Massively Overthinking: Why doesn’t video game marketing reflect our demographics?

This week’s Massively Overthinking topic comes to us from Steve, and it’s a frustration for our team as well, I promise.

“If the following statistics industry execs and analysts put out are true – that online multiplayer games are most profitable, that the average age of gamers is 35, that over 40% of gamers are female, and that ‘women’ and ‘over 35’ are two of the fastest growing demographic segments – why are virtually all major online multiplayer games designed primarily (in fact, almost exclusively) for males aged 15 to 35? I can’t speak for women, because as a straight, white male, I am aware 97% of the world exists to obey my whims and desires. However, as someone in my 40s, I notice that video games increasingly tend to be the exception, and it’s pissing me off more daily. So I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for women (40% of gamers, but just one Overwatch pro, for example, has to be infuriating). For an industry that wants every cent it can get its hands on, ignoring these groups (particularly the affluent 35+ age group) seems like a massive oversight.”

Yep! Let’s dig in.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Agreed! However, how many of those industry execs are male? How many of the developers are male? The marketing team? How many of them would be willing to tone down the violence and sexuality and risk losing the male audience, especially if men tend to make more money then women?

It sucks, and its frustrating. I’m hanging out in meatspace with more female gamers these days, and most of them just don’t want to reveal their gender, let alone with strangers. While online games may be popular, the communities aren’t always known to be accepting even of other males. Talk to any casual gamer about AAA titles like League of Legends, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Playerunknown’s Battlgrounds… basically any of the smash hits, and the phrase “toxic community” will come up. No, those aren’t MMOs, but they’re accessible online games. The survival genre doesn’t help with this either, and I really thought that would have given MMOs a shot in the arm by making PvP feel more community dependent (I’m feeling completely wrong there).

World of Warcraft probably is better known for being accepting of both genders to a degree, but it’s also an older title with a first party voice chat barely being utilized. Console gamers rarely use keyboards it seems, making anonymity harder. There are other MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV seems particularly attractive for newer players), but our genre is notoriously time intensive, which is probably another reason it’s marketed to younger players. The combination of the idea that online games these days require voice chat and that MMOs in particular are time intensive make marketing harder, especially when you look at all the failed WoW-clones. The people financially backing/building these games are going to stick with more traditional audiences that align with their own identities/gamer stereotypes, even if a broader audience is theoretically available.

everybody everybody

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Over Christmas, my parents finally handed over the massive stash of LEGOs my brother and I collected through the ’80s and ’90s, which they’d kept in storage until my son was old enough to inherit them. As we’ve been unbundling the sets, I’m surprised to realize we aren’t seeing any “girl” colors in our old sets. The knights, pirates, policemen, and ninjas were all “boy” LEGOs. There were only a couple of female minifigs in our entire stash. Good thing I was stubborn! Nowadays, we’ve moved from that sort of hidden sexism to outright gender-shaming when it comes to toy marketing because marketers figured out that it sells. Toys that logically ought to be universally enjoyable are now color-coded, gender-coded – instead of ignoring girls, now LEGO sells toys that intentionally divide girls from boys – and boys from girls. Boys have been socialized to favor “boy” toys marketed specifically as not-for-girls, whereas girls will play with both because being a “tomboy” isn’t as ostracizing. Everyone loses.

Replace the word toy with video games and here we are. Publishers have spent such a long time telling dudes that video games are for them that they are now terrified of losing the market they control by chasing the market they don’t with the same product, having already predicated the dude market’s (and product’s) whole identity on that gender-based Catch-22. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told by dudes to get out of “their” games as if the mere presence of a girl doing what they’re doing undermines their manliness – and they didn’t just pluck that idea out of the air; they were taught it, and you can’t unteach it overnight. Good thing I’m still stubborn!

The ageism issue was working its way out as the gamer and developer demographic grew up too, but e-sports’ popularity with Gens Y and Z put the brakes on that. The biggest entertainment industries are no longer selling game content as their main product, after all; they are selling the attention of their consumers. Riot Games would rather sell advertising space for placements seen by a zillion broke-ass 18-year-old boys surfing Twitch than produce and sell skins to you. Not that it’s going to turn you down – it’s just why “disposable income” isn’t the most important factor.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): This is, honestly, too big to dive into in just an Overthinking response. The short answer is “dumb, short-sighed reasons,” and that’s when we take into account that MMOs are some of the most inclusive subgenres out there. The really long answer would be an entire series of columns, some of which I’ve already written.

