Thu
Jul 29 2010 2:36pm

Video games aren’t just for boys: The new booming market for women

My goal is to get paranormal romance fans to start playing video games.

Not likely, you think? Consider this: the fastest-growing gaming demographic is women 25 and up. These women have become rabid fans of a class of widely-accessible video games known as “casual games” (which include popular games such as Bejeweled, a match-3 puzzle game, and Mystery Case Files, a series in which you search for hidden objects within intricate scenes). Most of these women cite that they play casual games to unwind or escape. Sound familiar?  Yep, it’s the same demographic that reads romance novels!

I’ve worked as a producer in the casual gaming industry for almost six years now, and have seen the trend as more and more game developers target their games to a very female audience. Games were mostly gender-neutral six years ago; but now, if you visit a casual gaming site, you’ll notice that themes commonly revolve around princesses, weddings, chocolate, fashion, yoga, etc., and that the games’ protagonists are almost always female. For a couple years, I wondered, “Well then, why hasn’t anyone gone and taken the bold step of making the ultimate female-targeted entertainment? Why hasn’t anyone made a romance game?”

Then, suddenly, I had my chance to make such a game. The door opened for me because I was laid off. I had worked at a great game studio where I was the producer for a new casual game series based on the Nancy Drew series of novels. Despite the fact that our games had been met with critical acclaim (even winning Yahoo’s “hidden object game of the year” award), they were not a commercial success, so the company was forced to let go of my entire team—all ten of us.

Now, here was this great team that had created fantastic games together, all looking for new ventures at the same time. Why not do something crazy and start our own company, and make games in a currently untapped niche? The next thing I did was call up my high school friend, who happens to be bestselling author Marjorie M. Liu. Her exciting and fantastical paranormal romances were perfect for translating into game form, and I wanted to see what she thought of starting a company together. I was thrilled when she said yes, and immediately proposed the idea to my former team (on our last day with our former company, out on the lawn of our former office building, funnily enough). Fastforward another couple weeks, and our new company, PassionFruit Games, was born. We decided we were going to bring the first ever paranormal romance casual game to life, and it would be based on Marjorie’s debut novel, Tiger Eye.

Fastforward another seven months to April 2010 (during which our upcoming game received a ton of buzz including landing on the front page of major gaming site IGN and even getting a mention on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), and we proudly released our first product, Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box. Our game is now enjoying great reception from review sites and users—and most importantly, my own mom, a complete non-gamer. And she actually likes it enough that she’s played it through five times!

So, if you’re a romance reader but not (yet) a gamer, why should YOU try gaming? For one thing, there have been a multitude of studies showing the benefits of playing casual games—not only are they relaxing but they also help exercise the brain. Casual games are also very accessible to brand new players in that they’re easy to learn (most only require the clicking of the left mouse button) and busy people can play them in short sessions. Many of the games provide users with fun puzzles and brainteasers, mixed with a storyline that is told through art and character dialogue (essential to our romance novel-based game). Our players cite that they love being immersed in beautiful artwork and lush music that bring the story to life.

Think you could be a gamer at heart? If you’d like to take a dip into the casual gaming world, I recommend visiting some great online gaming portals such as PopCapGames.com, BigFishGames.com, GameHouse.com and iWin.com—all of them offer free “try-before-you-buy” demos of their games (usually lasting a full hour). And of course, give our game, Tiger Eye, a spin at PassionFruitGames.com!


Melissa Heidrich didn’t realize she was a true casual gamer until 2004, when she by chance attended a gaming conference and fell in love with an incredibly addictive time-management game that was on display at a computer terminal, which she monopolized for several hours. Her relentless approach to beating the game led to her being recruited as a quality assurance lead at the game company Say Design, where she was quickly promoted to Producer. She went on to hold producer positions at Humongous Inc. and then Her Interactive Inc., where she helped launch their new casual series of Nancy Drew Dossier games. Now the studio director of PassionFruit Games (visit them on Facebook or Twitter), she is thrilled to be pioneering a “novel” approach to casual gaming, and hopes her company’s debut title Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, based on bestselling author Marjorie M. Liu’s work, will serve as a bridge between the romance reader and romance gamer.

This article is part of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Month: ‹ previous | index | next ›
12 comments
TOSinWA
2. TOSinWA
I adore "Curse of the Riddle Box"! I play it over and over because the puzzles are so entertaining. After the first play-through, I skip the cut-scenes but I thought they were done well and interesting. I really really want to play the sequel, and hope it will be out soon!
Melissa Heidrich
3. passionfruitgames
Hey ShooneSprings, those are great sites as well - they host games that are a bit more "hardcore" than the sites I mentioned so I'd recommend them for slightly more advanced players.

