Just the mention of the word “tween” conjures up images of Bratz-toting, Twilight-reading, Justin Bieber-loving fans. But when you strip away the generalizations, a surprising reality emerges: this demographic controls nearly $50 billion in spending power — and they’re powerful brand advocates (just look at what they’ve done for stars like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry).
What’s more, they’re highly connected. Nearly 50 percent own smartphones. More than two-thirds have broadband access, and they consume, on average, a whopping 7.5 hours of media per day, two hours of which are spent on a mobile device. All of this adds up to a lucrative, highly engaged audience for game developers.
It’s no secret that adult females are some of the largest users of casual games, and in the 8 to 12-year-old tween demographic, it’s no different— more than 50 percentof tween girls play games on a regular basis. What makes the tween-girl market different, and frankly more exciting, is that it’s still in its infancy. There are plenty of opportunities for new entrants. Without access to Facebook, these girls haven’t been exposed to Farmville or Words With Friends, which means there’s still lots of room for the next big tween girl franchise (and licensing opportunities to boot).
So, what makes these girls tick, and what will get them playing your games? Here are some insights on how to create games that tween girls will love…
Understand the psychology: An informed approach to developing for this audience means understanding tween girls’ behavior and what motivates them. Between the ages of 8 and 12, girls are just starting to become aware of and experiment with their appearance, which explains why beauty and dress-up games reign supreme. They’re also interested in imagining and acting out their future lives, making role-playing games a great fit — particularly those that enable them to try various jobs on for size, like playing veterinarian or head chef. Self-expression is another hallmark of this demographic, making personality quizzes and creation games especially popular.
Don’t get stuck in one genre: Sure, plenty of girls love pink and dressing up, but many also love adventure games and other genres conventionally associated with boys. Girls have an endlessly diverse set of interests, but what is perhaps their most universal characteristic is a desire to feel special. No matter what kind of game you create, you should cater to them.
Pay attention to market trends: Fads move especially fast with this age group, which is why it is important to stay up-to-date on what’s popular now. Read relevant magazines, browse websites, and listen to music to figure out what tweens are into. Today’s Justin Bieber could be tomorrow’s Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and you don’t want to be caught with an outdated game.
Keep it simple: Educational games can be great learning tools, but if you are reaching tweens in an environment where they’re expecting a casual or social gaming experience, keeping it simple and light-hearted is the way to go. Games that are text heavy, have lengthy tutorials, or complex control schemes are likely to fall flat with this audience.
Don’t skimp on production quality: Simple shouldn’t mean bland. Particularly within genre-themed games, maintaining a high design standard is key to engaging this very visual audience.
Show parents some love: In many cases, parents are the gatekeepers to tweens’ online activities, which is why it’s important to include them in your strategy. Use parent-friendly language. Parents should easily be able to find terms, privacy policies, and other details that are important to them when monitoring their children’s online behavior.
The tween girls market is one of the fastest growing corners of the gaming industry, and it’s poised to take off in a major way. Developers should approach this like they would any new niche market: do your homework, immerse yourself in the trends, and above all — create something you’re proud of! Tweens are very clued in and connected socially, and whether you love your game or hate it, they’ll know and respond accordingly.
Peter Hofstede is Game Director at Spil Games, the world’s largest gaming platform with more than 180 million monthly active users, which also runs GirlsGoGames.com. He is responsible for all of Spil Games’ game development and oversees the firm’s Dutch, German and Chinese game studios. He has over 10 years of experience in the gaming world.