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Segmenting the Female Market

Gender isn't the only issue—age is also a factor. ESA's 2005 survey found that the average game player was aged 30, and that women aged 18 and older (28 percent) exceeded boys aged six to 17 (21 percent), who are the presumed "mass market."

Even Nancy Drew's audience is more diverse than believed. Although girls make up the majority of players, women are 25 to 30 percent of their base players.

Identifying What Women Want

The industry's challenge, therefore, isn't just to take the female market seriously, but to understand what women want from a game.

"When there's no female character, or one in a bikini on the cover, women aren't likely to feel that they can see themselves in the game," says Libe Goad, a senior writer for Ziff-Davis and co-founder and editor of GameGal.com, one of the first female gaming sites to deliver news and reviews of mainstream games.

"No one thought to ask females what they wanted," claims Gaiser, who conducted usability studies out of her Seattle apartment in the early days. "It wasn't that girls were computer-phobic; it's that they were critical of the current computer culture, which was largely dominated by males."

With Her Interactive's staff evenly split between males and females, Gaiser feels they are poised to more adequately represent preferences for girls and women. But this is the rare case. Most companies are proud to announce a handful of women among hundreds of male developers.

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