Why Women Are Becoming an Increasing Force in the Gaming Industry
STEM PopCap’s Cara Ely and Heather Hazen explain how they climbed the ladder in the gaming industry—and have an idea for how more young girls can, too.
Gaming has long been thought of as a “boys’ club,” not just off limits to women but a hobby in which men are simply more interested. However, data from the Pew Research Center suggests about as many women game as do men: Of those surveyed in 2015, 48 compared with 50 percent, respectively. The same survey suggested the majority of American adults, 60 percent, believe that most people who play video games are men.
Reasons for misconception
The stereotype that women don’t like gaming may exist simply due to identification, surmises Cara Ely, a studio co-general manager at PopCap Games and executive producer of the company’s new game, Bejeweled Stars.
“Some of it is probably pop culture-related, and even has to do with how games are marketed, but guys are more comfortable identifying themselves as ‘a gamer,’” Ely says. “That’s not the first thing a lot of women would say if they were asked to identify themselves.”
For Ely and her colleague at PopCap, Heather Hazen, the general manager of Bejeweled Stars, women’s tendency to avoid calling themselves gamers may come down to their everyday schedule differing from her male counterpart’s.
“I’m busy. I run from my job to see my kids to do some laundry and potentially meet a friend for a drink or whatever it may be,” Hazen explains. “My game sessions aren’t limited to two hours of sitting down with friends late at night.”
“‘If you want to make a game for millions of people, then you need to have all those perspectives.’”
Still, Ely and Hazen have both been gamers for about 16 years each, climbing the ladder in the industry and sharing their wisdom with younger, aspiring female gamers.
Neither thinks there’s an ideal formula for academic and extracurricular choices girls hoping to break into the field ought to follow. But Ely says taking advantage of opportunities to design mobile games online, collaborating with a team to create a product and making industry connections can go a long way.
Hazen studied English in college. She says to flourish in gaming, staying true to oneself is key: “The most important thing to think about is being authentic—authentic to what you believe in and authentic to what you believe is the best career choice for you. Because when you’re successful, you’re in a state of: ‘I know what I want, I’m passionate about this thing and I’m willing to make sacrifices to achieve that thing.’”
Not an exception to the rule
Despite common misconceptions about gamers, Ely and Hazen are proof that women who game don’t just exist. Rather, they are playing an increasingly prevalent role in the industry itself.
Both women predicted a growing prevalence of women in the gaming industry.
Data suggest that’s good news for business: A 2014 study released by the Entertainment Software Association revealed women over age 18 comprised 36 percent of the gaming population, compared with boys comprising only 17 percent. Various surveys attribute much of this increase to the rise of mobile games that are conducive for filling empty pockets of time in women’s busy schedules—a bill that games like Bejeweled seem to fit.
“Having men and women on a [gaming] design team, and people with different backgrounds and ethnicities adds another layer to the game because you have people looking at and thinking about the game from a different perspective,” Ely says, “If you want to make a game for millions of people, then you need to have all those perspectives.”