REPORT: Women and games – how do modern female gamers play?
- October 15, 2021
- Karolina Cieślak
Who are the contemporary female players? Do old stereotypes still hold? Does women’s interest in games always start with building houses in The Sims and end with playing Candy Crush? And does the presence of a female protagonist make female gamers want to play a particular title more? We analyzed the results of research on women as players, or rather: female players, from recent years. We have also analyzed our own research on large samples of gamers in this regard. On this basis, we present you a model of a modern female gamer – we show how often women play, how long for, what hardware they use; what genres, settings and dynamics they prefer; what level of difficulty they choose.. and much more!
How many female players are there?
In the collective consciousness, games are still associated primarily with men. They are the target for the majority of the promotional materials related to digital entertainment. Meanwhile, women are gaining importance as a relevant consumer group.
At the end of 2020, a report from a Polish IQS study was published focusing primarily on women in the gaming world. To the surprise of many, it turned out that in Poland women account for as much as 47% of players. Taking into account that
17 million people in Poland play games, so it can be estimated that the number of female players is about 8 million.
The results of the Polish research coincide with the results of global research conducted by the Newzoo analytical agency, which shows that women account for 46% of all players. In the US, the estimated number of players is 211 million, and thus almost 100 million female players!
It is worth mentioning that women are not only the consumers of games, but also their creators – programmers, visual artists and designers. They are also increasingly involved in gaming journalism. In Poland there is even a gaming portal run exclusively by women – Grajmerki.pl.
How and what do women play?
Research reports published online that show a high proportion of female gamers often generate strong emotions in the gaming community. These reports, however, tend to equate casual mobile gamers with so-called “hardcore” gamers, which in turn gives a wrong picture of the modern electronic gaming community. It’s hard to disagree that “casuals” and “hardcore” are different worlds. People who consider gaming to be their passion and devote a lot of time and energy to it are certainly a different type of audience and consumer than casual gamers, for whom games are only a way to pass the time when commuting or waiting in line. But does it make sense to accuse some reports of overestimating women’s participation in gaming, and are women mostly “casuals” after all?
Let’s take a closer look at the types of games women choose, as well as their playing styles and expectations of so-called game dynamics.
Women dominate mobile gaming audience
One popular stereotype is the claim that women primarily play mobile games. Research shows that there is some truth in it. Reports from 2020 showed that women accounted for almost 70% of mobile gamers in Europe. In Poland, the advantage is slightly smaller – women accounted for 52% of the mobile game audience, but the percentage of women gamers is expected to increase.
Such a large share of women in mobile gaming does not mean, however, that the women do not reach for equipment other than tablets and phones. The Game Story report we mentioned earlier shows that
almost 30% of female gamers turn on the console or PC every day.
It also turns out that women boast pretty high engagement when it comes to gaming – they make up a whopping 42% of those who play daily and 53% of those who play 4 to 6 times a week.
In our survey Video Gaming: Gender Differences and Stereotypes*, 51.9% of female gamers surveyed said they like mobile games (which doesn’t mean they don’t play on PC and consoles at the same time).
It’s not just The Sims for women
The Sims series was labeled a “female” game. And indeed, according to IQS, The Sims is one of the three most popular titles among women. Surprisingly,
the two other games which enjoy the highest popularity among women are stereotypically masculine franchises: the Fifa series and Grand Theft Auto V.
Our international research Gaming Sense 2021: Stories and Archetypes**, conducted in July 2021, shows that Polish women actually differ from men in their preferences for some gaming genres.
As you can see from the chart above: men prefer FPS, strategy, RTS, MOBA, HnS, sports, action and fighting games more than women. Whereas
women, much more than men, prefer adventure, puzzle, and platformer games.
Female gamers’ preferences for specific genres – regardless of the differences from male gamers – are shown in the chart below.
The genre most liked by women was RPGs. And this preference for RPGs over other genres is not surprising – in all our surveys to date, RPGs have been by far the most liked genre among gamers, regardless of the country or gender.
Nevertheless, among the female respondents, adventure and action adventure games came second in order of “preference”. Simulators, which are often associated with women by gamers, ranked fourteenth in the ranking of favorite genres. On a preference scale of 0 to 100, players gave them an average score of 47. Simulators are indeed slightly more liked by women than men, but it’s not a significant difference.
In the study Video Gaming: Gender Differences and Stereotypes
when asked about the most important component of games, 67% of women said it was the story.
