Archive for September, 2010

Pink Poison


There’s been some talk on the women’s dev list about “pink games” and “girls games” .. alot of it has been quite unflattering.  I think it’s kinda sad that something like the concept of “games for girls” could get such a bad rap and the idea of “pink games” should become so derogatory. Anyway.. here’s an analysis of what happened in the 90’s to the concept of games for girls and how we got to where we are today….

Pink Poison

I’d love to give ya’ll a bit of history on the girls’ game movement of the 90’s as it may give you a bit of insight into how “girls games” and “pink games” ended up such a emotionally charged concept.

In early 1990’s American Laser Game’s VP of Marketing, Patricia Flanigan decided that there was a market for games for girls. So with the help of the Albuquerque Independent School District and over 3000 jr high and high school age girls, she designed a game. This was McKenzie & Co. which I was hired on mid-way through development to help bring out. We took our work, demographics, prototype and half finished game out to the publishers. Every one of ‘em responded with “girls don’t play games” and shut the door in our face.

So we self-published the title and sold 80,000 units. With this success we went back to the publishers with our next game idea but we were still met with “girls didn’t play games.”

Fortunately at the same time there were other companies just about to release games for girls as well. One year after McKenzie & Co came out, Barbie Fashion Designer came out, Purple Moon released their titles, and Girl Games in Austin released theirs.

All of these titles had good success, but Barbie Fashion Designer sold OUTRAGEOUSLY well. 600K units in the first year. This was unheard of and suddenly the publishers changed their tune from “girls don’t play games” to “how do we make games for girls??”

Unfortunately, they did what they’ve always done. They looked at Barbie and said, “GET ME THAT MARKET!!” and began to produce Barbie-like games at a fever pitch.

As the Barbie clones flooded the market, that niche quickly became saturated and the individual titles performed quite poorly. Add to that the fact that only Barbie can be Barbie and everything else pales in comparison.

Then Purple Moon closed its doors and Girl Games moved their business strategy away from games and changed their name, and American Laser Games (Her Interactive’s parent company) went through bankruptcy (from which Her Interactive survived.) All this combined with the lackluster sales of the Barbie clones caused the industry to scream “See??!! We TOLD you girls didn’t play games!” And then they quickly retreated from the idea of games for girls.

So, while Barbie helped us by opening the door to the idea of games for girls. She also hurt us as the industry used her as the definition for an entire MARKET. That is they redefined a broad and diverse market of “girls” into a GENRE of “fashion, shopping and makeup for girls ages 6-10.” … hence.. Pink Poison.

Unfortunately… at this time the industry STILL defines “girls games” this way today. They do not see it as a potential MARKET, rather they see it as a single genre.. like “flight sims” or “RTS’s.” This is, of course, a terrible disservice to the market that so rightly deserves its own specifically targeted entertainment!

For now, I think we will have to deal with the fact that “casual games” essentially means games for which the audience is 70% female, because you can not pitch a “girls title” to anyone without the shadow of the “pink games” hanging over you.

Please understand I’ve NEVER EVER said that girls/women shouldn’t have computer entertainment/games developed specifically for them. In fact, I would strongly SUPPORT ANYONE who wants to target titles to that audience!!!! I specifically target my talks and information to those who are producing traditional titles and want to learn how they can expand their market to include female players. But I also believe we can target the female audience quite successfully. (Notice that I use “female” instead of “girl” or “women”. There is no term for the female gender that does not carry with it some baggage in its definition.)

The female market is a strong, viable market and is, in my opinion, ripe for development. Just ask the publishing industry how lucrative the romance book market is. Just ask the film industry how lucrative Chick Flicks are (Titanic, anyone?)

What I want is for developers to decide AHEAD OF TIME who their market is .. and that they GET PAST the idea that “games for girls” has to be this tiny little genre of “fashion shopping and makeup for ages 6-10″!!

I would also like to see the industry as a whole stop denigrating the concept of “games for girls.” Building computer games for girls is still a VERY viable concept.. so long as you do not let the pink poison infect what you are building.