Games for Women: Hidden in Plain Sight

Have you ever noticed that the types of games on offer in retail game shops are just different from the games you can pick up on sites like Steam? If you’ve read about a game in your magazine/ website/ bboard of choice then the chances are that you’ll see it on shelves eventually. But especially in the PC market (assuming your game shop has any PC games at all), there’s a whole slew of games taking up shelf space that no hardcore gaming site ever mentions.

(Yes I realise it is counter-intuitive to be talking about brick and mortar shops when Steam has a crazy-good Summer sale on at the moment.)

This is partly due to the arcane mechanisms of game distributors (Puzzle Quest simply wasn’t in shops over here for example, despite the likelihood that it would have sold in bucketloads). But if we assume that shops don’t put boxes on shelves just for the fun of it, we also have to assume that lots of people are buying games that are practically invisible to the ‘typical online gamer’.

I am of course talking about puzzle games, and hidden object games in particular. Ever seen those adventure type PC games in boxes on shelves – probably about detectives, or historical mysteries? You won’t see them reviewed in ‘respectable’ gaming magazines. They know fine well that their core audience isn’t interested. But the non-core audience is happy enough with Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton, Puzzle Quest and various other popular DS games, and spends money to prove it. It feels to me as if games on the DS have more leeway to branch out. Gamers seem to have accepted that ‘women play puzzle games on the DS’. But put a hidden object/ puzzle/ mystery game on a PC and no one wants to know. Bizarre, isn’t it?

hiddenobject.co.uk lists many of the more popular games. I’d suggest anyone who likes the Professor Layton style of gaming take a look through the list. It is tricky to find reviews online though, or to know which are the best of the genre. (If you have played any hidden object games or want to share any favourites, please feel free!)

There are also plenty of indie games ploughing the puzzle-gameplay furrow. Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, for example, is a hidden object/ puzzle game with a supernatural-romantic storyline. The demo gave me strong vibes of being a cross between Professor Layton and Gabriel Knight (this is a good thing, by the way.) The developers worked very closely with the writer all the way through development – a winning and far too unusual combination – and are very clear that they’re aiming their game at female players who like romance novels and playing puzzle games.

In theory, this should be a HUGE potential audience. So why are these types of games always sidelined in the gaming press? Who is reviewing them? Where are the communities of gamers who enjoy them? Why do hidden object games have to be so …. hidden?

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11 thoughts on “Games for Women: Hidden in Plain Sight

  1. This is one of those questions you ask to which you already know the answer, right? The audience for games are male, between the ages of 14 and 25.

    Anyone outside that narrow range, is fringe.

    • I think I’m mostly gutted at how badly the gaming press has betrayed us (where us means anyone who might like these games — not trying to imply that it’s only women). There are websites and publications specifically aimed at PC gaming so how do they get away with ignoring at least half of the available games?

      And these are the same guys who write editorials about how cool it is that Nintendo appeals to a wide range of gamers. Well so does the PC, you blinkered freaks!! (I feel better for getting that off my chest btw :) )

      I don’t say we all have to like the same sorts of games, but why is it so hard to even find out which the best hidden object games are?

  2. Not true anymore, Tipa. Each month, more than 200 million people play casual games, and more than 70% of those players are WOMEN. Casual games are crazy popular, and the media ignores it.

  3. I don’t know if you have them in the U.K. spinks, but it’s for the same reasons why harlequin romance novels don’t get reviewed.

    1. They churn out an incredible number of them. 220+ on yahoo games alone.

    2. They are all the same, really. Formulaic even beyond normal.

    3. They don’t bother to reach out to a wider audience. Would any male gamer seriously try this 2-game bundle?

    “Get swept away in two worlds of romantic wedding madness! From the proposal to the cake cutting, create the perfect Italian love affair in Dream Day Wedding: Bella Italia! Capture a wedding photographer’s steamy fling in Nora Roberts: Vision in White!”

    Even the less flouncy games are based on things like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, etc.

    Those DS games were never ghettoized or targeted to women. The DS has had a mini-adventure game renaissance, and a lot of games like Layton were made. Hotel Dusk and Time Hollow are two more examples.

    I guess it’s a danger of targeting an audience too specifically.

    • “3. They don’t bother to reach out to a wider audience. ”

      You mean like Modern Warfare does?

      I think romance novels do get reviewed on romance novel sites. This is a bit hypothetical since I don’t read them myself but I bet I could drop in to a romance fan forum, tell people what sort of books I liked, and ask for recommendations at least. And if I wanted to read a more literary style of book, then any book type review site really should have reviews on them. (ie. lots of books have romance as a main or sub plot, even aside from the really formulaic genre ones like harlequin.)

      But that doesn’t really seem to happen with these sorts of games. Maybe they are all the same really, but how would anyone know? If you had a friend who liked that sort of thing (or a 12 year old niece in my case), how would you know which ones to recommend? Do some have better writing and plot? Do some have better designed puzzles. It’s like a crapshoot really.

      And the less flouncy games (based on what I saw in shops today) are based on historical scenarios (titanic) and detective type plots (eg. sherlock holmes). I just wonder if I’m missing anything good, tbh. Is there a Myst out there that no one has bothered to review?

      • I know a few girls that play MW. One of my co-workers even, we joke that she’ll kick our ass at it if we get out of line.

        As for finding out, just go to the portal and play it. Most of the hidden object games have a web version with an extensive free trial that could tell you if you like it or not.

        I’m not sure about adventure games, but online sites like Gamespot review them on their pc reviews. If it’s boxed and retail usually sites cover them.

  4. I’ve noticed those games as well, and wondered why I hadn’t heard of any of them. I’d always assumed that it was because they were so terrible but yes, it could simply be because they’re overlooked as you say.

    There could be gems in there.

  5. Here is an example:
    http://www.playedonline.com/game/598246/the-final-death-wish.html

    It is one of the most fun flash shooter games I have ever played. I keep going back to it despite being an avid PC and Console gamer. Why? Because its addictive, it is well thought out, it is satirical in its portrayal of the shooter genre, and most of it it is simple to learn, complex in design and an incredibly fun shooter.

    Yet, oddly, there is no review for it. Anywhere. And just three meaning comments on its page over at Played Online.

    I think it is a travesty that entire gaming publications are able to get away with (murder) the utter neglect of entire genres of gaming that so many of us (again, us being gamers in general, and not females specifically) immensely enjoy.

  6. Honest question: how many women work writing articles for gaming magazines? I have a subscription to Game Informer (via my joining their discount club). I think they have a few women on staff but to my knowledge, none of the writers are women.

    In addition, would the target audience of those games (I’m guessing women my mother’s age) read the reviews? My mom is part of the largest population of gamers: female, over 30, who plays Solitaire and Bejeweled like games. She doesn’t read any gaming magazines or websites.

    Would it work to have a typical ladies journal (Redbook, etc), have a game reviewer? Would that magazine style of magazine even want to do that? In my head, I’m imagining someone who’s somewhat knowledgable about games reviewing the women and children targeted games.

  7. Well, I have the answer for all of you saying there’s no place to find reviews or more info about casual games. There is an immensely popular website that reviews all of these games: Gamezebo! http://www.gamezebo.com/ I highly recommend the site; I go there every day to check on what’s new.

  8. Yeah, I came here to mention Jayisgames. They review a lot of hidden object games, amongst other genres of casual PC games.

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