Maybe you remember your childhood Atari or that rec room NES, but today's kids are growing up with mobile games, and sixth-grader Madeline Messer has noticed something weird.
Games in popular genres often require kids to pay extra to have a female avatar, even when it's essentially an appearance swap that doesn't offer significant gameplay differences:
I found that 18 percent had characters whose gender was not identifiable (i.e., potatoes, cats or monkeys). Of the apps that did have gender-identifiable characters, 98 percent offered boy characters. What shocked me was that only 46 percent offered girl characters. Even worse, of these 50 apps, 90 percent offered boy characters for free, while only 15 percent offered girl characters for free. Considering that the players of Temple Run, which has been downloaded more than one billion times, are 60 percent female, this system seems ridiculous.
Ms. Messer also found that apps charge on average $7.53 to play as a girl character — most apps themselves cost a fraction of that amount, when they cost at all. She says she feels the cost bias makes her feel less important as a market demographic.
The funny thing is, mobile gaming audiences are generally understood to be pretty equal gender-wise, with women often the majority consumers of some of the most popular titles and genres. Maybe it's not that the game-makers have a misconception about their audience; maybe they're taking advantage.
Interestingly, last week at GDC, Ashly Burch and Rosalind Wisemann presented some survey findings that suggested that when it comes to kids, it's more economically advantageous to cater for the fact girl players are presently interested in having more gender options for their characters, while young boys actually seem less fussed.
Is the mobile game space actually trying to monetize the historical gender gap in games? Gross.
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