TOS, that's awesome that you've played our game! We really hope to bring you the sequel early next year.
Hannah X
4. h4nn4h
That's not an article, that's an ad.
TOSinWA
5. XtremeCaffeine
I'd like to see some citations regarding some of the facts in this article.

The girls I know who play games are fairly polarised between two extremes;

a) Girls who play video games at all, and
b) Girls who play games on Facebook sometimes.

I know this might seem overly critical, but playing free games on the world's largest social networking site, where your actions directly affect your 'friends' is a whole world removed from being convinced to spend money on an item which - if I let a little snark out - seems overtly aimed at a particular demographic.

p.s. I always use Bubblebox for my flash gaming needs.
Ian Gazzotti
6. Atrus
A nice 'casual MMOG' with dark victorian undertones is Echo Bazaar. It's quite grind based and you have only a limited amount of actions per day, but it has very good writing, lots of mysteries to uncover, and allows a wide range of character development considering that it's basically a mix of card game and CYOA. There is also very little competition, so you won't feel left behind if you don't play for a few days in a row.
Rachel Hyland
7. RachelHyland
The "Girls Who Play Games" thing goes back to, I think, Tetris; that was really the first computer game to capture grown women's interest as much as it did the younger folk. Something about time-dependent organisation and the need for acute spatial awareness speaks to a viceral component of our feminine make up. Of course, there are now a lot more "Girls Who Are Gamers" (think Felicia Day and her webseries, The Guild) than there were back then, but for the less intensely MMORPG-inclined among us, basing chick-centric casual games on UF and PR novels is genius!

As an addict of not only Tetris but also the ubiquitous Bejeweled and the several fast food franchises serviced by Robert and Rebecca in the Turbo series, I look forward to trying out Curse of the Riddle Box very much...
Estara Swanberg
8. Estara
Well, I'm not quite the target audience as I'm a long-time pc and console gamer female (even worked as an online editor for an electronic gaming portal for one and half years - no, you wouldn't know me, the site - which still exists - is German).

However, I appreciate romance in my games (Monkey Island, most japanese RPGs of the old school, etc.) and in my books, as well as sf&f.

I really enjoyed the artwork and how you dealt with the action and emotional bits in the cut scenes, the voice-acting (especially Del) and the riddles in the 1st part of Tiger Eye and am in the middle of replaying it - which I haven't done with any other hidden object game yet (they're a bit of a strain on the eyes, so I have to be careful - reading comes before gaming).
Kate O'Hanlon
9. KateOH
Years ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on Plundered Hearts. It was a text based 'Romance' game released in '87 about a 17th century lady whose ship gets attacked by Pirates in the West Indies. It was the first game in which the player character had to be a woman.

I've played the Tiger Eye demo. Plundered Hearts is better.
Melissa Heidrich
10. passionfruitgames
@XtremeCaffeine - not sure what facts you were interested in getting citations for, but here are some links you may be interested in! According to the Casual Games Association, 74% of casual gamers who actually PAY for their content are women:

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=14731
http://www.casualgamesassociation.org/research_news.php

Social gamers on Facebook are only about 55% female:
http://www.infosolutionsgroup.com/2010_PopCap_Social_Gaming_Research_Results.pdf

And here's an article on the rapid growth of casual gaming:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38334106/ns/technology_and_science-games/

Hope you find these articles interesting.
John Dodds
11. jakk1954
Left mouse button? Not if you're an Apple Mac user. Ha! However, yes, more women probably would get into gaming with the right type of game. For example, my wife loves Bejewelled, Lumines (xbox 360), Tetris and that sort of thing. She hates 3D games - not all of them are violent - but, yes, I like shooters, survival horror, 3D role playing games and so on. But there might be another explanation for the different types of games men and women like. A study was done in the UK of senior school pupils, groups of girls and groups of boys doing work on computers. The boys were better ad 3D modelling tasks, while the girls were better are pure analytical thinking. The science people suggested perceptual and brain differences, but then again you can't draw such conclusions from small studies.
Pascale Maria
14. Pasma
I also think that the games market in not only for boys since there are a lot of portal sites like FrivBoom or other great sites that are dedicated to boys and girls also. So there is equality even in this.

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