The representation of women in the videogame industry is at its lowest in over a decade. What’s going wrong?

The number of female gamers may be on the rise – thanks in part to the explosion of social and mobile gaming, as well as the broad appeal of Nintendo’s Wii – but the opposite is true of women occupying jobs in the industry. In fact, according to Creative Skillset’s most recent survey, which took place in 2009, just six per cent of the videogame industry’s workforce are women – a figure half that of the previous survey, which recorded 12 per cent in 2006.

It’s an uncomfortable statistic, and a disheartening slide, especially for an industry currently so energised by the potential of new business models and new demographics. It’s also concerning given the fact that the same survey revealed creative media industries as a whole boast a far healthier female contingent of 42 per cent.

Clearly, something is going wrong. It could lie in a failure to communicate videogame career paths to children in school, an incompatibility between lifestyle and working hours, or a lack of opportunities. And with so much potential creativity absent from videogame development, it’s certainly an issue that needs to be addressed for the good of gaming as a whole.

From left: Women In Games Jobs’ Gina Jackson; The Creative Assembly's senior artist, Nick Farley; and PhD researcher and game designer Mitu Khandaker

“If you’re waiting till the point when people are applying then it’s a bit too late,” says Anna Marsh, who is the co-founder and design director of developer Lady Shotgun Games. She has worked in the industry for 15 years, starting as a level designer at Psygnosis before moving on to lead roles at The Creative Assembly and Eidos. “I’ve looked at a lot of CVs in the jobs I’ve worked in, and it’s very rare to get one from a female candidate.”

Marsh points to an increasingly polarised genderfication of everything from toys to advertising – a pink/blue split that leaves little room for grey in the middle – and the need for projects such as MinecraftEdu, which provide a more appealing jumping-off point into technology. But for those women who do enter the videogame industry, there are even greater hurdles to face.

“You recruit a young female designer, and then say, ‘Hey, do you want to make this FPS?’” jokes Creative Assembly senior artist Nick Farley. “That’s a broad generalisation, of course, but the real point is: do women want to be designing the games that we’re designing now so that they can get up to the level of elite designer and lead their own projects?”

Renaud Charpentier, lead designer at The Creative Assembly, goes further: “You begin as a fresh starter, doing the odd jobs of design and not really core design. And that’s a problem, because sometimes women enter the industry, work with us for a couple of years, then decide it’s never going to change and they’re never going to be able to work on what they’re really interested in, and so they leave. We lose them, even if they were the right people, because we don’t give them decision access fast enough. It’s not only the fault of the studio directors, it’s also the fault of the way the entire publishing industry’s structured as well.”

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