers than ever before, despite feeling games aren’t designed for them
As we’ve seen, 41% of gamers in 2020 were female. In mobile gaming the percentage of female players is even higher at 49%, with 64% of women preferring mobile games to other platforms.
Even here there are challenges however, as “the majority of women think that 30% or fewer mobile games are actually made for women.”
Even more interesting is this statistic: “The majority of women play just 2-3 games, whilst men play 3 or more. Men also talk more frequently about the games they play and tend to pay for games more often (52%) than women (33%).”
Read between the lines, and it’s clear that games developers are missing a trick. If over 100m gamers in the US are women, this means that over 66m of them don’t currently pay for games. What if developers could get more women to pay? And what if they could get them to play as many games on average as men do?
Are we making unfair comparisons?
While there is an obvious gender imbalance in the industry, it may not be fair to make the comparison with creative and cultural sectors. Instead, it may be more helpful to compare with other traditionally male-dominated industries.
In the US financial services industry, for example, women hold only 11% of all C-suite roles in 2021. If we take the example of tech firms, in 2019 only 23% of Google’s workforce was female – and this percentage was the same for Apple and Facebook. These are hardly bastions of female equality. Indeed, the proportion of their workforce that are women appears slightly worse than in gaming.
Compare gaming with either of these male-dominated industries and the reality is that it actually compares rather well. As Kim McAuliffe points out: “Tech in general suffers from a lack of women, so the gender inequality is similar.”
Certainly, given the technology base of developer roles, it is probably more helpful to compare gaming with the tech industry and ask: are women being held back by the same things in gaming as they are in tech?
Steps the industry is taking to become more inclusive
The gaming industry itself is not blind to the diversity challenge. The UK-based #RaisetheGame initiative encourages companies to create more inclusive working environments, with a focus on creating a diverse and inclusive workforce.
Co-founded by some of the world’s largest developers – including Candy Crush developer King, EA’s UK & Ireland division, Facebook Gaming, Microsoft, and Jagex – over 100 companies have signed up to this initiative. #RaisetheGame also promotes more gender diversity within games themselves. This is an important step, given that we’ve seen how many women don’t believe games are made for them.
In the US, the Women in Gaming Ambassador Program has 12 corporate and 446 individual ambassadors across the world working to support women and girls better understand the games industry. This program aims to double the number of women in games over ten years.
At the same time, larger gaming companies such as Ubisoft have announced the appointment of senior D&I roles to accelerate their cultural shift towards more balanced representation.
There may well be some individuals in the gaming industry who still regard gaming as a male pastime that has no place for women. However, blanketing the entire industry with this accusation could be unhelpful given that the industry has actually made significant progress towards greater gender diversity, and seems genuine in its desire to continue to develop.
With games developers already taking steps to increase representation, the real questions become:
- Which initiatives are proving successful?
- How could they be accelerated?
- How can we support the gaming industry to do more and do it better?