The next most common answer was interesting characters – but with much less frequency – 9%. Besides
the vast majority of female gamers preferred singleplayer mode (75%) over multiplayer (25%), and TPP view (71%) over FPP view (29%).
Game Dynamics Preferences
Game dynamics are elements that in a way “emerge” cyclically from a combination of different mechanics. When repetitive pieces of gameplay move multiple mechanics, dynamics are created. Examples of dynamics might include creating your own playable character, developing strategies and choosing resources to implement them, managing cities and their inhabitants, or combat using special techniques and skills.
Based on our research and statistical analysis, we identified eight groups of gaming dynamics somewhat differently than originally proposed by the researchers at the University of Turku:
It turned out that, among Polish players, women were significantly less keen on the dynamics from the “Assault & Conquer” genre, i.e. typical war, campaign games. These dynamics were very much liked by only 4% of female players and as much as 35% of male players! Other
dynamics associated with strategy and tactical games were also liked much less by women than by men
(which is also confirmed in other results, e.g. genre preferences). Women, on the other hand, were more likely than men to really like immersive dynamics that build a “journey” in the game world.
Women in general are most fond of experiences, travel, immersion, and arcade areas of gaming. At the same time, in third place among the “very popular” dynamics in women are those very violent and risky ones, known from the “Assault & Risk” group.
These violent areas of gaming don’t come to the forefront for women simply because women are significantly polarized in this area – 41% of female gamers, on the other hand, tend to dislike them (or, in any case, prefer completely different dynamics).
So brutality and direct clashes have a lot of female supporters (almost a third!), but also many female players are distanced from these dynamics.
In male players it looks completely different. Not only are men very fond of violent dynamics, they also enjoy these dynamics far more explicitly than women.
The above differences are very significant and probably the most differentiating between female and male players. It follows that
female gamers expect different experiences of game dynamics than men, perhaps even regardless of genre preferences and other factors.
Although both men and women enjoy RPGs the most out of all genres (this is according to our previous research), RPGs for women should be different in nature and based on different elements, than RPGs for men. This is, of course, a rather academic consideration, as developers don’t design games exclusively for women OR men. However, it can be a valuable indication for publishers, who can highlight other elements and assets of their games in the marketing communication of the title to particular segments of players.
Is the woman a casual or hardcore gamer?
According to Joanna Tynor from DRAGO entertainment, female gamers are mainly interested in mobile games, quizzes and simulators, i.e. light and relaxing titles that do not require too much engagement in the game world. Such theses have not been clearly confirmed in any of the studies we conducted on large samples of Polish gamers – although it should be remembered that we did not study mobile gamers. According to IQS, on the other hand, the most common motivations for women to play games are the desire to relax, get away from reality, spend time with friends, and take on the role of a game character.
Speaking of friends – one indicator of a hardcore gamer is whether they are a source of gaming information for others, such as friends and acquaintances. In our Polish sample, players being a source for others was exceptionally common at 9%.
Among women, such players-trendsetters were less than 8%, among men – slightly more than 9%. However, these were not statistically significant differences.
It could be said that male and female gamers were equally a source of gaming information for others.
Another question that diagnoses gaming style is: “How many games do you usually finish? (It’s about games that have a beginning and an end of some sort of storyline)”. Polish female gamers answered this question in the same way as male gamers: most games (over 50%) were completed by 79% of women and 78% of men. In our earlier study, Gaming Sense 2020, the results were similar, although in that sample female gamers were significantly (but minimally) more likely than males to finish over 75% of games. We saw a similar relationship, albeit slightly weaker, in 2021 (see chart below).
Female gamers did not differ significantly from male gamers in one of the most important indicators of involvement in gaming, i.e. the declared proportion of their free time spent on playing video games.
Average gaming time is 53% of total free time in men and 49% in women.
There is, however, a significant difference in the absolute numbers of hours spent playing. Since women apparently have less free time in general, their 49% is diametrically opposed to 53% of men’s time. You can see this well in the chart below.
We observed similarly strong differences between female and male players in their declarations regarding weekend hours.
However, perhaps the most reliable indicator of “hardcoreness” is the level of game difficulty preferred by men and women.
As you can see – between the two genders combined, those with hardcore gaming inclinations make up about 1/3 of all players. In this one in ten players must actually be an “extremist”, as the extremely difficult levels require excellent skills and usually hours spent mastering the game. Women declared a preference for difficult and very difficult levels much less frequently than men.
