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There is a huge disparity between the relative number of female players and professionals in the world of games. This is especially true in mobile, where 49% of the playing population is female. Thankfully, some of the industry’s most influential figures are taking steps to address the issues feeding that disparity.

Google Play’s Change the Game initiative is in full swing and its aim is ‘to make mobile gaming truly for everyone by celebrating and empowering women as players and creators.’ The fact that one of tech’s biggest organizations is running such a program is indicative of the size of the problem but also progress in industry thinking, even if the wider culture has yet to catch up.

With Change the Game, Google Play has made three commitments to the industry:

  1. To promote diversity in and of mobile gaming
  2. To celebrate the full spectrum of female players and experiences
  3. Empower the next generation of game-makers

Why is this necessary? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Unhappy ratios

Google teamed up with Newzoo to produce a white paper on the current state of affairs and the resulting diagnosis is sobering, to say the least. There are several important stats to dig into, but the most important is also the most telling:

While the split of male/female players is fairly close at 54% to 46% in teenagers, the ratio of industry professionals is 76% to 24% in adulthood.

There are many factors discouraging obviously passionate female gamers from pursuing a career in games but it all boils down to feeling either unseen, unimportant or unwelcome as part of the gaming community on account of gender. It’s tragic but, while 65% of US women aged 10-65 actively play mobile games, only 29% think of themselves as gamers. Worse still, half of female players have admitted to actively concealing their gender from the rest of the community and less than a quarter feel that the games industry is a place of equal opportunity for all.

All the stats above make for uneasy reading but, given the ubiquitous gender bias in gameplay, marketing and culture, it is hardly surprising that most women see their path into making games as a difficult and undesirable one. Even Google – a reliably conscientious and progressive company – found that the icons of Google Play’s top 100 apps featured far more male than female characters.

A significant majority of women believe that less than a third of all mobile games are designed for women and that begs the question: why would they want to dedicate their careers to an industry that doesn’t value them in the first place?

Coding confusion

One factor that Newzoo signposted as preventing more women from entering the industry is the fact that game-making is associated too heavily with coding. There is far more to development than coding, but that is not the pressing issue here. The real problem is that women are conditioned to think that they are unsuited to coding – that they won’t enjoy it or likely succeed. Code First: Girls is a UK organization that runs free coding courses for women, with the stated aim of increasing the number of women in tech. Angharad Baldwin, News Sub-Editor for Manufacturing Chemist magazine, took one such course and had the following to say about entering the tech industry as a female coder:

It’s a tough glass ceiling to crack and there needs to be some serious education all round. Girls need to start believing that they’re capable. With that confidence, they can start actively choosing to pursue careers in what has always been seen as a male-orientated profession.

Just as with wider tech, the games industry has an air of female-unfriendliness that will be hard to shift. The only way to do so is to rebuild gaming culture in a more equal and welcoming manner so that women feel both able and excited to contribute.

What’s next?

Programs like Change the Game and Code First: Girls are essential to redressing the gender balance in modern society and particularly in professional culture. Unconscious biases are just as dangerous as recognized ones, if not more, so it will take a lot more than affirmative action and positive discrimination to fix the issues we face. Education is the lynchpin here and it’s great to see more and more people waking up to that fact.

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