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Social Marketing to Moms: Video Game Firms Make a Play for Women

Videogame Firms Make a Play for Women

More examples of social marketing to women:

Videogame publishers, pushing to expand their businesses, are making games that target girls and women a new industry battleground.  This holiday season, more games than ever are being geared toward female players. Electronic Arts Inc. is releasing the latest installment of its “Littlest Pet Shop” game for young girls and introducing a series of fashion-themed games called “Charm Girls Club” for older girls later this month. Sony Corp. in August packaged a lilac version of its PlayStation Portable device with a “Hannah Montana” game, based on the popular television show about a girl and her secret pop career.  Publishers also will target women with workout games. Ubisoft Entertainment SA is introducing “Your Shape,” a personal-training game, and “Just Dance,” a dancing game, in November. Nintendo Co. hit the market with “Wii Fit Plus,” a sequel to its popular fitness game, in September. Ubisoft Entertainment plans to introduce ‘Your Shape,’ above, a personal-training game for women, in November.

Videogames have long been considered the domain of teenage boys and young men. Though a few publishers have developed computer games for women, the genre wasn’t considered significant until the past several years. Nintendo helped fuel the change with its touch-screen DS portable device five years ago and Wii console three years ago, providing easy-to-play games that appealed to a broader audience—including women—and helped spur its sales.

Since then, publishers have made a serious effort to develop mass-market games beyond the usual shooter, racing and sports titles. According to financial firm Wedbush Morgan, female game players now account for about 40% of the overall market, compared with the IDC research firm’s estimate of less than 12% in 2001. Wedbush calculates that a 5% increase in female players could translate into as much as $1 billion in new revenue every year.

“Most publishers have been frustrated by the apparent lack of audience growth for core games,” said John Taylor, an analyst for Arcadia Investment Corp., adding that nonhard-core game players have been responsible for much of the double-digit sales growth in the $21.3 billion U.S. videogame industry over the past few years.

Ubisoft was one of the first publishers to recognize the female market’s potential, with “Petz.” The pet-stimulation series has sold 19 million copies since it was introduced four years ago.

Tony Key, Ubisoft’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, said the company previously focused just on games for male users but now considers games for girls and women to be an important part of their business. The company has doubled its marketing spending and its investment into research of the female market in the last two years. And since Imagine, it has increased development of such games with series like virtual pet game “Petz” and fashion game “StyleLab.”

Making games for girls has “had a transformational impact on Ubisoft,” Mr. Key said. The company in 2004 also began sponsoring an all-female team of game players called Frag Dolls, to help promote women in gaming.

EA also conducts extensive market research about what female users want in a game. When developing last year’s “Littlest Pet Shop,” for example, the company found that girls liked it better when the pets made eye contact with the player. And after testing the game with girls, EA added accessories for the pets and an ability to customize them.

These efforts are having some success. “Littlest Pet Shop” is EA’s best-selling franchise for the DS. EA’s “Sports Active,” a fitness game that made its debut in May, was among the top 10 titles for three consecutive months, according to research firm NPD Group. Ubisoft’s Imagine games for the DS, in which girls can play the role of a ballerina or other professions, has sold 14 million copies in three years.

Not all of the growth in female game players comes from targeted games. The popularity of social-networking sites such as Facebook and the rise of casual games on mobile phones and the Internet have made games more accessible generally. Publishers also are developing more mass-market games that don’t just appeal to men, such as music titles like Activision Blizzard Inc.’s “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band,” a game from Viacom Inc.’s MTV Games, in which players pretend to be rock stars.

Nancy Chu, a 26-year-old software engineer in Mountain View, Calif., doesn’t consider herself a game player but likes “Guitar Hero” because of the game’s social aspect. “I play it whenever I go to a friend’s house when there’s a gathering,” she said.

But keeping the interest of those like Ms. Chu could be challenging. Market studies show that female users play games less frequently and for less time than males. Ms. Chu, for instance, said she got a Wii as a gift two years ago and “slowly lost interest” in it. She has since moved on to “FarmVille,” a simulation game on Facebook by Zynga Inc. She plays about an hour a week.




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