The middle-length answer? Well, the companies running these games want to police toxic behavior, but they really want money. So they’d prefer to only police toxic behavior when it gets really escalated, which means that most people who aren’t men (preferrably straight white men) between 15-35 are more likely to just avoid these games outright. Video games, in their own way, are having the same problem that comic books have been having for decades, where it’s becoming increasingly clear that you can either cater to an aging and calcified fanbase that wants a wooden “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign in front of the door or you can risk alienating that core base while potentially picking up a lot of new people.

Fortunately, games as a whole have gotten steadily better because as you mentioned, there’s a huge portion of the world that is not straight white men aged 15-35. But there are a lot of complex factors at play that led to marketing games to that demographic for long enough that a lot of the people willing to get into game development were themselves in that demographic. It’s going to take time for that to really filter out of the system.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I, I don’t even know how to answer. How do you respond to nonsense of game companies marketing seemingly exclusively to a demographic that is not the one with the most disposable cash nor is the one that is growing? It is kind of mind-boggling. Are they stupid to ignore the demographics? I think so. I’d want to make more products that enticed those folks with more disposal income to spend. And let’s not ignore the fact of more people mean more possible customers. It is one of those times I get the feeling that many suits are totally clueless about the customer base, or maybe they have an agenda to keep the world in a certain order. Not like that has ever happened, right?

Now the question is, are they ignoring the demographics? That part I am not sure of. Are these numbers specifically about MMOs? Then egads, industry, get on the bandwagon already and make some money by giving games to these groups! If stereotypes is all that is holding the industry back then get over them already. However, if it takes into account all gaming, with things like the FarmVilles and Candy Crushes of the world, then how are those number skewed? Maybe development is going into those things because that is where the customers are right now. I can’t speak much on that because I avoid those games.

Your turn!

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94 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: Why doesn’t video game marketing reflect our demographics?"

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Jack Pipsam

Hopefully with time it’ll change.
Right now with tweens and younger teens, the gender mix seems almost equal currently with gaming, at least from what I’ve seen about on the net.

Angus Mcduff


Think about it for a second. How are they supposed to market to a growing female demographic, if that demographic is growing then that signals the current marketing is working anyway. If they can create the same advertising they have in the past and increase female engagement then this signals the advertising is working.

The last few commercials I’ve seen for titles have had females playing alongside males, destiny was a good example.

There is a danger when over targeting the female demographic that you risk offending female customers because you look like you are pandering, and walking that tightrope more often leads to backlash from both genders, for different reasons.

I know the “right” answer if to say that the empire of gaming mysongeny is horrible and gaming is a giant sexist hellhole unless you have a penis, but can we stop crying and get back to the pew pew.

Sally Bowls

Regarding the “they are” – the largest MOBA, probably largest multiplayer game in the world, MAUs of 150M+

an estimated 54 percent of all Honor of Kings players in China are women.

Sally Bowls

1) They are. AV/Bliz spent six and Ten Cent eight billion dollars for mobile studios. I.e., either of those purchases was considerably more than the combined spending to make the initial release of all MMOs ever; i.e. there are definitely trying to address the female/older market.

2) It would be so much more expensive to develop a different MMO. “It is like A but with X,Y, and Z” is an “elevator pitch” that does not take near as much as what business school calls an “evangelical sale” where it takes a lot more effort (a/k/a money) to explain the product. So if businesses can’t afford to make AAA MMOs any more, making an untraditional MMO with even higher market/launch/acquisition is even harder to justify.

I.e., if you are going to make a game to appeal to the underserved, I am not sure MMOs would be the most profitable place to start.

3) I see the future as Pet Battles. Existing MMOs (mostly post-Ian WoW) put in alternative advancement to appeal outside the “core”/traditional/foulmouthed-combatfocused-young-white-male

Tom Fox

Could you be any more racist or sexist? ““core”/traditional/foulmouthed-combatfocused-young-white-male”

Racism and sexism or any other “ism” isn’t corrected with MORE “isms” directed at another group.