So what percentage of women contribute to “hardcore gaming”? Considerable, though slightly lower than “general” gaming. A 2019 study found that
among hardcore gamers, women make up 24%.
Many of them are involved in activities such as e-sports or gaming activities on streaming platforms (Twitch, YouTube).
What about the representation of women among video game characters? Feminist Frequency shows that there are more and more female protagonists. As much as 18% of games announced in 2020, had a female playable character. For comparison – until 2020, the proportion rarely exceeded 10%. What’s more,
Female protagonists are becoming more psychologically complex and thus more interesting for the audience.
The modern game protagonist is rarely a damsel in distress existing only for the main character to save her. New games increasingly touch on important topics related to feminism and prove that female characters can be interestingly and realistically written, and thus – bring new values to games.
Modern games increasingly pass the Bechdel Test, which is used as an indicator of women’s representation in culture. In order for a cultural text to pass this test, there must be at least two women with names in it who engage in dialogue with each other about something other than men (such as in Night in The Woods, Life is Strange, Portal, Oxenfree).
Thus, in modern games we can find plenty of female characters who successfully find themselves doing stereotypically male activities.
Examples include Lara Croft, the protagonist of the Tomb Raider series, who is proficient with a variety of weapons and very physically fit, Isabella Song from Song of Farca, who is a computer scientist and hacker, or the sorceresses from The Witcher series, who are involved in politics.
However, feminist heroines are not only those who can be described as “stereotypically male”. In modern gaming culture, we also find female characters whose feminism manifests itself in something completely different. Ellie from The Last of Us proves that feelings and behaviors like anger, wanting revenge, and cursing aren’t just the domain of men – and that even though it’s been culturally perpetuated that they don’t suit women, the reality is that women are just as entitled to them as men.
Staying with the theme of emotionality, Mae, the protagonist of Night in the Woods, who struggles to express her feelings and aggression, is also an interesting character. This inconspicuous adventure also touches on the theme of female friendship – much like another feminist game, Life is Strange.
Contemporary productions also emphasise the importance and feminist overtones of behaviours and activities stereotypically associated with femininity, such as the maternity theme in Detroit: Become Human, or the motif of the heroine of Black Book learning to be a witch. And what do female protagonists think about female participants Video Gaming: Gender Differences and Stereotypes?
79% of female players prefer to play a female character than a male character. We conclude that female protagonists may indeed contribute in some way to women’s interest in gaming.
Moreover, as many as 81% of female gamers declared that they prefer to create a playable character themselves rather than have it imposed from above. In comparison, only 65% of men prefer to create a character on their own.
Women’s gaming perspective
Speaking of female protagonists, it’s worth taking a look at women’s preferred protagonist archetypes, among other things. In the aforementioned Gaming Sense 2021: Stories and Archetypes** study, we asked gamers about their dream games. We asked directly – if you had the opportunity, what game would you design for yourself. Which is to say:
- what genre,
- in what setting,
- what type of story (according to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories),
- in what historical period,
- in what cultural background or mythology,
- What protagonist archetype (according to The Hero and The Outlaw. Building Extraordinary Brands Through The Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson).
players would most like to see in their dream game.
An overwhelming, not to say crushing, majority of Polish gamers have chosen RPG as the primary genre of their dream game. It’s hard to say exactly what they would put in that drawer – we didn’t dig deeper into their statements in this study. The fact is, however, that this is a huge genre bag that most gamers would throw their game into.
The differences between men and women in the desired genre were very clear. First of all: literally none of the women surveyed designed their dream game as an RTS. It seems that – at least in Poland – it is a very “masculine” genre, even if, after a differently asked question (about a simple “how much do you like…”) 18% of women declared a strong liking for RTS (see above, section “It’s not just The Sims for women”). Nevertheless, women would not try to design their “dream game” as such. The situation is similar with turn-based strategies: here too ¬ no player surveyed designed her game as a turn-based strategy.
On the other hand, as you can see in the chart above, more women than men put their games in the “action adventure” framework, MMORPGs, and simulations and survival horror, among others.
Among the dream settings, the “fantasy” setting reigned supreme. The next types were separated from him by a gulf.
The players were basically no different in their choices of settings (atmospheres, climates) than the players. There were slight differences in post-apo and strictly historical settings: women preferred them slightly less often than men.
