GamesBeat

E3 trendspotting: Game publishers turning more to girl gamers

LOS ANGELES—With the influx of fresh new gamers, thanks in large part to the popularity of mass-market game machines, the DS and the Wii, more game companies than ever are jumping on the girl gamer bandwagon. Practically every booth at this year’s E3 Media and Business Summit this year had something to offer for female gamers of various demographics.

The breadth of games ranged from Nintendo DS titles like Namco Bandai’s “National Geographic Panda” and Legacy Interactive’s “Zoo Vet Endangered Animals” to Wii titles like Electronic Arts’ “Littlest Pet Shop” (pictured above, also available on Nintendo DS) and “Boogie: Superstar.”

“We discovered with the original ‘Boogie’ that tween girls really loved the game, so we decided to focus on girls 10 to 14 years of age with this sequel,” said Charles-William Bibaud, associate producer for the game. “We worked with a local tween author and a choreographer to make sure this game has everything a tween wants, including lots of customization and the ability to use real dance moves with the Wii.”

Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, said at Nintendo’s E3 press event that 48 percent of Nintendo DS owners are now female gamers. And that number is huge given the fact that Nintendo has sold over 70 million Nintendo DS portables worldwide (as of the end of March). Factor in that the company forecasts a global installed base of 100 million Nintendo DS units by the end of March 2009, and there is clearly a new market for game publishers and developers to target.

On the one hand, there are gender-neutral titles that appeal just as much to females as males. When Nintendo brings “Cooking Guide: Can’t Decide What to Eat?” (working title) to Nintendo DS on November 24, it’s not aiming this title at little girls. Ubisoft’s November Nintendo DS title, “Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking” should appeal equally to both sexes. And the success of games like Electronic Arts’ “Rock Band” and Activision’s “Guitar Hero” have shown that females of all ages are open to the right gaming experience. But the bulk of titles on display at E3 were aimed at either the tween or young girl demographics.

The trend was evident last year, when Disney launched its “Disney Princess” game for the youngest girl players, and when Electronic Arts launched titles such as “EA Playground” and “Boogie” for the Wii. But the momentum is far more noticeable now.

For many years, girl games didn’t sell. “Purple Moon,” a pioneering game start-up headed by researcher Brenda Laurel, tried to make a series of games based on the girl character “Rockett” starting in 1996. But the games didn’t sell well and Purple Moon shuts its doors. Mattel bought the rights to the games in 1999. Over time, successes emerged. Her Interactive scored hits with PC titles based on the “Nancy Drew” mystery books. And The Sims, launched in 2000, was one of the first huge hits to appeal to females.

Disney Interactive Studios, which devotes about 70 percent of its games slate to Disney licensed product, has had success with games aimed at girls across multiple platforms.

During the 2007 holiday season, the company shipped more than 3.8 million copies of the widely popular “High School Musical” video games worldwide, achieving Top 20 positions on each published platform for the month of December 2007, according to NPD data.

At E3, Disney had two new games based on “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” as well as titles that tie into “Disney Faeries: Tinker Bell,” (which has an estimated 40 hours of game play in it) the new 3D CGI movie “Bolt” (starring Miley Cyrus) and a karaoke game called “Disney Sing It,” which includes songs from Disney shows like “Hannah Montana,” “Camp Rock,” and “High School Musical.” Even their new Wii game, “Ultimate Band,” should appeal as much to tween girls as tween guys. Aiming for the younger gamers of both genders, “Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force” hits the Nintendo DS this Christmas.

Graham Hopper, head of Disney’s video game division, Disney Interactive, said that any attempts to target girls will lift the entire market. Typically, the sure hits are based on licensed music or movies. But over time, more hits may come from titles that are based on original stories produced specifically for video games.

“We’ve done a lot of heavy-lifting in this market by ourselves,” he said. “We would be open to original ideas in the girl space.”

Ubisoft used E3 to unveil a plethora of new games aimed at girls. The number one independent publisher of Nintendo DS games, already has the distinction of being the leader in the burgeoning tween category thanks to its Imagine and Petz brands – and new “Petz Monkeyz,” “Petz Dogz,” and “Petz Catz” games are on the way. This fall will also see “Imagine Movie Star,” “Imagine Fashion Designer New York,” “Imagine Babysitters,” “Imagine Wedding Designer,” “My Secret World by Imagine,” “Imagine Teacher,” and “Imagine Party Babyz” launch on Nintendo DS.

Ubisoft’s new Ener-G series of games was also created for these 6 to 14 year old girls. Tony Key, Ubisoft’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, said that the market for girl games exploded last year in North America. He said the new Ener-G brand is dedicated to providing tweens with an immersive way to play sports, socialize and network with their friends. The games in this new line-up include “Ener-G Dance Squad,” “Ener-G Gym Rockets,” and “Ener-G Horse Riders.”

In the newest stage of competition, it will be interesting to see which strategy targeting girls will be more successful: Disney’s approach based on licenses or Ubisoft’s attempt to create original franchises aimed at girls.

Nintendo’s Wii is attracting more girl games, as well. The upcoming Wii Music will likely appeal to females. THQ’s “All Star Cheer Squad,” which ships for Wii and Nintendo DS this October, brings the physicality of cheerleading to life through the Wii Balance Board, an accessory that shipped with the “Wii Fit” game and which can measure the direction you are leaning. The choreography in this new game was created by Tony G, best known for his work in the “Bring It On” cheerleading movies.

Beyond The Sims, EA has done a fabulous job of providing female gamers. Its newest titles for girls include “SimAnimals” for the Wii to “Littlest Pet Shop,” the latter being the number one brand for girls 4 and older. This October, EA is releasing the first in what should be a franchise of games based on this Hasbro brand. Lisa Leyba, senior product manager for the franchise at EA, said both the Wii and Nintendo DS games will target girls 6 to 10 years of age.

“Hasbro is trying to keep girls interested in this brand for a longer period of time and video games are a great way to extend a property’s reach,” said Leyba. “We’re making the games simple to play with lots of visual cues, since a good portion of this young audience doesn’t read yet.”

While brands are clearly still the leading way to capture a girl’s attention with games, The Sims attracted its majority female demographic through game play. And more publishers are launching their own brands that target this growing segment of gamers. After years of being ignored, girl games have arrived.

Dean Takahashi contributed to this report.


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