Where the Women Aren’t


Nielsen Interactive just released a study on gamers in the US. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits, nicely summarized by Next Generation here, and quite a few surprises. Who knew “active gamers” spent on average $16 a week on games, or that an estimated 117 million Americans fit in that category? (Over a third of the country, nearly as many who voted in the last general election.)

One cluster of data in particular stands out and hits you in the face: While the ratio of men to women in the overall gaming universe is 2 to 1, an astounding 64% of online gamers are women.

Which begs an immediate question: if there are so many women playing games online, why aren’t they playing MMOs?

Because the thing is, for the most part, they aren’t. Last year, Stanford’s Nick Yee ran some of the results of his Daedalus Project, easily the most rigorous survey of MMO behavior and demographics thus far, and they point to a dearth of women in online roleplaying games. In World of Warcraft, by far the largest MMO, 84% of players are men, 16% are women. (According to Yee’s figures, 35% of the in-game avatars are female, meaning roughly half are actually guys engaged in gender-bending.)

So lining up Yee’s figures with Nielsen’s, we’re talking tens of millions of women who do enjoy online games, but for one reason or another, are mostly passing on MMOs.

The consensus is that online, women tend to play casual, Java and Flash-powered web games like Bejeweled, generally passing on download-install-and-play “hardcore” online world games like WoW. That’s true to a certain extent, but it needn’t be like this. At the risk of seeming like an evangelist, in the demographics of Second Life, 43% of the user population are women, and also tend to be the more active players, and the most socially influential.
Second Life may be an anomalous case, but it does suggest a larger point: when speaking of the big publishers and developers, the game industry as a whole is underserving a vast market. Numerous theories abound for why this is– women are turned off by the busty babe avatars that MMOs usually force them choose, women don’t like violent gameplay, and so on– but on the whole, the culprit they all finger is the industry’s male-dominated culture, and a near-complete indifference to what people who aren’t like them want. (Or as I once quoted a British game designer at an MMO developer roundtable, “Will all the women in the room please stand up? It’s white males, all wearing glasses! Look at us!”)

Putting the politics of this aside, the economic reality cannot be more devasating: there are tens of millions of women who play casual and largely free web-based games, who might be playing subscription-based, pay-as-you-go MMOs, but don’t. That’s billions of dollars in potential revenue lost.



actually, mithras, research suggests that given the choice of male vs. female avatar, female players overwhelmingly choose the female avatar.

Jesse Kopelman

“Who was it that said “Hell is other people”?”


alan patrick

I’m not sure its just computer games, I don’t think many women play chess in tournaments for eg…and yet many will happily play backgammon or somesuch socially. Similarly…few in WoW yet many play D&D.

Hmmmmm…Games + Social Networks = Gaming 2.0?

Adam Lindsay

I think it is the same reason that the hottest girls go to gay clubs. They simply don’t want the attention of being hit on. The stigma is that gaming is for men. Entering into a game such as WoW could be intimidating. If gaming is suppose to be about a fantasy world or an escape from reality, then the last thing they(girls) want is a bunch of geeky computer gamers drooling over the fact that there is a girl playing.

I personally don’t game much, but I see my gf jumping on Y! all the time to play Eucre or other such games.

mithras the prophet

Wouldn’t you have to know what proportion of female gamers choose female and male avatars to estimate what proportion of female avatars are from male players? Conceivably (though doubtfully), all of the female players could be using male avatars, perhaps to avoid unwanted attention, and hence 100% of female avatars could be from male players. The true figure is presumably somewhere between that and the 50% you cite.


My wife and I recently had a discussion over dinner about “girls & games”. She thinks casual games are popular with women because they leave enough “mental space” to do other stuff while playing, like talking on the phone.

She said that for her, gaming competes with important things like maintaining and building relationships with the folks around her. (Her girlfriends are non-gamers, so no, she can’t build relationships with them through games.)

She thinks that a game that could help her girlfriends find quality men (a dating simulator?) might be popular. :-)

Elisa Camahort

I have done my time playing both simple PC games like Bejeweled, Taipei, Free Cell, etc. etc. etc And my time spent playing console games, from Crash Bandicoot version 1-4 to Space Channel 9.

When I watch my S.O. play WoW or Halo online it doesn’t appeal to me at all. Why?

All the lame name-calling and way immature interaction between the folks playing. Who was it that said “Hell is other people”?

And all the aimless running, running, running. And he’s a level 60 player, so it’s not like he sux at it or anything. But man, there seems to be a lot of wasted time playing that game.

That’s just me :)

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