In the great firmament of online gaming of which we, gentle readers, are merely the most minor of cogs in the great machine, there is one great truth that is widely held by developers and commentators alike. Men and women don’t play the same games.
Except, of course, that many of us do. Many games appeal equally to everyone – Bejewelled knows no colour, or gender, or age. Even among games that genuinely are more targetted, the population of Farmville isn’t 100% female. Women play Modern Warfare 2 and other shoot-em-ups. It’s also true that those of us who are gamers will often play the games our loved ones play, even if it might not be our first choice. Still women and men tend to favour some play styles above others, and many games on the market right now are directly targeted at either male or female fantasies.
Stargrace wrote an intriguing entry this week about attracting more female gamers to EVE Online, which is part of a competition organised by Crazy Kinux, the well known EVE blogger.
The actual answer for CCP is to just finish the goddamn Vampire game already. Or alternatively, I hear that flowers are quite popular? EVE is a hard sci fi, hard simulation, hard business, hard PVP game. It doesn’t need to be softened to make it more mainstream. Anyway, in the far future I’m sure people can live without women.
Nope? OK. Let’s start by looking at some of the very basic reasons why women don’t play EVE in great numbers, and how they might be addressed.
1. Deep Space
Hard Science Fiction is not a genre that is heavily populated by women, either as writers or as fans. Series like Star Trek or BSG which do have a very strong female following do so on the basis of the characters and the culture, not the space ships.
To inject more storytelling and more NPC soap opera into EVE would really run counter to the whole sandbox ethos. EVE is based on a game world in which players make their own stories, even if they mostly consist of boring mining ops. So there’s the double problem of:
- no one is really interested in other people’s stories
- even your own story probably isn’t all that exciting most of the time
Some of this could genuinely be addressed with better social features. Players could have their own cross-indexed blogs. Or more background could even be inserted into the game world – even player created.
Imagine having an information console where you could pull up details of interesting events that had affected either places you visited or people you knew. There’s definitely scope for making the existing stories more accessible.
Women tend to prefer to cooperate rather than to compete in games. It isn’t that they aren’t competitive, but it tends to make them feel bad or even guilty. It’s just the way we’re socialised. So, we need to be introduced to PvP gently, in a way that makes it clear that everyone is OK with it.
Now EVE does have some relatively safe locations where a new player who wanted to avoid PvP could stay. But that won’t protect them from being scammed on trade chat, or subject to whatever that scammy can flipping thing is called. To encourage more women into a PvP game would need more enclosed, limited PvP environments. Or better tutorials, or mentors.
And they need to be protected from being duped into PvP when they didn’t intend it. A woman is far more likely to just dump the game after an experience like that.
3. Better social functions
The chat window in EVE is functional, but hardly one of the game’s better features. It also isn’t especially easy to find a suitable corps (guild) and if you try to do it via the new players channel, information will scroll past faster than you can easily keep up.
4. Small scale business, art and craft
Women have traditionally been heavily involved in craft and cottage industries. And a lot of people, when playing simulations, don’t want to play sim-corporate-empire. Or in other words, they aren’t hardcore and don’t want to be wiped out by people who are. EVE has a very comprehensive industrial and trading simulation, but it is also one that pushes players to think big and industrial-scale, not small and bijou.
It would undoubtedly engage more women if players could create or commission unusual items of art or craft. Things that could be made in small numbers and not just by playing the intergalactic stock exchange. Or maybe even pursue careers as space pop singers, or theatrical producers. This is drifting away from EVE’s usual purview but it is the industrial, impersonal scale of EVE crafting that puts a lot of people off.
I’m interested to hear how the new ‘walking around space ships and running your own shop’ expansion will pan out. Imagine a typical female-fantasy type enterprise: a small boutique fashion shop. Could that exist in the new EVE? They have mentioned fashion outlets and plastic surgeons but does that mean players may be able to trade something that isn’t a commodity? Could she run a crazy popular hangout and be known as the place to come to get all the gossip? Could a player commission or source enough unique and unusual items to make her shop an important hangout for intergalactic arbiters of fashion? Maybe even run her own fashion shows? Maybe she could. The link above highlights ‘custom, player made clothing’ as one of the features to be available.
Those sorts of roles in game would attract the female players who may not be interested in space piracy, mining, or being a queen of industry.
And then the question would be – how hard would it be for someone who just wanted their own little fashion emporium to accomplish that without having to slog through the gameplay that doesn’t interest her? And that is what we still are yet to see. (OK, my actual first question is “how long before the first brothel?”)
4. the newbie experience
A better newbie experience is good for all new players, male or female alike. But men and women do favour different learning styles. I’ve lost the link but I recall reading an article that described how female players were reluctant to learn a new game by just jumping straight into it. They preferred to practice a small piece at a time and get comfortable with that before progressing to the next stage. They were more risk averse, and strongly disliked feeling rushed or pushed through a tutorial more quickly than they had wanted to go.
So even if a woman isn’t put off by the deep space theme, hardcore reputation, and notoriously steep learning curve, the EVE newbie experience is still a scary and lonely place to be. Especially to someone who isn’t a hardcore gamer and used to just jumping straight into stuff, dying horribly, and then doing it again. Or making horrible newbie mistakes with skills and talents, and just laughing it off. Even the lure of player created frocks might not be enough …
EVE is a fascinating game. I don’t play it myself, but I can see both the appeal and the frustration whenever people write about it. I think the new developments are going to be very exciting, but asking how to attract more women might just be the wrong question.
Added — And for the purposes of competition, here are links to the last five entries on this topic:
Ladies to the gunfight (I laughed)
Hell hath no fury
(Cogito Ergo Yarr) The ladies of new eden
(Confessions of a Closet Carebear) Ladies of New Eden
(Cloaked and Watching You) Ladies of New Eden