ANALYSIS: Here Come the Girls
Screen Digest analyst Piers Harding-Rolls discusses the ranks of young girl gamers that have prompted growth in the handheld and online gaming markets.
Teens and pre-teens or ‘tweens’ (eight to 12-year-olds) have always had an important role in consuming gaming media, from the very first arcade cabinets and home entertainment systems in the ’70s and ’80s, through to the Nintendo and Sega consoles of the ’90s and more recently the Game Boy and its later iterations.
But following the launch of the PlayStation in the mid-’90s, much of the sector’s expansion was driven by the adoption of consoles and spending on games by older consumers as games became more adult-friendly and increasingly targeted at what was to become known as the ‘core’ gamer – generally male, 18-35 years old and with a large disposable income, much of which was lavished on games.
The release of the PS2 maintained this trend, and the console proved fantastically successful in courting the 18-35 male gamer, while Nintendo’s GameCube failed to realize its ambition of gaining market share through a more kid-oriented offering. Plotting market expansion based on increased gaming by younger consumers seemed to be the wrong strategic move as the market reached the peak of the PS2 cycle during 2004.
Actually, at this time Nintendo, although failing to effectively compete with the adult male-centered home consoles, was already delivering on a strategy to increase kids’ spending on games through its handheld devices. While Sony and Microsoft started a front battling for the ‘core’ gamer, Nintendo maintained a link to its early consoles and new generations of young gamers through its handheld devices.
In its most recent cycle of handheld devices – the DS and DS Lite – Nintendo has successfully delivered on market growth by massively expanding its addressable market. Crucially, much of this expansion has come from the conversion of tween female consumers into device-based gamers. The DS in Europe is a female-dominated platform, with a majority of those female users being teenagers or pre-teens.
Girls’ participation in the growing handheld market has propelled the DS towards being the most popular platform in gaming history.
Now, in 2008, it is crystal clear that girls are fast becoming a very important consumer in the gaming market – we could say the girl gamer has come of age.
Their participation in the growing handheld market has propelled the DS towards being the most popular platform in gaming history – recent research from Media Create in Japan indicated that 100 million DS software units have been sold in the territory, all in just three years and five months. While the PS2 has also managed the same feat in recent times, the platform took a further year to reach the same target. Although the DS has a wide spread of users, much of its software has sold to tween female gamers.
While the DS is evidence of mass participation of girls in the device-led games market, there are substantial developments in other areas of the industry that highlight the numbers of young females playing games. Of particular interest is the evolution of the kid-targeted persistent social networking virtual world, or MMOG. Since the early 2000s there has been a steady introduction of sites, including Habbo (formerly Habbo Hotel), Neopets and Club Penguin, that cater to young gamers.
While in traditional MMOGs users are predominantly male, in these social-networking-driven communities the male to female ratio is normally pretty equal, or even sometimes weighted towards the girl gamer. All three of these sites have been hugely popular and also financially successful – so much so in the case of Club Penguin that Disney was prompted to splash $350m in cash acquiring the site (with the contingency for a further $350m based on future earnings) to add to its portfolio of kid-targeted online games and sites.
Aside from these online social worlds targeted at kids in general, there are also plenty of examples of game worlds and sites that are specifically made for girls. Stardoll – a Swedish virtual paper doll site – attracts six million unique users a month and, according to ComScore in August 2007, was the leading destination out of the top 1,000 sites on the web for girls aged nine to 17.
Girl gaming is also being heavily exploited by major toy manufacturers that are seeking to extend toy brands beyond that of the store purchase. Mattel and Ganz have been quick to develop Barbie and Webkinz-based virtual worlds that connect directly and in an ongoing fashion with the girl consumer. The success of these sites is testament to the growing interest in online games from tween girls, and underlines that games are an effective medium to court the young female consumer.
So if the last few years have witnessed the massmarket girl gamer coming of age, which of the TV console manufacturers is best placed to take advantage of this burgeoning opportunity?
Well, it is clear that Nintendo is already delivering on the girl gamer opportunity to a certain degree with the Wii. However, as proven by the amount of girls using the DS, there is further scope for expansion and for home console hardware to align even more strongly with young female consumers. As such, the door is open for all three manufacturers to release content targeted at girls and make more significant inroads into a growing segment of gamers that have yet to be fully addressed by the home console.
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