Sally Bowls



That young male audience is still the most vocal, so their voice ends up being the one most heard.

The one and only thing they need to do to feminize a game for me is to not overly sexualize the females unless they are doing the same thing to the males. That will end up showing in the promos and advertisements as well.

It has actually took many of us a heck of a lot of work to get gaming to move the little bit to where it is today even. If you haven’t been a part of it, you’re lucky in a lot of ways. Though I know this is more about marketing than the games themselves, in part just changing the underlying game helps change the marketing (if there are no girls in string bikini armor in game then they don’t end up prominently in front in the advertising).

In the West we’re actually a good deal ahead of Asian MMORPGs though. They take a major step back when it comes to female sexualization (and also very young girl sexualization). Though their audience may be less female, I’m unsure of the Asian player gender demographics. Again I’m just looking for equality, though I’d have to say I’m not wanting to see close ups of young boys wiener outlines and so they’d be better off just not showing close ups of pre-teen girls camel toe and such just all together, but that’s another issue for another day.

They don’t need to dumb the violence down for me or make the games about make up and dollies (though I think we’d all appreciate being able to do more with ours characters hair than we can in most games). If you want to see how the industry thinks they advertise to female players, just look at most of what you find being called “girls games” online. They end up being for very little girls and not for adult females. They just don’t understand how to approach the adult audience that well.

The majority of the industry just doesn’t have a clue how to advertise to anybody else except for the young males. They’ve never done differently and they feel it seems to work and that’s just what they keep doing. They’re scared of trying something different and failing.

The industry does keep evolving so who knows what we may see in the future. They move pretty slowly, so we may not be around by the time they finally change. I could see why adults may not have wanted to play video games when they were first around, but now they’re a major part of our entertainment through all ages.

There are women that have grown up online too and are now in their 40’s that they could possibly tap into for some insight into adult and female advertising. Despite what some players claim or believe, female players were there in the first text MUDs on a newly budding Internet just as well as the guys were.

Well my comment is getting pretty long and I’m having a hard time keeping on the marketing subject so I’m just going to cut it short here now :D

Melissa McDonald

I would really like to know why my comment was deleted. without a copy/paste “terms” reply.

Kickstarter Donor

This is a question I think about every weekend when I go to my computer with a few free hours to fire up a game, and end up staring at a list of games I don’t want to play. Every announcement of yet another PVP sandbox survival game where anyone can ruin everything you’ve done makes me so very sad. Things will change but cultural change happens very slowly. I don’t know if I’ll still have enough of my brain cells still firing off to play the new games when the change comes.

Someone below suggested women develop and finance their own games. In the first place, there are women developers. They do make games and few of them are just for women (kudos to Double Fine Productions for their support of women in gaming development)! Secondly, anyone who reads Massivelyop knows that the costs of building a game today are extremely high. Are women getting access to the same kind of funding men get? If we look at other industries it’s pretty safe to say women would not have access to the same level of funding, because guess what? There are gender disparities in access to capital. It’s a shame men have to be forced to consider others, but that is the way it is…its changing for sure, but ever so slooooowly.

Robert Mann

Why do the people with money do anything stupid? Because they always have, and until somebody proves their viewpoint doesn’t make the most money they always will…

Business culture is the most stagnant thing outside politics.

Kickstarter Donor

“Business culture is the most stagnant thing outside politics.”

I want to print and frame that.

Kickstarter Donor

The thing to realize about analytics for who plays games – is that the data is the data without motivation. So for example, the analytics cited below all say women *generally* play mobile games. Why is that? What would happen if MMOs started marketing to women in that age demographic?

The current argument based on analytics basically boils down to this: “I told a bunch of the guys I was having a party. I didn’t tell many women, but I just assumed they’d show up if they wanted. But not many did, so women must not like these parties.”

That’s the flaw in just using analytics – you take outcomes but ignore the actions (or nonactions) that might have contributed to those outcomes and then make grandiose statements about who likes what and how much.

How can anyone expect women to want to play games as a demographic when nothing in the game marketing even remotely implies there might be something they would enjoy?