Games for Girls
Girls are different—and that includes the way they play games. It takes more than the color pink and pretty pictures to keep a girl playing. It takes an understanding of the kind of content she appreciates and how to present it so that it has meaning.
Here are some things we’ve learned about making casual games for girls:
1. They care about characters.
Whether it’s a celebrity like Taylor Swift or a fictional personna like Twilight Sparkle, girls want to relate to a character. Why? Because girls are all about relationships. They’re social creatures. They want to empathize with a character’s situation, even pretend they are that character. We’re not saying that boys don’t do the same, but girls tend to take it more deeply and personally. So if you want a girl to love playing your game, put a character in it somewhere. Even a simple Match 3 game can include a set-up that is character-driven. It’s more about accomplishing something than earning points.
2. They want to help.
Girls are typically quick to offer assistance, to nurture. If a game can offer an opportunity to service a character, that’s golden. (Time Management games provide this because it’s usually a main character that needs your help accomplishing tasks and serving others.) So make the game purposeful; set up a goal that is altruistic in some way.
Even simpler, more abstract games (like our Key Crusaders) can provide a satisfying feeling of having helped. And use a character—or at least some voiceover—to personally encourage and thank the girl when she completes a Level or reaches her Goal.
3. They like content.
This kind of goes along with the character thing. The advantage of a character-driven game is that it can provide content about that character. This deepens the relationship a girl has to that personna; it also offers opportunities for larger circles of loyalty. If you have multiple characters in a game, girls can align themselves to the characters they care about the most. They can share that alignment with real-world friends who like the same character; and they can align/compete against other characters/girls who are in an opposing faction. (Because, yeah, let’s face it—factions are social norms for girls.)
So if you have ways to attach character content to objects, for example, and if girls can collect and/or share those objects, you’ve just upped the game experience.
4. They don’t want to die.
We’re not saying that gamer girls in MPOGs or console Adventure games can’t take it! Of course they can. Those warrior princesses can go the distance with their brothers-in-arms. But we’re talking casual games here. Instead of lives, we often run out of “energy” in girl games. It’s kind of the same thing, but presented differently. And, we don’t take them back to the beginning of Level One. We start the current level over. That’s less discouraging for a younger girl. It doesn’t wipe out all the good she’s already done, or negate the relationship(s) she’s already made in the game. And make your voiceover upbeat and encouraging when she “fails” a level.
5. It’s not all about points.
Most girls are not looking for the leaderboard. Points may matter, but they’re much farther down the list than they would be for a boy. In general, girls don’t want to figure out complex point and attribute systems for their characters. They want to jump in and play and start the emotional experience. They want to have fun, to accomplish something, but they’re not playing just for the highest score. That kind of implies that young girls may prefer a game with a defined ending, too—as opposed to an endless “rage quit” type of game. (If you’re making one, why not provide two modes, so one isn’t endless?)
6. Pretty is pretty good.
Despite our comment about pink and pretty pictures in the opening paragraph of this blog, don’t discount pretty. There’s a reason why female casual gamers love elaborate, romantic, HOGs: beautiful UIs, storylines, music, and sound effects all provide an emotionally satisfying experience. Even simple games like mah jongg and marble poppers can transcend through charming audio-visual elements. (Look at Butterfly Kyodai—a simple strategic matching game that has the added charm of butterflies forming and flying away.)
We know that there are tons of great games out there that girls enjoy playing, which don’t meet the above criteria. Some of this may be because they play what they get. And some of it is because girls themselves vary so widely in their tastes and aptitudes.
We also know that not every game can incorporate all those points, for a variety of reasons. But the next time your target audience is girls, take them into consideration. We think you’ll be glad you did.