Dream type of story
Female players were also no different when they chose their preferred type of story. All players would most like to see a Rebirth theme in their games and least like Comedy. Rebirth is a theme in which the protagonist undergoes a transformation. This type of plot usually focuses on a protagonist who is also an anti-hero and his redemption, which occurs at one of the story’s turning points. Comedy, on the other hand, is usually a light, humorous story with a happy ending. The characters go through various adventures, often full of misunderstandings and funny coincidences. Other types of stories are described in the aforementioned book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker.
Dream historical period
In the dream historical periods, the Middle Ages reigned supreme among the general players. However, it is worth mentioning that for 35% of the respondents the historical period did not matter at all.
Women were more likely than men to say that the setting of the game in specific historical circumstances did not matter to them. Forty-three percent of female players felt this way. On the other hand, female players chose the Middle Ages and Between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (1400 – 1800) less frequently than male players. These were small enough differences from men that they were not statistically significant in the overall pattern of preferences.
Dream cultural background or mythology
We also asked players about the best background for their dream game.
Women are significantly more likely than men to want to see a specific cultural or mythological background in games.
Overall, one in three Polish players gave up on a particular mythology or cultural background. If there was to be one, they were most likely to see a Slavic, Viking (Nordic), Japanese or Greek antiquity background.
The difference between men and women in wanting to anchor a story with a particular background was quite large, as you can see in the chart below. Also: women were more likely than men to want to see fairy-tale backgrounds in their games and related to Japanese culture!
The dream protagonist
Women did not differ from men in the general pattern of preferences for archetypal heroes or heroines. In general players, regardless of gender, Outlaw, Hero, and Explorer were the most coveted, as seen in the chart below.
Outlaw is the type of outlaw hero who wants to make a revolution that he believes will change the world for the better. He is motivated by strong, often negative emotions such as anger or a desire for revenge. He follows his own paths and doesn’t like to follow rules that would threaten his independence.
Hero is a protagonist whose main motivation is to prove his worth and courage to the world. This type of hero bravely endures adversity and does not give up in pursuit of his goal. He works hard to acquire the skills he needs.
Explorer is adventurous and loves a challenge. Fearless of harsh conditions and dangers, his adventures are a way for him to understand himself.
Women were much more likely to identify the mage as the desired protagonist archetype, and men the hero. However, in the overall scheme of possible archetype combinations, these unique differences were not statistically significant. Given the other studies cited above, it is to be expected that women would be best suited to a woman outlaw, or a woman explorer. Possibly a woman mage and – less so – a woman hero.
Interested to see extended results for gamers around the world? What they like, which games they play and what games they would create for themselves?Contact us
Women are increasingly present in the gaming world – both as recipients of games and as their creators and commentators. According to popular belief, they do indeed often play mobile productions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also reach for PC and console games. Among the most preferred genres, female gamers most often mention RPGs, adventure games and action adventure games. Also, women like platform and puzzle games more than men. Women prefer immersive gaming dynamics more than men, related to travel and experiences, and less strictly martial.
A woman’s dream game would be of the RPG genre, set in medieval fantasy. The story type that most appeals to female players is Rebirth, while the protagonist type is Outlaw. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see female protagonists in games (and the vast majority of female gamers prefer female characters to male) – often complex and interesting characters, through whom socially relevant topics are smuggled into the games. And the whole thread of dream games should be closed with an interesting discovery that Polish female gamers would like their games to be set in Japanese mythology (just after Slavic).
The percentage of female gamers continues to grow, which means that they will be an increasingly large target group for gaming developers, especially since women are just as likely to be video game trendsetters as men. Gaining in-depth knowledge about how players play, what they play and what they expect could soon be incredibly valuable.
* Video Gaming: Gender Differences and Stereotypes Survey conducted between September and October 2020 on a sample of 2030 people belonging to gaming-themed social media groups (Gracze to My!, Golowicze, Raj dla graczy, Dragon Age – Polska, Mass Effect – PL), including 547 women (27%) and 1487 men (73%) Most respondents were aged between 18 and 24.
** Gaming Sense 2021: Stories and Archetypes: an international survey of players from key global markets (USA, JPN, KOR, GBR, FRA, RUS, DEU, ITA, CAN, ESP) and Poland. Total number of respondents in the global sample: N=2663, including 799 females and 1864 males over 13 years of age. In the Polish part, the data from which we present in this text, we collected 873 valid questionnaires, including 135 women and 738 men (not all players answered all survey questions).
Want to cite this article? Do it in an elegant way:
Dębek, M, Cieślak, K. (2021, 15 10). REPORT: Women and games – how do modern female gamers play?